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The Port Huron Times Herald, Wendy Torello) NO SALES, Associated Press
In a Sept. 10, 2012 photo, Dennis Delor holds onto a boot puller he found in the former Fort Gratiot Hospital in Port Huron, Mich. The boot puller was used to pull the boots from soldiers feet. Volunteers are working on the Fort Gratiot Hospital, the first hospital, and one of the oldest remaining buildings, in St. Clair County.

PORT HURON, Mich. — Volunteers are working on the Fort Gratiot Hospital, the first hospital, and one of the oldest remaining buildings, in St. Clair County.

"Because of its age, it's not something you can let continue to sit and rot away," said Dennis Delor, a member of the Committee to Preserve the Fort Gratiot Hospital. "If something wasn't done soon, the other action would have been to have to remove it."

The hospital was built in 1829 as one structure at Fort Gratiot, a military reservation at the outlet of Lake Huron. The hospital was abandoned and converted into two private residences in 1879. The Port Huron Museum acquired the structures between 2000 and 2002, and they were reunited in 2004 at Lighthouse Park on Omar Street in Port Huron.

The project is being funded through donations of material, time and money, Delor said.

"Donors have stepped up and purchased different items for the project," he said. "The committee is tearing the modern elements off the building" so that the contractor can later start to infill the areas that are missing.

The two buildings sit on one foundation. The plan is to construct a hallway to make the building one structure as it was originally.

The St. Clair County Medical Society raised some funds for the project about six or seven years ago by working with the St. Clair County Regional Educational Service Agency to make the "Pioneers of Medicine" DVD, which featured four local doctors.

Dr. James Copping, a member of the medical society, said the group was involved because it wanted to encourage interest in the health sciences.

"The doctors that were in that video were able to achieve something unusual because they were outstanding physicians in a little town like Port Huron," he said. "This would encourage youths that they can achieve something, too."

Though the medical society is not involved currently, Copping said he anticipates it will become more active in the project upon approval by its board.

The project has a long way to go, Delor said.

"The building won't be completed (this fall)," he said. "The goal is to get it buttoned up, secured and stabilized (before winter)."

The volunteers need money to add historic features to the building such as siding, a roof, dormers, chimney stacks, windows and doors.

The estimated cost for the exterior preservation is about $100,000, said Susan Bennett, executive director of the Port Huron Museum. The interior renovation is expected to cost about $50,000. Those estimates were made in 2003-04, she said.

"We have a way to go, there's no doubt about it, but I don't think it's a pipe dream, either," Delor said. "It's something that's finally happening, and the building is going to be an asset to Lighthouse Park and will also complement the Light Station."

Information from: Times Herald, http://www.thetimesherald.com