A bit on the Huron House/St. Clair Hotel properties, Port Huron

The Huron House and St. Clair Hotel Properties

(311-323 Huron Avenue Historic Property Uses, to 1990) [1]

By Vicki Priest, MA History       December 5, 2019

Port Huron was once home to a decent number of four- and five-story brick and stone structures [2], one of which, the Harrington Hotel, still exists. Coupled with wonderful electric and water-based mass transportation (locally and to Detroit), one could easily argue the period having this built and cultural environment—roughly the late 1800s to the early 1900s—was the Golden Age of Port Huron.

The Huron House along Huron Avenue for many years was one of those five-story buildings (perhaps the first one). The earliest photograph identified in this study shows an early iteration of The Huron House as a wood 2 ½ story structure. It was vastly enlarged as a 4- and 5-story building in the 1870s, and for whatever reason the 5-story section was reduced to 4-stories in the very late 1800s. At this time it became the St. Clair Hotel, which met its demise in a fire of 1903. The history of this hotel, and later uses of 2/3 of the former hotel’s properties (313-317 Huron Ave.), are very briefly provided below. The current research was limited to 1990.

1860s to 1903: The Huron House hotel/St. Clair Hotel

The earliest source of information on the properties (so far) comes from a photo of the Huron House labeled as “circa 1860” in a local history book.  It shows the wood Huron House along Huron Avenue, and a brick structure next to it that very much appears to be the bottom half of the later five-story portion of the brick Huron House (Port Huron: Celebrating Our Past, 2006, p 117), discussed more below. Considering that a different Huron House building existed at the northeast corner of Huron Avenue and Butler Street in 1859, 1860 would be the earliest year that the Huron House in the photo could have existed.[3]

The first known city directory for Port Huron dates from 1870 (copyright) and 1871 (publication year). From this directory we know that the Huron House existed within the current 300s block of Huron Ave, west side, even though its addresses were different than today’s (they were all even numbers from 50 to 58; directory pages 4, 50, 93, 99). An 1867 bird’s eye view map of Port Huron (A. Ruger, LoC) shows a substantial 2-story building in the center of the block.

In 1873 and 1874, the operator of the Huron House, Mr. George Knill, basically built (or rather managed the construction for investors [4]) a new huge and “magnificent” hotel—one of the largest in Michigan at the time. According to the CPI Inflation Calculator, the owners’ $75,000 investment is equal to $1,604,744 in today’s currency! The brick hotel was a handsome one, having a five-story center that contained a courtyard, and 4-story wings on either side. This hotel took up the addresses of what is now 311 – 321/323 Huron Ave (The Port Huron Times 09-26-1873, p 4; 12-04-1873, p 4; 09-01-1874, p 4).

A sidelong view of the hotel can be seen in a photo showing a Huron Avenue street view in The Artwork of St. Clair County, 1893 (no page number). When looking at both this photo and the one mentioned earlier from circa 1860, one can see the resemblance of the brick structure to the north of the wood hotel with that of the taller 1873 center portion of the hotel. The windows and the decorative brickwork are the same. See Figures 1 and 2. The 1892 Sanborn Fire Insurance map (Figure 3) shows a large wood structure—so the original Huron House—attached at the back of the south wing of the brick 1870’s structure. This confirms what a contemporary newspaper article (Port Huron Times, 12-04-1873, p 4) stated about the wood structure being saved and moved to the back of the newer hotel building.  Besides the Sanborn map, an 1894 birds eye view map of Port Huron shows the basic configuration of the hotel with courtyard (C. J. Pauli, LoC). It dominates the block, and indeed the area, with its scale (Figure 4).

Figure 1. Huron House (at left), circa 1860, from page 117, Port Huron: Celebrating our Past (2006). The red oval points out decorative brick and window placement that appears to be the same found in the later center portion of the brick Huron Hotel (see Figure 3).

Figure 2. Sidelong view of Huron House, as published in the 1893 (unpaginated) book Artwork of St. Clair County. Red oval indicates features seemingly shared with earlier brick structure.

Figure 3.  1892 Sanborn Fire Insurance map (page 6 portion; Library of Congress). Note the wood portion, in yellow, which was the original Huron House.

Figure 4.  1894 bird’s eye view map of Port Huron, showing the area of the Huron Hotel (indicated by the number 10).  The number of windows is not accurate. (C.J. Pauli map on file, Library of Congress).

In early 1898, after undergoing $15,000 worth of repairs, the Huron House became the St. Clair Hotel. The proprietor was the same Mr. Knill at this transition, although he no longer held that position in 1903. A photo of the hotel, Figure 5, from a 1900 publication shows a significantly altered middle section. The fifth floor was not only removed, but the windows were made to line up with the window placement of the wings; the windows themselves were changed to one-over-one sash windows, instead of four-over-four sash (the old style can still be seen in a side wall of the hotel). The decorative brick work is now gone, and the window hoods of the entire front facade had been removed. It’s interesting, though sad, that it was thought better to transform the building’s appearance to a plainer, starker state.

Figure 5. The St. Clair Hotel as shown in W.W. Black’s 1900 book, Port Huron: A Souvenir in Half-tone, page 11.

