Spring Forward, Fall Back

Following the railroad line from the Detroit's infamous Packard Plant about a mile north, you will come to a smaller factory with a five-story section and an old-style watertower, on Miller Street. I faintly remember once identifying this small plant as belonging to Associated Spring, an early auto industry supplier, but it never looked quite abandoned, and in any case there was no perceptible way to get inside, so it fell off my radar for at least a decade. Recently one of my loyal readers tipped me off that it was in fact abandoned, and accessible.

As you can see from the old paint sign on the side, it lately served as a furniture warehouse—a fact that we could confirm once we got to the second floor.

I inadvertently took the same photo from the same spot, a second time. The elm trees are taller, and the railroad crossbucks are different:

The massive Plymouth Motors Lynch Road Assembly Plant is also just north of us on the same rail line.

The Sanborn map shows us this plant in 1932, identified as "Barnes, Gibson, Raymond, Inc." Another notation is tacked on with an arrow, indicating they were a "Division of Associated Spring Co." So my initial idea was correct.

A quick flip through the History of Wayne County by Detroit historian Clarence M. Burton reveals that Barnes-Gibson-Raymond Co., Inc. (BGR) was founded on November 1, 1922, and built their main factory in Detroit, by purchasing the Zenith Foundry Co. on Miller Avenue and expanding it. They started with 25 employees and rapidly expanded to have 400 when Burton was writing in 1930. BGR Inc. manufactured every kind of mechanical spring—except leaf springs and cushion springs, and sold their wares all over the U.S. and even did some export, but 75% of their output was used in Detroit car factories.

Image from Hendricks' Commercial Register of the United States, via Newspapers.com

Walking into the plant, we soon found ourselves in a large room that made me think the place could have been a foundry. I was more right than I knew; it was indeed originally built as the Zenith Foundry Co., as Clarence Burton spelled out.

You may remember reading my old post about the Jane Cooper School three blocks northeast of here, at Concord & Georgia. Looking around on the Sanborn map, the area seems to have been a little slice of southwest Detroit on the east side back in the 1930s, since it was a cluster of iron, sheetmetal, & brassworking shops, erecting shops, a coal yard, and a lumber yard. Every other scrap of land was densely packed with houses.

For some reason these later Sanborn addenda (such as Vol. 7A) were sometimes incredibly detailed; it tells us that the 1st to 3rd floor of the large building at 6424 Miller was built in 1913, and the 4th and 5th floors were added in 1937. The middle building at 6400 Miller (I presume it was originally the Zenith Foundry) and the smaller building at 6382 Miller were both built in 1921. An early advertisement shows BGR's business address to be 6398 Miller.

Today this is still a metalworking area: ArcelorMittal Tailored Blanks is across the street, Hascall Steel Co., Strong Steel Products, U.S. Wire Rope, and Nelson Iron Works are still in the area. Everything else is the usual mélange of Detroit-style churches, liquor stores, and auto repair shops.

Hey, an old-school Michigan-made Clark forklift:

BGR is still around, based in the Detroit suburb of Plymouth, but according to their corporate website barnesgroupinc.com, the company had its roots in 1857 when Wallace Barnes founded his own small company in Bristol, Connecticut to make springs for clocks and hoop skirts, with partner E.L. Dunbar. The company stayed in the Barnes family through several successions, and branched into Hamilton, Ontario in 1921, followed by Detroit in 1922.

In 1923 Associated Spring Corp. (ASC) was born, according to the Michigan Manufacturer & Financial Record. The Detroit firm Barnes, Gibson, Raymond Inc. (BGR) formed into the Connecticut-based holding company Associated Spring Corporation with William D. Gibson Co. of Chicago, Wallace Barnes Co. of Bristol Connecticut, Wallace Barnes Co. Ltd., Hamilton of Ontario, and Raymond Mfg, Co. of Corry, Pennsylvania, with Fuller F. Barnes of Bristol as its president.

