Ultimate Fake News in 1938 Papers? On Welles’ “War of the Worlds” Broadcast

Orson Welles during (or rehearsing for) the 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. At 23 years of age, he co-wrote the brilliant adaptation from H. G. Wells’ novel.

By Vicki Priest (any opinions are her own)

Having no occasion to re-familiarize myself with the panicked results of the 1938 “War of the Worlds” broadcast that I was taught in school decades ago, I had no idea (until recently) that the reported “panic” has lately been claimed to be a fabrication.  History.com still covers the subject as I recall learning about it–that many people tuned-in to the (brilliant) program late because of a different station’s popular program, and thought the “news” announcements of a Martian invasion in the radio play were real.  There had never been an audio play like it before and people just heard what sounded like a regular news story, albeit a very disturbing one.  The broadcast was on October 30th, in time for Halloween.  So are the editors at History.com wrong (the article was last updated in June 2019)?

Not having lived through that time, it would be near impossible to completely assess the veracity of either the “traditional” or the revisionist view of “the panic.”  However, the issue points to the need to use a variety of sources when doing historical research and, further, considering them with a detective’s eye.  Even so, if many newspapers reported the phenomenon–which a great many did–why would someone question the basic validity of it (it was reported in our local paper that the Federal Communications Commission chairman was going to look into the broadcast right away, as it caused “general panic and fear”; Times Herald, October 31, 1938, page 1)?  We all know that “you can’t believe everything you read in the newspapers,” but would all those papers be that deceptive?  And certainly there are other contemporary sources to help anyone interested enough understand what people went through, and the magnitude of the event.

The first part of one of the Port Huron Times Herald articles on the reaction to the War of the Worlds broadcast. October 31, 1938, page 1.

The History.com article mentioned above stated that “perhaps as many as a million” people believed Martians had invaded earth.  A number of other sources, including a viewable Smithsonian article from 2015, goes with a safer “thousands” number.  A video on the subject from 2016 claims very few people indeed were actually panicked (the text version of the video was made earlier, in 2014).  The video claims the panic is a made-up myth, and it relies on recent sources that say the same.  Some of their sources, at least, do not cite sources themselves and simply make claims, such as, a lot of things in the newspapers were false.

Looking over various sources, both primary (from the time it happened, witness testimony, etc.) and secondary (what non-witnesses wrote or researched about it), it seems the video and all those who claim that there was no mass panic are mistaken.  That newspapers printed a lot of supposed falsehoods about the panic may be the biggest culprit in people leaning toward the panic not ever really happening.  There also seems to be a problem with the meanings of the words “mass” and “panic.”  It’s really odd that those who claim that the mass panic is a myth don’t actually deny there was . . . widespread panic, or at least a lot of panic that was perhaps not widespread.  The motivations for pushing a revisionist view on this event in history–which indeed had a long-term impact on not only people but on other aspects of our country–are unclear.  It may be a matter of perspective and word definitions.  At least some people don’t seem to agree that “mass panic” means 1000s to a million or so affected persons.  Apparently the figure should be bigger.

Here, anyway, “mass panic” simply means a lot of people in a large area were afraid and reacted to their fear in some way. It doesn’t mean the majority of people panicked, or that people jumped out of windows, or that the fear went on for a long time.  It doesn’t mean people killed themselves or others.  The “panic detractors” bring up the death factor, as if panic equates with people dying somehow.

The context of the broadcast is important to the understanding of the panic.  It includes the 9th year of the Great Depression, as well the armed conflicts that had been going on which eventually bloomed into World War II.  Because of the broadcast, there were people who thought the U.S. was attacked in some manner, if not by aliens (they might not have heard the “martian” part, or heard of the attack from neighbors).  “Beth Bob” commented online (at the 2016 video):  “. . . my mother, my grandmother both ran.  Wet handkerchiefs and towels in hand.  It was the fear of gas.  They didn’t hear the whole program.  They laughed later (relief), were pissed later.”  The gas she is referring to is most likely mustard gas (not martian gas), used during World War I and by Mussolini and the Japanese afterwards.  The reaction by Beth’s mom and grandmother was not unusual, according to other online comments that I’ve read.  Many people remained “pissed” and Orson received death threats.  (Below the main part of this article is a timeline of the broadcast, so you may get a better idea of why many listeners thought the “news reports” were real.)

So, aside from newspaper articles–which skeptics want to dismiss as inaccurate–what is the evidence for a mass panic?  Well, included among the evidences below is a small amount of news reporting anyway.

(1)  Even though it’s short, there is enough anecdotal evidence in a video produced by AT&T in the 1980s (released 2012) to convey the sense and reality of a nation-wide panic.  In the video, still-living AT&T operators from different states who answered calls during the panic were interviewed.  People were definitely panicked, not just calling for information.  No doubt more operators would provide similar tales if they were available for an interview.

(2)  For a BBC show In 1955, Orson Welles talked about some of his experiences regarding the day of the broadcast and the subsequent fallout (Orson Welles’ Sketch Book: Number 5).  He said that not just a few, but many police had arrived at the radio station by mid-show, and that many more continued to arrive.  There was a nationwide panic, he learned; and if there wasn’t, why would all those police bother showing up at all?  Orson recounted a number of panicked reactions, and one quite interesting (stoic) reaction, to the 1938 broadcast.  Was he lying?  If people weren’t “panicked,” why did some have such a mental scar that they did not believe the announcement of the bombing of Pearl Harbor (as Orson recounted)?

(3)  While sources point out that newspaper articles reported fake injuries and deaths, and printed staged photos, perhaps not all the content was made up.  I doubt if anyone has actually looked at newspaper articles country-wide and tried to quantify how many stories are true. That would be a huge undertaking.  A New York Daily News article from October 31, 1938, stated that “thousands” (not millions, so apparently not a stretch) “created almost unbelievable scenes of terror” in New York, New Jersey, the South, and west to San Francisco. So, yeah, that second part appears to be an exaggeration.  But it goes on to say that “Eleven Hundred calls flooded the switchboard at The News–more than when the dirigible Hindenburg exploded.”  Was the paper’s author lying about this?  If not, that is only one local source of people’s call-making.  “The telephone company was also deluged” seems to be a fair statement based on the AT&T research.

