Morning Star, March 10, 2002, pg. 19
It was good to see the big turnout on February 26 by citizens with their suggestions as to the future use of the old Union Steel Products site north of Washington Gardner School. There were several positive suggestions such as developing a soccer field and a skateboard park, erecting a youth center, and putting N. Huron St. back where it belongs. Hopefully the necessary funds will be secured to make some of these suggestions a reality as a once unsightly eyesore is reclaimed for the benefit of the whole community.
It’s sobering to realize how many of Albion’s main industries we grew up with are no longer with us, and how Albion has had to make adjustments accordingly. Last year an Albion College senior, Isaac Kremer, wrote an honors thesis entitled “Industrial Decline and Race Relations in An American Small Town.” The town is Albion, and Kremer focuses particularly on the 1960s through 1980s when major changes occurred here. The thesis is on the internet at: http://people.albion.edu/ikremer. Click on the title “Digital Undergraduate Honors Thesis,” and you’ll reach the introduction and a choice of several chapters to choose from. Chapter 5, “Industrial Decline” is especially interesting.
Union Steel Products was once a vibrant growing industry in town and one of Albion’s largest employers. The downhill slide first began when the company was sold in 1969. I’ve been going through old issues of the company magazine, the Union Steel Messenger, and am amazed at how involved this factory was in many facets of community life. The issues published during World War II are especially fascinating, as they reveal the patriotism company employees had as they produced materials for the War effort.
Here is a listing of some of the items that Union Steel Products produced during World War II:
- hydrostatic bombs used against enemy submarines,
- submarine parts,
- torpedo components,
- bakery shelves,
- bakery and field ovens,
- airplane landing mats,
- airplane shell ejector chutes,
- handling baskets for ammunition,
- motor parts,
- shells and casings.
Around-the-clock production kept War materials rolling out in record quantities.
Due to the heightened security at the time, N. Huron St. was closed in front of the plant for the duration of the War.
Michigan Prints website offers prints and notecards of Albion, and other places.
Each print has a legend.
The legend for the Molder Sculpture begins like this:
“The American Molder is an “Occupational Monument” designed to be a tribute to the craftsmen and laborers of the Albion community.
It was designed by sculptor Ed Chesney. He was able to portray a non-racial appearance of the face on the Molder, in order to honor hard working people of all races that were employed by the iron companies.”
It was reopened for normal public traffic when the War was over. Union Steel requested that the street be closed off again during the 1960s so they could build an addition, and the request was granted by the Albion City Council. This caused traffic problems as Crowell and Bidwell Streets were never designed to carry the traffic that has had to detour around the area for nearly 40 years now. Now that Union Steel has been removed, should the street be reopened again? Let your city councilperson know your opinion. They really listen.
Interestingly enough, Huron St. was one of the original streets of Albion, and was platted by Jesse Crowell in 1836. It was made extra wide at the time and designated as one of Albion’s main access streets to go from one end of town to another. The north village limits was Division St. where that street got its name (it divided the village of Albion from Sheridan Township). That boundary resulted in N. Huron St. ending at Division and when the area northwards was annexed, developers did not extend N. Huron St., but made people “jog” over to the new Maple and Hall Streets.
From our Historical Notebook we present a more recent photograph, taken just before the Union Steel Complex was demolished. It looks north on N. Huron St. showing the older buildings on the left, and the 1960s-era entrance buildings blocking the street. With this eyesore now gone thanks to the work of our city officials, a new era has dawned for this site.
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An Albion native, Frank Passic is a 1971 graduate of Albion High School and has been writing Albion history articles since 1976. He is the author of several books including Albion in Review, and Growing Up in Albion.
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