Old house, new look. And, PHAH&PA is now on Facebook

Hello all!  As we move toward officialdom, we’ll be adding to our online presence (of course) and, eventually this site will be moved.  We would love to have you visit our new Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/porthuronpreservation/ ; hopefully it will prove beneficial to you.  Below, our most recent post is copied.  New isn’t always better, new is too often regressive.

“Here is a powerful example of what has happened in Port Huron, and what has happened in our country generally. This house, estimated to have been built in the mid-1890s, is a regular-sized home on a regular street in Port Huron (Willow St). It’s gorgeous, isn’t it? The owners had the builders pay attention to detail because–why else?– those things mattered. Look at the second recent photo. Detail no longer matters, and it seems clear that uglifying it (and the neighborhood) is perfectly acceptable. Today it is a rental, divided up inside.

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Preservation Laws: How is Michigan doing? Part 1

When reviewing the historic resources in Port Huron that still stand, and those that don’t (along with the how, when, and why of their demise), a person can easily assume that no historic preservation laws actually exist in Michigan.  The non-federally owned properties that are protected to a certain extent here are those that people have simply wished to be protected, and, those persons had some ability to get that protection in place.  What about all the other properties that are worthy of protection, but aren’t?  What about all those that were worthy of protection in the past, but are now gone?  If protection laws exist, why have they been implemented so capriciously or subjectively, at least in the Port Huron area?

Preservation laws and ordinances are based on lots of things, like federal law and enabling laws passed by the states.  A good way to learn about them is to start at the “top” and work “down.”  Often, federal laws begat state Laws, and enabling laws stem from those  (enabling laws are those that allow the legal passage of local, instead of statewide, protective ordinances).

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McLaren Hospital impacts to historic Port Huron, preliminary notes

Big chunks of Port Huron’s historic environment have been taken through the rise of (1) the central city and county governmental offices and (2) St. Clair County Community College.  But McLaren Hospital and its sphere of influence make up a third big chunk.  (Of course, much has been lost outside of these chunks as well.)

Recently, a nice Canadian museum volunteer inquired about a house that formerly stood across from Pine Grove Park, and it accelerated my interest in discovering what buildings used to stand in place of today’s McLaren Hospital.  If you know Port Huron, you know that the hospital is not the only reason that historic buildings have been razed in that area, but that the medical offices which sprung up behind it have cleared out some of the city’s historic assets, too.  So what are the damages?  A quick (preliminary) look at the issue shows that the damages are fairly extensive, if such a measure can be named or rated.  An in-depth study should be done to help us understand what this part of Port Huron was like in the city’s past.

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Sad Note, Happy Note

The Sad

Below is a google image of some small brick office buildings that were just torn down in Port Huron (1900 block Pine Grove Avenue, east side).  This image does not do the buildings and property justice, but I did not get photos of my own before the razing.  In person, they (and the property generally) looked much better.  While they weren’t terribly old, they were quaint, brick, human-sized buildings that you just don’t see that often anymore.  By their presence they acknowledged small business, and they could’ve been even more inviting if the parking lot had been improved with some landscaping.  While new “strip malls” and single-building enterprises are popping up in Port Huron, they don’t have the human-environmental quality that this group of small office buildings had.  There are plenty of ugly retail buildings in Port Huron, and the fresh strip malls could very well be the eyesores of tomorrow.

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Early Michigan Maps: 1825, 1831, 1839, 1842

Fort Gratiot and future Port Huron area of the 1825 map by O. Risdon.

Fort Gratiot and future Port Huron area of the 1825 map by O. Risdon.  The native name of the short-lived Chippewa reservation is provided here, Aumichuanaw.

I wanted to share some historic maps with you that are held by the Michigan State Libraries.  These are viewable online, so you can go to the links and see them in detail to your heart’s content.  The first two are from the extraordinary map of the surveyed areas of Michigan Territory, as published by Orange Risdon in 1825 (engraved by Rawdon, Clark & Co of Albany, New York).  Reproduced here are portions of the blue water area.  To view the entire map, held by Michigan State University, please go to its source url: https://www.lib.msu.edu/branches/map/MiJPEGS/843-c-A-1825/

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St. Clair County Histories (Part Two): History of St. Clair County, Michigan, 1883 (Andreas)

Port of St. Clair County map that is included in Andreas, page 16.

A portion of the St. Clair County map that is included in Andreas, page 16.

by Vicki Priest (c)

This is a continuation of St. Clair County Histories, A Consideration of Subscription Financing and Accuracy, looking at some factors that should provide an idea of the reliability of what locals know as Andreas’ history of St. Clair County (Michigan).  Author credibility and biographies are emphasized.  This second part in the series may be the longest one–indeed, it is quite long–but I hope you find it informative, if not amusing.