In our local paper, the Port Huron Times Herald, an article section from Detroit (page 1, Oct. 31, 1938) stated:  “Police today reported their switchboard was lit up like a Christmas tree as thousands of persons, terrified by a radio dramatization of a fictitious Martian invasion, called for verification.”  Was this a lie, or a bit of an exaggeration?  I doubt if it was a lie.  And did all the papers in the U.S. call each other all of a sudden, conspiring to make fake news, to drum up business by fabricating this event?  Revisionists say that many calls don’t mean people were panicked, and that is fair enough, but it does indicate the huge number of people who didn’t understand that the radio play was not news, and many people in the U.S. indeed acted on their panic instead of calling the police.  As well, in our local paper the police described callers as “panic-stricken.”  So, the people who lived through it, including the police, viewed even inquiring callers as panicked.  To put different words into their mouths or thoughts into their heads is to not only disrespect witnesses but to change history.

(4)  The studio was sued by some people after the broadcast (I haven’t researched these lawsuits, but for this information one source cites a “Scams” book sold on Amazon).  The suits were dismissed, but it shows what people were willing to do to deal with their emotions over the perceived deception.  One man only wanted an award equal to the savings he spent on a new pair of shoes, which he purchased so he could flee, and Orson Welles insisted that the man be given what he asked for.  Remember, the Great Depression was still in effect, which is something that may have contributed to the level of panic, according to Hadley Cantril. 

(5)  The author just mentioned in #4 was one of three Princeton researchers who conducted a study of the panic shortly after it happened (The Invasion from Mars, 1940, by Hadley Cantril et al.).  They wrote that at least 6 million people listened to the broadcast and that at least 1 million of those were frightened, with thousands being “panic-stricken.”  It seems History.com and other sources you can find out there which don’t espouse the revisionist “myth” were right after all.  I guess my past education wasn’t so bad.  Skeptics may criticize the Princeton researchers, but historically speaking, contemporary sources are usually the best sources.  It would be fun to have time to look into this subject more, but at present I’m going to afford the three researchers some respect and believe they did a good job analyzing the information available to them–including their own observations while living through the event.

I’ve read elsewhere (where, I can’t say right now) that there are many people who believe in statistics/the large scale to such a degree that smaller numbers–individuals–don’t really matter.  Your “small scale” opinion, knowledge, or personal experience doesn’t really matter.  What the police reported about “panic-stricken” callers doesn’t matter.  I in fact just read an online commentator (at the 2016 video site) who said as much.  It’s the large collective number that matters, as somehow after the information is gathered from individuals and enmassed, it has become scientific evidence.  I have the suspicion that those people and organizations that claim that there was no “mass panic” from the War of the Worlds radio broadcast, despite the 1940 Princeton study and lots of other information, are such people.  There would have needed to be millions of panicked people for “mass panic” to be true for them.  But even if they interpret the information in that way, these revisionists pretty much ignore the real consequences from the broadcast in history.  So, the meaning is ignored at the expense of just getting the numbers right (in their minds), it seems.  They may have some other motive, like getting attention, clicks for revenue, etc. (this is not a new thing with the internet, however–those who need grant funding have been at it for a long time), which would benefit them while decreasing historical knowledge or relevant interpretation.

Finally, there’s nothing wrong with “questioning everything,” but there is a problem when that equates to “dismissing everything.”  (Some questions comes to mind:  If the Daily News and the Detroit Police Department together received over 3,000 calls, how many were made in the entire country?  Apparently a very impressive number over a radio broadcast!  And how many more people simply panicked and didn’t call the police or anyone else?  How many who panicked would later deny it out of embarrassment?  And how many witnesses can you ask about it now?  Conveniently for some, basically none.)

Question Everything ≠ Dismiss Everything

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Timeline of the War of the Worlds Broadcast (primarily from War of the World radio broadcast causes panic and listening to the broadcast).  The times are somewhat approximate as seconds are not given.

8:00 pm   War of the Worlds is announced by CBS, and the show starts.  Orson Welles gives an introduction to the story.

8:02 pm   After the introduction, the play is presented as a music broadcast.  First it is interrupted by a seemingly normal weather announcement, but then the music is interrupted a number of times by real-sounding special news segments about a meteorite crashing in New Jersey.  Then by the discovery that the crashed thing is not a meteorite.

8:12 pm   This is when many people normally switched from listening to the popular “Chase and Sanborn Hour,” because of the show’s musical interlude, to other stations.  Many listeners of the War of the World broadcast only started listening at this time, when “eyewitness news accounts” of the crashed thing started to get intense.

8:13 pm   Description of the object as extraterrestrial, and the terrifying opening of the thing to reveal monstrous things.

8:18 pm   Forty people are reported dead in Grovers Mill, the location of the Martian landing.

8:22 pm   The reporter who had been on for awhile, then stopped, was identified among the dead at the hospital.

At some point police started coming into CBS.  Orson Welles recalled that by half-way through the program there were many police already there, and more continued to arrive.

8:26 pm   A man sounding just like the current president gives a presidential announcement.  Before and after the announcement, the man was said to be the “Secretary of the Interior,” but some listeners didn’t hear that part and thought they were listening to Franklin Roosevelt.  Perhaps the voice got their attention while they were doing other things.

8:30 pm   After hearing military personnel for a bit, gas masks are mentioned–they are put on at about this time.  Men start choking, then dying.  A military pilot describes what is happening, and not being able to drop his bomb he dives into the enemy. There is deadly black smoke moving everywhere, and the gas masks are useless against it.

