Albion Interactive History / Library / Albion Area Historical Architectural Survey” (1985)

Albion Interactive History

Albion Interactive History / Research Documents

Craig Hoernschemeyer, “Albion Area Historical Architectural Survey”, 1985

Albion Area Historical Architectural Survey (S84-201)
Albion College, Albion, Michigan

Craig Hoernschemeyer

With the assistance of:
Steven W. Fox, A Darius Gueramy, Andrew W. Gillham, John K. Stephens, Paul A.Williams, Joan M. Murphy

July 16, 1985

This project has been funded, in part through a grant from the United States Departmentof the Interior, National Park Service (under provisions of the National HistoricPreservation Act) through the Michigan Department of State.

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Purpose and Scope

The Albion area surveyed includes not only the city of Albion, but also portions ofSheridan, Parma, Concord and Albion townships, a total of twenty square miles. The areais bounded on the north by D Drive North, on the east by M-99, on the south by D DriveSouth and on the west by Twenty-five and One-half Mile Road. This area appears in partsof four U.S. Geological Survey maps which are titled Northeast Albion, SoutheastAlbion, Southwest Albion and Northwest Albion. The city is located ninety miles west ofDetroit on Interstate 94. Albion is a community of 11,000 people which was founded in1835 on the banks of the Kalamazoo River and is surrounded by rural farmlands.Until now, the Albion area architecture has never been formally surveyed and residentsfor the most part are unaware of the architectural resources in the city. Thisreconnaissance survey was undertaken to locate and record all structures built prior to1940. It is hope that this activity will stimulate interest, appreciation, and preservation ofolder structures in the area. Approximately 2,020 sites have been recorded, photographedand mapped. These include residential, commercial, religious, educational, industrial andrecreational sites as well as several parks.

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Historical and Architectural Overview

With the advent of new settlers in Michigan, primarily from western New York, CalhounCounty began to grow steadily in the 1830s. Renaming the well beaten Indian trails”Territorial Road” and “Chicago Turnpike”, many made the ten day trip from Detroit tolay claim to the land. Some of the first speculators in land at the forks of the Kalamazoo River’s South Branch and East Branch were Sidney Ketchum, Darius Pierce and TennyPeabody. In 1832 Tenny Peabody returned to “The Forks” with his family from NiagaraCounty, New York and built a 16’X18’ shanty with split rail rafters, a marsh hay roof, astick and mud chimney and blankets for windows and doors. Like Peabody, many ofAlbion’s early settlers, including Marvin Hannahs, built crude log or block homes as theirfirst residence, later remodeling the original structure, or building new homes of sawedlumber that more closely resembled the Greek Revival style architecture then popular inNew York State. Warham Warner and Tenny Peabody built a sawmill prior to 1835, theyear that Jesse Crowell arrived from Albion, New York. Warham Warner’s home, thefirst frame house constructed in Albion, still stands on its original site at 308 W. ErieStreet. A lithograph in the History of Calhoun County, Michigan 1830-1877 depicts theWarner home with simple yet unmistakable Greek Revival details.

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In 1835, Jesse Crowell bought Warner’s interest in the saw mill and, with Issachar Frostand D.L. Bacon, purchased about 300 acres of land from Peabody. Together these menformed the Albion Company. The Company laid out a plat for the village in 1836 whichincluded two parks: Washington Square, now Crowell Park, and Union Square, whichbecame the core of the Albion College Campus. Albion formally incorporated as a villagein 1856 and eventually as a city in 1885.

The early homes of the 1840s and 50s were primarily frame although a few brick homesand commercial buildings appeared. The brick Greek Revival home of Theron Soule at412 N. Superior Street was built prior to his purchase of it in 1866. An illustration of thisstructure also appears in the above mentioned History of Calhoun County, Michigan. In1869, Mr. Soule in association with G. N. Davis built the handsome brick Opera House,223-225 S. Superior Street. Two other notable brick commercial structures are illustratedon the 1858 Map of Calhoun County. One is the Crowell Block, 305-309 S. SuperiorStreet, which still retains its brick pilasters dividing banks of windows topped by castironpediments. The other, with cast-iron window hoods at 204-206 S. Superior was wellknown for the third floor Howard Hall, a center for community entertainment and culture.

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The arrival of the Michigan Central Railroad tracks in 1842 came the same year that oilwas discovered in the market place where Jesse Crowell was having a “tail race” dug forhis mill. However, the discovery held little importance at the time. In 1864 Samuel V.Irwin was operating an oil well on his property south of the village (now Irwin Avenue),but the big strike came in 1958 when the Albion-Scipio field was tapped. It is stillproductive today.

