1866 Ruger Birdseye View
1888 Sanborn Insurance Map
1893 Sanborn Insurance Map
1900 Sanborn Insurance Map
1907 Sanborn Insurance Map
1913 Sanborn Insurance Map
1918 Sanborn Insurance Map
1931 Sanborn Insurance Map
Formation of five denominational churches occurred in Albion between 1836 and 1845.
The Little Red School House served as the first building for the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist congregations. Together they pooled together $100 for construction of this building, used for schooling youth as well.
After a conflict with scheduling in 1839, the Methodists broke away and built their own wood frame church that same year. Presbyterians followed with their own building the next year, then the Episcopalians in 1842, and the Baptist’s in 1851.
Once congregations accumulated sufficient wealth, more permanent brick and stone buildings were constructed. The Methodist’s built their “Old Brick Church” in 1850, the Presbyterians built their first brick church in May 1857, and the Catholics who never had a frame building, built their stone church, adjacent to the Albion College campus, in 1873.
Fire destroyed the Presbyterian’s second church building in 1873 and the replacement building was destroyed by fire in 1883. Fire destroyed the Episcopalians building in 1884, But by this time Albion was quite active and prosperous, and this prosperity was reflected in the next wave of church construction that occurred between 1884 and 1886. Presbyterians rebuilt and dedicated their fourth building August 10, 1884. Baptists replaced their frame building, with a new brick structure with soaring tower facing Superior Street, dedicated October 12, 1884. The Episcopalians managed to rebuild by 1886, and this beautiful brick building on East Erie Street still exists to this day.
Washington Gardner led the Methodist’s effort to raise a church grander than any Albion had ever seen. Opened in 1888, and located on the site of the former church at the south-west corner of East Erie and Ionia Street, a large tower soared several stories above the intersection of the two streets. Rose windows were on the north and east elevations. The east elevation faced towards Albion College, and for seventy years was a familiar sight people saw when they walked from the college to the church for banquets, civic meetings, graduation, social events, and church services.
Alternative to Denominational Churches
The 1880s was an important turning point for religion in Albion. As the 5 denominational churches were raising their great structures, three buildings which remain to this day, Rev. Henry Jordan built the relatively modest Fitch Chapel. Intended for Methodist’s who did not want to travel to the downtown church, after Henry’s death, the chapel served as home for several other congregations.
The Church of God occupied the chapel from 1928 to 1958. A non-denominational body with open membership, the Church of God was in stark contrast from the leading denominational churches in Albion, and with its open membership, different from the churches that immigrants and migrants to Albion set up. The Church of God would be the first of many non-denominational and non-traditional religious communities to emerge in Albion.
Immigrant and Migrant Churches
Evangelical Lutheran Salem Church, started 1895
German Lutheran Church, founded November 15, 1868
Russian Baptist Church
Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Ascension
Bethel Baptist Church, founded 1918
Leggett Chapel A.M.E. Zion
Immigration and migration to Albion from the end of the Civil War through the first decades of the twentieth century were reflected in formation of congregations and construction of church buildings. Perhaps due to nativism and discrimination, instead of assimilating into Albion’s main denominational churches, immigrants and migrants were forced to form spiritual communities of their own.
Following the Civil War a wave of German immigration led to organization of the German Lutheran Church in November 1868. A simple frame building was constructed at South Superior and Elm Streets, only to be replaced by a brick building in 1888 with a tower similar to the First Baptist Church several blocks to the north. Together the German Lutheran Church and First Baptist Church served as book ends to the north and south entrances of the downtown.
Another German related church was the Evangelic Lutheran Salem Church, founded in 1895 over the Wochholz and Gress grocery store downtown. Later in 1896 the congregation purchased the old North Division School on Pine Street. Services were held in this former school building until 1898 when a new church building was constructed, later to become known as the Salem United Church of Christ.
A wave of Russian immigration began in 1907, with people recruited to work at the Albion Malleable foundry. Several rows of simple wood two-story frame houses were built immediately north of the factory, labeled on some maps as the “Foreign Settlement”, in the area now known today as McAuliffe Park. Malleable officials assisted in construction of the Russian Orthodox Church a few blocks away on Austin Avenue. Located on the edge of the city at this time, the church for continuity of the culture from home that immigrants brought to this country, but also served to isolate the Russian population from the denominational churches and long time residents of Albion.
World War I ended the immigration of European workers, so labor recruiters looked to the South to find laborers to work in Albion’s many factories. The first group of black migrants arrived from Pensacola, Florida in 1916. From 1917 to 1920 the black population in Albion rose from 10 to 620. Occupying the same company houses that the Russians had before them, this new group of migrants formed churches of their own.
The Community Church was organized as early as 1917. School board records refer to this building in September 1917, when the board decided to rent this building as a school for black children. This policy continued for a short time until the West Ward School was turned into an all black school. Leggett Chapel under the direction of Rev. Andrew Leggett built their church building in 1919, and Bethel Baptist constructed their building in 1929.
Churches Since 1950
The Great Depression and World War II brought church construction in Albion to a halt. Except for the Catholics who in 1933 replaced their original stone building with another stone building that looked remarkably similar to the first one. This Depression era renovation, perhaps reflected the scarce resources the congregation had at the moment. Methodist’s renovated their church in 1943. Few other changes were made with any other churches in Albion.
It was not until after the World War II that church construction began in earnest again. From 1950 to 1975 Albion experienced another period of economic prosperity, driven largely by the arrival of the Corning Glass Works factory in 1950. This new factory brought boom in employment, tax revenue, and population, necessitating construction of new homes, new schools, and of course, new churches as well.
This wave of prosperity came at a great cost for the built environment in Albion.Older churches in the center were demolished or left vacant in favor of new locations on the periphery of the city, accessible only by automobile. This added to the emptying out of downtown, begun as early as the 1920’s when retail shifted to Austin Avenue. With arrival of the Interstate two miles north of the downtown in 1960, there was even greater pull from the center to the outer edges of small town Albion. The same trend of flight from central cities to suburbs, was perceivably present in shift of institutions and activity from the central city to locations on the edge.
Abandonment and Demolition Downtown
In 1958 the Methodist’s left their beautiful and historic building on Erie Street and moved to Goodrich Chapel on the campus of Albion College. A few years later the old church was demolished. This was a terrible loss for Methodists in Albion and throughout the state. For a site laden with such memory, meaning, and tradition, congregants decided this was disposable, and consequently was lost forever. Today an auto repair garage rests on the location of the former church.
The First Baptist Church on North Superior Street was left standing, but the congregation moved to a new building on Haven Road. Increased flexibility provided by the automobile made it possible for the Baptists to move to an isolated location outside of the city. In 1975 the Christ Apostolic Church occupied the former Baptist Church, completing major renovations to the building in 1997.
The German Lutheran Church on South Superior, was likewise replaced by various tenants, now occupied by the Faith Community Baptist Church.
The Presbyterians and Episcopalians have chosen to remain in their historic locations. The Catholics did as well, until 2001 when they sold their church to Albion College. What the college will do with this historic building is uncertain. With Catholics comprising a majority of the college’s student body today, surely there are several students who hope that the building continues to function as a church. If the nearby parcels of land that have been cleared to make a parking lot are any indication, the college may have other plans for the Catholic Church, making the same mistake with this building, as was done with the old Methodist Church over 40 years ago.
The immigrant German and Russian churches, through assimilation and population flight, have experienced declining attendance. The same can be said for most of the other churches in Albion as well. Leggett Chapel and Bethel Baptist continue to operate. All of these churches have been joined by several smaller churches with an ecumenical appeal.
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