8:35 pm   Evacuations ordered.  Military force wiped out.  More Martians moving in, people running, people dying.

8:38 pm   Announcer dies.

8:39 pm   CBS finally comes on to announce that the broadcast is a play.  This is about 40 minutes after the play started, and 27 after many of the listeners actually tuned in.  An intermission of unknown length occurs.

~8:42 pm  Survivor Professor Pierson narrates what the world around him was like after the attack was over.  Some time has passed and he describes his venturing out of his place of safety, until he discovers that the aliens are all dead.  They died from disease that they were not immune to.

~8:55 pm  Orson Welles makes an announcement that the play was their way of doing Halloween, and the studio and everyone was fine.

Comment in response to video promoting the “myth” of 1938 mass panic. Found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7amqdrVO-E0 (video posted in 2016, comment accessed July 2019).

A portion of one of the articles from the Port Huron Times Herald, page 1, October 31, 1938, indicating the weirdness that can come of mass hysteria.

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).

Page 10 story board portion, former (it was destroyed by fire in January 1912) Port Huron & Northwestern Railway depot, by Joseph Miskell (Michigan Room, St. Clair County Public Library).

Miskell history, PHTH July 15, 1937, page 1.

Miskell history, PHTH July 16, 1937, page 11.

Miskell history, PHTH July 17, 1937, page 3.

Miskell history, PHTH July 18, 1937, page 5.

Miskell history, PHTH July 19, 1937, page 12.

Miskell history, PHTH, July 20, 1937, page 13.

Miskell history, PHTH, July 21, 1937, page 2.

Miskell history, PHTH, July 22, 1937, page 2.

Miskell history, PHTH, July 23, 1937, page 11.

Miskell history, PHTH, July 24, 1937, page 6. This page was repeated the next day instead of page 11 of the history.

Miskell history, PHTH, July 26, 1937, page 3.

Miskell history, PHTH, July 27, 1937, page 10.

Miskell history, PHTH, July 28, 1937, page 2.

When images from the original page 11 become available, they will be added to this post.

“Jenks Protests Street [name] Changes”

After running across and reading the following article in The Port Huron Times Herald (October 9th, 1923, page 1), I couldn’t help but say “I love Jenks.”  This is William Jenks, of course, the author of the 1912 St. Clair County history book, important Michigan map collector, and a primary mover in the building of the Carnegie Library (now museum) here.  My sentiments on the subject are expressed by Jenks wonderfully; some brief explanatory notes and a historic map follow.   Enjoy!

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“Preserve Historical Names, Attorney’s Plea”

“Protest against the changing of the name of Gillett street to Hammond street, which was recently asked by the residents of the street in a petition to the city commission, is voiced in a letter sent the commission by W. L. Jenks, prominent attorney of Port Huron and member of the state Historical society.”

“In his letter Mr. Jenks comments on the tendency resent in cities today to give streets high-sounding and meaningless titles, and deplores inappropriate and thoughtless changes.  he points out two blunders in changing street names made recently by the commission.”

“The letter follows:”

I noticed recently that a petition had been filed with you to change the name of Gillett street to Hammond street in honor of the late Lieut. Hammond.

I sincerely hope that the name will not be changed.  Gillett street commemorates the name of one of the early prominent citizens of Port Huron[,] a man of the highest character, one of the leading business men and a man who was very generous and public-spirited, and his name ought not to be forgotten in this city.

I do not wish to belittle in any manner the propriety of naming a street in honor of Lieutenant Hammond, but there are several streets in the city which have names that do not contain any significance and the changing of a name of that kind to commemorate the name of Lieut. Hammond would be appropriate in every way.

The city has already made two serious blunders in the changing of names of streets–when it changed Butler street commemorating the name of an honored man of national reputation, and a prominent philanthropist, to Grand River avenue[,] a name which has absolutely no significance here.  The name apparently was copied from Detroit where Grand River avenue has a meaning, it being the direct route from Detroit to the Grand River country, including the cities of Lansing, Grand Rapids and Grand Haven.

The name of Suffern street which bore the name of prominent merchant of New York City who was largely interested in Port Huron property for several years was changed to Glenwood avenue, a high sounding name which has no appropriateness as there is neither a glen nor any wood in or near the street.

Such changes are to be deplored and not to be encouraged by good citizens.

The city did not change Gillett to Hammond, as there is no Hammond Street in Port Huron and Gillett is still there.  Lieut. Hammond is remembered here though, as the American Legion post is named after him.  On Gillett/Gillette and Jenks streets, a 1925 article states:  “Gillette street is named after Martin S. Gillette, lumberman and president of the village board in 1850.  Jenks street is named after W. L. Jenks, pioneer and historian of the county” (there were other prominent Jenks in Port Huron, too; “Street Names Tell the History of City,” The Port Huron Times-Herald, February 13, 1925, page 11).

Portion of an 1894 map by C. J. Pauli (Milwaukee, on file at the Library of Congress), showing Butler Street (now Grand River).  Click on it to see larger image.

1949 Port Huron Centennial Booklet

We were happy to be allowed to scan a booklet in the collection of Lisa Kraus-Purcell, Port Huron’s 1949 Centennial Souvenir booklet.  Currently, a couple of central pages, which covered part of the schedule of events, are missing; this will be corrected when possible.  Links to the viewable PDFs are here:  https://phahpa.org/research-sources/phahpa-scanned-booklets/ .  We also scanned some of the images into photo files, some of which are included below (the booklet does not have page numbers, so such numbers are not provided here).  Feel free to use any source that we share, but make sure to cite us/give credit for this source that we provide.  (If you like our work and want to see more, please consider a donation of any amount!  We would be very grateful indeed.  Mail check to PHAHPA, PO Box 611380, Port Huron, MI 48061-1380 – Thank you!)  Copyright note:  We provide this for research purposes only, as the booklet may still be under copyright protection.