The move seemed to be following the lead of General Motors, DuPont, US Steel, etc., by conglomerating itself to consolidate power (and to control their own supply chain in its entirety). BGR now had their spring manufacturing operations and the source of the cold-rolled steel they used to make them controlled under the same corporate umbrella. After the legal idea of the "holding company" was invented it quickly spread across American business. Since monopolies were outlawed by the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in 1890, conglomerating companies into "corporations," was the new way to get around that in the Roaring '20s. It was the beginning of the corporate era we know today...aren't you glad?!

Around this time GM also invented the economic concepts of "standard volume" and "administered prices," eventually separating itself from the laws of supply and demand. GM's financing arm (GMAC) brought forth the birth of the credit economy, the brainchild of U.S. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon. All of these things presaged the American corporate economy we take as granted today, and the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few.

According to the journal Industry Week, the different branches of the Associated Spring Corporation had been strategically placed to geographically cover "practically the entire manufacturing field of the U.S. and Canada," and with the rise of Detroit as the Motor City, they now covered the automobile industry as well.

The photo in this next ad (found in the Detroit Free Press in January 1925) shows what the Zenith Foundry looked like when it was purchased by Associated Spring, before it was expanded into the plant we see today:

Image from Detroit Free Press, via Newspapers.com
The "Roaring '20s" were a time of great economic growth—for corporations and the wealthy, that is—and Associated Spring was no exception; they acquired the small Cook Spring Co. of Ann Arbor in February 1929, among the first of countless acquisitions to follow. In 1944 a branch of the corporation opened in Corry, Pennsylvania, and more branches follow in Milwaukee, Cleveland, Forestville, and Dayton.

An interesting article in the Detroit Free Press says that in 1932 the Associated Spring Plant won the main trophy in the Detroit Industrial Safety Council's industrial plant safety contest held at Northern High School, emceed by K.T. Keller, vice president of Chrysler. Other safety winners in the city were Fisher Body, Commonwealth Brass Corp., Square D, and City Pattern Works.

In June of 1951 the BGR Division moved into a new plant in Plymouth, Michigan. I would say that it is likely that this plant in Detroit was vacated and put up for sale at that time, and probably went through a succession of tenants during the ensuing five or six decades.

Meanwhile Associated Spring kept innovating, and in 1954 could boast that the new U.S.S. Nautilus, the world’s first atomic-powered submarine, contained no less than 140 different types of springs made under their brand name.

The 1960s brought further expansion, especially overseas. Associated Spring Corp. made it into space, with their springs used in space suits for astronaut John Glenn’s first orbit around the Earth, as well as the Apollo 11 mission to moon.

In 1976 the company name was changed from Associated Spring Corporation to Barnes Group Inc. They continued in the aerospace industry through the 1980s, buying up more companies in that field, including Jet Die & Engineering Inc. of Lansing, Michigan.

Through the 2000s they have continued to buy up companies and expand worldwide. In 2012 the Barnes Group's springs landed on the planet Mars, inside NASA’s Curiosity Rover.

Photo by Chisel
Moving up to the second floor. Was this a bottle capping machine?

This is also where we began finding more evidence that the building had served as a clearinghouse for furnishings purchased at auction from closed motels and other businesses, such as an old bowling alley in Dearborn.

Recognize any of the these rides, fellow children of the 1980s?

Tongue & groove wooden flooring, similar to parts of the Packard:

Getting up to the 3rd floor we finally had some windows, but there wasn't as much interesting stuff to find.

Until recently, this had been a series of huge vacant fields where Jane Cooper School used to stand, now a new factory is being built:

A view off southeast, where the GM Poletown Assembly Plant's smokestack looms next to the Fisher Building:

With the recent news of Hexavalent Chromium (the infamous yellow ooze) being found in vacant plants around the metro area, I was conscious to check all the barrels that I found for labels. I did not find anything particularly hazardous in this plant (a few labelled antifreeze), and everything was empty.

