Old Mack

Photos from June, 2009.

If you follow Mack Avenue out across Detroit's east side just before Conner it goes up over the rail yard on a huge modern overpass at Chrysler’s Mack Stamping / Budd Wheel Plant, but tucked off to the side there was a row of buildings that used to stand on Mack before the grade-separation was built. On today's maps it is called "Mack Service Road," but I've also seen it called "Old Mack." It's a dead-end road now, a stub cut off from its parent by the big overpass directing traffic elsewhere, leaving it to die.

Ruins from one collapsed building were spilling over into Manz Playfield:

As of 2018 most of these buildings have been demolished, so here is a brief run-down of some of their history.

The building on the right in the next photo still bears a date-stone in its cornice, reading “1919”...it was originally the Pitman & Dean Co. (coal & ice supply) at 12165-69 Mack. The sign under the FOR SALE sign says that it used to be the ____ Cold Extrusion Corp. It was occupied from at least 1977 to 1986 by lmerman Industries, Inc., who also did metal extrusion work, according to hits I found via Google Books.

...The building on the left was originally part of the J.A. MacIvory Lumber Co.'s Mack Avenue Yard. The c.1929 Sanborn map of this street shows the following other businesses here at that time: the McDonald Coal & Brick Co. Yard at 12017 Mack, the C.P. Steinheiser Co. (builders' supplies) at 12035 Mack, and the Grace Harbor Lumber Co. at 12081 Mack. None of them still stand.

Sadly, the c.1910 map does not cover this area, indicating that it was not developed land yet. This spot was still a couple hundred yards outside city limits in 1910, in what was then considered the Village of St. Clair Heights. This block would have been located right under the map key, across the tracks from the Lozier Motors plant:

Image of 1910 Sanborn map from loc.gov
The Lozier Motors plant once stood at 11801 Mack, a small luxury car company that was started in 1910 to rival Packard. According to the book How Detroit Became the Automotive Capital, Henry Ford and James Couzens visited Lozier Motors frequently to watch the assemblers working on the chassis line in the Albert Kahn-designed plant. Lozier fizzled out in 1915 when Cadillac essentially put them out of business. Their plant was bought by the Motor Products Corp.

Here is a snapshot of the area in 1929...we are standing right under the number "61" at center:

The vacant patch where 55 is used to be a Hudson Motors factory. Across the street on the south side of Mack from us there was mostly empty space in 1929, behind the Budd Wheel and Hudson Motors plants...which were later turned into Chrysler’s Mack Stamping Plant.

On a later second visit to this street I found there to be massive damage done since I was here last…scrappers got at it. In fact, they were there while we were there.

Talk about wrack & ruin...Edison poles chopped down and the whole bit. Keep in mind, this is mid-2009 near the height of the scrapping epidemic. After my first visit, the remnants of this street spiraled very rapidly into complete dissolution.

So much for the roof…scrappers “Packardized” that one (ripped out the iron trusses and let it fall). It looks like that is what's getting ready to happen here too, with the iron posts exposed and ready to be notched with a cutting torch, just like lumberjacks felling a tree:

I believe I remember hearing that at least one of these structures was set ablaze too. A cell tower site sits in the middle of the ruins:

More missing roof trusses:

Whoops, bit of a flood here...

The blue paint mark "W/O" in the next photo means that the water has been shut off to the building by the city (probably after the pipe froze and burst, causing that flood in the photo above):

This yellow building, at 12121 Mack, was the Foam Distributing Co., at least according to the sign on the front of the building, and a reference to them in a 1997 business directory.

That grey stone building on the far end, at 12101 Mack (which I now regret not going into), used to be the UAW Local 212 union hall. Here it is on Google Streetview, in 2013:

Image via Google Streetview
It was also the location of a popular barn dance every Saturday night...the heart of industrial Detroit seems a weird place to find a shindig, but according to a couple books I searched online, this building was sort of like a country equivalent of the Grande Ballroom on weekends. Local bluegrass pioneer Cranford "Ford" Nix was a member of Local 212 and helped Casey Clark secure the hall for his dances. Besides hosting the "Lazy Ranch Barn Dance" here Casey Clark was a fiddle player who even had his own TV show on CKLW-TV, and deejayed a country show on WJR radio in the 1950s, according to The Birth of the Detroit Sound: 1940-1964.

Image via Google Streetview
It probably sounds weird to think that Detroit ever had a country music scene of all things, but don't forget that in the Postwar, post-Depression era, Detroit was flooded by an influx of poor Appalachians looking for work in the factories, and they certainly brought their banjos and fiddles with them. Ford Nix himself worked at the old Chrysler plant here on Mack Avenue. Local 212 was the biggest and strongest UAW local on the east side back in those days, and they represented the Briggs Mfg. plants around here, which were the scene of several major battles in Detroit's organized labor movement.

