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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“Homeless” Then and Now (“Don’t pay for the landlord’s house”!)

Port Huron, Factory Land Company booklet, ca 1902

Factory Land Company booklet, ca 1902, page 30.

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).

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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. . . .”

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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.

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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)♥

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♥  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).