Albion Interactive History / Newton Hall

Albion Interactive History

Albion Interactive History / Buildings / Starr Commonwealth

Newton Hall, 1915
 
    Renovated 1985

Historic Designation +
Albion Area Historical Architectural Survey, 1985

Description
Like the need for a school building, a crisis began with a surplus of boys in GladsomeCottage. Although less than two years had passed since the Commonwealth had opened its doors to needy youths, it was increasingly evident that a new dormitory would have to be built.

How was he going to finance another major project so soon after building Gladsome Cottage? the corporation’s bank account still held a small residue, but it was thousands of dollars short of the necessary amount. Twenty newboys had been promised admission in the fall. Starr never could turn away needy boys, so he signed thecontracts and construction started on a new dormitory. In an article prepared for the “Ann Arbor Women’s City Club Magazine,” Starr’s daughter Margaret described the course of events:

When the structure finally began to go up, the excitement, hope and, sometimes despair were communicated to me even though I was much too young to realize the whole importance of what was going on. Such loving and apprehensive concern over the construction of a building was neverequaled when any of the more elaborate structures which followed it were built. There was the ever-present worry each week that there would not be enough money to pay the workmen, and the time finally arrived when it seemed that the construction must indeed stop.

It was a dismal Friday when Uncle Floyd’s bookkeeper-secretery-substitute teacher announced to him, “Floyd Starr, we have $990 due for salaries andworkmen tomorrow. And, in the bank we have exactly $3.46. If you were to ask me, you had better tell those workmen to stop the building now!”

Starr was appalled. He had known for some time that his financial structure was shaky, but he had not realized how vulnerable it really was. At first, he considered making pleas to a dozen friends for emergency contributions; then he realized the hour was too late. In desperation, that evening he called the boys together to explain the situation. Finally he said to them, “Boys, there must be an answer somewhere. We have to finish that dormitory. Let us pray for it.” And so they did it. The rest of the story again is best told by Margaret:

The delivery of mail was a big event in those days, and the boys always gathered in a circle on the floor while it was being opened, holding their breath and hopingthat each new envelope would contain a check from some well-wisher instead of a bill. On the Saturday when the workmen were to be told not to return on Monday, Uncle Floyd picked up an envelope bearing the unfamiliar return address of Mrs. C.C. Newton of Philadelphia. Tearing it open, he could hardly believe his eyes when he found inside a check for one thousand dollars! A roarof delight and disbelief came from the boys which was frightening to me until they explained that now work on the new cottage could continue and they were only showing their happiness that help had come in such an unexpected way.

Folded around Mrs. Newton’s check was a letter which read in part:

Recently I saw an article in a magazine concerning your work. If you will come to Philadelphia and establish here such a work as you have started in Michigan, I would like to invest every dollar that I can spare. I should also like to help you with your Michigan Enterprise, so I am enclosing my own check for $1,000.

In spite of Mrs. Newton’s offer to fund a twin commonwealth in the City of Brotherly Love, Starr was not tempted. Instead he wrote he a long letter, explaining howfortuitous was the arrival of her check and how much everyone at the Commonwealth appreciated her generosity. Starr was a masterful letter-write, and his words struck a responsive chord in this new benefactor. Although she never met Starr nor visited his “Michigan Enterprise,” she doubled her first donation with a check for $2,000 and graciously granted the boys permission to name their new cottage Newton Hall. As the editor of Starr Boys wrote much later, “A fine home for boys it has proved to be, with its long, window-lined living room, its friendly fireplace and shelves for books, its sunny dining room and airy sleeping quarters, a living memorial to all that Starr Commonwealth treasures most – growth through Faith, Love and Prayer.”

The first fire on Starr’s campus occurred February 28, 1924. For an institution still struggling to stand on its own, that was a calamity of significantdimensions. A desperate Uncle Floyd labored long to restore “an estimated loss of $12,000 to $15,000 dollars.”

Since then, building costs have changed drastically. In August 1985, a jubilant President Ness announced in the Starr News, “We’ve made it! I’m proud to share with you that we have raised the $450,000 necessary for the renovation and remodeling of Newton Hall. Now, after seventy years of continuous service to needy young people, Newton Hall will undergo significant renovation.”

Source: Keith Fennimore. Faith Made Visible: The History of Floyd Starr and His School. Albion, Michigan: Starr Commonwealth. 1988.

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