First, a note on the authorship of History of St. Clair County.  Without some background information, the authorship and even publisher of this book are unclear.  “Chicago, A. T. Andreas & Co, 1883” is found on the title page, with no other authorship or publisher obviously provided (an available reprint provides the author as “anonymous”).  The Preface is written by Western Historical Company (WHC), which was a publisher of such works and is known as such; specific authors are not mentioned, including Andreas.  Normally, WHC books have that firm’s name and date where Andreas & Co. have theirs (a note about the book being entered into the Library of Congress is usually inside, too).  Searched collections of this company’s works didn’t yield the History of St. Clair County, Michigan, and writings on A. T. Andreas don’t normally yield this title either, making this history more obscure than those known by either author or publisher (in addition, Ristow 1966 doesn’t provide it in his list of Andreas’ county histories).  However, it turns out that Andreas and WHC are one and the same (at least at this time)!  It seems odd that he would use two different company names together, but in any case, Andreas is attributed as the author even though he may have written very little of the book.[1]  He appears to have been the compiler and final editor, but more on that below.

Part of title page of the 1881 History of Northern Wisconsin.

Part of title page of the 1881 History of Northern Wisconsin.

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1896 Mayor’s Office Letterhead was Pretty Awesome

Port Huron mayor's letterhead from a letter dated 1896. Private collection.

Port Huron mayor’s letterhead from a letter dated 1896. Private collection.

Even though I had more pressing matters to attend to, I couldn’t help but look at the historic letters that someone let me view (very graciously!) from their private collection.  The last document was a bland letter from the mayor’s office, but, the letterhead is anything but bland.  Look at the St. Clair Tunnel (!), an engineering wonder of the time, but now, a basically hidden thing.  And while I still had other matters to attend to, this post just wouldn’t wait.

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St. Clair County Histories, A Consideration of Subscription Financing and Accuracy

A map found in Jenks (1912, p. 51) of Port Huron and Indian mounds found, apparently from an 1872 report by Henry Gilman

A map found in Jenks (1912, p. 51) of the Indian mounds of Port Huron, apparently based on an 1872 report by Henry Gilman/Gillman (see pages 13-19 in the Sixth Annual Report of the Trustees of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Cambridge 1873).

by Vicki Priest (c)

Today, generally speaking, history books are written by scholars and published by companies which think the book will sell enough to make a profit.  Just like any other book today, the writer and/or publisher take on all the costs (and risks) of getting the book “out there.”  In the past, however, the expense of writing and publishing a history book may have been at least partially paid for up front via “subscribers” who paid varying fees for the upcoming work.  This type of commercial history was popular in the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries.

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Jenkinson House National Register of Historic Places Nomination Nearing Completion

Queen Anne house, Port Huron

1820 Military Street, August 2016. Jenkinson-Cady-Secory house, built ca. 1888-1889.

by Vicki Priest (c)

The Jenkinson House, or Jenkinson-Cady-Secory house in Port Huron, had been called out in Buildings of Michigan (Kathryn Bishop Eckert,1993:352): “This beautifully painted and restored house is Military Street’s largest and most ornate Queen Anne structure.”  With such an accolade coming from a former State Historic Preservation Officer, one would think that it would have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places by now, but no. However, that will soon change (“soon” by bureaucratic standards, anyway).

The Jenkinson House as shown on a post card that was mailed in 1919.

The Jenkinson House as shown on a post card that was mailed in 1919.

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St. Clair County During the Territorial Period, 1805-1837

Below you’ll find the exact text, including end notes (I couldn’t help but inject two paragraph breaks, however), of a portion of “The Eastern Shore,” in Economic and Social Beginnings of Michigan; a Study of the Settlement of the Lower Peninsula during the Territorial Period, 1805-1837 (by George N. Fuller; Lansing: State of Michigan, 1916; its copyright has expired).  As this book isn’t the most commonly found, this portion on the eastern side of St Clair County might be of use to someone out there.  Some of the more esoteric sources may be of interest to some of you.

