Cozy Up with Art is an Albion tradition that began in 2003 as an event to spend some time with friends and neighbors. Albion Heritage Bed & Breakfast, that closed in the past year when the owners, Dick Lewin and Mary Slater, decided it was time to retire.
Artists, visitors, and family chat in the main building at Schuler Arts.
Artist Susan Behling was at the art show with jewelry made from fossils and glass.
John Larsen, Water-based paintings and monotypes, and cards with a floral design using based on the same art.
A colorful backdrop to hand made mittens, and other crafts for a chilly day.
This room at Schuler Arts is one of the favorites for guests to browse art, meet friends, and enjoy the atmosphere.
Gwen Tabb shows her jewelry and other crafts at Cozy Up with Art 2019
Andy French is known for his woodworking, and being a Chemistry professor, and student advisor.
Schuler Arts in Albion offers a wide range of ceramics, and other art.
After visiting the main entry building at Schuler Arts for Cozy Up with Art, guests visit the second building to see what could be in there.
The second building had work by another dozen artists, including holiday crafts by Jolly Green Junction, Jerome Washington, and Michigan Prints.
Jerome Washington's family was at the art show displaying his "Hidden Women of Color" series that includes portraits and stories of women who contributed to society but not as well known as some others.
There were some treasures hidden in the last room of the Cozy Up with Art show.
Cartoon Entrepreneur Aiden Wade shows his series of comic books that has been the result of a decade of work.
Rudy Saldana shows his hand-woven rugs
Woven items were available from Wilder Creek Workshop, and a spinning demonstration happened during the day.
But several of their projects are continuing, and Cozy Up with Art is one of them. Now hosted by Nobel and Pam Schuler, of Schuler Arts, this event brings in people from near and far to share in the Arts. Over 175 people attended the event that took place on Sautrday, Dec. 7, 2019. These were the participating artists:
Susan Behling, Nancy Binkowski, Amanda Cheladyn,
Denise Clenney, Debbie Erlandson, Andrew French,
Mary Habicht, Christina Hetzler, Maggie LaNoue,
Joan Larsen, Sue Ott, Cassie Porter,
Nobel Schuler, Pati Scobey, Kathy Stroshein,
Gwen Tabb, Bobbie VanEck, Robert Wall,
Teiko Wall, Aiden Wade, Aurelia Wade,
Jenny Risner-Wade, Jerome Washington, Laura Wylie
Artists are able to share their creative works, and to sell them as well. Guests can munch on snacks, warm by the fire, listen to live music, provided by Dan Steeves on the Dulcimer.
Visitors run into old friends, new friends, and can do their holiday shopping in a way that is not as consumeristic as shopping at the mall.
A Reunion of Friends and Key Workers of Albion’s Industrial Past
By SYLVIA BENAVIDEZ
Albion-The Victory Park picnic shelter looked like it was filled with ordinary people enjoying a meal with family and friends on a sunny Thursday afternoon on September 19, 2019. Really though, the gathering of mostly men and a few women consisted of individuals who played a vital role in Albion’s industrial past.
Bob Butler and Jesse Whetstone arranged the picnic for past employees of Harvard Industry and its previous variations. The two men watched while the company they worked for changed hands and names over the years. Albion Malleable Iron Company was founded in 1888, then it became Hayes Albion in the late 1960s with the corporate offices moving to Jackson, and finally, by the time it shut down in 2002, a division of Harvard Industry. The shutdown; however, did not break the ties between the men and women, who in some cases, worked their entire lives there. This connection brought everyone together this year to again swap stories of the past, enjoy food together, and catch up with each other.
“You can see how much fun they are having,” said Butler about the picnic. He then recalled times with his fellow employees at Malleable. “We had ball teams and bowling teams. We would play cards at break. It was a great place to work, and it was steady. A good paycheck every week.” Then Butler glanced around the picnic area at the men and women in attendance and stated, “It’s a great day to be alive.”
Whetstone commented that he began his 34 or so years with Malleable at an early age and this spurred a funny memory. The late Baby Lou as he remembers the nickname was unknown to Whetstone at the time a distant relative. “He used to give me a hard time as a young man in the shop to make sure I do my job correctly. And the supervisor won’t check on me. He (Baby Lou) would check on me.” Whetstone laughed and said I found out later he was just another employee, but “I didn’t know any different.”