On July 4, 1844, the first train arrived in Albion signaling increased access to materialsand pre-cut parts for industry and architecture. Farming and industry have shapedAlbion’s economy and the railroad allowed them to flourish. Gale Manufacturing Co.moved to the village from Moscow, Michigan in 1864 to expand their agriculturalimplement production. By 1888 they had grown so large they again contemplated movingto expand. The city voted in a $30,000 bond issue to purchase land and build a factory soGale would remain in Albion. Their Second Empire style office still stands at 205 N.Albion Street. Other early industries included mills, a foundry, and buggy, stove,windmill and drug manufactories.

By the time an electric light generation plant was established in 1888, elegant SecondEmpire, Italianate and Queen Anne homes had sprung up all across town. There areconcentrations of these structures on Erie, Superior, Irwin [ Page 5 ] and Michigan Avenue. O.C. Gale of Gale Manufacturing Co. built his brick Italianate onthen prestigious West Mulberry Street overlooking the Michigan Central Railroad, anecessary link to his success. Notable Second Empire structures include the SheldonBlock at 318 S. Superior and Gardner House Museum, now home of the AlbionHistorical Society, at 509 S. Superior. Built in 1872 by James W. Sheldon and in 1875 byAugustus P. Gardner, these reflect the prosperity and style of a local banker and ahardware merchant.

Circumstantial evidence suggests that house-moving was quite common at this time.Possibly successful merchants, bankers, industrialists and speculators could afford newer,more fashionable residences which were constructed on their lots after relocating theirold homes to new lots for rental. Homestead Loan and Building Association wasestablished in 1889 which made building and owning homes possible for the workingclass. Hence, many vernacular homes date from this period onward.The population of Albion is made up of many nationalities which have entered the area asa result of European conflicts, racial freedom and industrial employment. From 1867-1880s German settlers arrived escaping the Prussian repression, and a wave of westernEuropeans and Russians came during the revolution of 1907. Blacks appeared as early asthe Civil War and also found [ Page 6 ] good jobs in industries during the labor shortage of World War I. During World War II, asimilar shortage spurred laborers to move to Albion from Kentucky and Tennessee.Mexican and Hispanic peoples entered the community originally as migrant farm laborbut have joined the industrial work forces.In 1869, W. H. Brockway arranged through the immigration service to bring four Germanfamilies to settle his land on S. Hannah Street, south of the East Branch of the KalamazooRiver. Known as “Dutchtown”, it became the home of the Carl L. Schumacher familywho were very active in the construction of Albion landmarks and residences. Carlworked summers cutting and laying stone and doing brickwork until 1880 when he beganto work fulltime as a stone mason. His son, Frederick W., joined him in 1884 andtogether they built the foundation for the Episcopal Church. Schumachers built theLutheran Church and Gale Manufacturing Co. in 1888, and with the addition of sons CarlA. and Albert L., built the Sheldon Mausoleum, several factories, S. Superior StreetBridge, commercial buildings, libraries,Sheldon Memorial Hospital, several collegebuildings and many homes.

Many churches in Albion had very early starts. Some, like many buildings in Albion,were ravaged by fire and rebuilt or replaced by a new building. At least six churches wereorganized and constructed before 1890. Enough of a Russian population existed by 1915that they constructed a [ Page 7 ] Russian Orthodox Church at 810 Austin Avenue, across thestreet from Albion Malleable Iron Company, where they were employed.Between 1913 and 1918, Floyd Starr, a graduate of Albion College and a native ofMarshall, Michigan, purchased forty acres three and one half miles west of Albion. Witha few delinquent boys, he built Gladsome Cottage to start his school. StarrCommonwealth for Boys has continued to grow, providing a rehabilitation center that hasgained broad attention.