[p 160] The oldest center of population in the region of the St. Clair River is St. Clair, which has a British military tradition that dates from 1765.  A small [p 161] colony of French-Canadians[240] which had survived the War of 1812 made their home there, and on one of the French farms [sic] parties from Detroit laid out in 1818 at the junction of the Pine and St. Clair rivers the “Town of St. Clair,” which was to become the county seat of St. Clair County.[241]  Its growth was very slow.  Blois mentions but three stores there in 1838.[242]  Its chief industry was lumbering; five saw mills were operating in its vicinity in that year and it had one steam flourmill [sic].  Blois mentions also a good harbor.[243]

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Port Huron Writes to President Lincoln

Port Huron letter to Lincoln

While a letter to President Lincoln from a number of Port Huron residents—concerning someone that never lived there—may not relate to the cause of historic preservation in the city, it’s a little historical tidbit that probably not too many residents know about (genealogists might find it quite useful).  The letter was a show of support for promotion of a certain German-born citizen, Franz Sigel.  After the beginning of the Civil War, President Lincoln looked for German-Americans who could rally support for the North’s cause amongst other German immigrants.  Apparently, the large German population in Port Huron was familiar with Franz.

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Intact Homesteads in the Blue Water Area

Lucius Beach House

Pre-1859 house on Beach Road, Port Huron Township.

The lack of recent posts hasn’t reflected the amount of work being done, only sleepy eyes and a discrimination over what to make public at any given time.  But this is fun and there are no clients for it presently (hey, if you want to donate toward my unpaid work, my bills would place you on a pedestal!).  Through word-of-mouth, a couple of properties were brought to my attention that are interesting–not simply because the still-standing homes are old, but because they are old AND still have descendants from the first land owners living in them.  Now, that’s something.[1]  If you know of any of these types of historic resources, please comment or contact me through a contact box here or via email (phahpa@zoho.com) for inventory and future study purposes.

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South Park Historic District Moving Forward

3803 Electric Avenue, known as the Conner House. It is one of the earliest South Park homes and was depicted in a Factory Land Company booklet (ca 1902). George Conner was an industrial inventor and promoter of important South Park companies. A street in South Park is also named after him.

3803 Electric Avenue, known as the Conner House. It is one of the earliest South Park homes and was depicted in a Factory Land Company booklet (ca 1902). George Conner was an industrial inventor and promoter of important South Park companies. A street in South Park is also named after him.

With the preliminary questionnaire accepted by a Michigan State Historic Preservation Officer, further study and considerations of boundaries for the South Park Historic District are moving forward.  To show our progress, an excerpt from the preliminary questionnaire is given below (the formatting was changed because of website conditions, however).  It is a concise consideration of the early period of the district.

A Concise History of South Park: Beginnings and Early Development

By Vicki Priest (2016) (c) (Not to be used without permission of the author)

What is known as South Park, at the south end of the City of Port Huron, began in 1901[1] as a planned community that had minor similarities to a company town.  Unlike any other turn-of-the-century neighborhood or town known in the region, South Park was designed with a long (east-west) central park which was to be surrounded by homes, while the community’s north end was reserved for commercial enterprises and industrial plants.  Employees could buy lots (sometimes with houses already built on them) directly from The Factory Land Company, the owner and promoter, with easy terms.  And aside from some minor stipulations,[2] research so far suggests that neither the Factory Land Company or any associated company controlled residents or owned commercial businesses in the manner that traditional company town developers did.

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Fun Stuff from Department of Labor Reports

PHE&TCo buildings. partial, Port Huron 2016

Not a pretty sight today, but the Port Huron Engine & Thresher Company was Port Huron’s top employer in 1916 (and very likely, many other years as well).

By Vicki Priest (c)

Perhaps the majority of people don’t get excited about some of the things I do . . . but Department of Labor Reports!?  I love hardware stores and let out little exclamations over finely designed metal objects.  So there’s that tomboy side of me (or engineer nerd?).  But the historian side of me, the Sherlockian part of me, was very excited indeed to find a Michigan Department of Labor Report from 1916 that listed businesses inspected in Port Huron.  Although the data is from “factory inspections,” those entities inspected were not only factories, but included businesses that simply provided a service (no doubt not ALL Port Huron businesses were inspected).  A really useful bit of information provided is the founding years of these companies (most of them, anyway).  Here are some culled facts from this 1916 report (hopefully, more years to come later).

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Practical Reasons to Save Old Buildings: Thank You, National Trust

One view of the magnificent Mission Inn, Riverside, California. There are many astonishing views to this building. This building took a TON of effort and money to renovate. Worth it? Of course, with all the quality materials and workmanship this group of buildings contain, besides the almost limitless amount of design details.

One view of the magnificent Mission Inn, Riverside, California. There are many astonishing views to this building. This building took a TON of effort and money to renovate. Worth it? Of course, with all the quality materials and workmanship this group of buildings contain, besides the almost limitless amount of design details (elements of “intrinsic value,” as mentioned below). See an interior shot of the multi-level, huge round stairwell, below. And see more at http://www.missioninn.com/photo-gallery-en.html

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is simply a great organization with all kinds of useful information for planners, preservationists, history buffs . . .  Last fall they posted a “Six Practical Reasons to Save Old Buildings” at their site, but I only saw it recently.  It would seem like a place like Port Huron would have learned something by now about the loss of so many of its historic buildings, the built enviornment that made Port Huron what it is–well, what it was.  Most of the buildings lost (including whole blocks of historic commercial structures) have not been replaced by anything better, or even equivalent, in monetary or aesthetic value. (Historically speaking, I remain surprised every time I come across a building that had been moved because someone valued it–the thing had value; buildings used to be moved a lot more than people today realize, I’d wager.)

