These maps are fun to look at, and very useful for research. They do not include the addresses of the businesses, however. The earlier one is from before The Great Depression while the other gives a glimpse of Port Huron during The Depression; there isn’t actually very much difference between the two. As with most all images here, click on it to see the full size. Enjoy, and please site PHAHPA when using these documents (here in photo image form).
Here are scans of six flat wood celebration currencies we recently ran across, quaintly referred to as “wooden nickels.” The first group is from Crosswell’s centennial celebration, 1947, and the others are from Port Huron’s 1949 event. These were manufactured by the John B. Rogers Producing C., Fostoria, Ohio.
The Huron House and St. Clair Hotel Properties
(311-323 Huron Avenue Historic Property Uses, to 1990) 
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 , 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.
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 ) 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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!
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.
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.
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.
Regarding the selfish and grasping cousin of Mr. Ward’s, from pages 3-6 of The Autobiography of David Ward (1912, self-published, held by the Library of Congress). Eber eventually moved to Detroit, where he died. David Ward made his home in Oakland County, Michigan.
My Uncle Samuel left Lake Ontario before the close of the war of 1812, residing at Salina, N. Y., and boiled salt there for a while. He married there “Aunt Betsey,” and afterwards moved to Northern Ohio at or near Conneaut, and finally moved to Michigan and settled at Newport (now Marine City) on the St. Clair River. He engaged there in farming, small merchandising, building and navigating small sail craft on the Lakes, and eventually in building, owning and navigating first-class passenger steamers, and buying much pine land from the United States. He died at Marine City at nearly seventy years of age, and willed nearly all of his property of about one million dollars to a son of Uncle Eber’s, named Eber B. Ward [1811-1875], who was my cousin. This gave E.B. Ward, in addition, practically the franchises of the steamboat lake passenger and freight routes, as he largely monopolized these routes. These monopolized lake steamboat routes, fairly managed, were worth another million or two of dollars, as the passenger traffic to the West by lakes continued immense for some fifteen or twenty years afterwards.
The following histories are taken directly from L.A. Sherman & Co.s county and city directory of 1888. PHAHPA is not attesting to the accuracy of the histories, but is providing them for reference. While a typo or two might have gone unnoticed, the passages were typed as-is, archaic grammatical differences and all. None of the images are from the historic directory.
COUNTY OF ST. CLAIR. HISTORICAL SKETCH. [pages 9-12]
The Lower Peninsula of the state of Michigan, as it now exists, with the exception of some changes in its southern boundary, was detached from the territory of Indiana and given a separate territoria existence in 1805, William Hull being the first governor, with the seat of government at Detroit. Up to the year 1818 the territory now comprised within St. Clair county formed the township of St. Clair, and was a part of the county of Wayne. In that year the county of Macomb was organized, St. Clair constituting a portion of it.
St. Clair county, including the territory now constituting Sanila county, was organized by proclamation of Gov. Cass, may 8, 1821, its area being about 1,500 square miles, and its population some 80 families, settled almost entirely along St. Clair river. The county seat was located at St. Clair, where there were half a dozen houses at that time. james Fulton and William Thorn agreed to build a court house, but failed to do so, and for several years court was held in Mr. Fulton’s house. Mr. Fulton built a jail for the county in 1821, for which the contract price was $35, the hinges and bolts, furnished by Andrew Westbrook, costing $6.62 extra.
The location of the county seat was not satisfactory to the residents of either the northern or southern sections of the county, and a movement for its removal to Newport (now Marine City), began almost immediately. Commissioners appointed for the purpose investigated the matter, and reported to the legislative council of the territory, january 19, 1825, in favor of the retention of the county seat at St. Clair. Subscriptions amounting to $637.50 were made for the erection of buildings at Newport, if the county seat should be located there, but this movement also failed. Previous to the action of the legislative council retaining the seat of justice at St. Clair, Thomas Palmer and David C. McKinstry had pledged themselves to built a jail and court house which they did, the building being of hewn [page 10] logs, about 24×34 feet in size, with living rooms for the jailer and cells for prisoners on the ground floor, and a court room on the second floor. It was accepted by the board of supervisors September 3, 1827, although no constructed according to contract. This building was used until 1853, when it was destroyed by fire. The brick building erected in its place was used for county purposes until the removal of the county seat to Port Huron, in 1871, and the fail continued to be occupied for keeping prisoners until the completion of the new jail, 1884.
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.
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.
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!
“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).
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.
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.
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!
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
Below is an editorial by William Collins, Executive Director of the Thumb Land Conservancy. It was submitted to The Times Herald, but not published. A very short version can be found at the online paper, however.
The City of Port Huron seems content to sit on its hands while the Port Huron Yacht Club seeks to demolish the historic Pere Marquette Railroad bascule lift bridge over the Black River. Meanwhile, the City of Ashtabula, Ohio, on the south shore of Lake Erie has just approved construction of a new hotel designed specifically for views of Ashtabula Harbor and their historic bascule lift bridge over the Ashtabula River. Ashtabula is actually capitalizing on their “ugly” old steel, which is 6 years older than Port Huron’s and still in use. The developer of the new River Bend Hotel says, “We think that it’s going to be quite a unique concept, unrivaled in the region. It’s going to be an incredibly beautiful scene.” (River Bend Hotel planned for Ashtabula’s harbor district is town’s first new hotel in 100 years) Continue reading
The following article is from The Port Huron Times-Herald, February 20, 1915, pages 18 and 22. Two words had typos and it was decided to correct the spelling, but the temptation to add commas was successfully avoided. If you are unaware of Jenks, he was the author of the 1912 St. Clair County, Michigan, Its History and Its People (two volumes), and was a member of the Michigan Historical Commission, among other things. In one place below a corrected date is shown. This had to have been an editorial typo since Jenks and everyone else who knew the history of Port Huron knew the year; it was at least somewhat common knowledge.
The great success of the recent campaign to bring back the Grand Trunk shops to Port Huron, and the result it has had in unifying and bringing together in concerted action all sections of the city, seems to make this an appropriate time to look backward for a moment, and trace the general course of our city from its beginning. Continue reading
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
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