Gary Tompkins Senior, father to Gary Tompkins, Calhoun County Commissioner 7th District also spoke fondly of his years as a journeyman millwright at the factory.
“It was 3000 degrees up there in the melt, and the molten iron had to stay that way. We had a terrible time up there to keep ourselves cool.”
Attesting to the intensity of the heat, Oscar Johnson who also helped make calls for the picnic, shared that the last 18 years of his work with Malleable/Hayes Albion was on the other side of the street working with train parts. Regarding how he felt leaving the intense heat, he stated, “I got lucky.”
Although the work was challenging, Tompkins Sr. would lighten up the mood with practical jokes. One day he placed garden variety snakes in his supervisor’s desk. Asked why he did it, Tompkins Sr. smiled mischievously replied, “It was fun!” But don’t let his lighthearted manner fool you as to how proud he is of the work he did for not just Albion, but the country during the company was in operation. “If you take the body off of a car, the rest of it was Hayes Albion.” The workers molded brakes, rotators, calipers, wheel hubs, driveshafts, and so much more. Butler summed it up perfectly, “We are proud of the work we did.”
Commissioner Tompkins shared that his grandfather, Leslie, also worked for Malleable for 33 years, so his ties to the company run for more than a generation. “As a child of somebody who worked there, I feel like a part of that family,” reported Tompkins. “I miss those days of driving by and seeing that building. I spend so much time there seeing it and for it not to be there anymore is tough.” He feels we all should applaud and honor the employees for the work that they did, which carried us through wars and the success of a growing car industry. Reflecting out loud Tompkins stated, “It’s sad to see that it is gone, but they will forever live in the memory of Albion because they are part of what made Albion great, and still what makes Albion great today.”
All pictures by Sylvia Benavidez
Photos and story copyright, The Recorder.
In May of 1981, Homestead Savings Bank was completed where it stands now. The building is twice the size from where it came from on 211 Superior Street in downtown Albion, and back then, that was something to celebrate. But Homestead Savings Bank has served Albion and the surrounding area for 130 years now and that service is worth celebrating according to Scott Evans, President and CEO of the bank.
Evans estimates that 100 to 150 people came through their lobby on Friday, June 21st during their business hours. Evans said, “We had a good group obviously from Albion. We also had people come over from Marshall to visit with us…A lot of customers, but also a lot of people from the community that came in and congratulated us on the anniversary.”
Talking with those attending the celebration it is clear customers appreciate having a local bank. Essie Curtis has banked locally since her arrival in Albion in the 1960’s. When her bank closed downtown a couple of years ago, she came to Homestead Savings Bank and it was like coming home. Said Curtis, “I know everybody here and that gives me confidence in the bank. I enjoy coming here.”
Evans stated “Homestead originated here in 1889, same name, so it means a lot to the community, and it’s community pride to say we are headquartered in Albion and have local management and a local board.”
The staff is proud of the personal touch in their service too, even with this anniversary celebration. Employee Juanita Solis-Kidder reported that “the staff made the cupcakes and they went above and beyond with all these different cupcakes and decorations.” She also pointed out bank albums and newspaper clippings out on display that record the bank’s history. As Solis-Kidder spoke with people throughout the day they shared with her that they did not realize how long the bank was in existence in Albion.
As for the future of Homestead Savings Bank, it’s looking bright. Currently, they have branches in Leslie and Springport, MI.
According to Evans, ““We have hundreds of customers with thousands of banking accounts, loans, and services.” When asked what he likes best about being headquartered in Albion, Evans quickly answered, “The people.”
All pictures by Sylvia Benavidez
Photos and story copyright, The Recorder
The Homestead Savings Bank staff proud of their 130 years in existence as a bank.
130 Anniversary sign outside of Homestead Savings Bank
Albion resident Essie Curtis enjoying a cupcake at Homestead Savings Bank
Lily Ratliff explains how old the bank is to a visiting customer
Homestead Savings Bank has been serving Albion since 1889.
All pictures by Sylvia Benavidez
Photos and story copyright, The Recorder.