Albion College grew steadily from its origin as Spring Arbor Seminary in 1835, torelocation at “The Forks” in 1839 as Wesleyan Female Seminary. This became possiblewhen the Company gave the Wesleyan Female Seminary 60 acres near Union Squareenticing it to move from nearby Spring Arbor to Albion. Finally in 1861 it becameAlbion College, a co-educational degree granting institution. North Building, SouthBuilding and Central Building were in the Greek Revival style. All suffered disastrousfires at various times necessitating interior reconstruction in North and South and majorexterior renovation on Central (now Robinson Hall). The majority of the academicbuildings were added between 1880 and 1930, as the campus quadrangle grew fromUnion Square park to its present size. Albion [ Page 8 ] College, a Michigan RegisteredHistoric site, has recently added the Observatory to the Michigan registry.Of the many early public school buildings in the city, only a remnant of one remains. In1873 the Central school was opened at 401 E. Michigan Avenue. After a fire in 1877, theCentral school was remodeled and expanded once in 1885 and again in 1892. In 1906,now a high school, the Central building was torn down and a new school built. This waslater consumed by fire, however, and demolished in 1920. The current structure was builtin part by 1923 and completed in 1928 when it was named after a citizen and formerSenator, Washington Gardner. If one closely examines the rear, central section of thebuilding, used currently as a band room, one can see a section of the old Central buildingof red brick and limestone quoins. It is currently a junior high school.In the 1890s, a new phenomenon began: the production of cast cement blocks used forconstruction. Sears Roebuck and Company sold the molding devices out of their 1908catalog. Albion has several commercial and residential sites built of the brieflyfashionable material, some quite elaborate in the block variations, such as 306 E. Erie,202 S. Monroe, and 808 N. Superior. Vernacular, Colonial Revival, Queen Anne and”Foursquare” homes were built in molded block. By 1915, its use in Albion seems tohave been relegated to foundations alone.

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Another interesting element in Albion’s architectural history is the “Sears House”.Between 1908 and 1937 both Sears and Montgomery Wards offered mail order homes -in kit form – complete with shingles and interior trim. Several seem to have been built inAlbion. 410 and 413 Elizabeth Street are two which the owners believe are such homes.Since mail order homes were constructed by local builders, only the original owners orbuilders can positively identify them. They tended; the stone to be in the Craftsman stylesuggesting a prosperous building boom. 1204 and 1318 E. Michigan Avenue, and 1010 S.Eaton are a few of the many homes in this style constructed of stone, clapboard, facebrick, or stucco. The Carnegie Library, 501 S. Superior, has the decorative cut rafter endsand open eaves characteristic of the Craftsman style. It was built in 1918 for $17,500.The twenties also witnessed a boom in large scale construction. From 1924-1929buildings including Sheldon Memorial Hospital at 803 S. Superior, Parker Inn at 311 E.Michigan, Bellemont Manor at 906 Haven Road, and Albion College’sKresgeGymnasium and Susanna Wesley Hall were built exhibiting Neoclassical elements,pediments, porticos and grand scale. [ Page 10 ] The new Bohm Theater at 201 S Superior opened in 1929 just prior to the GreatDepression, complete with brick, limestone, stucco and glazed tile façade. The originalmarquee was replaced with the current, larger enameled steel and neon marquee, its artdeco style suggesting the late 1930s. The interior of the Bohm is a modestClassical/Baroque design with a full stage, balcony, and a pneumatic theater organ whichrises from the orchestra pit.

In spite of the city cutting over $5,000 from employee salaries in 1932 – 33 and a loss inassessed valuation of $763,000, Albion began a new city hall. The Renaissance Revivalbuilding at 112 W. Cass was designed by Dean, Merritt and Cole of Detroit, whichincluded the Albion native, Frank E. Dean. The same year, 1933, the cornerstone for anew Catholic church was laid at 507 W. Cass; the stone used on both buildings is quitesimilar. Frank E. Dean is the son of the prominent George E. Dean family in Albion; Bellemont Manor was their home. Frank Dean designed and built the Colonial Revivalhomes on the block referred to locally as Colfax Square in 1939-40, and played a part inthe design of Goodrich Chapel built later on the Albion College campus.Albion’s architecture is rich and varied, comprised of twelve clear-cut styles andnumerous eclectic and vernacular structures. The most prolific periods of constructionseem to have been between 1880-1900 and 1915-1930. The streets are lined with maturesugar and silver maples, oak, locust, buckeye, and catalpa possibly replacing largenumbers of elm lost to disease in the 1930s. While several of the fourteen city parks arereclaimed from sites of now vanished architecture, Victory Park, the largest, waspurchased and dedicated to the honor and memory of sailors and soldiers of World War I.The remaining stretch of brick paved state highway M-99 on Superior Street wascompleted in 1940 after the original paving brick from 1902 was taken up then re-laid on aconcrete base. The population of the city of Albion in 1940 was 8,345.[ Page 17 ]

Analysis of Assets and Liabilities

Albion area architecture represents a broad range of historical styles which includes:Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, RomanesqueRevival, Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival, Neoclassical, Prairie, Craftsman, andVernacular. The rural area surrounding the city contains primarily Greek Revival,Craftsman, and Vernacular structures. The Vernacular buildings in and out of the cityoften incorporate Italianate and Queen Anne elements. [ Page 18 ] A surprising number of essentially well preserved historic residential, religious andcommercial buildings exist in the city. Michigan and Irwin Avenues, Superior, Eaton,Erie and Clinton Streets have large concentrations of early buildings, yet many others arescattered throughout the area.