In February of that year the hotel, along with other neighboring structures, were tragically destroyed by fire. The hotel was not the only business within the structure (back then, large structures were referred to as “blocks”). Small businesses had operated out of it too, like the confectionery store where the fire may have started (a witness said he saw the fire start there, but the store owner said the oven hadn’t been used that day). The International Tea Store and Asman Floral Co. were also within the hotel block. These businesses were at 319 Huron Ave, and it was in the basement of this part of the hotel that it was thought that a hotel employee, Albert Wortley, lost his life in the fire (his body, apparently, was never found). Tio Gordo’s restaurant is located here today. No guests or other employees died in the fire, but a volunteer firefighter (bystander)—Malcom Campbell—sadly did. (Port Huron Daily Times 1903: 02-18, p 5; 02-19, p 1; 02-20, p 7; 02-23, p 1; 03-29-1898, p 5; and various city directories.)  See Figure 6.

Figure 6. St. Clair Hotel (Huron House), after the fire of February 18, 1903. (Port Huron: Celebrating our Past, 2006, page 116. The book caption errs in saying the fire was in 1904 and that the building was on Butler Street.)

1903 to 1911

The land of the project addresses had been cleared and remained vacant . . . probably.

1911 to 1990

311-313. The short history of these lots prior to the O’Hearne Block of 1924 is unclear at present. A news article from 1912 stated that O’Hearne was building a new vaudeville house/theatre next to the Gas building (315-317), but it did not specify north or south. There was a theater at the north side of the building for a long time, the Family Theater, but it does not seem to be O’Hearne’s since a theatre was already at that location by 1911 (“Electric Theatre” as shown on the 1911 Sanborn Fire Insurance map for Port Huron, LoC and the Michigan Room, St. Clair County public library). Also, when the 1924 O’Hearne Block was built, it was reported that a brick structure in the same location had been torn down. The 1912 article also stated that the new theatre would be a fireproof building of concrete, yet neither the existing theater nor the razed building were concrete. In any case, the present building, the O’Hearne Block, was built in 1924 for J. C. Penney, which remained in the structure until the fall of 1990, when the store moved to the Birchwood Mall. (The Port Huron Times-Herald 02-24-1912, pp 1, 7; 10-10-1924, p 14; and The Times Herald 10-04-1990, pp 1A, 10A.)

315-317.  In 1911 construction on a new brick building at 315-317 Huron Avenue began, and was finished in 1912. This two-story building belonged to Port Huron Gas, which became Port Huron Gas & Electric. Wolfstyn & Co. clothing store shared the building. Having come into disfavor, Port Huron Gas & Electric was replaced by Detroit Edison in 1919. Detroit Edison remained in the building until August of 1941. After this time, the building was used for World War II civil defense business, like rationing and recruitment (see Figure 7), after which time it became vacant. Carroll House, a department store, moved into the building in 1948 and apparently did well until 1969, when the city tax assessment had suddenly about doubled. Not being able to handle that burden, the store closed.

Figure 7. A portion of a full page ad for the Women’s Army Corps, and as can be seen, 317 Huron Avenue was the recruiting place for this corps (The Port Huron Times Herald, April 13, 1944, page 10).

In January 1970, a small corporation purchased this building (along with 311-315) and allowed J.C. Penney to use the basement as its warehouse (its warehouse building was in the way of the planned-for parking lot behind the block). Eventually J.C. Penney took over much of the building and put up an aluminum facade in 1974, unifying the two buildings in a popular architectural facade style of the day. As J.C. Penney vacated the building in 1990, the facade was removed in 1992 and the building somewhat restored. (City Directory 1946-47, p 469. The Times Herald: 01-11-1970, p 5; 06-03-1974, p 2. Port Huron Times Herald: 02-19-1912, p 5; 08-22-1912, p 5; 12-31-1919, p 10; 09-28-1941, p 2; 07-16-1943, p 7; 01-01-1944, p 19; 09-19-1945, p 1; 03-10-1949, p 3; 03-05-1968, p 5.)

1998

The buildings are within the Military Road Historic District, being listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

Editorial Notes:  This post was slightly edited on December 6, 2019, to make a correction related to four-story buildings in Port Huron.  It was altered on December 11, 2019, to reflect the additional information that Bob Davis kindly shared–the 1859 image of the Huron House from the 1859 map of the county (found in note 3 below).  Unless a person possesses a photographic memory, one cannot count on remembering everything–the author did not remember that the Huron House was one of those depicted along the border of the huge 1859 map.  It is always best practice to check all possible sources . . . and perhaps check again!

Notes

1  This post is the result of original research done in November 2019, on a voluntary basis, for the purpose of discovering the historic uses of the buildings now occupied by Everything Classic Antiques and more. The information provided in the Military Road Historic District, National Register of Historic Places, was insufficient for the desired purpose. Virtually all information provided here is from original/primary sources; photographs are from both primary and secondary sources. All right reserved by author.

2  Among them, the White Block (burned in 1943), the Baer Building (burned in 1922), the Opera House (burned in 1914), the Maccabee Temple/Algonquin Hotel (neglected, then burned in the early 1970s), Bush Building (demolished in 1978), and the C. Kern Brewing Co. building.

Very small section of the Port Huron subsection of the 1859 Map of Macomb and St. Clair Counties (Library of Congress. The black area is where the map had split apart). The key to Port Huron indicates that Burroughs was the proprietor of the Huron House, shown here in a different location (southeast) of where the Huron House was otherwise known to have stood.

3.  If the subject of this article was only the Huron House, or even the historic hotels of Port Huron, the following information would be in the body of the text.  The 1859 map of Macomb & St. Clair Counties by Geil & Jones (on file with the Library of Congress/LoC), shows the original Huron Hotel–at the opposite corner of Huron Ave and Butler St–and even has an image of the establishment.  The building is obviously not the same one as that shown in the circa 1860 photo, and so the building was not moved.  The hotel proprietor, Mr. B. Burroughs, is also different from the latter hotel’s proprietor on the west side of Huron Ave.  Uncategorized structures are shown existing along the west side of Huron.   A 1903 article (Port Huron Daily Times, Feb. 18, p 5) shared that the wood hotel was built about “40 years ago,” which would’ve been 1863 or thereabouts.  For whatever reason, the hotel’s business location was moved.  

