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.
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.
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).
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 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. Its growth was very slow. Blois mentions but three stores there in 1838. 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.
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.
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. If you know of any of these types of historic resources, please comment or contact me through a contact box here or via email (email@example.com) for inventory and future study purposes.
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 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, 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.
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).
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.
- “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.
- “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.”
- “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.
- “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.”
- “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.”
- “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.
Today, we’d never think of a homeless person as someone who is living in a rental, yet that’s exactly what at least some thought (or tried to make a point about) in Port Huron at the turn of the century (19th/20th). The following was reprinted from “Home and Fireside” in the Factory Land Company’s promotional booklet, circa 1902-1903 (page 18).
All Homeless People are not Poor
“What a dreary sound the word ‘homeless’ has! It is associated in the mind with loneliness, hunger and threadbare clothing. Yet all homeless people are not poor. Some of them are merely unwise. They continue to live in houses owned by others, when they might with the same expenditure possess a home of their own. To be sure, they have a temporary abiding place–a habitation–which, by a pleasant though strained fiction, they call ‘home.’ But they pay rent–a tax–for it. Why not have the papers drawn differently? Instead of a lease, let it be a deed, and the monthly payments that now disappear and are gone, leaving you as homeless as ever, will remain with you. . . .”
The Factory Land Company goes on to say, “A rented house is not a home,” and who can’t testify to that? They add, “Don’t pay for the landlord’s house, but pay for a home of your own” (page 19). Who wouldn’t want their own home? The Factory Land Company lands, known as South Park in Port Huron, represented an early form of urban planning. South Park was not a traditional company town–it didn’t have the drawbacks that Pullman, Illinois, had–but had aspects of those types of “communities” while adopting ideals from the City Beautiful Movement. Workers weren’t to rent, but buy their homes and/or lots at a good price with practical terms ($5 down and then $1 a week). They could walk to work, live alongside (or very nearby) a large park and the beautiful St. Clair River, and take the modern electric railway to Port Huron, Marysville, or even Detroit. Sounds delightful!
What a contrast to being “homeless!” And, of course, it was not the gilded cage that Pullman was. In Pullman, the workers could only rent from the company, and in 1893 when the company cut wages but not rents . . . well, the most well-known and influential strike rocked America (this happened in 1894). The promoters of South Park seemed to have understood quite well what would appeal to workers and employers alike a few years after this strike.
The Successful Man
A successful man is one who has made a happy home for his wife and children. No matter what he has done in the matter of achieving wealth and honor, if he has done that he is a grand success. If he has not done that, and it is his own fault, though he be the highest in the land, he is a most pitiable failure. I wonder how many men, in the mad pursuit of gold, which characterizes the age, realize that there is no fortune which can be left to their families as great as the memory of a happy home. —-Ella Wheeler Wilcox. (Factory Land Company page 23)♥
♥ Someone was reading something more than business journals and financial reports!
Sources (not already linked to)
Factory Land Company. Manufacturing and Homes in Port Huron, Michigan (Port Huron: Press of the Port Huron Engine & Thresher Co: no date [ca. 1902-1903]).
Green, Hardy. The Company Town: The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills that Shaped the American Economy (New York: Basic Books, 2010).
Port Huron Loan and Building Association. Home and Fireside (no date).
The lull in posts should not be confused with an absence of work on PHAH&PA’s part. Research is being done, pages are being added to and edited, buildings and districts are being identified as possible National Register candidates, one-on-one meetings are being held, and there’s some training going on in there too.
Part of the page additions and research has involved taking and adding photographs, so I thought I’d share some here. Today, not realizing that the Exquisite Corpse coffee house wasn’t open on Sundays, my son and I took a little stroll around the block it’s in, looking for the little things that make up the personality of a building and a block. Here are a few.
At left is an upper door detail from what’s left of the 1912 Eagles Lodge No. 343 at 1001 Military Street. It used to be a stately three story structure with brick upper floors, but now only the bottom first floor remains (it is utilized as a social services building). See below. An image of the original building will be added when one becomes available.
Below is a side view of what is probably the only red sandstone building in Port Huron, and it’s in pretty sorry shape. This structure was one of the oldest banks in the city, St. Clair County Savings Bank. Amazingly, it’s present location at Military and Pine streets is not it’s first–it was moved stone by stone from a location that was closer to the water (Endlich 1981:71).
At left is a scan of the building during better days (Endlich 1981:72); the photo is undated.
Endlich, Helen. A Story of Port Huron (Port Huron: Self-published, 1981).
I’ve been busy populating this site’s pages with useful information, researching and helping some folks with historical building questions, and trying to make more connections. So, I hadn’t been focusing on developing the organization as a nonprofit quite as much. But to make things clearer in everyone’s mind (including my own), I came up with a one page hand-out about the Port Huron Area History and Preservation Association. Eventually, when the organization has a new host, pdf’s of forms, informational sheets and brochures, articles, etc., will be made available.
In the meantime, feel free to comment on the contents of this hand-out. We would appreciate thoughtful feedback and any insights into the local situation that could prove helpful to furthering the preservation of our historic community. First is an image of the sheet which could be copied and printed out, if desired, followed by standard text.