Albion Through My Eyes – Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful
October 24, 2019
If, as Emily Dickinson’s poem says, ‘“Hope” is the thing with feathers,’ what would “Love” be? I am tempted to give this a tail and four paws instead of the two wings and the beak that are suggested in Dickinson’s piece. Love in my case would be a furry thing that purrs or barks, warm and fuzzy, sometimes flipping on its back for one to scratch its belly, other times giving one a gentle bite with its sharp fangs. There are of course endless iterations of this furry creature amongst a complex menagerie. Love can be easily mistaken by other species, and for the novice it can be as difficult to assess as looking for mushrooms. It seems that each one of these has an edible and a poisonous counterpart. Love is never sappy, mushy, bubbly or too obvious. It roams the streets of towns and cities, to name a few places, in unsuspecting ways. Love is the thing that one usually perceives through its footprints, after one has crossed paths with it; an afterimage that leaves one’s heart pondering.
Many years ago, while interviewing Pastor Díaz at the Iglesia Evangélica Española del Bronx, this elder paused to tell me something along these lines, “What Manhattan lacks the Bronx has in abundance.” He did not have to name the asset because I have perceived it too, as I walked through the streets of the Boogie Down and watched people build community under the most pressing circumstances. And I have been the beneficiary of this asset in the form of the furtive blessings bestowed on me orally by passersby and neighbors, leaving behind the echo of a long, long, purr. Appreciated. In Albion, love may wear a different coat, yet I have no problem intuiting it. I spotted it in a long conversation with Juanita Solís Kidder, when I learned how she taught GED classes and offered free English lessons to immigrants to the area. She was also involved in planting gardens around town, answering my unstated question as to why do plants bloom. Hence love can play in the ground and get muddy. Pat Tomasik knows about this affair with the Earth, and so I contacted her about planting trees. Our initial communication happened through e-mail and my question to her was not about the meaning of flowers, but how to replant an oak or an apple tree for teacher Lois Frick McClure. It happened that as I was sitting in my preferred meditation spot in town, a Lloyd Park bench by the river, I heard something scratch the grass. Was it love making its rounds in broad daylight? I turned around slowly, and my eyes caught Pat Tomasik sticking a small plastic flag in the mud where a new tree would grow.
Love writes life as its claws interact with the paths it walks day and night. It is a poet who writes in the sand and gives its stanzas to the winds and the waves. However, love does love a good read, especially when done as a communal endeavor. Jessica Roberts acted as its emissary when she dropped off a copy of Ibi Zoboi’s Pride for me at the Bobbitt Visual Arts Center. Zoboi’s writing raises questions not only about race, but also about class and privilege or lack of thereof, as it highlights the uncomfortable conversations that must take place to keep love alive and thriving. Love does not abide by definitions nor does it offer simple answers to one’s conundrums. One must contend with it with great honesty. Remember that this is a creature with paws and claws that can nibble at us at times and keep us awake at night. “In memory of all pitbulls killed from ignorance and fear,” so reads a vinyl sign posted on the glass of a big pickup truck parked outside a store, making me think how love can be easily misunderstood and carelessly wounded. Love has no fear, meanwhile hate is terribly afraid of love. I revel night after night in the cast of Zoboi’s characters and find great joy in matching them with some of my Dominican and Haitian ancestors, my Bronx neighbors and the friends that I am making in Albion. Love is a good author who likes a BIG READ.
I am fortunate to heed the recommendation of an Albion resident and go to Stirling Books and Brew to pick up a copy of Michelle Mueller’s Mr. Bonner: The Story of a Mentoring Journey. Through this book, I am allowed to picture love make its way into basketball courts, homecooked dinners and in and out of mentoring sessions with youngsters at risk. For a while I am tempted to give it a face and a name. That is before I realize how it moves from hand to hand and heart to heart with great ease, belonging to all and to no one in particular. Mr. Bonner’s example illustrates that when talking with a gay godson who was being slandered because of his sexual preference. “You are my Son and you should never be embarrassed at who you are. Always be proud and never stop smiling. I love you!” As I conclude this chapter of his biography late at night, I watch love out of the corner of my eyes wag its tail. I smile in my mind and turn off my reading lamp. I will ask Mr. Bonner about my vision when we meet this Tuesday.
Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful is the visiting artist at the Albion College. He seeks to meet people in town. To contact him call The Recorder newspaper.
Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful is a performance artist and teacher who has worked across the USA and internationally at venues such as Madrid Abierto/ARCO, The IX Havana Biennial, PERFORMA 05 and 07, IDENSITAT, Prague Quadrennial, and NYU Cantor Film Center. He has received grants and residencies from Art Matters, Lambent Foundation, MacDowell Colony, National Association of Latino Arts and Culture, Printed Matter Inc., PS1/MoMA, and Yaddo, and holds an MFA from Tyler School of Art, Temple University, and an MA from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. Nicolás teaches art at the visionary City & Country School in Manhattan and presents architectural workshops that help SEQ ART KIDS students create their own utopian architecture.
Albion-A few months ago, Sylvia (Syd) Dulaney walked through Victory Park and crossed paths with a trail hiker who had a backpack. “I thought to myself someone should offer him a welcome and maybe he would like to pitch his tent in the yard because he can’t in Victory Park.” So began Dulanley’s venture to become a host for trail users whether by the river, bike or hiking trails. She is now part of two groups that offer shelter or support to trail users: the facebook group North Country Trail Angels and http://www.warmshower.org, a site for touring bicyclists.
In February of this year, Albion was named an official trail town by the North County Trail Association. Michael Wilkey a volunteer with the North County Trail Association explained at the Festival of Forks booth that of the 11 national scenic trails the North County Trail is the longest of the National Park Service. By Albion being a trail town, hikers will know they are welcome and will find safe places to stay and can find restaurants. He adds that hikers will also see amazing architecture in Albion and the fork divide of the Kalamazoo river which they might not otherwise of seen. He added the trail brings visitors to Albion and offers opportunities to learn about the city’s history. Said Dulaney, “When you see someone walking with a pack, you know they are just passing through.” Referring to the hiking networks, “We are available to help them find a place to pitch their tent. We can offer them a bed and a hot shower.” Albion also connects to several other trails such as the Michigan Iron Belle Trail and the Calhoun County Trailway. Dulaney says she knows of at least five and that hikers aren’t the only ones. She hosted a bicyclist who was on a year and a half tour of the country.
In her short time of hosting, she has met fascinating people with great stories. Paula, a recent guest of hers, had hiked over 8000 miles across the country and back again doing interviews. According to Dulaney, “She is part of a group called grossnationalhappiness.org.” The idea of her hike is to promote the idea that citizens and governments should measure our success by asking the question, are people happy not by financial gain.
Dulaney’s home is on River St. and along the river. She says hikers have also found her by using google maps.
As for the future, she hopes to continue to welcome trail users to her home and possibly expand the ability for short term hikers to stake tents on her land since Albion is short of campgrounds at present.
But for now, she is happy to show hikers the best of Albion: hospitality and friendship.
All pictures by Sylvia Benavidez
Photos and story copyright, The Recorder.
Ditzler Extends Service to College for Two Additional Years to Focus on Special Projects
Albion, Michigan, December 3, 2019 – After a distinguished career in higher education spanning more than four decades, Dr. Mauri A. Ditzler has informed the Board of Trustees he plans to retire from his role as President of Albion College at the end of the 2019-20 academic year.
During a town hall meeting with students, faculty, staff and community leaders, Ditzler shared the news he will step back from day-to-day leadership of the liberal arts college in June 2020, transitioning into a new role where he will lead a number of special projects for up to the next two years. The Board of Trustees announced it has engaged a national firm to lead a search for the 17th president of Albion College.
“A passionate advocate for liberal arts education, Mauri Ditzler has embraced Albion as his own during his tenure with our college, and we are all the richer for it,” said Board Chair J. Donald Sheets, ’82.
“Over the past six years, Mauri has led our campus with a keen vision, boundless energy and unmatched enthusiasm that has allowed Albion College to achieve extraordinary results.
“As a College, our mission remains unchanged: We prepare students to translate critical thought into action through a liberal arts education. This mission and our strategic plan resonated with Mauri when he joined us six years ago and will again drive our national search.
“Mauri has been a tremendous champion of Albion and has left us poised for additional future successes. We are excited for him as he prepares to begin a new chapter. The Board is committed to continuity of our mission as we embark on a search process that engages the campus and community in order to find another exceptional leader for this role.”
