Ken-Way prefabricated concrete homes of Port Huron, Michigan

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.

Ken-Way Homes ad, first one discovered so far (The Times Herald 09-17-50, p 23).

2573 Robbins Court, Port Huron–the house mentioned in the above ad. If this is the Ken-Way test home, it was built in 1945 (author photo, 06-04-19).  It is unknown at this time if the hip roof was added later.  The front door is around the right corner.

An ad from September 1955 states that “over 120 Ken-Way Homes” had been built in the area.  While preliminary research has not divulged why Ken-Way homes were built only for such a short time, it seems that an impetus for their development was the Housing Act of 1950 (Public Law 81-475, which amended the VA Home Loan Guaranty Program of 1944 and 1945).  Now, veterans or their widows could more easily purchase a home with the government’s backing, and one that met minimum construction standards.  Ken Wyllie, having experience in the building trades (2), saw the opportunity to sell low-cost housing via the Housing Act.(3)  This can be seen in his ads and news articles, which include statements such as:

“The current two-bedroom model is to retail for $5,375.  This means that a non-veteran buyer, owning a lot, would be able to have one of the houses erected and financed through the FHA with an initial investment of less than $1000.  For veterans, the first cost would be considerably lower. . . .  So with full realization that seeing is believing, we invite the general public, especially GI’s, to take a look at our little [model] home . . . ” (4)  and, “GI’s You’ll Look Far To Beat This Value!” (5)

As one might imagine, Kenneth Wyllie was not the only person in the country to see the possibilities of the Housing Act.  National Homes Corporation of New York advertised their “National Thrift Home” and others in 1950.  Their ad showed four homes and stated that “15 floor plans offer you 94 variations in designs!”  The prefabricated homes were available in 500 cities.(6)  Of course, there was already a long tradition in America of buying “kit,” “ready-cut,” or mail-order homes, with Sears, Montgomery Wards, Aladdin, Ready Built, and others doing such business for decades.

But why the quick demise of the Ken-Way home?  Marketing did not seem to be the problem.  Ken-Way Homes seems to have been good at it, as it even had a “Ken-Way Korner” segment on the radio.(7)  Perhaps it was the style?  The modern style with flat roofs was not favored by everyone (8); however, they were soon built with a choice of roof styles.  They are very low to the ground, yet many exist today in very nice form.  One was found so far that has a second floor addition, so they must be structurally sound.  Further research is needed, and comments are welcomed.  Considering that mail-order homes no doubt always provided stiff competition, perhaps labor costs proved to be too much in the long-run.

Indicative of this possibility is a workers’ strike in 1953.  Port Huron Building and Construction Trades Council members picketed the manufacturing location of Ken-Way Homes, 2009 Petit Street, and Wyllie had sought an injunction to prevent the picketing.  In refusing Wyllie’s request Judge Kane found, in part, “that wages paid were vastly below the union minimum scale and were equally below the minimum standard for its members in relationship to benefits over time.” (9)  In the spring of the next year, 1954, an ad announced a future 5% increase in house prices. (10)

Below are photos of a small number of Ken-Way homes as they appear today.  It is noted in the captions if there appear to be more in specific neighborhoods.

2204 Hancock, Port Huron. While this home had not yet been found listed in a historic newspaper, it is most certainly a Ken-Way house (author photo May 30, 2019).  This neighborhood, north of the east-bound entrance to the Blue Water Bridge, seems to have many Ken-Way homes and the next three are from that area.

2417 18th Avenue, Port Huron. This home is assumed to be a Ken-Way by visual identification. Though it may be hard to see in the photo, it has the distinct door wall that juts out from the other wall (author photo, May 30, 2019).

2323 18th Avenue, Port Huron. This home is identified as Ken-Way via a 1957 newspaper ad. Note the jutting front wall. The house appears to have a back addition as well as a newer second story (author photo May 30, 2019).

2806 17th Avenue, Port Huron. This home has the distinctive jutting front wall (the wall the the right of the door is set back a short distance) (author photo, June 4, 2019).

2543 Spruce Street, Port Huron (if Google street view is not mistaken). The home directly across the street looks to be the same model as this one. This home was advertised as a modified Ken-Way for re-sale in 1958 (Google street view image from 2013).  Note the left jutting wall.