Port Huron Area History & Preservation Association
Community. Uniqueness. Home.
Bringing the Port Huron area’s history to life.
We’re here to inform and inspire Port Huron area residents about the possibilities of preserving and rehabilitating their historic properties. We’re here to help those same residents investigate their properties for the purposes of recognition, preservation, and the application for any possible monetary benefit or assistance.
We will do this by developing and presenting (1) data related to regional history, architecture, and planning, (2) historical narratives and contexts, (3) “how-to” articles and ready-to-use forms; by providing (4) assistance with research, technical forms, and report writing, and by (5) recognizing historical resources at the organizations’ web page and via public avenues, and when funds allow, (6) provide permanent informational plaques (to be mounted on the historic building).
We are still in the development phase of establishing this organization for the greater Port Huron area, with the goal of incorporating and being awarded nonprofit (501[c]3) status. To find out more and to contribute in any way (including volunteering, or even being on the Board of Directors or an advisory committee), please visit PHAHPA.ORG and/or contact Vicki Priest at 949-449-4731 (or firstname.lastname@example.org). Thank you!
Against the will of a huge amount of people and their community representatives, monied interests in Michigan are trying their darnedest to–for all intents and purposes–eliminate historic districts (Ellison 2016; Finegood 2016 (1); Finegood 2016 (2)). So with this dark cloud looming, Stephanie Meeks’ “President’s Note” in the Spring 2016 issue of Preservation (Fighting Displacement) seemed like a sudden burst of sunshine. To read the entire piece, click the previous link–it’s not a long read. But here, let me give you some highlights.
For many Americans in cities, the biggest crisis now and in the foreseeable future is a dearth of affordable housing . . . Simply put, the rent is just too high. . . . Fourteen cities around the country saw double-digit growth in rents last year.
There is sometimes a perception that preservation is driving excessive rents by making older neighborhoods more attractive to well-heeled outsiders, and by ostensibly limiting the housing supply. We have been heartened by recent research . . . that suggests instead that preservation supports existing residents across the economic spectrum . . .
One terrific example of this is in Macon, Georgia, where the Historic Macon Foundation has been renovating homes in the Beall’s Hill neighborhood. Historic Macon never displaces current landowners by acquiring occupied houses [displacement is happening in Michigan, where very nice old homes are being torn down to build “McMansions], and it counters displacement in other ways, such as building houses designed to be affordable for families and operating a robust historic tax credit consulting service. [emphasis mine – this is a terrific idea]
Rather than exacerbating the crisis, creative adaptive reuse projects all over the country are expanding housing options and helping cities become more affordable.
I wonder what we can accomplish at the local level here in Port Huron, if we try? Please contact me if you’d like to discuss the possibilities! email@example.com
Perhaps the editor Andreas* refers to in this little story took the title “printer’s devil” a little to seriously during his training. Another example of guile and subterfuge at the local level, neighbor against neighbor. But back to the story, which adds life to a time unknown to us.
Once there was a wicked journalist in Port Huron. There may be wicked journalists in Port Huron now, but this wicked journalist is there no more. Once while he was there, Elder Smart proposed to get up a revival, and went about the work systematically. He set the date three weeks ahead, got out posters and made all arrangements to draw good houses. The wicked journalist did not believe in revivals, and he said one day to another Port Huron editor who was not truly good, “I believe we can break up that revival.” The other editor thought not.
Now it was just the time when the spelling mania was sweeping over the land. At once the wicked editor put an item in his paper suggesting that Port Huron shouldn’t lag behind the age, and it was high time she began to spell. T’other editor copied the item and urged Port Huron to do her duty. The third day a call was issued for a spelling match. In a week everybody had a spelling book in his pocket and studied at every odd moment. Orthographic exercises were the order of the day.
When the time came for the revival to open, Port Huron and Sarnia were booked for an international spelling match, and Port Huronites scarcely knew whether they had souls to save or not. They only knew they would spell the Canadians down or die in the attempt. The revival was abandoned. This does not profess to be a story with a moral, although it may tend to show how easily it is to set folks wild over nothing, and how like sheep they will go astray, or any other way, when some one chooses to lead them.
From History of St. Clair County, Michigan (Chicago: A.T. Andreas & Co, 1883), page 506.
Earlier, PHAHPA posted an alert from the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, asking those of us who favor historic preservation in Michigan to write our representatives, voicing our opposition to House Bill 5232 and its senate twin SB 720. The house bill had gone to the Local Governments Committee, where a substitute bill was adopted (on February 24th). In the meantime, the representative who introduced the original bill, Afendoulis, wrote a substitute bill as well; it was not introduced to the Local Governments Committee before they went on spring break (which lasts until April 11th), however. While some of the changes in the substitute bills make the proposed changes to the original historic district law (PA 169 of 1970) less severe, they would nevertheless weaken that law and are simply unnecessary. Why this is even an issue is quite disturbing, and can be read about in Affluent Suburb Behind Push to Dismantle Michigan Historic Districts.
This is what our tax dollars are spent on in Lansing . . .to make our local communities less self-governing.
“The beauty of this system is that its a democracy,” Ligibel says. “Because it’s so local, each community decides for itself, and things change over time.” Burg 3/9/16