Albion Interactive History / Businesses / Darrow Boat Company

Albion Interactive History

Albion Interactive History / Industry

Darrow Boat Company, 1912
    Closed 1951

In 1910 local sportsman Frank H. Darrow (1869-1945) built a steel boat for himself in hisbarn, and that marked the beginnings of the Darrow Boat company. Darrow was a nativeof Clarendon Township near Tekonsha, and had operated a hardware store in that smallcommunity. He came to Albion in 1905 and worked at the Gale Hardware located at 307S. Superior Street. Darrow was known as a prominent area fisherman, trapper, andhunter. His wife Luelle Hartung (1866-1945) was a member of the Hartung family clanwhich settled in the South Albion and Homer areas. The family home was at 612 E. ErieStreet. Frank was a member of the A-B-C-D land development company, and DarrowStreet near his home was named for him.

Frank Darrow built a few more of the flat bottom steel boats in his barn, and in themeantime obtained a patent from the U.S. Patent Office for his invention. Previous tothat time, steel boats were of the round bottom type. They had been costly, heavy, andnot well suited for fishing and hunting. Darrow’s patent included the procedure of joining(welding) sheets of steel together for the hull, being reinforced by wood. Oak andcypress were used for the framing. The result was a lightweight, strong and rigid boatwhich turned out to be quite popular. The boats were designed to carry outboard motors.Darrow also held a patent on a specialty fishing reel he designed.Darrow moved his boat shop to a fence and pipe storage building (presently the site ofthe east side parking lot) located behind the Gale Hardware where he worked andcontinued building boats there. The Darrow Steel Boat Company was incorporated in1912. Several local investors saw the potential of the new lightweight steel boats. Theseincluded banker Homer C. Blair, druggist Hadley H. Sheldon, former mayor DanMcAuliffe, banker David Garfield, and other prominent men such as George B. Hunt,elevator operator Frank E. Nowlin, banker Carl M. Kreager, local attorney Edward R.Loud, Albion Recorder owner Walter S. Kennedy, and hardware merchant O. HarryGale. Darrow’s brother-in-law Ralph C. Hartung was also an investor and served as thefirst manager of the firm.

Following World War I the firm moved to the Hurley Block, a large barn-shaped structureon the east side of N. Clinton St. just north of the Kalamazoo River. Located at 110North Clinton Street, the Hurley Block was constructed in 1902 by local real estateinvestor John J. Hurley. It was constructed on the site of the old Fred Sheldon & JohnFanning livery which existed in the late 19th century. The Hurley Block was first used asa livery barn and housed the horses and delivery wagons of O. V. Eastman and O. B.Granger. Part of the facility was then turned into a roller skating establishment operated by Harry R. Richards and Hotel Albion operator E. C. Richardson. During the 1910s itwas used as the “City Paint Shop,” for painting carriages and autos.The Darrow Boat Company produced a complete line of steel boats. One of its popularmodels was a sectional steel boat which could be dismantled for easy mounting on theside of an automobile and driven to the lake. One half of the boat could be fitted insidethe other half. This meant not having to procure a trailer to haul the boat from the back.One customer transported his Darrow boat on the side car of his Harley Davidsonmotorcycle. There even was a three sectional rowboat. Boats from the Darrow companywere shipped all over the United States, and were especially popular in this area. Thecompany also sold kits containing pre-cut steel and wood for “do it yourselfers” whowanted to build their own.

In 1929 Darrow added another investor, local plumber Arthur S. Wildt, but continued toown a majority of shares and continued as president of the firm. Wildt then moved hisplumbing business into the building. He had come to Albion in 1924 and purchased theplumbing business at the Gale Hardware. Wildt stayed with the boat firm until 1931during the Great Depression. At that time Darrow bought out Wildt and the otherstockholders. It was realized that it was more profitable to operate the firm as a two-manoperation, with Frank doing the metal work, and another employee the woodwork.Following Frank Darrow’s death in 1945, the company was operated by Frank’snephews Merrill J. and Melvin D. McCune, and later managed by Frank’s daughter LolaMcCune (1892-1968) who was a retired schoolteacher. The firm was moved to aquonset hut at 944 Austin Avenue in 1947, where it operated until its closure in 1951.What happened to the old Hurley Block barn on N. Clinton St. after the Darrow BoatCompany moved out in 1947? After being vacant for about a year, the building becamethe home of the Albion Bowling Lanes in 1948 operated by Harold Collmenter and DaleNutt. This 10-lane facility was Albion’s main bowling establishment for many years until1962 when Collegiate Lanes opened east of town. The Albion Bowling Lanes was thenused for the remainder of the 1962-63 year by bowlers from Homer and Concord whowere displaced by a fire at the Homer bowling alley. The Albion facility was finally closedin late spring, 1963, and the summer open bowling was held at the Collegiate Lanesinstead.

Fire broke out at the closed Albion Bowling Lanes on the morning of August 7, 1963.This provided the fire department its “shortest run” as they were just across the river withplenty of water nearby. The building was destroyed however, and subsequentlydemolished. Today the site is used for parking by employees of the City of Albion at thenearby City Hall.

This week we present four illustrations, courtesy of the Local History Room at the AlbionPublic Library. First is a photograph of the front of the Hurley Block where the DarrowBoat Company was located. Second is a picture showing a Darrow boat attached to theback of a car for transport. Third is an illustration of the three sectional rowboat. Finallywe present a photograph of Frank H. Darrow. Does anyone still have and/or use aDarrow boat today? The Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven has one which wasdonated in 1997.

Source: Frank Passic, DARROW BOATS ONCE MADE IN ALBION, Albion Recorder, April 12, 1999.

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