Ken-Way homes identified in newspaper ads and not shown here (to 1958 only):  2741 Michigan Street, Port Huron (demonstrated in 1951–still standing?); 7830 Lakeshore Road (larger home, for sale in 1952); 1313 New Hampshire, Marysville (now 1323?, for sale in 1955); 1650 Mansfield, Port Huron (for sale in 1956, now gone); 2300 Krafft Road, Port Huron (for sale in 1957); 2532 10th Ave., Port Huron; and many on 25th Street (definitely 2515, 2603, 2627) for sale in various years.

Further research and a historical buildings survey of the neighborhoods could possibly identify most Ken-Way homes.

* Cite author and web source when using this article for research and/or quoting.  For significant use of the research information used in the article, contact the author via porthuronhistory@gmail.com for permission.

Sources and notes:

(1) The Times Herald, September 17, 1950, page 23.

Ken-Way ad from December 30, 1954 (The Times Herald, page 15).

(2) A 1946 ad for Home Roofing & Siding Co. shows Wyllie as manager (The Times Herald, Feb. 23, page 7).  An ad-type of “article” from that same year boasts that he had 12 years experience in building, roofing, siding, and insulation (The Times Herald, Jan. 7, 1946, page 7).  In what seems a reverse foreshadowing, the article says he’s a “man with a past,” with the article using a twist of the normally negative expression to introduce his good past.  However, Wyllie soon acted in ways to give him a negative reputation. In 1947 he punched a Union representative in the face 2 or 3 times, breaking his nose.  Charges were not filed at first, but 2 years later Wyllie was found guilty of assault and his victim, Wesley Kercher, was awarded damages (The Times Herald, June 9, 1947, page 1, and other articles from that year, and Dec. 17, 1949, page 2).  Another lawsuit was filed against Wyllie in 1949, the plaintiffs claiming that they purchased the timber rights to a property that Wyllie owned, but that Wyllie sold the property before they removed the timber.  The suit was settled out of court (The Times Herald, Sept. 17, 1949, page 5).  Wyllie was in trouble yet again when, having not paid the damages from the Kercher suit, he was arrested in 1950 (The Times Herald, May 4, page 2).

(3)  Legislative History of the VA Loan Guaranty Program, Department of Veterans Affairs (www.benefits.va.gov), last updated August 23, 2006.

(4) The Times Herald, November 9, 1952, page 5.

(5)  The Times Herald, January 17, 1953, page 3.

(6)  ClickAmericana.com (accessed May 31, 2019).

(7)  It is not known how long the radio segments went on, but one was advertised on November 3, 1953 in The Times Herald, being scheduled for 7:15-7:30 am, on WTTH 1380 (ABC) radio.

(8)  “”Battle of Design’ Looms Over Kenway Housing Units,” a Marysville controversy, in The Times Herald, February 15, 1953, page 11.

(9) “No Injunction in Picket Case,” The Times Herald November 14, 1953, page 5.

(10)  The Times Herald, March 29, 1954, page 15.

 

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Peeps in (local) History Contest Entries–and Winners

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.

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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!

Honorable Mention.  Laura White.  “Phineas went all through town and he was so tired he needed to rest. He thought that this would be a great time for a selfie in front of his favorite clocks, Moshers.  (After this he he went on his way to many more places in Port Huron which he may show you in the future.)”  Mosher’s is at the corner of Huron and McMorran, in downtown Port Huron.  The Mosher’s clock was purchased by Clarence Mosher in 1912 (it was a used clock and was originally hand-cranked), and formerly at 209 Huron Avenue.

Honorable Mention.  Melissa Kohl.  “Mrs Peep and her lil’ peeps go to school.”  (Garfield Elementary at 1221 Garfield Street, Port Huron.)  PHAHPA note:  Garfield was originally a junior high school, and opened in 1925.

Kimberly Allen. Historic Bush Building that used to be at the northwest corner of Military and Water streets.  Photo has no date; from the Port Huron Museum Collection.  An astonishing building (as is the ornate bank building next door), now lost:  Harvey S. Bush building.

First Place Winner.  Andrew Kercher.  “Freshly back from the war, Peeps in Jeeps and even a DUKW parade down Huron Avenue” (Russell Sawyer collection, ca. 1946).

Randi Mathieu. (Historic postcard from the early 1900s)

Lauren Nelson. “This peep family is enjoying the traveling Michigan in the Civil War exhibit at Port Huron Museum’s Carnegie Center.” PHAHPA note: the museum is housed in the original Carnegie Library, built 1902-1904.

