Albion began in the 1830’s as a speculative land development scheme to take advantage of the increasing number of people moving West. The Albion Company then erected a grist mill that began running in September 1837. Exporting of flour and wheat soon followed. Jesse Crowell was the resident proprietor of the Albion Company, who recorded the village plat in 1836.
Albion’s first residents recognized the need and importance of education. Jesse Crowell and his Albion Company gave 60 acres of land to encourage the Wesleyan Seminary to located in Albion. Classes were first held in 1841 just ten years after the first settlers arrived. In the decades following the founding of Wesleyan Seminary in 1841 through the Civil War, Albion was a hotbed of innovation in education.
The close proximity of Albion between Detroit and Chicago made it an attractive location for industry. The earliest mills and factories were in the area known as downtown today. Jesse Crowell and the Albion Company reserved the east side of Superior St between Cass St and Erie St to build their mills. A mill race was created on both sides of the Kalamazoo River. This narrow man-made channel made river water move through rapidly, powering several mills that lined the mill race.
As city and college grew together, both exerted a powerful influence on statewide and national affairs. Export of products and industrial strength and accumulation of wealth here, helped to support and strengthen institutions like the college. And Albion College in turn gave a degree of respectability to this scrappy industrial town.
Mills were joined by early manufacturers located downtown as well. The north-west corner of Superior and Cass St was one such place. The Kalamazoo River bordered this block to the north. Only a few blocks away from several mills and the mill race, manufacturing began in the center of Albion as well.
The end of World War II brought an unprecedented period of prosperity. New factories and the jobs they created caused the population and tax revenues to swell. Perhaps the apex of Albion’s accomplishment was being named an All-America City in 1974. One year later a major factory – the Corning Glass Works – closed, causing the town’s fortunes to change overnight.
A strong spirit of volunteerism has emerged to respond to the challenges that industrial decline has created. Albion College has played a leading role in these efforts, realizing how it’s destiny is tied to the viability of the city in which it is located.
Historic Observatory building on Albion College campus.