Ditzler, 66, joined Albion College on July 1, 2014 after teaching and working in leadership positions at a number of liberal arts institutions, including Monmouth College in Illinois, Wabash College in Indiana, Milliken University in Illinois and College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts.
Key accomplishments during his tenure at Albion include:
Enhancing recruiting initiatives that have led to sustained enrollment growth
Strengthening relationships with faculty, staff, students and alumni, which created a renewed sense of engagement on – and beyond – campus
Raising more than $86 million – just $14 million shy of the goal announced in October – for the comprehensive campaign to fund new programs, capital projects and scholarships
Expanding academic programs through the addition of classes in business and pre-medicine and strengthening the three pre-professional institutes, two centers of study and programs in marketing and computer science
Creating new programs for first-generation and under-represented students that continue enhancing diversity and inclusion initiatives• Reducing the College deficit through mindful spending while still supporting local and regional businesses and vendors
Partnering with the community on the redevelopment of downtown Albion, which has brought a new hotel, new restaurants and new shops to the community – in addition to new jobs
Putting Albion back in touch with its roots by sparking contagious enthusiasm and bold confidence to the campus and greater Albion community, including the community, alumni, donors, parents and friends of the College
“To say it has been an honor and a privilege to serve as president of Albion College would not begin to adequately express the depth of my affection for my time here,” Ditzler said. “Working together, I feel we have accomplished much over the past six years, and I am thankful for the deep and abiding friendships and relationships I have established with all who hold the College dear.
“I so appreciate the confidence of our Board of Trustees in asking me to extend my role with Albion College. Greater scheduling flexibility will allow me to spend more time on two key priorities – my wife, Judi, and my lifelong love of farming – while working to ensure a smooth transition to the next president and continuing to serve the College.”
In this new role, Ditzler will continue to serve as an ambassador for Albion College on several key initiatives, including working hand-in-hand with its development team to ensure a successful completion of the comprehensive campaign, guiding the transition to a new president, ensuring strong ties to the local community are maintained and acting as an envoy for the College and community regionally and nationally.
If a new president has not been identified by July 1, 2020, Ditzler has considerately agreed to extend his tenure until a new successor has been found.
The Board of Trustees has appointed Michael J. Harrington, ’85 to establish a committee to lead a national search to select and welcome a new president to Albion College. Joey Miller, ’75 will serve as vice chair of the Search Committee. In addition to trustees, the committee will consist of faculty, staff, alumni and a student to ensure broad representation in the search process. Harrington and Miller have engaged the national academic search firm of Storbeck Pimentel & Associates to lead the process and expect to establish a search committee in the coming weeks.
“Mauri Ditzler is beloved by all who have met or worked with him, including students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members,” Harrington said. “His legacy will be one of propelling Albion College to be part of a greater, more inclusive and diverse community and, by tackling many of the problems of small-town America, using our experience to solve similar problems facing our nation and our world.
“Our search will be focused on finding a leader who similarly believes in the value of a liberal arts education and is excited at the prospect of joining our great team and building on the successes achieved. Albion’s initiatives and activities will continue unchanged and according to our strategic plan as we prepare a national search for our next president.
“We so appreciate Mauri’s willingness to continue to serve Albion after his formal retirement. He believes strongly in a well-organized and executed transition to a new president and is committed to supporting the process fully.”
For more information on the Albion presidential search, visit albion.edu.
About Albion College
Albion College is a private liberal arts college of approximately 1,550 students and is nationally recognized for its academic excellence in the liberal arts tradition, a learning-centered commitment and a future-oriented perspective. The College is a leader in preparing students to anticipate, solve and prevent problems in order to improve the human and global condition. Albion immerses students in the creation and processing of knowledge and graduates skilled architects of societal change, active citizens and future leaders. The College is dedicated to the highest quality in undergraduate education and is committed to diversity as a core institutional value.
Albion, Michigan is a culturally diverse community in the south-central part of the state. The College recognizes the value of community, both on- and off-campus and has invested resources in supporting the revitalization of the greater Albion community. This work offers an increasingly vibrant city around the campus that provides students with a fuller experience as they prepare to become engaged citizens in their own communities. For more information, visit albion.edu.
$500,000 in charitable donations from the Albion Area Philanthropic Women (AAPW.)