Carol Whiting. “Penelope Peep is checking out SC4 [St. Clair Community College], which is almost a century old.” PHAHPA note: The building shown is a former Port Huron High School, which was built in 1906 (113 years ago). Port Huron Junior College, the forerunner of SC4, moved into this building in the 1950s. PHJC was established in 1923 (96 years ago), and the named changed to St. Clair Community College in 1967.

Second Place Winner.  Abigail B. 4th grade student (M. Kohl, teacher). Pere Marquette RR bridge, 1931.

Austin K. 3rd grade student (M. Kohl, teacher).  Huron Lightship, 1920.  PHAHPA note:  This ship, formerly “The Relief” and the last of its kind, was designated a National Landmark in 1989.

Clara B. 4th grade student (M. Kohl, teacher).  Lighthouse, 1829.

Grant D. 4th grade student (M. Kohl, teacher). Blue Water Bridge, 1936 (PHAHPA note:  the first span opened in 1938, and it is the background span here).

Greyson J. 3rd grade student (M. Kohl, teacher). Thomas Edison Museum, former Grand Trunk RR depot, 1858.  PHAHPA note: listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

Jenna F. 5th grade student (M. Kohl, teacher). Blue Water Bridge, 1936 (PHAHPA note: the first span opened in 1938, and it is the foreground span in this photo).

Honorable Mention.  Nolan G. 3rd Grade (M. Kohl, teacher). St. Clair Tunnel, completed in 1891.  PHAHPA note: This is a recognized National Landmark, a higher level of designation than the National Register of Historic Places.

Tessa B. 5th grade student (M. Kohl, teacher).  St. Clair Tunnel, completed in 1891. PHAHPA note: This is a recognized National Landmark, a higher level of designation than the National Register of Historic Places.

Third Place Winner.  Siri C. 5th grade student (M. Kohl, teacher). Federal Building, 1877.  PHAHPA note: constructed from 1874-1876, and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Honorable Mention.  Taylor H. 5th grade student (M. Kohl, teacher). Lighthouse, 1829.

Please leave comments below!  Winners will be announced on April 20th.

We most wholeheartedly THANK the sponsors of this contest–please thank them too!  Enter State Right, Kate’s Downtown, The State Perceptory (in downtown Port Huron), and Raven Cafe.

Peeps in (local) History Contest

Mrs. Peep and her children, strolling along Military Street in 1908. Unbeknownst to her, time lord Dr. Who is right behind her. What disaster could this portend?! (V. Priest, 2019)

PEEPS IN (local) HISTORY CONTEST!

Take photos of peeps (any type) at or in an area historic property or with a historic photo (the photo above is an example).  Photos can be a close-up of a nice detail; don’t be afraid to get creative, and certainly have fun!  Filtered, modified, and “photoshopped” images are also welcome! The included property doesn’t have to be a “landmark,” but can even be your own home–just as long as it’s at least 50 years old. Creativity is the top consideration, not quality (you don’t have to be a professional photographer!).  The image above is a regular photo that has had filters applied to it (using ipiccy.com, but there are other free photo editing applications out there too).  Photos taken with phones are of course acceptable.  Rules and submission policy are below.

Deadline is April 13, 2019.  Photos will be posted at PHAHPA.ORG at that time, and comments accepted.  We will consider comments when judging the entries.  Winners will be announced on April 20th.

Where the photos can be from:  Port Huron, Port Huron Township, Fort Gratiot Township, or Marysville

Prizes (4):  1st Place, Enter Stage Right gift certificate for 2 tickets to a production + refreshments, plus a PHAHPA 16 GB flash drive; 2nd Place, Enter Stage Right gift certificate for 2 tickets to a production + refreshments; 3rd Place, $20 gift certificate to Kate’s Downtown coffee restaurant, and;  Honorable Mention, $10 gift certificate to Port Huron’s downtown vinyl record store, State Perceptory.

Please support our kind sponsors, representing the local arts and downtown businesses!

Check out Enter Stage Right and their upcoming plays!  609 Huron Avenue, Port Huron.

Caffeine comes in great packages at Kate’s Downtown.  Give them a try next time you’re in the heart of Port Huron. 

Visit State Perceptory for vinyl records and more in downtown Port Huron (219 Huron Ave., open 10 am to 7 pm Mon-Sat).