Huron House as shown on the 1859 map of Macomb & St Clair Counties (LoC). This early version of the hotel was on the east side of Huron Ave., at Butler Street.

4  A note on the building’s ownership: When it was so expensively expanded in the 1870’s, a large group of local investors owned the Huron House: N.P., J.H., and E. White, Howard & Son, John Johnston, D.B. Harrington, John P. Sanborn, Wm. Wastell, Hull & Boyce, M. Walker, E. Fitzgerald, and L.N. and R. A. Minnie. When it burned in 1903, the owners were the estates of both James Goulden and Henry Howard. The insurance on the building was far less than the actual total loss, according to a 1903 article. From Port Huron Daily Times, 02-18-1903, page 5.

Ken-Way prefabricated concrete homes of Port Huron, Michigan

by Vicki Priest (c)*

Many people seem to know of the small concrete Ken-Way homes in Port Huron, but that they were a very local and very short-lived phenomenon seems less widely known.  Ken-Way, or sometimes just “Kenway,” homes were developed by Kenneth Wyillie of Port Huron.  They were made by assembling locally constructed pre-cast walls–which included insulation, wiring, and plumbing–at the house site (the foundation and roof were not pre-cast).  The homes were built from about 1950 to 1957.  These years are representative of articles or ads found regarding new Ken-Way homes in the local newspaper, but some homes may have been built shortly before or after.

An article from November 1951 (The Times Herald, page 5) reported that “several of the modernistic, flat-roofed buildings already have been erected in the Port Huron area.”  A 1950 ad states that they had built a “test home” five years prior.(1)  It can be assumed–perhaps wrongly–that the address of the home they provide in the ad is that “test home.”  Whether it is the 1945 test or another early example, it is still standing and shown below the pictured ad.

Ken-Way Homes ad, first one discovered so far (The Times Herald 09-17-50, p 23).

Continue reading

Nifty Interactive Timeline of Historic Preservation and Related

Just a quickie here, sharing an educational timeline that’s a pleasure to use and learn from.  Click on the image to be taken to the Local Preservation School’s link.

Picture history of Port Huron by Joseph Miskell, published 1937

by Vicki Priest (c) 2019

Upon perusing files at the St. Clair Library earlier this year, I was totally delighted after stumbling upon some original art boards by Joseph T. Miskell (Michigan Room, Picture Files, “P-R” drawer).  They looked like they were made for a children’s picture history of Port Huron.  I found instead that they were published in The Port Huron Times Herald in 1937 as part of the centennial; the artwork looks quite different in the paper.  The beautiful pencil sketching is much less clear, and the square originals were re-sized into rectangles.

Two originals are missing, pages 7 and 13, and in the paper, page 11 is missing (page 10 was printed twice and no correction has been found so far).  Not everything in this history is necessarily accurate, but inaccuracies like that can be amended.  If only pages 7 and 13 could be found, what a neat children’s picture book this would make!  However, since those pages are reproduced in the newspaper, a re-creation of them could be made by the right person.

Joseph Miskell, 1904-1981, was an employee of Mueller Brass for 34 years, first in Port Huron and then in San Francisco, California (The Times Herald, November 24th 1981, page 13).

The boards are very large. The images immediately below are just a couple of examples of portions of pages.  Below them are the pages from The Port Huron Times Herald, screen captured from the digitized paper.

Page 6 story board portion, 1854 fire, by Joseph Miskell (Michigan Room, St. Clair Public Library).

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Peeps in (local) History Contest Entries–and Winners

We decided to announce the winners on the same page used for the entries, making it easier to find and also giving the opportunity for everyone to see all entries (if they haven’t already).  It was difficult for us to finalize some winners, as judging for a contest like this is necessarily subjective to a certain degree.  And we’d like to give something to everyone simply for participating and trying!  Thank you all!  We wanted to mention that although a couple of the entries did not meet the rules for the contest, we really liked them anyway and do not wish to discourage anyone.  We have a similar contest planned for next year; it will be announced sooner and will hopefully appeal to more people.  Watch out for it!  The winners are announced with their photos below (images can be clicked on in order to view them in a larger size).  Prizes are listed at the contest page, but we have added more “honorable mention” prizes ($10 gift certificates from the Raven Cafe) since that was posted.

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Below are the entries to the Peeps in (local) History contest, in no particular order.  Please enjoy looking at them, and feel free to leave comments–we’ll be reading these and taking them into consideration as we decide on the winners!

Honorable Mention.  Laura White.  “Phineas went all through town and he was so tired he needed to rest. He thought that this would be a great time for a selfie in front of his favorite clocks, Moshers.  (After this he he went on his way to many more places in Port Huron which he may show you in the future.)”  Mosher’s is at the corner of Huron and McMorran, in downtown Port Huron.  The Mosher’s clock was purchased by Clarence Mosher in 1912 (it was a used clock and was originally hand-cranked), and formerly at 209 Huron Avenue.

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Why the Style of Your Home is Not “Victorian,” and Why it Matters

by Vicki Priest (c) 2018

You may have clicked on this article thinking, “why does this matter?” or perhaps out of annoyance, but how people perceive the dwellings in their community can have some real and possibly unpleasant consequences. What do I mean by that? Well, Victorian is a period in history and not a single architectural style. The many styles from that period in the U.S. are mostly from after the Civil War to about 1910. But if to your knowledge all homes built during that time are “Victorian style,” then it may seem reasonable to not get too upset over a few more losses—since there seem to be so many of them.

