“Homeless” Then and Now (“Don’t pay for the landlord’s house”!)

Port Huron, Factory Land Company booklet, ca 1902

Factory Land Company booklet, ca 1902, page 30.

Today, we’d never think of a homeless person as someone who is living in a rental, yet that’s exactly what at least some thought (or tried to make a point about) in Port Huron at the turn of the century (19th/20th).  The following was reprinted from “Home and Fireside” in the Factory Land Company’s promotional booklet, circa 1902-1903 (page 18).

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All Homeless People are not Poor

“What a dreary sound the word ‘homeless’ has!  It is associated in the mind with loneliness, hunger and threadbare clothing.  Yet all homeless people are not poor.  Some of them are merely unwise.  They continue to live in houses owned by others, when they might with the same expenditure possess a home of their own.  To be sure, they have a temporary abiding place–a habitation–which, by a pleasant though strained fiction, they call ‘home.’  But they pay rent–a tax–for it.  Why not have the papers drawn differently?  Instead of a lease, let it be a deed, and the monthly payments that now disappear and are gone, leaving you as homeless as ever, will remain with you. . . .”

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The Factory Land Company goes on to say, “A rented house is not a home,” and who can’t testify to that?  They add, “Don’t pay for the landlord’s house, but pay for a home of your own” (page 19).  Who wouldn’t want their own home?  The Factory Land Company lands, known as South Park in Port Huron, represented an early form of urban planning.  South Park was not a traditional company town–it didn’t have the drawbacks that Pullman, Illinois, had–but had aspects of those types of “communities” while adopting ideals from the City Beautiful Movement.  Workers weren’t to rent, but buy their homes and/or lots at a good price with practical terms ($5 down and then $1 a week).  They could walk to work, live alongside (or very nearby) a large park and the beautiful St. Clair River, and take the modern electric railway to Port Huron, Marysville, or even Detroit.  Sounds delightful!

What a contrast to being “homeless!”  And, of course, it was not the gilded cage that Pullman was.  In Pullman, the workers could only rent from the company, and in 1893 when the company cut wages but not rents . . . well, the most well-known and influential strike rocked America (this happened in 1894).  The promoters of South Park seemed to have understood quite well what would appeal to workers and employers alike a few years after this strike.

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The Successful Man

A successful man is one who has made a happy home for his wife and children.  No matter what he has done in the matter of achieving wealth and honor, if he has done that he is a grand success.  If he has not done that, and it is his own fault, though he be the highest in the land, he is a most pitiable failure.  I wonder how many men, in the mad pursuit of gold, which characterizes the age, realize that there is no fortune which can be left to their families as great as the memory of a happy home.  —-Ella Wheeler Wilcox. (Factory Land Company page 23)♥

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♥  Someone was reading something more than business journals and financial reports!

Sources (not already linked to)

Factory Land Company.  Manufacturing and Homes in Port Huron, Michigan (Port Huron: Press of the Port Huron Engine & Thresher Co: no date [ca. 1902-1903]).

Green, Hardy.  The Company Town: The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills that Shaped the American Economy (New York: Basic Books, 2010).

Port Huron Loan and Building Association.  Home and Fireside (no date).

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As Seen in Port Huron, April 24th 2016

Backways, Port Huron

The alleyscape of the southeast block of Military and Water Streets, Port Huron (taken April 24, 2016; filtered).

The lull in posts should not be confused with an absence of work on PHAH&PA’s part.  Research is being done, pages are being added to and edited, buildings and districts are being identified as possible National Register candidates, one-on-one meetings are being held, and there’s some training going on in there too.

Part of the page additions and research has involved taking and adding photographs, so I thought I’d share some here.  Today, not realizing that the Exquisite Corpse coffee house wasn’t open on Sundays, my son and I took a little stroll around the block it’s in, looking for the little things that make up the personality of a building and a block.  Here are a few.

Historic alleyway door and wall, Port Huron.

Old stonework and double door, Military street alley (at Water Street), Port Huron. I only wish you could really see what this photo can’t seem to convey about this historic doorway.

Pilaster detail, Water St, Port Huron

Pilaster detail, east end of Water St, Port Huron.

Historic bldg details, Port Huron

Stone foundation and pilaster detail, east end of Water Street, Port Huron.

Pilaster base, north end Military St, Port Huron

We’d need to do a rubbing of this one. Pilaster base, at the north end Military St (east side), Port Huron.

Historic interior detail, Military St, Port Huron

Historic interior detail (or ghost of one), east side of Military Street (south of Water), Port Huron. East Lake Builders seem to be in the process of preserving and renovating this building.

Detail of the Old Masonic Lodge Bldg, Port Huron

 

 

 

At left is an upper door detail from what’s left of the 1912 Eagles Lodge No. 343 at 1001 Military Street. It used to be a stately three story structure with brick upper floors, but now only the bottom first floor remains (it is utilized as a social services building). See below. An image of the original building will be added when one becomes available.

1001 Military St, Port Huron

Below is a side view of what is probably the only red sandstone building in Port Huron, and it’s in pretty sorry shape.  This structure was one of the oldest banks in the city, St. Clair County Savings Bank.  Amazingly, it’s present location at Military and Pine streets is not it’s first–it was moved stone by stone from a location that was closer to the water (Endlich 1981:71).

Old St Clair County Bank bldg, Port Huron

St Clair Cty Savings Bank Endlich p72

At left is a scan of the building during better days (Endlich 1981:72); the photo is undated.

Source

Endlich, Helen.  A Story of Port Huron (Port Huron: Self-published, 1981).