Horse Drawn Car

Spanish American War VeteransDunford-Alverson DrydockBird's Eye View west along Black River, 7th St BridgeVery early view of Military Street

Mueller Brass, no date

Mueller Brass, no date.

 

Wm. Soutar Collection, Letters from Wife 1880, 1881, & 1915 Note

The William Soutar (1842-1918) Collection is discussed briefly in two previous posts, one presenting letters from his employer Wm. Jenkinson, and the other, letters from his friends.  Below are scans of letters–written in pencil–from his wife Agnes (an obituary refers to her as Ann Bell; The Times Herald March 25, 1918, page 5).  They are from Rattle Run, Michigan, where Agnes lived on a farm during a period when her husband made income while being employed elsewhere.  Agnes’ writings give a little glimpse into rural life as well as what was, apparently, customary social exchange between husband and wife.  A baby was born during this time, and in her excitement (probably coupled with exhaustion) Agnes forgets to date the letter. Continue reading

Halloween, a bit on its origins and a bit on local shenanigans of old

This article was published first at Blue Water Healthy Living, earlier in October 2018.

Homemade—and effective—Halloween masks (unsourced photo found at https://bit.ly/2OCj3m5).

Vicki Priest (c) 2018

Celebrating, or having community night-time activities, on October 31st goes way back in time. It was the New Year’s Eve (Samhain) of the ancient Druidic Celts, living in what are today France and the British Isles. After the Romans conquered these areas, aspects of the feast honoring the goddess of fruits, Pomona, were incorporated into Samhain. Dunking for apples stems from the Roman tradition.

But what were the “celebrations” of the Druids? Despite what many seem to think, the Druids on this day were attempting to ward off—not worship—ghosts, evil spirits, and witches (a number of cultures believed that there were women who sold themselves to the devil, and these are referred to as witches). For whatever reason the Druids thought that on this one night of the year, October 31st, the Lord of Death allowed the departed to roam the land of the living.  And the dead could be dangerous. Continue reading

An Account of Native American Activity in Port Huron and St. Clair County, Michigan

The original title to this relatively short piece is “Legends of Indian History in St. Clair County,” published in Volume 6 (1883) of the Collections of the Pioneer Society of the State of Michigan (Lansing, reprinted in 1907), pages 416-418.  It’s not really about “legends,” however, but of eyewitness accounts of events in the 1700s and 1800s; maybe that word was chosen because of perceived exaggerations?  After the verbatim text from the 1883 article, a related excerpt from Andreas 1883 (History of St. Clair County, Michigan) is also provided.

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By Hon. William T. Mitchell

Read at the annual meeting of the State Society, June 13, 1883

When the French explorers first came to the upper lakes, they found the lake country from Mackinac to Lapointe and the northern part of the lower peninsula, occupied by the Chippewas, or as the French named them, the Ojibeway Indians; a part of the great Algonquin family, then one of the most powerful Indian nations of North America. Continue reading

Histories of Fort Gratiot and Port Huron Townships (including Marysville) from an 1876 Atlas

For reference purposes, the following word-for-word histories of Fort Gratiot Township and Port Huron Township (including Marysville) are provided here.  From the Combination Atlas Map of St. Clair County Michigan . . .  by Everts & Stewart, Philadelphia, 1876, pages XVII and XVIII.

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Fort Gratiot Township was organized as a township in the year 1866, with H. Stevens as the first Supervisor.  It is situated in the eastern part of the County, at the foot of Lake Huron.  It is a fractional township, and is designated Town 7 north, Range 17 east; it is bounded on the north by Burtchville, east by Lake Huron and St. Clair River, south by the city of Port Huron and Port Huron Township, and west by Clyde Township.  The surface of the country is mostly level, with some marsh land, and was originally timbered with pine and hemlock.  The soil is of a sandy nature, producing wheat, oats, hay, potatoes, and corn.  It is traversed by the Black River in the southwestern part.  T. Lymburner is the present Supervisor; and the population numbers one thousand three hundred and sixty-one. Continue reading

History of Port Huron from an 1876 Atlas

For reference purposes, the following word-for-word history of Port Huron (city) is provided here.  From the Combination Atlas Map of St. Clair County Michigan . . .  by Everts & Stewart, Philadelphia, 1876, page XVIII.

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In the year 1819, when the Hon. D. B. Harrington came to this place to make it his abiding place, nothing but a vast wilderness met the eye on every side.  The Chippewa tribe of Indians were the occupants of this region; and during the fishing and hunting season they congregated at the mouth of the Black River in large numbers; and their huts and wigwams dotted the shores for a long distance north and south.  There were at this time a few French families scattered around, whose names are mentioned in the early history of the County, and who at times were seriously annoyed by the Indians.  The propensity to steal was largely developed among them. Continue reading

Petit Family Child Abducted by Indians Finds Family as Adult

By Vicki Priest (c) (All Rights Reserved)

This is an amazing tale of Edward Petit’s firstborn son,* which so far as I have seen from genealogies is unknown, and of crazy “coincidence.” It’s also an example for remembering that when, historically, folks report how many children they have or had, they usually only give the number that have survived past infancy or early childhood. In Edward’s case, Victoria Louise is said to be his oldest child and the child that is the subject of the article below was not in his will, for whatever reason. To me, anyway, there’s no reason to doubt the story. The only oddity I’ve noticed so far is that it took so long for the son to meet the father (the mother, Henriette Victoria Stevens, died in 1873, and the Civil War ended in 1865; Edward died in 1875, so the meeting must have occurred very shortly before Edward died). The article is reproduced as it was posted in The Times Herald, May 16, 1891 (page 6), and includes historically important information beyond the story of Henry.

None of these men is Henry, but his brother Marshal is shown standing on the right. From George Smith’s book “A History of Port Huron in Pictures” (1971, page 30). An 1890 date is given to the photo. The other fellows are (L to R) Lewis Atkins, William Bottomby, and Jacob Jacobi.