However, not only are there many styles within the Victorian period, there are styles from other periods that overlap with the Victorian. So, while there are, say, many vernacular homes that had, or may still have, “Queen Anne” ornament (the style people often associate with Victorian), there aren’t so many Second Empire buildings left here. If all the Second Empire homes remaining in Port Huron were razed, it would equal only a small percent of all those remaining from the 2nd half of the 19th century. Knowing this, once a building is identified as a rarer type and not just another “Victorian,” then it is hoped that it will be favored with benevolence in its future. And Second Empire style is rarer; the style is the oldest of the Victorian Period and Port Huron has already lost much of its significant and beautiful stock (see Image 1 and its caption). A great many Italiantes, an earlier period style that overlaps with Victorian, have also been lost due to fires and demolitions. Continue reading

Peeps in (local) History Contest

Mrs. Peep and her children, strolling along Military Street in 1908. Unbeknownst to her, time lord Dr. Who is right behind her. What disaster could this portend?! (V. Priest, 2019)

PEEPS IN (local) HISTORY CONTEST!

Take photos of peeps (any type) at or in an area historic property or with a historic photo (the photo above is an example).  Photos can be a close-up of a nice detail; don’t be afraid to get creative, and certainly have fun!  Filtered, modified, and “photoshopped” images are also welcome! The included property doesn’t have to be a “landmark,” but can even be your own home–just as long as it’s at least 50 years old. Creativity is the top consideration, not quality (you don’t have to be a professional photographer!).  The image above is a regular photo that has had filters applied to it (using ipiccy.com, but there are other free photo editing applications out there too).  Photos taken with phones are of course acceptable.  Rules and submission policy are below.

Deadline is April 13, 2019.  Photos will be posted at PHAHPA.ORG at that time, and comments accepted.  We will consider comments when judging the entries.  Winners will be announced on April 20th.

Where the photos can be from:  Port Huron, Port Huron Township, Fort Gratiot Township, or Marysville

Prizes (4):  1st Place, Enter Stage Right gift certificate for 2 tickets to a production + refreshments, plus a PHAHPA 16 GB flash drive; 2nd Place, Enter Stage Right gift certificate for 2 tickets to a production + refreshments; 3rd Place, $20 gift certificate to Kate’s Downtown coffee restaurant, and;  Honorable Mention, $10 gift certificate to Port Huron’s downtown vinyl record store, State Perceptory.

Please support our kind sponsors, representing the local arts and downtown businesses!

Check out Enter Stage Right and their upcoming plays!  609 Huron Avenue, Port Huron.

Caffeine comes in great packages at Kate’s Downtown.  Give them a try next time you’re in the heart of Port Huron. 

Visit State Perceptory for vinyl records and more in downtown Port Huron (219 Huron Ave., open 10 am to 7 pm Mon-Sat).

Submitting photos:

  1.  Photos can be any size–large file sizes may be reduced when we post them to our website.  They can be “as is” or filtered, or even photoshopped (modified peeps photo inserted in, or layered onto, another photo, for example).
  2. Photos must be the submittor’s original work.  By submitting a photo to this contest you are attesting to its originality. Photos must not have been used in any previous contest. Your name will be posted with the photo.
  3. You MUST provide information about the location and age of the property in the photo.  If you do not know the exact age, say so, but provide other information as to why you think it meets the rule of “50+” years. Remember that the properties must be in either Port Huron, Port Huron Township, Marysville, or Fort Gratiot Township; these are currently the areas PHAHPA specifically serves.  (Maybe next year we will have expanded our service area before the next contest.)
  4. If you want to submit a caption along with the photo, please do. You can have fun with the caption like we did in our sample.  We reserve the right to edit the caption.
  5. One submission per person only.
  6. By submitting an entry you are agreeing that PHAHPA can post it at its website and use it at other social media places it utilizes, and that PHAHPA may also print it with marketing and informational materials if it ever deems that would be useful. You would retain full copyright otherwise.
  7. Email your submission to porthuronhistory@gmail.com, subject: Peeps Contest.  Provide your name and another way to contact you (besides email) if you desire.  If you are a winner we will contact you to ask the best way to get the prize to you.
  8. Have fun 🙂  (questions?  write to porthuronhistory@gmail.com)
  9. We know, but just so you know, PHAHPA board members (the only volunteers associated with PHAHPA at this time; there are no employees) are not allowed to submit entries to the contest.

Peepzilla at Palm’s Krystal Bar & Grill (Chicken in the Rough), Port Huron. Vicki Priest and Zakery Stiegemeyer photo.

Peepzilla attacking Chicken in the Rough poster. Zakery Stiegemeyer and Vicki Priest image.