Making the Albion area a better place is the focus of this charity group which gathers every three months to make a difference in their community. Founded in 2007 by Cathy Campbell and the late Maggie Konkle, this giving circle started with a simple idea. Konkle and Campbell would each ask five friends to give $100 quarterly for one year to donate to non-profits. The idea caught on and the number has grown to about 100 women committed to pooling their donations to make a substantial impact on non-profits needing funding.
Campbell tells a favorite story that Konkle had an idea in the middle of the night to form this giving circle. “I had to wait until daylight to ask friends,” Campbell said. However, every woman she asked said yes. They kept asking others and the philanthropic women’s group was born with more than 60 founding members. They met and the first donation went to the Albion District Library for the Dolly Parton Imagination Program to provide books for pre-school children.
The latest gift of over $10,000 went to downtown beautification through the Albion Community Foundation’s Restore Our Coke Sign fund. Prior to that the Sheridan Township Jaws of Life received funding, as did a music program at Harrington Elementary School and the Bohm Theatre for an emergency heating and cooling repairs.
At the next meeting on Dec. 10 at 5:30 in Tennant Hall at the Albion United Methodist Church the group will have collected over half-million in donations. All women are encouraged and welcome to join this group. Women are asked to bring a check for $100, and $10 for the lunch, but funds will all go to a non profit organization that will be decided at the event.
AAPW is only $7,000 away from this remarkable donation accomplishment. “It’s kind of a big deal,” Marcia Starkey said, current tri-leader of the volunteer group.
Starkey who shares the leadership duties with Gwen Tabb and Nancy Roush, said the milestone will be honored by Homestead Savings Bank which will pay for the group’s buffet dinner. Usually the members pay for their own lunches or dinners, Starkey said. There are no expenses to run the group because it is all done by volunteers who willingly give their time before and during the quarterly meetings.
Starkey explained that usually five non-profits can ask members to sponsor their requests at each of the four yearly meetings. Representatives or the AAPW members speak for three minutes about the funding need. After all groups have presented members vote on slips of paper, the vote is tallied and the organization with the most votes is awarded the money. There are no by-laws, no officers, no overhead and donations are directly given to the non-profit at the end of the meeting.
The only rule is that once a non-profit. receives funding it can’t ask again for one year. Non-funded organizations can continue to request an unlimited number of times. Mae Ola Dunklin, former Albion College director of teacher development, once asked eight times before she secured funding for the Maemester teacher preparation program. She explained that there are so many worthwhile funding requests it is difficult to choose the recipient. In the spirit of continued giving additional collections are often made for other requests by “passing the hat” at the meeting.
As the community has benefitted from the philanthropy of its women, the circle of giving has expanded with a Men Who Give group inspired by AAPW. More members have joined the women’s group including the next generation of young philanthropists who will sustain AAPW in the future. Groups have started in neighboring towns. The ripple effect continues.
It took a vision, caring hearts and commitment to community to create and sustain the Albion Area Philanthropic Women.
Linda Jansen Kolmodin, a resident of Albion since 1981, is originally from North Muskegon Michigan. She was a special education teacher for Olivet Community Schools for 18 years and has had a variety of jobs related to public relations and writing since that time. Most recently, she was the catalyst for the successfully funded Coca-Cola mural restoration project for downtown Albion Michigan. She is involved in many Albion organizations including the Albion Community Foundation and the Albion-Homer United Way. She is a graduate of U of M, with a Master’s Degree from EMU in Special Education.
Albion, Concord and Homer share a unique geographic profile: The three sit along stretches of Michigan’s 178-mile-long Kalamazoo River, which empties into Lake Michigan at Saugatuck.
The river towns also share great historic significance. In the decades before white settlers arrived in the late 1820s and early ‘30s, they were part of tribal lands of the Pottawatomi, who used the river for fishing, transportation and as sites for their own villages. Then, in the early years of white settlement, pioneering families capitalized on the river by creating mills, dams and the resulting mill ponds.
Albion takes pride annually in a Festival of the Forks, which highlights its pivotal position at the union of the two branches of the river. And whereas Concord sits along the north branch of the river, Homer sits astride the south branch – both roughly nine miles to the south of Albion, and about the same distance from each other. They are a triangle of Kalamazoo River towns, related by all kinds of shared experiences.