Continue reading

On deciphering fact from family folklore, or “Who was Anselm Petit, really?”

By Vicki Priest (c) 2018 (all rights reserved)

Often, researchers delving into the past of a particular person, family, or property, might find the record sadly sparse, and so when some tidbit of published information is found, pounce on it as if it was a tempura shrimp dinner. The problem comes about when it’s swallowed whole. Who doesn’t want to believe what someone has said about themselves or others, especially when it comes to the census or personal diaries or letters? It seems that in the case of the pioneering Petit family, story-telling was important to some of them and people like newspaper editors didn’t seem to want to question things; we don’t have access to any early family documents and can only investigate various published sources. The Petits were the first permanent settlers in what was to become Port Huron and Anselm’s son’s house is still standing—the same son who created the first plat of Port Huron and the same house where both of them died. Because of their importance, I’m going to present here an exercise in the consideration of various “facts” about Anselm (and a bit on his son Edward) Petit as they have been published in various sources.

Some background is necessary first, however, for the separation of lore and evidence to have context. Anselm Petit (1776-~1862), a French-speaking Canadian, is known as the first non-native (so, “white,” as the record so often points out) to settle in what was to become Port Huron. This happened in the late-1700s. He married Angelique (or Angelica) Campau, of Detroit, in 1804. They had at least 8 children, though not all survived to adulthood. Their son Edward is written about so much that one would think there were no other children, and he is sometimes said to be the oldest son, yet he was not.i Edward’s claim to be the first “white child” born in the area never seems to be questioned in newspaper articles relating to him, even though two others were born here before him (Miss Causely/Mrs. James Brandimore in 1802, and a son of Jean Baptiste Deschamps, in 1805, who is recorded as living in Port Huron in 1824. Of course, “half-breeds” are never counted.).ii

1818 survey map of the (future) Port Huron area. Anselm’s land is the almost 20 acre area indicated by the arrow.

Winston Churchill is quoted as saying that “history is written by the victors,” and “to the victor go the spoils” is a common saying. While more scholarly histories of the area have more accurate accounts (as referenced here), the stories given in the newspapers, reflecting what is passed on by those remaining (the “victors”) in Port Huron (as opposed to others who moved or died), are what has been reprinted in more popular publications and what is often retold by residents. Other sources have Denis Causely living here prior to 1790, and Brandamour/Brandimore coming second. This is the stuff for a future article. In any case, what year Edward was born—1812 vs 1813—is important not in relation to birth disputes among the light-skinned population, but in how it relates to the family’s activities during the War of 1812.

While Anselm came to own the land he settled on in Port Huron,iii it was Edward who platted it in 1835, calling it the village of Peru. Despite the family’s apparent delight in stories, no one ever learned why in the world Edward called the village “Peru.” Edward’s own children and grandchildren somehow never learned why that name was chosen (or else they kept it secret), yet had all kinds of tales about Anselm. As well to consider concerning the veracity of Petit family lore: William Jenks, who published a history of St. Clair County in 1912 and who even lived in the same city (Port Huron) at the same time as some of Anselm’s grandchildren, was unable to squeeze the Peru name meaning out of any of them. That Jenks both published Edward’s birth year as different than what the family saidiv and left out other seemingly fanciful claims made by the family, and that none of the Petits included a biographical entry in Jenks’ history, may be indicative of “factual issues.”

It is definitely unfortunate that the Petits did not include a biographical sketch of Anselm and Angelique in either of the published histories here (1883 or 1912).v The family even had a “Petit Block” (business building) early on, just like other business men, yet sources reviewed so far do not mention it and it’s not called out in the city directories. In the earliest directory (1870/1871) we find that Edward’s office is “over 17 Military” and Marshall, his son, is a produce dealer in the basement (Edward’s land, where his house still stands at 1426 Griswold, was known as the Petit Farm). From ads we know the building was brick, on Military near the bridge, was “opposite [the] new city opera house,” and had offices leased to attorneys and surgeons (The Times Herald, April 20, 1875, p 3). An ad from 1888vi has this building’s new address as 914 Military, which—amazingly—is still standing!

Anselm: Fact vs Fiction

Let’s start with an old newspaper article published by a granddaughter (Louise Petit Smith, oldest daughter of Edward, and with the help of Amelia Petit Probett) (The Times Herald, March 19, 1921, p 6). It is an example (or comedy) of errors, or at least conflicts in the record, of Anselm’s early life. I don’t mean to be overly critical of Anselm’s descendants. This is probably typical of at least some families’ historical recollections and I would hope that Anselm himself would get a good laugh out of it all. If we use our imaginations a bit more we could use family lore regarding Anselm as a base for a “Paul Bunyan” of our very own, and by doing so not only have some creative fun, but possibly draw out proof about this family that someone may have stashed in a drawer somewhere.

The article includes these claims:

  1. Anselm (spelled Ansolem in this article, but nowhere else) was born in 1764 in France and came to Canada with his parents shortly thereafter. However, based on the parish records of Cap Sante in Quebec, Anselm was born there in 1776. His father Nicolas/Nicholas was also born there, and not in France. It was his great great grandfather Charles who immigrated to Canada from Roen, France. He had only one son, Nicolas, born in 1674. According to one online genealogical source, Anselm’s father immigrated to Detroit in 1774 and apparently went back and forth between the Detroit area and Quebec until his death in 1794.vii If this is true, the people in those days were hardy travelers!
  2. Anselm had been a medical student for awhile before joining the Hudson Bay Fur Co. There is no evidence of Anselm ever being a medical student, and one wonders how he could have fit this in when he had traveled to Detroit prior to 1794, perhaps even prior to 1790, when he would have been only 14. (To Louise and Amelia’s credit, if they thought Anselm was born in 1764 this would have seemed more plausible.) His connection, if any, with the Hudson Bay Fur Co. is not otherwise known, but working away from home as a teen would not have been unusual for that time.
  3. During the War of 1812 Anselm left his family in the wilderness and through government employ—because he was a master ship builder—helped build Captain Perry’s ships that won the Battle of Lake Erie. He is also said to have been “aboard of [sic] the Detroit at the time of Perry’s victory.” This is all too much, as one wonders how he managed to fit in the time to become a master ship builder, and why (or how, being in an enemy-held city) he would have gone to Erie Pennsylvania to help build Perry’s ships (most or all of the ship-building crews were from New York and Philadelphia), and why being on board the British HMS Detroit would’ve been a good thing! (Perry was victorious while commanding the Niagara.)viii
  4. After the events above, Anselm traveled back to Quebec to retrieve an inheritance but lost most of it on the way back due to a “clever scheme of a stranger.” After all that, THEN they returned to Port Huron following the war. The sad inheritance event may be true, and certainly the family came back to Port Huron after the war. There is just the discrepancy of leaving the family in the wilderness (3) but then coming back from Detroit.
  5. His mother had a dangerous encounter with Indians after her twins had died and while Anselm was away, with the result of Angelique’s hair turning white all at once. None of that story seems to be true, as Anselm and Angelique never had twins. This story has been reprinted in the paper many times, and columnist Dorothy Mitts repeated it in her book of articles.ix
  6. His mother was the daughter of Barnabas Campau and relates some information about that family, but Angelique was a daughter of Simon Campau and Veronica Bourdeau (see note v).

Whew! What we don’t have in the newspaper account is what Anselm actually did for a living after he got married. That is, for most of his life. I suppose that might’ve been too boring! Without writing a whole history of early St. Clair County and Port Huron, which could take up a lot of space, we’ll consider what Anselm may have done with his time, which also may help explain why he chose to settle where he did.

Anselm and Early Settlement

A group of French-speakers came here in about 1790 or so, and Anselm is said to be among them, or he may have arrived a little later (by 1794). Mrs. Farrand in her 1872 talkx said that the group came to the area with their families for the purpose of making a settlement. Andreas (1883, p 262) referred to it as a “courier settlement” (coureurs traded goods for furs with the Indians, although there were also coureurs of wood), writing that “Denis Causlet and Peter Brandemour, settled at the mouth of Black River previous to 1790. Anselm Petit, Francois Lariviere, Baptiste Levias, J. B. Duchesne, Michel Jervais, J. B. Courncais, and Peter Monreaux, located in this vicinity previous to 1794.” Pierre Brandimore (Brandemour) testified in 1821 that he took possession of what became known as the Campau tract along the south side of Black River in 1791, having cleared and fenced two acres of it.xi Whichever the year (and for whatever reason), Anselm came to the area when he was only 14 to 18 years of age (his birth year of 1776 is confirmed), and is claimed to be the first “permanent settler” since he is remembered for having built a home more permanent than “shanty.”

Why did Anselm settle here? It was a complete wilderness, and with much Native American activity. Anselm’s indian name was Ciscesit, meaning “cut feet,” which tells us that the dangers from general pioneer living could perhaps be higher than from the natives themselves (Anselm was given that name by his native neighbors because he had some toes amputated due to frostbite).xii Besides the claim from his granddaughter, some have said that Anselm was a fur trader. However, Edward, as a teenager, was actually working as an indian trader for others and not his own father.xiii So, if Anselm ever did participate in fur trading as a business endeavor, it would seem odd for him to be still involved in it while his own son worked for others doing the same thing. He farmed, as early and prominent settler Judge Bunce recalled seeing Anselm “plowing wheat with a bull and a horse side by side.”xiv The first tax assessment occurred in 1821, when the county was formed, and Anselm was assessed only for one horse, two cows, and some house furniture (he was not assessed for either wild or improved land), perhaps because he hadn’t received the patent yet for the land.xv

Reverend O. C. Thompson wrote that several french-speaking families settled at the mouth of the Black River (then La Riviere Delude), where they were permitted by the Indians to build shanties and cultivate the land. This appears to be a description of the land Anselm came to own. It was this group of early french-speakers that named the area Desmond, but also called it by the river’s name, La Riviere Delude.xvi So, according to this author, the settlers did the typical settler thing: farmed. Port Huron (and other parts of St. Clair County) was an early lumber milling area and it wouldn’t be surprising if Anselm at one point or another, in one way or another, was involved in the timber industry, especially since one of his co-settlers (Michel Jervais/Gervais) built a mill upstream at Indian Creek (according to Jenks, page 365, this mill was built in 1800 or a little earlier).xvii

Looking at land claims awarded by the US government before and after the county land was surveyed (most in 1818), and the summaries of testimonies given for such awards, one can see that it is likely that Anselm had relatives that were active in the region early on. The following are (only the) Petit-related claims and testimony.xviii (It is unknown as to why Anselm himself did not go before a land board in order to receive his land for free from the U.S. government, having instead paid for it later.)

Portion of the 1818 survey of township 3 north, range 16 east, indicating claim 206 awarded to A. N. Petit. Online at the Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office documents.