Port Huron’s “Report to the People, 1964-65”

We’re not advocating ancestor worship here at PHAHPA, but the report below–scanned to images so you can click on them to see large-scale–seems to be advocating the opposite.  While Port Huron has lost many buildings to fires, it has lost a great many to redevelopment and blight removal.  This 54-year-old report shows the attitude of the times, that the sturdy and artful buildings of downtown were “antiquated” and therefore ready for demolition.  It is proud of the demolitions and of the building owners who otherwise covered up their old buildings’ “rustic” facades.  When do you see buildings like that being made today, with actual brick, hardwoods, marble, etc.? Continue reading

Downtown to Get Major Improvement: Rehabilitation of the Ballentine Building

Before winter set in, anyone who noticed the paint being removed from the bricks of the old 3-story building at the northeast corner of Huron Avenue and Quay Street may have gotten a twinge of excitement about it. Well, anyone who appreciates the warmth and human scale of old buildings, anyway. And excitement is justified, since the brick facade will be put back in its natural state and repointed. Plain windows that had replaced some of the original arched ones will be removed and arched ones re-integrated. Missing cornice (most of which is gone) will be replaced.  (The more recent and modern treatment at the first floor will remain, however.) Continue reading

When Old Buildings Have Curves

While doing some research on the Tunnel Depot in Port Huron recently, I found that it had been described more than once as Spanish Revival style. I found that to be very odd, and had doubts about another building description someone had shown me, so I decided to look into these things more (neither building is still standing, so one has to rely on whatever photos are available). Below is a photo of the Tunnel Depot, which is not a Spanish-based style.

Figure 1. Grand Trunk RR Depot, commonly called The Tunnel Depot. Opened in 1892 and demolished in 1975. It displays many Tudor style (1890-1940) elements, including the curves! This was a fine and detailed depot.

Did “they” think it “Spanish” because it had curved windows and some stucco? Besides Mission (1890-1920) and Spanish Revival (1915-1940) styles having stucco walls, Tudor, Italian Renaissance, French Colonial, Modernistic, and International style buildings may also have walls of stucco. Curves, as in round arched windows, are common to many architectural styles of the last 100+ years, though arcades less so. Of course, Mission buildings usually have curvilinear gables (or roof parapets and dormers), making them distinct (although interestingly, Flemish gables can be very similar), whether they have any other curved elements or not (Figure 2; please find most of the figures after the body of text).

Spanish Colonial Revival style tends to have “fancier” (baroque) elements and is usually not so cube-like as the Mission style (Figure 3). Both styles have stucco walls and are annoyingly similar, but Spanish Colonial Revival roofs are much more straight-edged than the curvilinear Mission. To up the confusion, some architectural style references claim they are the same style . . . this type of joining and parting is not at all unusual amongst the many architectural styles sources. And yet there is more to add to the confusion: in the 1910s architect Irving Gill introduced his own brand of Mission that was “radically simplified” (Figure 4), and in this author’s view, tended to resemble the upcoming Spanish Revival more. In any case, Gill’s modernization of the Mission Style was highly respected and no doubt copied widely. The simplified rear arcades of the former Gratiot Inn (1917-1969) are reminiscent of Gill’s work, while the front of the structure was in the traditional Mission Style (photos of this building are hard to come by, but a number can be viewed in this video:  https://youtu.be/OBCUL3wqulQ .*

Other styles of buildings that have curves (like towers or wall “corners”), which are not normally confused with “Spanish” are Queen Anne, Tudor, and Art Moderne, so I will not be addressing those styles further. Well, except that the Tunnel Depot, already pictured, appears to be Tudor or a Tudor with additional elements, and it was confused with Spanish Revival (an article from 1975 says “renaissance,” but that may have been in error since that style is centuries old). So besides Mission Revival (which is very rare in this area) and Spanish Colonial Revival (again, very rare), what building styles with round arches might be found in Port Huron and environs?

The arch, of course, is Roman in origin (well, they invented the weight-bearing arch). And Rome is in Italy, so styles with arches tend to be Roman or Italian of some sort. The oldest style in the area that starts to get its curve on is Italian Villa (1837-1880), and there appear to be some homes of this style still standing in Port Huron.  The example in Figure 5 has many round-top windows. Italianate, 1840-1885, soon followed (Second Empire, 1855-1885, buildings have perhaps even more curved elements), and examples are easily seen in Port Huron. Most curves are found in one or more floors of arched windows. Many Italianate buildings actually did not have that much in the way of curvature, but the two upper stories in the Port Huron example have two different types of curved windows (Figure 6).

Romanesque Revival was early, from the 1840s to the 1870s, and evolved into other forms.  However, being a favorite for churches and schools, the style was apparently carried on in these types of buildings much longer.  Arguably the most beautiful building still standing in Port Huron–Saint Joseph Catholic Church–has been described as Romanesque Revival (Buildings of Michigan 1993:353-354), although it was built 1922-23.  Please see figure 7 for all the wonderful curves and other details.  There are a very small number of Richardsonian Romanesque (~1877-1900) buildings in Port Huron, and arches are an identifying feature of this style (note the Roman reference right in the name). These relatively distinctive and heavy structures of stone are normally not confused with other styles (Figures 8 and 9). (Victorian Romanesque, 1870-1900, was even more curvy.) Buildings in the Italian Renaissance style, 1890-1935, may have lots of arched windows and an arcade (or they may not) (Figure 10).

So if you see a building with a row of arched windows, or an arched opening or two (doorways and porticoes), or a row of arches that make up an arcade, what style might it be? Something to consider is that it may just be a vernacular building—one designed and made by a local builder, not an architect—which contains certain style elements but is not an example of a certain architectural style in its entirety (the Harrington Hotel is one such example of mixed styles). It might be one of the styles included here, but then again many styles of architecture use arched windows. If you see a building with such windows and it doesn’t really look like any of the styles here, then it’s probably not a Spanish- or Italian-based style.

Figure 2.  Mission Style 1890-1920.  Mission style house in Port Huron, Michigan. The only one? Not sure yet. Note the curvilinear parapet and prominent porch—both typical of the Mission style. Mission style homes also tend to be more cubelike compared to the Spanish Revival’s longer forms.  Note that Mission Style is generally older than Spanish Revival Style, and like other older styles may not have curved windows.