If a city can be likened to a person, it’s as if Port Huron is an aged lady who hated her own old body, so cut parts of it off, thinking her appearance would then look more appealing (she sought to hide her age, too, by not posting about her past on her website).  But she didn’t add anything to her appearance by slicing away at herself; she was only left with the reality that there was now less of her, and, she didn’t look any better.  There are those who appreciate the weathered, older, and wiser folk, and seek them out.  And despite so many people telling her just this thing, she still can’t seem to like her old self.  She had glory days for sure, and people feel a little bit like they are a part of that, still, when walking through the remnants of those days.  They connect with those who came before, somehow, instead of just blandly passing through a plastic and drywall matrix of cookie-cutter walls.

I want to imagine what it was like when William Jenks walked down the same street that I’m now walking on, and think about what it was like in a restaurant where he and his buddies talked about the growing city, the ship they were building, how the ball was in so-in-so’s house on the third floor the night before, etc.  Unfortunately, I don’t know if there are any buildings left that held a restaurant or lounge that William Jenks might have socialized in, and I don’t know yet if any of the remaining large homes still have their third floor ballrooms.  But, I hope you get the picture.  Perhaps you have different thoughts of the past in Port Huron, like imagining a 1920s scene of beach revelers.

So, what are the practical reasons for saving old buildings?  I’ll provide you a shortened list of what the National Trust provided.

  1.  “Old buildings have intrinsic value.”  I’m going to be a bit jaded here and say that a lot of folks wouldn’t know what “intrinsic value” means.  But here the author talks about the value of the materials and craftsmanship used in older, pre-WWII buildings.  You just can’t get many of these materials any more, and you often can’t reproduce the quality or craftsmanship.  Example:  old building in Tennessee was saved from the wrecking ball after realizing that it’s thick brick walls (five layers!) could withstand the most powerful tornadoes.
  2. “When you tear down an old building, you never know what’s being destroyed.”  Another example from Tennessee (the Daylight Building, built 1927).  A building became an eyesore, as so many altered and then uncared for buildings do.  Someone finally wanted to renovate it instead of demolish it, and it turned out to have qualities that no one knew about:  “drop-ceilings made with heart-pine wood, a large clerestory, a front awning adorned with unusual tinted ‘opalescent’ glass, and a facade lined with bright copper.”
  3. “New businesses prefer old buildings.”  Older buildings are perfect for smaller businesses and start-ups.  Businesses with new and therefore possibly risky, ideas, need the economy of existing infrastructure.
  4. “Old buildings attract people.”  I would say the reasons for this attraction include the human scale and the attention to, and value of, detail.  Those who came before us stopped and looked at the roses, and smelled the roses, and said that the roses were very good.  Today, builders don’t seem to even know roses exist, let alone have value.  But the author had these ideas about it:  “Is it the warmth of the materials, the heart pine, marble, or old brick―or the resonance of other people, other activities? Maybe older buildings are just more interesting.  The different levels, the vestiges of other uses, the awkward corners, the mixtures of styles, they’re at least something to talk about. America’s downtown revivals suggest that people like old buildings. Whether the feeling is patriotic, homey, warm, or reassuring, older architecture tends to fit the bill.  Regardless of how they actually spend their lives, Americans prefer to picture themselves living around old buildings.”
  5. “Old buildings are reminders of a city’s culture and complexity.”  “Just as banks prefer to build stately, old-fashioned facades, even when located in commercial malls, a city needs old buildings to maintain a sense of permanency and heritage.”
  6. “Regret only goes one way.”  Like anything else, once a historic structure is gone, it can’t be resurrected.  We can’t tell the future, and the future might’ve been better with the use of that now-gone building.
Mission Inn, interior stairwell

This building took years to renovate. Many other renovation projects take much less time, expense, and aspirin, but result in appreciated and livable, if now awe-inspiring, spaces just the same.

Mission Inn, Riverside

I couldn’t help it . . . had to add another. The bottom portion of this photo does not represent the bottom floor! This is truly an amazing building, in what seems an unlikely place far outside of Los Angeles. But, people used to take a train here, and elsewhere (the track was a large figure 8) in the desert, before autos changed everything.