A. N. Petit lived on claim No. 167 “before and after 1796” (until he sold it to the awarded claimant, Joseph Rowe); Antoine N. Petit rented the land of claim No. 192 from Meldrum & Park “previous to 1796”; Antoine Nicholas Petit was awarded claim No. 206, which he had purchased from the previous settler in 1807 (this is in Cottrellville Township, somewhat north of Robert’s Landing); Louis Petit was awarded claim No. 175, which he had purchased from the previous settler in 1797; Jean Baptiste Petit was awarded claim No. 505, which he had purchased at some point from a previous settler (someone referred to, perhaps mistakenly, as “Louis Petit Clair” owned it for a short time previous to this); prior to 1797 an M. Petit tenanted the land (claim No. 539) owned by Meldrum & Park. M. Petit seems to have worked for Meldrum & Park since Farrand said he built the second saw mill in the Port Huron area for that Detroit-based partnership (many of their other “employees” were slaves).xix

As noted, Antoine Nicholas’ claim of 206 was downriver from Port Huron, and it was sandwiched in amongst many other such claims in that area. Perhaps when Farrand stated that the settlers “came up the river in canoes,” it was more specifically from this area that they came rather than Detroit (and as mentioned in endnote i, Anselm Jr is buried in Cottrellville). Of the Petit claims listed above, only A. Nicholas’, Anselm’s, and Edward’s (for the area where he built his house along Griswold Street in Port Huron), are within the online database (of St. Clair County) of the General Land Office Records.xx

Anselm and the War of 1812

For most people, the events of the War of 1812 are probably pretty murky, but the war figures prominently in Anselm’s life and the in the history of the Port Huron area. We already read of some of what Anselm’s descendants wrote of his War of 1812 exploits, most of which seem closer to fiction than fact. If only we knew what it was really like for the settlers here at that time regarding their relations with the natives. Tensions were building in the territory as natives saw more and more settlers coming in, taking their lands. Natives did sell their lands to settlers, as they did in this county with the earliest of those that came in, but later agreements in the wide territory often were made in corrupt fashion and/or most Indians were upset over not being represented. Many in the U. S. believed the British were fomenting the natives against the Americans, and so this growing problem was one of the reasons for the war.

The war began on June 18, 1812 and Detroit was taken by the British on August 16, 1812. The Battle of Lake Erie was won by the U.S. on September 10, 1813 and Detroit re-occupied by Americans after the British burned the public buildings and left on September 26th. Our capital was burned by the British in August 1814, but we came out victorious in the end (not because we were so great, but because Britain had to focus on Napoleon) and the Treaty of Ghent was signed at the end of December. Fort Mackinac was not relinquished until later in 1815, however.xxi

So what happened with Anselm and the others during this conflict? The story goes that a friendly native woman warned them of upcoming hostilities, so Anselm and the others left. All accounts say, too, that they left a few months after Edward was born. So while Edward and his family always passed on that 1813 as his birth year, it doesn’t make much sense in the light of historic events. It is more likely that he was born in 1812 (February 7), and that the family fled to Detroit around the time the war started. We know that the family had been living in a log home at this time since Edward was born in their log house. The family had also reported that that same home had been burned down by the Indians,xxii so it seems reasonable to guess that it was during the war and their absence that it was thus destroyed. In any case, Angelique, at least, still had family in Detroit so it probably wouldn’t have been too strange or difficult for them to live there for awhile. As stated earlier, it seems doubtful that Anselm was a master shipbuilder and that he was part of Perry’s shipbuilding team. Americans or American sympathizers were most likely not free to move about while the British controlled the city.

But did the Petits run back home as soon as they could, after Detroit came under control of the Americans again in September or October, 1813? Maybe, but the natives were still a danger along the St. Clair River at this time. It’s been passed down that Anselm helped build Fort Gratiot, and since it was built with a large crew of French speakers from Detroit,xxiii it would seem likely that he was among them. He was from the area, after all, and doing this task would’ve put him in a position to decide whether or not it was safe to bring his wife and small children back to the area. Having the fort built and garrisoned would’ve made the place safer, too (seemingly, anyway). The fort’s location had been decided in May 1814 and so it was built after that.xxiv So if Anselm didn’t linger in Detroit after it was built, he may have moved back to Port Huron in the fall of 1814. But then again, with winter coming on and having no produce from farming or anything else while he was gone, and perhaps not even having a house, they may have stayed in Detroit until the spring of the next year. According to the history printed in the 1873 city directory, “During the war of 1812, the settlers were obliged to leave their homes, but they returned in 1815 with reinforcements, and again took possession of their homes” (p 11).

Maybe this is entirely true, maybe it is not. What is less likely to have transpired, however, is the shortened history of events relating to the Petit family during the War of 1812 that one senses after reading much that is in print about this subject. They probably did not leave for Detroit in 1813, but earlier, and they probably did not return to their land at the mouth of Black River soon after Detroit was regained; Anselm probably did not help build Fort Gratiot after he was back living there, but probably when he came with the other French hired from Detroit to do it. The shortened scenario would have Anselm gone for maybe a year-and-a-half. This is a long time to be away from home, yes. But it is more likely that he was gone from at least June 1812 to perhaps sometime in 1815, which is about three years.  One item that could prove that they were back in Port Huron earlier than 1815 is the time and place of the birth of their son David.  If he was really born in Port Huron, in the year 1814, then that would settle one end of the matter.  This article will be updated if more such evidence is found.

If you enjoy reading about Port Huron’s past, I hope you found this a fun and informative read. Many sources were used and stacked against one another to try and discern an accurate picture of Anselm Petit and his times. Not all of my research is presented here, however, and there are more sources of information out there. Reading about all the things that Anselm supposedly learned and did put a smile on my face, but it’s saddening that the harsh life of settlers and all the hard but “ordinary” work they did seems to have been dismissed and forgotten.