Image via Google Streetview
This Google Streetview image (above) from October of 2011 shows that like many buildings in Detroit during the Great Recession someone painted "NO COPPER" on the front entrance when it was boarded up, to indicate to would-be scrappers that all the valuable metal had already been removed, in hopes that it would spare the building from being ripped open. Little did they know, skyrocketing metal prices would soon lead the scrappers to come for the actual iron structural members of the buildings.

Since learning all this history about the humble little building at the end of a dead-end street, I decided to pay another quick visit in early 2019 so I could actually go inside. I was surprised to find a somewhat decorative entryway (above). 

Once inside it looks like there was a small bar here, which is strange because I know that no UAW members ever drink any alcoholic beverages at all! ;)

These three doors led into the large gathering space in the rear of the building, which is collapsed:

I imagine that this is where the old union meetings and "Lazy Ranch Barn Dances" used to be held, back when Detroit had about a million more people living here.

Sanborn map for Detroit, Vol. 19, Sheet 61, etc. (1929)
Sanborn map for Detroit, Vol. 8, Sheet 95 (1910)
How Detroit Became the Automotive Capital, by R. Szudarek
Automotive Engineering, Volume 86, p. 149
Michigan Manufacturer's Directory, (1997), p. 139
The Birth of the Detroit Sound: 1940-1964, by Marilyn Bond and S.R Boland, p. 33
Detroit Country Music: Mountaineers, Cowboys, and Rockabillies, by Craig Maki, Keith Cady, p. 307
American Directory of Organized Labor (1992), p. 528

Cross Reclamation

Photos from October, 2014.

You may recall that I explored the Quincy Dredge #2 in an older post by walking across the ice on Torch Lake. This time, riding in my Minnesotan colleagues' 4x4, we did some Dukes of Hazzard @#$% and drove right up to it.

But this time I was more interested in the actual Quincy Reclamation Plant ruins than the dredge...

As I've probably explained before, the purpose of this dredge was to float around out in Torch Lake and suck old stamp mill tailings off the lakebed with its big suction head, and convey them back to the Quincy Reclamation Plant to be refined for copper. The milling practices of the "olden days" in the Copper Country left a lot of the good stuff behind in the waste product, so this was a modern way of "re-refining" old waste for profit, using chemicals. The only problem is that after this process was complete, the company redeposited the now extra-toxic tailings right back into the lake, which is why no one swims here.

Lawrence Molloy writes that the Quincy Reclamation Plant was built in 1942 to 1943, right smack in the middle of WWII. For there to have been any new building on the homefront during that time in America's history, it must have been directly related to the war effort, so I'm guessing it was driven by the sudden renewed urgency for copper production. The old mines were back working at full tilt, but the Department of Defense wanted more, more, more.

The cost to build this plant was $1.2 million, and from 1943 to when it closed in 1967 it recovered 50,000 tons of copper from the old stamp tailings on the lakebed.

Unfortunately an unexpected fence kept me from getting any closer photos than this.

As it turns out the Tamarack Mining Co. also had a reclamation plant just down the road, whose ruins we drove through rather quickly...

According to mountainscholar.org, chemical reclamation of copper tailings began in the 1910s, and the Tamarack and Osceola mining companies each had two stamp mills here at that time, as well as a reclamation plant. When the giant Calumet & Hecla Consolidated Copper Co. bought up these companies however, they dismantled the stamp mills in 1920. The Tamarack Reclamation Plant kept operating until the 1940s however.

My colleague Mike at coppercountryexplorer.com says that the mills dumped so much stamp sand that it enlarged the "shoreline" of Torch Lake by some 140 acres.

As it turns out, these unspectacular ruins are in somebody's backyard, so we only stayed long enough to turn around and head back toward Hancock.

Time to scrape the mud off our boots and have dinner at Gemingnani's...!

CLICK HERE to go back and explore the inside of the Quincy Dredge.

A Guide to Michigan's Historic Keweenaw Copper District, by Lawrence J. Molloy, p. 19, 20, 21

House of Fire

Photos from May, 2015.

One day as I was traveling along M-60 through the town of Homer in Calhoun County, I saw a park with the ruins of a dam along the South Branch of the Kalamazoo River, and decided to stop.

This was the site of the old Cortright-VanPatten Gristmill, also sometimes just referred to as the Homer Mill.

David M. Brown visited the mill back when he was compiling his Michigan County Atlas in the 1980s. He says that the area was particularly favored by the local Potawatomi people, who were friendly to the first settlers of Homer, but they were soon forced at gunpoint to walk the Trail of Tears. The first building was erected in 1832, and the first mill opened on this site in 1837—the same year Michigan officially became a state.