Figure 3. Spanish Revival 1915-1940. Spanish (Colonial) Revival style house.  I chose this example specifically to show the roof line, the square and rounded windows, and the distinctive spiraled columns around the door and between the windows.  Mission and Spanish style buildings are rarely anything other than stuccoed.

Figure 4. Streamlined Mission style building by Irving Gill, built 1913-14. The La Jolla Women’s Club, California.

Figure 5. Italian Villa Style 1837-1880. Calvert Station, Baltimore, in the Italian Villa style, was built in 1855. It is no longer standing. Unlike this example, homes in this style are usually asymmetrical. Note the classical roof line and all those round-top windows!

Figure 6. Italianate 1840-1885. 201 Huron Avenue, Port Huron. Photo from http://www.porthuronhighschool.info/class_custom3.cfm

Figure 7. St. Joseph Catholic Church, 1331 7th Street, Port Huron. Word is that the unique (for this area) ceramic roof will be replaced.

Figure 8. Richardsonian Romanesque ~1877-1900. An example from Newark, Ohio, the old Sheriff’s quarters and jail built in 1889.

Figure 9. Richardsonian Romanesque, a local example. It was not unusual for commercial buildings in this style to be primarily brick. A Port Huron Commercial Block in the Richardson Romanesque style. This building had delightful organic detailing in the stone elements. It was called the Baer Block (after builder Charles Baer) and had a bear relief at the entrance. Built in 1891-92, it very very sadly and completely burned in 1922.

Figure 10. Italian Renaissance Revival 1890-1935. Example in Chicago, from architecturestyles.wordpress.com.

* The Gratiot Inn’s last summer season was in 1969, and new owners converted parts of the Inn into condominiums in 1970-1971. Source: various contemporary Times Herald articles.  Also, many news articles quote people who say that the Gratiot Inn was built over the ashes of the Windermere Hotel, but that simply isn’t true.  It doesn’t help at all that the condominiums were named Windermere for some strange reason.  The Windermere was on a different property and burned in 1920, and the Gratiot Inn was opened in 1917.

This post was expanded to include Romanesque Revival, and slightly edited, on October 20, 2017.

Hometown Architect, Walter H. Wyeth

By Vicki Priest, July 2017 (c)

[Author’s note: All published material here is copyrighted. If referencing this article in your own work, give credit where credit is due. Original research that is shared at this site is about 99.9% uncompensated. Cite the author, cite PHAHPA, and consider making a donation. This note is made due to the use of the group’s work (including modified images) by others, who make it seem like their own work; this has led to a reduced amount of publicly shared work. Thank you.]

Walter Wyeth, 1964 (The Times Herald, page 3).

Walter Wyeth was one of the most prolific architects (if not the most) in Port Huron and St. Clair County during the first half of the twentieth century. He designed Sperry’s, the county courthouse (which has been added on to) and the St. Clair Inn/Hotel, a National Register-listed property, amongst many other buildings that are are still standing–or not.

Now, depending on how you think of “hometown,” some may think it amiss that I describe Walter as a “hometown” architect. He was not originally from Port Huron or even St. Clair County, but Illinois. Of Port Huron, Walter said it was “this beautifully-situated town on a river surpassed by few, if any.”i His love of Port Huron and decision to move here, marry a local young lady (who also had not been born here), and stay here for the rest of his life, is “hometown” enough for me. Historically, of course, everyone who wasn’t a local Native American was an immigrant and made Port Huron their hometown when they stayed; and Port Huron is definitely a city of immigrants (especially Canadians). Continue reading

Older Michigan SHPO Brochure is Still Fantastic

I’ve been preparing a double-sided informational handout regarding historic preservation, and ran across an older (undated) Michigan SHPO brochure that is very much worth remembering and reading.  It doesn’t look that old to me, but it includes information about the state tax incentive program, which hasn’t been active for years.  The point being, however, that I think the brochure was well-conceived and well-written, so I’m reproducing most of it here (I added the two color photos).  I hope you find it informative and inspirational!  A copy of it online, in its original form, can be found here.

Building a Future with Historic Places

Historic places define communities and define Michigan.

What Historic Preservation Does for You

Transforms Communities Throughout Michigan, buildings once abandoned or underappreciated and underutilized can be transformed into vibrant structures that attract people to downtowns. Once rehabilitated, these structures can make enormous contributions to Michigan’s economic revitalization. A prime example is the Grand Rapids Water Filtration Plant, a utilitarian building converted to office and residential space. The 45,000 square-foot structure sat vacant for 15 years. The DeVries Companies, using historic preservation tax credits, rehabilitated the building.

Clear Water Place, a recycled water filtration plant (1430 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, http://devriescompanies.com/property/1430-monroe-ave-nw-grand-rapids-mi/).

Inspires Your Neighbors  One historic rehabilitation in a neighborhood can be a catalyst. State Historic Preservation Tax Credits can breathe new life into neighborhoods where neglected rental properties as well as owner-occupied homes have deteriorated. A large gray house in Kalamazoo’s South Street Historic District known as ‘the gray battleship,’ with a reputation as a crack house and an eyesore, set a new tone in the neighborhood when new owners rehabilitated the house using state historic preservation tax credits. In the process they inspired other owners in the neighborhood to do the same.

Invites You Downtown  Michigan’s Main Streets provide small business entrepreneurs with the space to do business. The State Historic Preservation Office along with the Michigan Main Street Center, a sister agency in the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), works with communities to target the revitalization and preservation of their traditional commercial districts. The Michigan Main Street program encourages the rehabilitation of downtown buildings, investment in downtown businesses, and a desire to live, work and play downtown.

