Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, July 2, 2000, pg. 4
We conclude our series about the 40th anniversary this week (July 1, 1960) of the opening of Interstate-94 north of Albion. The portion of I-94 east of Albion in Jackson County had been finished first. A $1.8 million contract was awarded in 1958 for 4.5 miles from U.S. 12 (Michigan Avenue) west of Parma to M-99. On September 21, 1959, the highway was opened to Michigan Avenue where it crossed just east of M-99. When the rest of the highway was opened in 1960, Michigan Avenue was "dead-ended" on the south and a service drive was constructed on the north to connect it with M-99.
On February 18, 1959, the Holloway Construction Company of Livonia and S. D. Solomon & Sons of Pontiac were named the contractors for 8.5 miles of highway past Albion from M-99 west to 22 1/2 Mile Rd. Construction commenced that spring and paving began on September 1, 1959. Another stretch from 11 Mile Rd. to 22 1/2 Mile Rd. was also built. Widening of N. Eaton St. also occurred in 1959 in anticipation of the coming freeway.
The final 20-mile stretch of Interstate-94 in our area was opened to traffic 40 years ago this week at noon on Friday, July 1, 1960 from 11 Mile Rd near Battle Creek to M-99 in Jackson Co. Special ceremonies were held here and in Marshall. The day began with a breakfast and film at the Parker Inn, then an antique car caravan to the N. Eaton St. exit where in an invocation was held. This also featured a 1907 Dodge truck which broke/cut the red-white-blue ribbon opening the exit. The procession then moved on to the official dedication ceremony at the Marshall rest stop where Albion mayor Hugo A. Rieger declared, "This is the greatest day in the highway history of our area. This will be a great boon to the entire area served by the highway. I see nothing but good for Albion and Marshall. Albion was formerly known as a sleepy little town along the Kalamazoo River. Now we are known as the city with a future."
There naturally was a sharp decline in the amount of traffic through town. No longer did 9,000 vehicles on U.S. 12 meander daily through our community where travelers between Chicago and Detroit could stop and spend money on gas, food, and lodging. Motorists sped by Albion at 70 miles per hour, past the unfamiliar "28 Mile Road" exit sign. Directional signs at exits along the freeway pointed the way to "Marshall," as if Albion didnít exist.
While in former days Albionites took the through-our-community traffic for granted, it was soon realized that in order to get travelers to rediscover our city, they had to be invited in. One solution to our new circumstances was a highway billboard promoting our town. It was erected by Fritz Advertising Company. This billboard was very popular, although it was only up for a year or so. From our Historical Notebook we present a postcard photo of that billboard. The card was produced in Ektachrome color in the early 1960s by Austin Studios. How many of our readers remember this billboard?
It states, "ALBION NEXT EXIT." "The Old Rugged Cross; Sweetheart of Sigma Chi, Composed Here." "Oil Fields, Industry, Home of Albion College" amidst a silhouette of the cityscape in the distance and oil wells on the left.
What a positive way to promote our community and at the same time offer an informative and warm invitation to visit our town. Perhaps it is time for such a sign to be erected again as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the opening of Interstate-94. This concludes our special series on that topic.
Welcome to Albion!
All text copyright, 2016 © all rights reserved Frank Passic