Touring The Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts offers an opportunity for time travel.

Guided tours transport groups to the time when Manistee’s lumber industry was thriving.

Built between 1902 and 1903 by philanthropist and pioneer lawyer Thomas Jefferson Ramsdell, the complex has served the community in a variety of ways. It’s been a recreational center, an armory and a venue for ballet, orchestras, traveling theater and vaudeville.

Now there’s a 487-seat theater, art exhibits in Hardy Hall, the Rotary Grand Ballroom and an escape room.

The Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts,
The Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts, Manistee, Mich.
Credit: The Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts

While the buildings have been renovated over the years, they retain much of their original architectural charm. The Ramsdell Theatre was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

On the tour, guests learn about how the theater made an impact on the community and on notable actors like James Earl Jones of Star Wars and Toni Trucks of the CBS TV show Seal Team who performed at the theater.

“You will experience the Ramsdell’s programs differently after you’ve taken a tour,” said Xavier Verna, executive director. “When you understand its history, you appreciate the culture.”

Verna said the tours point out the center’s historical value to Manistee.

“Watching live performances, taking tours or having a wedding reception here can sometimes feel like taking a step back in time,” he said.

Manistee began to emphasize its Victorian heritage in the 1990s. Community organizations banded together to raise the funds necessary to restore the theater and the ballroom side of the building.

Group rates are available for some shows.

For more information, call 231-398-9770 or visit