Submitting photos:

  1.  Photos can be any size–large file sizes may be reduced when we post them to our website.  They can be “as is” or filtered, or even photoshopped (modified peeps photo inserted in, or layered onto, another photo, for example).
  2. Photos must be the submittor’s original work.  By submitting a photo to this contest you are attesting to its originality. Photos must not have been used in any previous contest. Your name will be posted with the photo.
  3. You MUST provide information about the location and age of the property in the photo.  If you do not know the exact age, say so, but provide other information as to why you think it meets the rule of “50+” years. Remember that the properties must be in either Port Huron, Port Huron Township, Marysville, or Fort Gratiot Township; these are currently the areas PHAHPA specifically serves.  (Maybe next year we will have expanded our service area before the next contest.)
  4. If you want to submit a caption along with the photo, please do. You can have fun with the caption like we did in our sample.  We reserve the right to edit the caption.
  5. One submission per person only.
  6. By submitting an entry you are agreeing that PHAHPA can post it at its website and use it at other social media places it utilizes, and that PHAHPA may also print it with marketing and informational materials if it ever deems that would be useful. You would retain full copyright otherwise.
  7. Email your submission to porthuronhistory@gmail.com, subject: Peeps Contest.  Provide your name and another way to contact you (besides email) if you desire.  If you are a winner we will contact you to ask the best way to get the prize to you.
  8. Have fun 🙂  (questions?  write to porthuronhistory@gmail.com)
  9. We know, but just so you know, PHAHPA board members (the only volunteers associated with PHAHPA at this time; there are no employees) are not allowed to submit entries to the contest.

Peepzilla at Palm’s Krystal Bar & Grill (Chicken in the Rough), Port Huron. Vicki Priest and Zakery Stiegemeyer photo.

Peepzilla attacking Chicken in the Rough poster. Zakery Stiegemeyer and Vicki Priest image.

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.

______________

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

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).

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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]

Continue reading

What We Have Lost

"The Tunnel" GTW Depot, PH, built 1891

This substantial historic railroad depot (Grand Trunk Western) built in 1891, was torn down in 1975, yet the lot remains empty.

By Vicki Priest (enlarged and edited on 3/31/16)

Buildings aren’t people, yet buildings can be unique, beautiful, contain rare materials and can be a face in the community for centuries.  A building can represent a street, a community, a city; it can inspire awe and any number of other feelings or thoughts that make us realize that we can create something beautiful.  Buildings can be the opposite, too.  They can remind us of failing economies and the loss of community pride, as when a school falls into disrepair, or when newer buildings are simple, cheap, cookie-cutter, letting us consider how we now live in a throw-away culture.  For example, 805 Pine Grove Avenue used to be the home of an astonishingly handsome home (Second Empire style), but in its place now is an abandoned gas station.

Pine Grove Ave, PH, 2016

Abandoned gas station at 805 Pine Grove Avenue, Port Huron, today (2016).

Dead house, 805 Pine Grove Ave, PH

An early and astonishing Port Huron home, demolished (!) in 1970. 805 Pine Grove Avenue.

 

 

 

 

 

Looking through images of houses and churches that have been razed in Port Huron, I was negatively impressed by the loss of some of the city’s most notable architecture.  It’s very hard to imagine how it could’ve been thought that tearing such structures down was better than brainstorming ways to repurpose them.  Other structures were lost due to neglect and fire. Below is a very sad example of the urban downscaling that has happened in Port Huron.  The first image is of an undated photo, showing a block of historic buildings on the left (one of them was quite unique), with the second image showing them all to be gone.  (These images will be updated when more information and better quality photos are acquired.)

Military and Wall streets, Port Huron

With the Harrington Hotel at the right, this view is of a block of historic structures at Military and Wall streets (NW corner), Port Huron. The sidewalk and streets are of brick pavers. Undated photo from Gaffney (2006, p 24).

Military street at Wall Street, NNW view, Google

The same scene in 2013 as the historic image shows, though with a different type of lens. No historic buildings at the left remain. From a Google street view image.

Some homes made way for the primary hospital in town.  While time doesn’t stand still and communities grow, the homes torn down for the hospital expansion didn’t have their windows and other structural and architectural components removed for recycling purposes (for use in other historic structures that need replacements).  Below are some examples.  An inventory of lost resources will be listed in the Lost Properties page.

1st Baptist Church, PH, now a parking lot

First Baptist Church, dedicated in 1882 (the church had an earlier building that had burned down). Sold in 1969 to make a parking lot.