Connects You to the Four Tops, Father Marquette and Henry Ford  These Michigan history icons are just a few of the people associated with some 1,800 historic above-ground and archaeological sites in Michigan listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Four Tops performed in the African American resort community of Idlewild, a historic district of more than 1000 properties. Father Jacques Marquette had a mission at what is now St. Ignace. Idlewild and the mission site are both listed in the National Register of Historic Places, as are multiple sites associated with Henry Ford. Historic preservation doesn’t just connect us to icons, however. The National Register of Historic Places recognizes places significant in our past that are associated with people who made Michigan, some of them just like you.

Informs You About the Past Underground and Underwater  Archaeology is a source of information about the past, similar to archival documents, but different as well. Artifacts and other evidence provide information about 12,000 years of Native American history before written records were created. Archaeology also offers insights not available in written documents for the past 400 years of Michigan history since the arrival of Europeans. There are more than 20,000 archaeological sites recorded in Michigan, including Native American camp and village sites, Jesuit mission sites, fur trading posts, logging camps, farm complexes, and shipwrecks on Michigan’s Great Lakes bottomlands. The identification and protection of archaeological sites is crucial to preserving a source of information vital to our understanding of Michigan’s past.

Values Your Modernism  Michigan’s impressive twentieth century design history creates an image for our state, based on the vibrant, creative auto and furniture design that spilled over into architecture and urban design. That history is the foundation for Michigan’s design industry today. The Michigan Modern project focuses on modern architecture from 1940 to 1970. Michigan Modern, funded through a federal Preserve America grant, is a research-intensive step to claiming Michigan’s rightful position as an international leader in modern design.

One of Port Huron’s own Moderns by Dow, the Henry McMorran Memorial Sport Arena and Auditorium. http://www.michiganmodern.org/buildings/henry-mcmorran-memorial-sports-arena-and-auditorium

The historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people.

National Historic Preservation Act of 1966

Helps Your Environment  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, roughly one-third of landfill waste comprises construction and demolition debris. Historic rehabilitation and the adaptation of an existing building for a new use minimizes the amount of debris in landfills and takes advantage of the embodied energy of the materials, which typically consumes less energy than new materials. The State Historic Preservation Office promotes using existing materials as much as possible and replacing them with like materials when necessary. The SHPO awarded a federal Certified Local Government grant to the city of Kalamazoo, which partnered with the Michigan Historic Preservation Network and trained unemployed and underemployed contractors to rehabilitate wood windows as an alternative to replacement. In addition, SHPO staff educates communities receiving federal weatherization funds about the possibilities for rehabilitation and weatherization.

Keeps Your Lights On  Lighthouses are synonymous with Michigan, which has more than any other state. Driving throughout the Great Lakes State, you cannot help but notice lighthouses along the shorelines and the Save Our Lights license plates on the cars of Michigan drivers. Revenue from the sale of the lighthouse license plates funds the Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program, which supports the rehabilitation of these important structures. Since 2000 more than $1 million dollars in grants have been awarded.

Builds Your Future  Michigan communities are constantly changing and evolving. Through planning and protection, the SHPO works with individuals and communities to ensure that Michigan’s important historic resources, which define us, are part of future growth. Historic preservation can be an important part of community and economic planning and development efforts. The SHPO builds partnerships and encourages reinvestment in historic neighborhoods and downtowns so the best of Michigan’s heritage is preserved while fostering long-term economic growth and stability. Through its role in the implementation of federal and state preservation law, the SHPO is a key factor in the timely and efficient release of public funds while protecting cultural resources.

 

The Second Empire Style of Architecture in Port Huron

[This post was last updated on March 13th, 2017]

I love the Second Empire style of architecture.  I can’t say for sure why I like it so much, but I imagine it might be due to these attributes of the style:  solid homes often of brick; funky mansard roofs with many ornate dormers (the roof and dormers very often combine square and curvilinear elements, which is something I’m attracted to when it comes to design), and; basically, an overall look that is especially distinctive when it comes to architecture.  A lot of houses have shared and varied style features, but Second Empire is usually just that–Second Empire (or, as referred to historically, “French Roofed” or “Mansard Roof”). Many houses, through time, lose their stylistic features because those features were really just ornament and are eventually removed, but with Second Empire, much of its distinctiveness comes from the structure itself.

Port Huron, having either attracted or grown a population of wealthy-enough persons to afford building in the new and popular style from Paris, seems to have had a goodly number of handsome Second Empire buildings (we’ll not likely to ever know how many were actually built, however).  The Second Empire style began in the 1850s, but it really took off in the United States after the Civil War.  It was the rage to construct government buildings in this style, and fashion-conscious home builders caught the bug.  It may be that it was the most widely built house style during the decade of the 1870s, and it was most popular in the East and Midwest (it is rare in the South).  It was a strong representative of the “Age of Enterprise” (or “Age of Energy”), 1865-1885, although most architects felt it old-fashioned by 1876.  This period was significant to Port Huron’s growth, as it was in so many other places in the US; it was the time when fortunes were made.

But that era is long gone, and, unfortunately, so are most of the Second Empire buildings that the era represented.  Even worse, the best examples of the style are the ones that have been destroyed.  It’s important, then, for us to search for ways to ensure that the remaining examples are preserved.  Below are images of known Second Empire buildings in Port Huron; as a complete survey of Port Huron and the adjacent municipalities has not been done, any Second Empire homes that you, the reader, can point out to PHAHPA will be added here and to our inventory (and we’d highly value any suggestions or information you provide!).

