Historic Preservation Notes +
A terrible mistake was made when city leaders decided to demolish the Knickerbocker Grain Elevator. This is part of a trend that includes demolition of 5 downtown buildings and structures, of the original 107 that were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. At this rate none of downtown Albion will remain in 100 years. Most cities celebrate being placed on the National Register. Apparently Albion’s way to celebrate is by tearing it’s historic buildings down!
One rationale used for demolition of the grain elevator is that people aren’t attracted downtown because the rear of buildings are unattractive. Few arguments are more absurd. The rear of buildings were never meant to be attractive because people originally entered buildings from the front instead of the rear. Pedestrians, and country folk on horses and carriages that came from farms throughout the region to bring their agricultural products to be processed in Albion’s many mills and to purchase supplies or see a show in the many stores and entertainment places that lined Superior St. Jesse Crowell’s Stone Mill built in 1845 was one of the most prominent mills. The Knicerkbocker Grain Elevator is where grain was stored and sent to Crowell’s mill where it was ground, then packaged for local consumption or sent by railroad to other cities and states. Except upon closer inspection, though the rear of many buildings are not as attractive as the front, they still have architectural features and beauty that distinguish them from contemporary suburban counterparts. There are an abundance of round arched windows, stone lintels and sills, cast iron columns, etc. Leaders who see downtown buildings as unattractive, appear to be suffering from a form of architectural myopia.
Automobiles reversed historical associations with the downtown. They allowed people to drive by much faster often ignoring the beautiful buildings lining the streets, to park in parking lots behind the buildings (also missing the street facing facade). And these parking lots required demolition of other buildings that screened the backs of downtown buildings. Further the automobile also allowed people to drive north to Eaton St or as far away as Jackson or Battle Creek to save a few pennies or dollars from the prices that downtown merchants charged. This change in transportation and consumer behavior is what killed downtown, not because the back of buildings were unattractive, or that buildings like the Knicerkbocker Grain Elevator were large and menacing.
Today the greatest threat to downtown is not unattractive buildings, but city leaders who feel the way to save downtown is by making it resemble suburban shopping malls, when the very opposite is true. Instead of neglecting buildings and allowing them to decay to a point where they are too cost prohibitive to save, an active program of building preservation is needed to ensure dowtown’s historic buildings survive well into the future. The alternative to this, if present trends continue, is that Albion will continue to disappear through piecemeal neglect and destruction, making it a less and less attractive place, until there is nothing left to remind us what a special place once one was here.
One hopes that before this happens, city leaders will get the foolish notion out of their heads that downtown is unattractive, and instead of enforcing this image through their actions, to work to help others see the great beauty and history of downtown and through an agressive program of rehabilitation to help to save it, before even this opportunity is too late.
Nelson Albion Elevator Building (moved from Superior Street in 1917)
Four-story brick structure with several additions of varying height. The north elevation features a tall, narrow section of three-and-one-half stories with side wings and shed roofs on the two-story sections. Exterior grain pipes are located on the east and north elevations. A single wood elevation extends along the south elevation. The first level of the north elevation is accessed from an elevated platform and is sheltered with a pent roof that continues around to the west corner. A lantern with a mansard roof rests on the top of the tallest part of the structure. Several smaller grain structures are adjacent to the building. The structure was moved to this location in 1917.
Source: National Park Service; Superior Street Commercial Historic District Registration Form. Prepared by Lloyd Baldwin. October 1996.
Grain elevator (on the left) when still standing on Superior Street.
Source: James B. Field, Souvenir of the City of Albion, 1894.
The Stone Mill on S. Superor St. was a familiar landmark in Albion from the time it was erected until it was reconstructed into the Commercial & Savings Bank in 1916. Even today, the City Bank & Trust Company occupies this historic structure. The mill was built in the spring of 1845 by “Albion’s greatest benefactor”- Jesse Crowell. In this 1915 photograph, the old Stone Mill is depicted on the right with the newer mill on the left. The later was moved one block east off of Superior St. in 1917 to its present location in the Market Place, just east of the alley behind S. Superior St.