The beautiful church structure at left was considered the “crown jewel” of downtown Port Huron (Creamer 2006).  It was sold to the city in 1969 and subsequently demolished; there is now a parking lot in its place.

Maccabees headquarters, Port Huron.

The original Knights of the Maccabees headquarters, built in 1892. It later became the Algonquin Hotel. It met its unfortunate demise in 2000, when it burned down after having been abandoned. Photo from c. 1905.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below are the homes mentioned earlier, demolished in 2006 for the hospital expansion.  They do not appear to have had valuable components removed first.

Razed house, Pine Grove Ave, Port Huron

The 1300 block of Pine Grove Avenue, Port Huron, 2005, prior to their 2006 demolition.

Demolishing 1327 Pine Grove Ave., PH

1327 Pine Grove Avenue being demolished. June 2006. The smashed remains of the regal 1323 home are to the left.

Razed Lauth Hotel, Port Huron

The Lauth Hotel, built in 1902. Date of photo unknown.

Very few of the original hotels in Port Huron remain today.  Sadly, the “skinny” Lauth Hotel (and bar) no longer stands.  “Built to resemble the famed Flat Iron Building in New York City in 1902, it was destroyed in the Urban Renewal Movement of the 1970’s” (Gaffney, accessed Feb 2016).  Instead of creatively integrating it into condominium architectural plans, it was simply razed.  The whole area where it stood used to be an attractive little city center with brick pavers, but not any more.

__________________

PS.  A local authority had told me of this house, and having discovered specifically which house it was in Port Huron, I wanted to append it to this article.  St Joseph Catholic Church had owned it and then demolished it, despite it being in the city’s Olde Town Historic District.  Believers are called to be stewards of God’s creation, and quality buildings are made of choice and rare materials that God provided.  The workmanship required to make such structures may also be considered a gift from God.  Apparently, the community wanted this structure saved, the city offered them free amenities, and there was even someone who wanted to move it.  Yet the church acted ungraciously (from what I’ve been told) and tore the building down anyway.  Why such waste when it could’ve been removed instead?  There is nothing but grass there now.  There are many reasons why The Church has dwindled in the last decades, and this attitude of disregard–for others in the community and for God’s gifts–could be one of them.

317 Seventh St, Port Huron, demolished

1317 Seventh Street, Port Huron. The church that demolished it, which was on an adjacent lot, even took over the address of the disappeared.

Sources

Bromley, Suzette (former curator for the Port Huron Museum), Rootsweb page, which holds scanned images from various collections held by the Port Huron Museum, and the Library of Congress.

Creamer, Mary Lou (and the History and Research Committee of the Port Huron Sesquicentennial Steering Committee, c. 2006), Port Huron: Celebrating Our Past, 1857-2007.

(TJ) Gaffney’s Pinterist page

Gaffney, TJ, Port Huron, 1880-1960 (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2006).

Olde Town Historic District

PhoenixMasonry.org

Hello!

This brand new site is under construction.  Priority right now is the populating of the informational pages rather than posting lots of entries on the home page.  So if you check those out, you’re sure to see something.

At the moment, the City of Port Huron doesn’t have a central informational hub for its own resources or for historic preservation information generally,* and that is exactly what this site hopes to help rectify.  For example, Port Huron has two historic districts, but you’d hardly know it even if you tried finding out about them.  City governments that are proud of their rich built environment and history normally try to make those resources easily knowable, even more so when heritage tourism is involved.  There are those who are active in trying to preserve their communities, and there are those who are working on projects right now that will result in the reopening of historic buildings downtown.  These things will be the subjects of future posts.  Regarding the association, it is just forming and looking for supporters, members, friends.  If you are interested in knowing more or helping out, there is a contact form on the “membership and donations” page.  Thank you for your interest!

*  The St. Clair County library in downtown does (happily) have research materials, and there is some information at the Main Street office at 219 Huron Avenue, but neither of these are the equivalent to the city having a real history or historic preservation page (or publications).  The city has never carried out a historic resources survey and has no register of historically significant properties, and the two historic districts it has are hard do find out about (one district has a website up, but it hasn’t been updated since 2008).  The communities that surround Port Huron, Fort Gratiot, Port Huron Township, and Marysville, are smaller and haven’t undertaken surveys or implemented registers, either (Marysville does have historical and museum information at its city site).

Port Huron, pier with steamers, c 1908

An active pier scene in Port Huron, circa 1908.