Unfortunately, typical of all progress in a culture geared toward fashion and convenience,most sites have been altered to some degree. Changes in porches, windows, trim, sidingand additions have been made in attempts to modernize as well as reduce maintenancerequirements. A.J. Gale’s home at 708 N. Superior Street is a typical example of oneextreme. Once a handsome Gothic Revival is picture in Headlight magazine in 1895 andin A Souvenir of the City of Albion, 1894, it now is sheathed in aluminum siding withbrick and “wrought iron” porches. The south two-story bay has been removed as have theornate bargeboards and finials.

Many buildings are in poor repair due to low incomes, lack of interest, and a generalunawareness of their architectural value as assets to the community. The proposedhistoric district ordinance in 1976 was dropped because public hearings conducted by theplanning commission revealed public resistance. Personal freedom seemed to be an issue.Albion is now a city in the National and Michigan Main Street Program and is working torevitalize the central [ Page 19 ] business district. Increasing awareness of local history due inpart to the celebration of Albion’s Sesquicentennial and publicity surrounding this surveymay mean that preservation could receive greater support. While the Albion area does nothave unusually elaborate and full-blown examples of period style architecture, its assetsare numerous and well worth maintaining in a manner they deserve.Recommendation for Further Research and PlanningUsing this survey, the 1975 county plan, and the 1976 proposed ordinance information,the creation of an historic district, a multiple resource nomination, or individual sitenominations would be appropriate. Significant historical information is available locally,and several members of the community are doing considerable research on the subject.Albion’s economy is continuing to improve, there are good people in city hall, and theclimate locally will probably support and benefit from further, more specific architecturalresearch and planning.

The 1976 proposed ordinance designates the following areas, sites and structures as anhistoric district:

A. The area bounded by and including both sides of the streets commencing at theintersection of Irwin Avenue and Eaton Street, thence east on Irwin Avenue toSuperior Street, thence north on Superior Street to Austin Avenue, thence west onAustin Avenue to Eaton Street, thence south on Eaton Street to West Ash Street,thence east on Ash Street to Superior Street.

B. The area bounded by and including both sides of the streets commencing on ErieStreet east from Superior Street to Darrow Street, thence north-west along therailroad right of way to Porter Street to the river, thence south to Erie Street.

C. The area including both sides of Michigan Avenue between Monroe and FitchStreets.

D. The following historic landmarks are designated as part of the Albion HistoricDistrict. Those historic landmarks commonly known as:
704 Irwin Avenue
105 N. Albion Street
201 Hannah Street
405 Cedar Street
703 E. Cass Street
1106-1108 E. Michigan Ave.
308 W. Erie Street
906 Haven Road
808 Haven Road
810 Haven Road
314 Burr Oak Street

It should be noted, however, that while this recommendation in the precedingexcerpt may form a core of planning, other significant sites should be studied.One element often missing in historic planning is the inclusion of more”contemporary sites”. Albion has a wealth of Craftsman Style homes, forexample, which should be evaluated for their historic significance and furtherplanning.

Since there are large concentrations of early structures throughout the centralsection of the city, several areas for historic districting should be explored. Theseareas lie in a larger “T” shape that is composed of a section running from AustinAvenue to Irwin Avenue with extensions of Pearl and Ionia Streets as the westand east boundaries, plus a section running from Michigan Avenue to Erie Streetwith Ionia and Mingo Streets as the west and east edges. Within this area, smallerelements like the Albion College Quadrangle, the commercial blocks surroundingthe Superior Street business district, and residential neighborhoods alongMichigan Ave., N. Superior – Austin – N. Eaton – W. Mulberry, W.Cass – S.Ann- W. Ash – S. Clinton, and Irwin can be identified. Numerous individual sites stillremain outside these areas and should not be overlooked. Most of these havehistoric names connected to them and appear on the attached list “SIGNIFICANTSTRCUTURES ARRANGED BY TYPE”.