Second Empire Buildings that are now Gone

The original City-County building, built 1873 (the county seat moved from St. Clair to Port Huron in 1871). Wings were added and Second Empire style elements removed (unfortunately) in 1896, and it was razed after a fire in 1949. (From 1876 Standard Atlas of St. Clair County, p 3.)

The older center of the original city county building, 1946. The photo brings out details that the drawing above, and even old black & white photos, don’t really bring out.  From the Sawyer Collection, Port Huron Museum.

Water Works building, constructed in 1872 (from Art Work of St. Clair County, 1893, no page).

A xerox copy (of what generation?) of a photo of the Johnstone-Reed house, now gone (except for some portions that were integrated into the American Legion hall that now sits at the Sixth and Wall streets property) (on file in the Michigan Room, St. Clair County Public Library).

The Johnstone house as depicted in the county’s 1876 atlas (p 26).

James Goulden house that used to stand on the west side of Pine Grove Avenue at Glenwood. I just adore (love!) this house, yet it’s gone, and for nothing; an abandoned and ugly gas station had replaced it. What does this say about our culture?

The Goulden House as depicted in the 1876 county atlas (p 6).

317 Seventh St, Port Huron, demolished

1317 Seventh Street, Port Huron. The Catholic church that demolished it, which is on an adjacent lot, even took over the address of this razed house.  This stood within the local Olde Town Historic District.

This home was located just north of Chestnut Street, on the east side of Military Street (1326), and was apparently built by Henry Howard of the Howard Lumber Company (Bob Davis, personal communication March 10, 2017, and 1898 Sanborn Fire Insurance map, page 13).   (Image from the 1897 booklet, “A Greeting from Port Huron, Michigan,” p 22).   The Women’s Life Insurance Society building is there now, itself a historic structure.  At the present it isn’t known if they razed the Howard house to build their structure, or if it had burned.  If it was demolished, then I opine that that would represent a sad situation.  Either reuse irreplaceable structures, or build elsewhere.

The McMorran Murphy house/mansion, which used to stand on south Military Street. Astoundingly, demolished by nuns after it was charitably donated to them. Arguably the finest historic house in Port Huron, simply razed because of a single party’s self-interested decision. Unbelievable.

An unusual Second Empire formerly located at “Erie Square.” That whole block of buildings was removed to make a parking lot, but has recently made way for the Blue Water Area Transit Center (which added insult to injury by eliminating virtually all free parking for downtown businesses in that vacinity). In Blue Water Reflections, page 170, it is said that this Second Empire structure was “considered one of the most handsome old structures in the city.”  (From the Sawyer Collection, Port Huron Museum.)

Second Empire Buildings that are Still Standing

Boynton house on Huron Avenue, from 1893 (Art Work of St. Clair County, no page). This house is very elaborate, with possible added Queen Anne design elements. This house still stands, although a bit altered (especially the front 1st floor windows)–see photo below.

1005 Huron, the Boynton house as it looks today. What a difference the color and decorative elements make!

1013 Huron, Port Huron, still stands today.  The roof of this house is very elaborate and the dormer design is very elaborate and rare.  A tiny portion of the exterior walls can be seen in the original photo of the Boynton house (its neighbor), indicating that the entire house was very elaborate.  I wonder how much remains beneath that newer siding?

1305 Seventh Street, a huge example that is still standing but much altered.  To see a photo of this house as it looked originally would be an eye-opener, I do believe.

A one and a half story Second Empire that still stands, at 7th and Union streets.

It would be interesting to find out if this tiny Second Empire was really this dull-looking originally. A Google Street View image (from 2013, but the house was viewed on 03-09-17), Ontario Street at Stanton Street.

General Sources

Burnell, Mary C., Marcaccio, Amy.  Blue Water Reflections: A Pictorial History of Port Huron and the St. Clair River District. Virginia Beach: Donning Company Publishers, 1983.

McAlester, Virginia Savage.  A Field Guide to American Houses.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.

Roth, Leland M.  A Concise History of American Architecture.  New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1979.

Smeins, Linda E.  Building an American Identity: Pattern Book Homes & Communities 1870-1900.  Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 1999.

The Gutting of Gratiot Avenue at the Blue Water Bridge

One day I came across a photo from 1893 showing a group of retail/office buildings on Gratiot Avenue (north Port Huron), which was still dirt.  I was very curious about where exactly this block used to be.  Looking at early directories wasn’t very helpful at first, but thankfully, Pauli’s 1894 bird’s eye view map gave a clue.

The group of buildings on a portion of Gratiot Avenue on this map fairly matched the proportions of those shown in the photo.   And then after betting that the photo matched the map in that area, a light switched on in my head.  One of those buildings is still standing today, and it was posted at this site previously.  Why only the one building was saved when all the buildings around (including to the east and west) were razed, is something I’d love to find out.  Some day.  One thing is all too clear, though; much of this area of Port Huron seems to have been demolished for nothing.

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Tax Credits that Help Restore Historic Buildings Threatened

Astounding photo of the top of the Metropolitan Building, Detroit, which is being rehabilitated. Photo by Elizabeth Beale, as HistoricDetroit.org.

Astounding photo of the top of the Metropolitan Building, Detroit, which is being rehabilitated. Photo by Elizabeth Beale, at HistoricDetroit.org.

Historic Tax Credits, granted to property owners with approved rehabilitation of historic (and in some cases, simply older) buildings, are under threat by the new administration in Washington DC. There are two very well compiled fact sheets about the Historic Tax Credit program, and I invite you to check them out (links display first authors): Historic Tax Credit Coalition and Preservation Action.

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