Endnotes

i Even Farrand (see note vii) wrote this; did her family informants really forget Anselm Jr?? The children were: Veronica (b 1805), Anselm (b 1807), and Francis (b 1809), who were all born in Detroit (Anselm and Angelique traveled there specifically for the births of their children), while Edward (b 1812), David (b 1814), Madeline (b 1819), Simon (b 1820), and John (b 1825), were born in Port Huron—except for John, who was born in Disco, Macomb County. Very sadly, Anselm (Jr) died in 1834 of Cholera (buried in Cottrellville), shortly after his marriage to Emily Gervais.

ii Jenks, William Lee, St. Clair County, Michigan; Its History and Its People (2 vol.s) (Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1912), pp 140-141. Andreas has a Mrs. Peter Brandamour as being born March 10, 1803 (p 494).

iii While no one doubts he was living on the land earlier, the government patent was not granted to Anselm until April 1st, 1825.

iv Reverend C. Denissen and H. F. Powell, in Genealogy of the French Families of the Detroit River Regions 1701-1911 (2 vol.s) (Detroit: Detroit Society for Genealogical Research, 1976), also give the year 1812 and not 1813 (as reported by William Doyle in his 1986 booklet (Port Huron: Acorn Press) An American Pioneer: The Story of Early Port Huron and its First Settler.

v Jenks (1912), and History of St. Clair County, Michigan (Chicago: A. T. Andreas & Co., 1883). While there is a time gap between these two histories, they still would both have solicited funds for the costs of making the publications through paid biographical entries.

vi Jacob Jacobi clothing is listed in the prior year at 17 Military, and being across from the Opera House. Not long afterwards, Jacobi is found in a different location on Huron Ave. The Times Herald, June 6, 1888, p 1.

vii http://www.geni.com, Nicolas Petit page, managed by Nancy Ann Frantz and others (accessed January 1, 2018). Jenks (1912) had stated as such in his history, but Doyle (1986) provided a detailed assessment of the Campau family issue, based on Denissen (above).

viii Denys Knoll, Battle of Lake Erie: Building the Fleet in the Wilderness (Naval Historical Foundation Publications, Spring 1979) http://www.navyhistory.org/battle-of-lake-erie-building-the-fleet-in-the-wilderness/

ix Dorothy Mitts, That Noble Country (Philadelphia: Dorrance & Company, 1968), pp 75-77. Doyle (1986) discusses in detail how this story cannot be true.

x Farrand, Mrs. B. C., “A Historical Paper Prepared by Mr.s B. C. Farrand, of this City, for the Pioneer Society of Detroit” (Port Huron Daily Times, June 17, 1872).

xi Jenks (1912) p 76; this 612 acre claim, at the north end of the Chippewa Indian Reservation, included about 1/3 of the reservation. Another pre-1794 settler on record was Pierre Lovielle, who had a house and farm close to Fort Gratiot beginning 1792. This land area was smaller than Brandimore’s and was directly across from it along the Black River, but also had water front along the St. Clair River at its northeast end. Part of Fort Gratiot was actually within this claim, and in any case, the US Government simply had taken it over as part of its military reservation (Plat MI 190060N0170E0 online, Bureau of Land Management).

xii Andreas (1883). p 265.

xiii Farrand (1872) reported that he had worked for Gurdon (Gordon?) and Ephraim Williams.

xiv Andreas (1883), p 271.

xv Jenks (1912), pp 132, 135.

xvi Andreas (1883) p 496. According to Farrand, it was more commonly known by the river name.

xvii Sadly, this creek, also called Jervais or Gervais Creek, has long since been plowed over. The same is true for Baby, or Bunce Creek (Marysville), where the earliest saw mills in the county had been built and operated (see Jenks, 1912, pp 362-374 for a history of early St. Clair County saw mills).

xviii The Denissen book is online at the Detroit Society for Genealogical Research—if you’re a member. Queries for volunteer help are made through their Ancestry board, which one also has to be a member of. Donations to PHAHPA would allow us to have memberships in order to access more research materials.

xix Andreas (1883), pp 222, 227, 228, 230-231. Jenks (1912), p 74.

xx Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records (https://glorecords.blm.gov/search/ . . .).

xxi Willis Frederick Dunbar, Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1965), and Rober L. Rosentreter, Michigan: A History of Explorers, Entrepreneurs, and Everyday People (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014).

xxii “Death Ends Community Service of M. N. Petit,” The Times Herald, May 15, 1939, pp 1-2.

xxiii Bruce Hawkins and Richard Stamps, Odyssey Research Monographs (Vol. II, No. 1): Report of the Preliminary Excavations at Fort Gratiot (1814-1879) in Port Huron, Michigan (Oakland University, 1989), p 14.

xxiv William Jenks, “Fort Gratiot and Its Builder Gen. Charles Gratiot,” Michigan History Magazine (Vol. IV, No. 1), January 1920, pp 141-155).

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.

Beloved Community Leader, Stanley McFarland

After spending some time researching people from the past, it would be hard not to notice how some people are remembered fondly at passing, and others not so much. Some well-known people in the community get their obligatory obituaries, tersely written, while others get a long and detailed one, splashed with kind words and compliments; and, memorials besides the obituary are found.*

Stanley McFarland (The Times Herald, February 24, 1940, page one).

A case in point is that of Stanley McFarland, 1879-1940. One could say he was a beautiful man who led a beautiful life; I say that he appears to have been a rare, super-fine human being. The following information is from his obituary in The Times Herald (February 24, 1940, pages 1 and 5). Following that, two memorials that anyone would be proud of are quoted in full; please read them to learn more about this example of a man.

Stanley was 60 when he died, having been laid low by a virulent infection that had started in his ear; apparently surgery made it worse. He had come to live in old Fort Gratiot as a boy when his parents, John and Catherine McFarland, moved here from Ontario (Port Hope), Canada. He grew to be 6’4” and was an “outstanding” athlete, being “an exceptionally good tennis player.” He was a director of the YMCA for some years. Stanley was known for an extraordinary mathematical ability, where “he could add large columns of figures in his head more rapidly than other clerks could do by using the adding machines. His answers to mathematical problems were always found to be accurate.” But he wasn’t just brilliant at adding numbers. He was highly regarded for his ability to analyze whole and difficult financial reports and regurgitating them in an easily understood way to others. He seemed pretty brilliant and inquisitive in general, as he traveled by car throughout the country, delighting in learning all about different areas. Continue reading

Hometown Architect, Walter H. Wyeth

By Vicki Priest, July 2017 (c)

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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