This is a look back at some of those events, which include natural catastrophe, flooding, court litigation – and continuing debate over how the river is being tamed and managed.
Concord and its Mill Pond.
In Concord, the early years saw the development of at least three mills. The original mills are long gone, but the dam and mill pond are a continuing presence in the village. And it is never far from local discussion.
With population of just over 1,000, Concord is in a sense defined by its mill pond. Without it, the village would lose its most prominent natural feature.
One of the issues periodically raised is the possibility of a dam failure. The facility, which sits beneath the Main Street causeway over the pond, is privately owned by the Joers family. That family operates the Joers Farm Center, which is a modern descendant of the old feed mills.
There are double gates holding back waters of the river, but they consist of little more than three-inch-thick wooden timbers held in place by iron channels.
Whenever such discussions take place, long-time residents speak of a legendary dam failure that emptied the Homer Mill Pond long ago and impacted Albion downstream.
The story of that catastrophic event can be read in the Homer Public Library. One library scrapbook tells of two black days in the history of the Homer Mill Pond.
The first was the day the dam collapsed – Saturday, March 7, 1908. Fifty-eight years later, coincidentally on another Saturday – July 16, 1966 – the mill pond was deliberately drained, vanishing into the archives of history.
Homer’s Dam Collapse.
An account of the dam’s collapse appears in a Homer newspaper article published in 1950. It was based on an interview with 80-year-old Lester Anderson. His birthday, he recalled, was just two days before the catastrophe, and he remembered it well.
At the time of the collapse, he was employed by the Cortright Milling Co., whose mill was on the banks of the Kalamazoo River.
It had been a severe winter, with 28 consecutive days allowing bob sleigh and cutter travel. In early March, however, a sudden thaw and balmy weather created dangerous conditions. The ice began breaking up rapidly in the mill pond and the water steadily rose.
Anderson said all day Friday and Saturday he worked with a crew of men filling and placing sandbags along the banks of the river to strengthen the dam. Its gates were lowered as far as possible.
“Tension ran high in the village as word spread that the dam might go out at any time, and a crowd of people gathered at the pond hoping to be on hand to witness the break when the dam gave way,” according to the article.
“It was known however, that the village itself, located on higher ground, was in no danger from the rising water.”
There were other fears, though. The New York Central railroad bridge was a short distance northwest of the pond. If the dam gave way, it was thought the railroad bridge would be swept away. Railroad crews switched two carloads of coal on the bridge to help secure it.
“Keen apprehension was also felt at Albion, eight miles to the northeast, for a flood could not be prevented there if the Homer dam failed to hold the Kalamazoo (river) ice and flood waters.”
All the efforts to secure the dam were futile. Anderson recalled that about 5 p.m. that Saturday evening the water began surging over the river bank north of the dam, which gave way shortly afterward.
“The railroad bridge withstood the torrent of ice and water, but a 60-foot bridge just west of M09, a mile north of Homer, was swept away. The bridge was carried high and dry on the banks of the river and came to rest against some trees.”
Albion suffered the greatest impact, however. In his 1989 article, “Remembering the Great Flood of 1908,” Albion historian Frank Passic described what happened to the city.
The river was already at flood levels when the Homer dam broke late in the afternoon of March 7.
As Passic put it, that sent an “additional five-foot wave of water and ice chunks headed towards downtown Albion. By midnight water over the Superior Street bridge was a foot deep, and eighteen inches over the Cass Street bridge. Dynamite was used to break up ice jams upstream and some water was diverted via the ‘black ditch’ which flowed through the southwestern portion of town.
“All was in vain, however, as six buildings on Superior Street collapsed, resulting in over $125,000 in damage.”
In addition, many cellars in Albion were flooded. The catastrophe was well documented, for many people took photographs of the flooded city and newspapers ran other photos and stories.
Passic posed an intriguing question at the close of his article: “Could ‘the Flood’ happen again? I doubt it. There is no Homer dam anymore to break, and our bridges are built much better than they were nearly a century ago. This is one case, however, in which we hope history does not repeat itself.”
But while the Homer Mill Pond was drained in 1966, there still is the Concord Mill Pond and a dam that holds back the waters of the North Branch of the Kalamazoo.
