This was a place that Navi and I had scrutinized once before, sometime around 2016. At the time we couldn't be sure whether it was abandoned or not. It was right next to the railroad tunnel to Canada, so it was an interesting little nook of the city and I was pretty sure no one else had been inside. But recently I happened to cruise through there again and noticed that the front door was propped open...so naturally I did what I do best, which is to stick my nose where it doesn't belong. I apologize for the blurry nature of some of these photos...I was still getting used to how this new camera works, and was moving through the place pretty quick since it sounded like there were workers present somewhere in the building.
I knew by the faded letters on the water tower that it was once part of the Seaman-Patrick Paper Co., which seemed to correspond to a few other buildings in the immediate area also relating to the paper production trade, such as the Chope-Sievens Paper Co. and Tullar Envelope plants on the other side of Fort Street.
The building has two halves, an older 4-story building and a newer concrete 3-story building (seen above, to the right). I was surprised to see that the older section was actually all timber-framed with wooden floors, an absolutely gorgeous old survivor...but now I was curious as to how old this factory actually was, and whether the Seaman-Patrick Paper Co. name painted on the outside was the original company that built it. The first thing I did (as always) was go to the c.1921 Sanborn map, which showed only the timber-constructed section of the building to be standing then. It was labeled as a warehouse for the International Harvester Co. of America. The 1921 Sanborn also shows the new and old city address numbering systems, which is super handy.
So I went back all the way to the c.1884 Sanborn map, which showed the area of this structure as a mostly vacant lot with a few houses standing. I learned something interesting however; Vermont Street was called 13th back then.
The plot thickens.
Turning to the c.1897 Sanborn map, this structure was still not shown yet, so that means it was built somewhere between 1897 and 1921.
To my eyes this place looked like it was built before 1900, but I could be wrong. But the streets do a funny trick again: on this map Vermont was now labeled as Lafferty Pl., and 13th was the next block east, jogging off of "Vermont" at Howard, and around the east side of the building. All I knew was that this was going to make it really tricky to do any further searching based on addresses...I now had two streets that shared three different names, and potentially two sets of numbers to plug in for each one. Things were going to get even trickier because due to the pandemic the Burton Historical Library downtown was closed, meaning I would not be able to access the Polk's City Directories...which would have made this a breeze.
I also managed to figure out that 13th Street was officially renamed Vermont Street on September 3, 1904 by act of Mayor Maybury. Both 13th and Lafferty Pl. had been previously changed to Vermont Street on November 23, 1903. It bears mentioning that the railroad tunnel to Canada was also under construction around this time, from 1906 to 1910, and 13th / Vermont used to cross over the railroad tracks right where the mouth of the tunnel is now.
It used to continue over the railroad on a steel bridge, as you can see in the c.1921 Sanborn map below (north is to the left):
|Detail from c.1921 Sanborn map. Click to enlarge.|
And that is the story of why there is no more unlucky 13th Street in Detroit.
The map also shows there used to be a tiny "concrete bridge" going from the front door of this building to join the "stone approach" of the Vermont viaduct over the railroad tunnel—which explains why the "floating" main entrance is on the second floor! I'd like to check out the vertical files in the Burton Collection to see if I can find an old photo of it, but alas...Covid.
Another from September 23, 1917:
June 11, 1911:
The earliest reference I could find to their modern 2000 Howard address was a help wanted ad in May, 1957...I would guess by the Mid-Century Modern exterior styling that it was probably built around that time.
Although gone from Detroit, Seaman Paper still exists today, and according to their website the company is a global supplier of value-added specialty lightweight papers. The company history on their website doesn't mention the Detroit connection, but it explains that the company "filled a need between the paper mills and the printers and converters," and at one point was the largest paper merchant house in the United States. In 1917 the Detroit firm changed its name to "Seaman-Patrick Paper," while the Chicago parent company renamed itself simply "Seaman Paper Co." In 1946 they bought a paper mill in Otter River, Massachusetts and relocated headquarters there from Chicago.
|Image stolen from local railroad guru, Peter Dudley. Click to enlarge.|
"The Book of Detroiters," 2nd Ed., 1914, by Albert Nelson Marquis
"Walden's Stationer and Printer," Volume 34, Pt. 2 (1911), p. 31
Advertisement, Detroit Free Press, September 23, 1917, p. 4