Getting the Word Out about PHAHPA

I’ve been busy populating this site’s pages with useful information, researching and helping some folks with historical building questions, and trying to make more connections.  So, I hadn’t been focusing on developing the organization as a nonprofit quite as much.  But to make things clearer in everyone’s mind (including my own), I came up with a one page hand-out about the Port Huron Area History and Preservation Association.  Eventually, when the organization has a new host, pdf’s of forms, informational sheets and brochures, articles, etc., will be made available.

In the meantime, feel free to comment on the contents of this hand-out.  We would appreciate thoughtful feedback and any insights into the local situation that could prove helpful to furthering the preservation of our historic community.  First is an image of the sheet which could be copied and printed out, if desired, followed by standard text.

Port Huron Area History

The background color is quite off in this scan, but it’ll do for now.


Port Huron Area History & Preservation Association  

Community.  Uniqueness.  Home.

cropped-ph-1st-baptist-1867-2.jpg

Bringing the Port Huron area’s history to life.

We’re here to inform and inspire Port Huron area residents about the possibilities of preserving and rehabilitating their historic properties.  We’re here to help those same residents investigate their properties for the purposes of recognition, preservation, and the application for any possible monetary benefit or assistance.

We will do this by developing and presenting (1) data related to regional history, architecture, and planning, (2) historical narratives and contexts, (3) “how-to” articles and ready-to-use forms; by providing (4) assistance with research, technical forms, and report writing, and by (5) recognizing historical resources at the organizations’ web page and via public avenues, and when funds allow, (6) provide permanent informational plaques (to be mounted on the historic building). 

We are still in the development phase of establishing this organization for the greater Port Huron area, with the goal of incorporating and being awarded nonprofit (501[c]3) status.  To find out more and to contribute in any way (including volunteering, or even being on the Board of Directors or an advisory committee), please visit PHAHPA.ORG and/or contact Vicki Priest at 949-449-4731 (or phahpa@zoho.com).  Thank you!


 

Yes, Virginia, Historic Preservation for the Masses Exists

Playful architecture, Port Huron

A historic house of concern, located at 1440 Chestnut, Port Huron. It has an unusual and playful very wide and deep-set tower, which dwarfs the small bay window behind it. There is another home with these same surprising features in South Park, Port Huron.

Against the will of a huge amount of people and their community representatives, monied interests in Michigan are trying their darnedest to–for all intents and purposes–eliminate historic districts (Ellison 2016; Finegood 2016 (1); Finegood 2016 (2)).  So with this dark cloud looming, Stephanie Meeks’ “President’s Note” in the Spring 2016 issue of Preservation (Fighting Displacement) seemed like a sudden burst of sunshine.  To read the entire piece, click the previous link–it’s not a long read.  But here, let me give you some highlights.

For many Americans in cities, the biggest crisis now and in the foreseeable future is a dearth of affordable housing . . . Simply put, the rent is just too high. . . .  Fourteen cities around the country saw double-digit growth in rents last year.

There is sometimes a perception that preservation is driving excessive rents by making older neighborhoods more attractive to well-heeled outsiders, and by ostensibly limiting the housing supply. We have been heartened by recent research . . . that suggests instead that preservation supports existing residents across the economic spectrum . . .

One terrific example of this is in Macon, Georgia, where the Historic Macon Foundation has been renovating homes in the Beall’s Hill neighborhood. Historic Macon never displaces current landowners by acquiring occupied houses [displacement is happening in Michigan, where very nice old homes are being torn down to build “McMansions], and it counters displacement in other ways, such as building houses designed to be affordable for families and operating a robust historic tax credit consulting service.  [emphasis mine – this is a terrific idea]

Rather than exacerbating the crisis, creative adaptive reuse projects all over the country are expanding housing options and helping cities become more affordable.

I wonder what we can accomplish at the local level here in Port Huron, if we try?  Please contact me if you’d like to discuss the possibilities!  vicki@phahpa.org

The Wicked Journalist of Port Huron, from Andreas 1883

Devil's apprentices, who are "printer's devils"

Woodcut illustrating a devil and his apprentices, the printer’s devils.

Perhaps the editor Andreas* refers to in this little story took the title “printer’s devil” a little to seriously during his training.  Another example of guile and subterfuge at the local level, neighbor against neighbor.  But back to the story, which adds life to a time unknown to us.

Once there was a wicked journalist in Port Huron.  There may be wicked journalists in Port Huron now, but this wicked journalist is there no more.  Once while he was there, Elder Smart proposed to get up a revival, and went about the work systematically.  He set the date three weeks ahead, got out posters and made all arrangements to draw good houses.  The wicked journalist did not believe in revivals, and he said one day to another Port Huron editor who was not truly good, “I believe we can break  up that revival.”  The other editor thought not. 

Now it was just the time when the spelling mania was sweeping over the land.  At once the wicked editor put an item in his paper suggesting that Port Huron shouldn’t lag behind the age, and it was high time she began to spell.  T’other editor copied the item and urged Port Huron to do her duty.  The third day a call was issued for a spelling match.  In a week everybody had a spelling book in his pocket and studied at every odd moment.  Orthographic exercises  were the order of the day. 

When the time came for the revival to open, Port Huron and Sarnia were booked for an international spelling match, and Port Huronites scarcely knew whether they had souls to save or not.  They only knew they would spell the Canadians down or die in the attempt.  The revival was abandoned.  This does not profess to be a story with a moral, although it may tend to show how easily it is to set folks wild over nothing, and how like sheep they will go astray, or any other way, when some one chooses to lead them.

From History of St. Clair County, Michigan (Chicago: A.T. Andreas & Co, 1883), page 506.