What would be the impact downriver if the Concord dam ever fails? It is hard to say. But it is a geographic fact that Albion is the recipient of waters from the two branches of the Kalamazoo. The forks of the river meet there and give the community its identity – just as so much of Concord’s identity is provided by its own mill pond.
Homer’s Final Dam.
After the devastating 1908 dam failure in Homer, a new dam was built that summer. Its gates were stronger and able to secure the mill pond from a similar dam failure. That dam held until 1966, when owners of the pond decided to drain it. That followed by nearly a decade a ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court, upholding a Jackson-Calhoun-Hillsdale intercounty drainage board proposal to eliminate the power dam and allow free flow of the river.
If you visit the site today, you can see some of the old machinery of the dam. But the river itself flows freely over a spillway and into the river at a slightly lower level to continue its flow toward Albion.
The River in the Future.
Concord’s vested interest in the river and its mill pond make the old dam there an item of obvious concern. A major concern is that, should the dam fail, the state is unlikely to permit any replacement, for it has a longstanding policy commitment to free-flowing rivers under the Natural Rivers Act of 1970. Many of the dams that once existed along the river have been removed. Thus, Concord would lose its defining natural resource, and the river would revert to a more natural course.
In Albion, the Victory Park dam was built in 1905 for purposes of electric power generation. The era of electric generation by such dams has passed, and the Victory Park dam has not generated electricity since before 1950. But the old concrete barrier continues to provide a lovely waterfall and a mill pond upstream from the forks along the south branch of the river.
Whatever happens in the future, the Kalamazoo River will continue linking those three towns in history and geography.
In Albion, the Victory Park dam was built in 1905 for purposes of electric power generation
This historic photo shows some of the downtown flood damage in Albion after the failure of the upstream Homer Dam in March of 1908.
This view was taken downstream of the old Homer Dam, showing how the river runs through the spillway.
Homer Michigan - The mill pond is long gone, but the river still runs through the spillway at the old dam site.
This historic photo shows the Homer Mill Pond Dam before it failed in March of 1908.
: This is a recent view of the Concord Mill Pond from atop Main Street. The dam is beneath the street/causeway.
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A Reunion of Friends and Key Workers of Albion's Industrial Past By SYLVIA BENAVIDEZ Contributing Writer Albion-The Victory Park picnic shelter looked like it was filled with ordinary people enjoying a meal with family and friends on a sunny Thursday afternoon on September 19, 2019. Really though, the gathering of mostly men and a few women consisted of individuals who played a vital role in Albion’s industrial past. Bob Butler and Jesse Whetstone arranged the picnic for past employees of Harvard Industry and its previous variations. The two men watched while the company they worked for changed hands and names ... Read More
By SYLVIA BENAVIDEZ Contributing Writer Albion- In May of 1981, Homestead Savings Bank was completed where it stands now. The building is twice the size from where it came from on 211 Superior Street in downtown Albion, and back then, that was something to celebrate. But Homestead Savings Bank has served Albion and the surrounding area for 130 years now and that service is worth celebrating according to Scott Evans, President and CEO of the bank. Evans estimates that 100 to 150 people came through their lobby on Friday, June 21st during their business hours. Evans said, "We had a ... Read More
Albion Through My Eyes - Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful October 24, 2019 If, as Emily Dickinson’s poem says, ‘“Hope” is the thing with feathers,’ what would “Love” be? I am tempted to give this a tail and four paws instead of the two wings and the beak that are suggested in Dickinson’s piece. Love in my case would be a furry thing that purrs or barks, warm and fuzzy, sometimes flipping on its back for one to scratch its belly, other times giving one a gentle bite with its sharp fangs. There are of course endless iterations of this furry ... Read More
By Sylvia Benavidez Contributing Writer Albion- Albion-A few months ago, Sylvia (Syd) Dulaney walked through Victory Park and crossed paths with a trail hiker who had a backpack. "I thought to myself someone should offer him a welcome and maybe he would like to pitch his tent in the yard because he can't in Victory Park." So began Dulanley's venture to become a host for trail users whether by the river, bike or hiking trails. She is now part of two groups that offer shelter or support to trail users: the facebook group North Country Trail Angels and http://www.warmshower.org, a site ... Read More
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