Calhoun County itself was organized in 1833, and although it was named after John C. Calhoun and settled in the Puritan tradition of "righteous" colonization, Brown notes that it ultimately came to stand for much more progressive ideals, such as: developing the first state-wide education system, helping pave the way for the abolitionist and women's rights movements, founding the first railroad union, and the invention of the first healthy breakfast foods—giving Battle Creek its world-famous title of Cereal City. The county seat of Marshall is today known for its reputation of historic preservation, and its intact collection of mid-19th Century homes.

You may recall my older post from Calhoun County, about the ruins of Clark Equipment and the United States Register Co. in Battle Creek.

This mill was erected by C.C. Cortwright in 1887, built atop the ruins of Milton Barney's c.1837 mill that burned down in 1886. It was bought by H. VanPatten in 1940. The Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) says that this mill was framed with massive oak timbers on a rubble foundation, and topped by a mansard roof; an addition was built in 1913. In 1976 when the HAER agent visited the site it still had its two original Leffel turbines intact, as well as the bearings and lineshafts. Even though all of the other machinery had already been removed, the mill was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

This photo below by Joe T. Fletcher shows what the mill looked like before it burned to the ground in 2010:

Photo by Joe T. Fletcher, rescued from Panoramio.com
The Lower Michigan Paranormal Society actually has a fairly well-researched looking webpage for this old mill, which stopped milling flour in 1970. It was bought in 1974 by James L. Miller, who turned it into a successful dinner theater establishment. The building was most recently bought in 1991 by another restauranteur, which is when it also became part haunted house; it operated as a haunted themed restaurant and bar, and functioned as a haunted house during Halloween. Apparently shock rock icon Alice Cooper even approved of this business model, making occasional appearances at the mill. Sounds like it must have been a pretty good haunted house...

I wonder if any of the ruins at the site today still date from the original 1837 mill?

The Lower Michigan Paranormal Society also claims that a young boy and girl died here (although it is not stated what year this allegedly occurred) while swimming in the river, after being sucked into the mill and drowning. Their ghosts supposedly haunted the basement and grounds of the mill prior to the fire that destroyed it in 2010.

Another ghost story claims that a mill foreman also once died here after falling into a silo of grain and suffocating to death. Yet another even less substantiated legend is that the wife of one of the mill owners once hanged herself upstairs.

I applaud the town of Homer for continuing to embrace the ruins of the site with a park even after the catastrophic fire destroyed the mill.

As I've stated in other posts, ruins and old buildings are an important part of the fabric of any good town. They are teachers and reminders, and should not be cleared away simply for the sake of "clearing the way," as the cliché terminology goes.

Children shouldn't grow up in towns where the oldest building is the same age as their parents...I think the American obsession with modernity is a bit misguided, and perhaps a symptom of our subconscious penchant for forgetting our nation's not-always-pleasant history (like sending the Potawatomi on the Trail of Tears, for instance). Growing up amongst completely modern, sterile surroundings leads to a shallow understanding of history...which leads to a shallow understanding of the future.

Ruins should be built upon, if not preserved as-is for their own sake. But enough of my preaching.

I wandered around some more and checked out the other ruins. I guess this was part of the mill's spillway?

I continued up to M-37 on my journey across Calhoun County.

North of Battle Creek I saw the charred remnants of what had to have been another old mill. I just can't seem to catch these things before they go up in smoke, can I? I mean this thing was practically still smoldering...

This was the old Payette Mill in Bedford, which some a teenager had "Cleansed by Fire" the previous July. It too was featured in the Historic American Engineering Record, which says that it was built in 1855 on the Walbascon Creek by H.M. Marvin. It changed hands many times over the decades but was owned for 50 years by the Payette family, from the 1880s to the 1930s. Like the Homer Mill, it became a restaurant in 1950 and then an antique shop and private residence. It had been vacant for awhile prior to the blaze.

Here's what it looked like in July of 2012:

Image from Google Streetview
There sure aren't too many buildings left from the 1850s anymore, and now there is one less, thanks to this apparently troubled kid. According to the news reports, the same 19-year-old had already been apprehended for attempting to burn the mill down once, just weeks prior, and was released on bond. No clear motive was discovered as to why he did it, and he was charged with felony third-degree arson.

I hope the village of Bedford can find some way to turn these ruins into something productive, the same way that the village of Homer has.

Lower Peninsula of Michigan Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites, HAER, 1976, p. 7, 8
Michigan County Atlas, 2nd Ed., David M. Brown, p. 24, 179