Heading up to the 4th and 5th floors...

While climbing the stairs, we could suddenly hear the call to prayer from the Masjid Mu'ath Bin Jabil, reminding us that we are right on the border of Hamtramck.

There was less stuff up here, but more water and moss.

According to the Sanborn maps, this spot across the street was marked as an "auto junking" yard even back then in 1932.

On the horizon, you can see how close we are to the Packard Plant:

Zoomed in, the "Pyramid" (Building 5) is evident, as well as the south water tower:

Maybe one of these days I will get around to doing something with my 3,500 photos from the Packard...

A view out the huge steel sash windows, toward Hamtramck...

...I remember when the windows of the Packard Plant and Fisher Body Plant #21 used to be this intact. That was almost 20 years ago! Time to retire and collect my pension...and yell at all these new exploring whippersnappers from my armchair.

In the photo above you can see the separate roofs of the other building addresses mentioned earlier for this plant: 6400 Miller (the old Zenith Foundry) 6398 Miller, and (the far building) at 6382 Miller.

You can see St. Florian's looming over the neighborhoods of Hamtramck:

The roof is in better condition than I expected, but the drains have been plugged up for awhile, which is why we have these harmful swamps and roof-trees starting:

A counterweighted flagpole, just like the ones I've seen before on the roofs of the Michigan Central Depot, Statler Hotel, United Artists Building:

The building with the sawtooth-style roof in this next shot is the popular Fowling Warehouse, which according to Sanborn maps used to be the Gear Grinding Machine Co. Plant No. 1:

There goes Navi, lookin for that crispy skyline shot for his BRN post:

The skyline shot was blocked by the tall JW Cole & Sons warehouse at 6500 Mt. Elliott...

I believe it was originally built by Huppmobile, if memory serves. Hascall Steel, and the old Detroit Pressed Steel Co. plant are in the foreground.

Here's a closer shot of the New Center area and the GM Poletown Plant:

I have to say that out of all the 30 or 40 industrial water towers at abandoned factories that I have seen over my three decades of trespassing, this one was in by far the best-maintained shape. It really was nice. Unfortunately the view from the top is not much different from the view on the roof.

The water tower in the distance in this next shot belongs to the Gemmer Steering Gear Plant, which I've explored in an older post:

I returned later that night with Donnie and Navi, and some brews. A few nights later I returned again with Chisel and Katie...when the holidays come it's like an explorers' family reunion when everybody comes back home to visit once a year, haha.

To my surprise I looked down and noticed another very unsuspecting paint sign on the building, badly faded and only really visible from this one spot (since the windows on that part of the lower floors were blocked). I could tell it was old since it was painted on a part of the building that would have been visible from the street before this taller addition was built:

Sure enough, I Photoshopped the image and was able to make out the words "BARNES-GIBSON-RAYMOND INC., SPRING MFR'S." Of course, "Mfr's" is the old abbreviation for "manufacturers." You don't see that anymore because now everything is corporate and conglomerated...companies don't manufacture anything anymore—they buy other companies on other continents, who use near-slave labor to do it, and then pay to ship it back here for consumption because somehow that's more profitable than just paying an American a living @#$^ing wage.

But I digress.

"Spring Forward, Fall Back"...

Sanborn Maps of Detroit Vol. 7A, New Sheet (97), Nov. 1932
History of Wayne County and the City of Detroit, Vol. 2, by Clarence M. Burton, et al, p. 1533
Michigan Manufacturer & Financial Record, Vol. 31, p. 11, (1923)
Automotive Industries, Vol. 48, (Feb. 15, 1923), p. 347
Industry Week, Vol. 72, (Feb. 15, 1923), p. 537
"Prizes Awarded in Safety Contest," Detroit Free Press, Oct. 27, 1932, p. 20
Advertisement, Detroit Free Press, Jan. 18, 1925

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.