Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, March 4, 2001, pg. 9
This week we are again featuring the origin of another Albion street name. Did you know that Irwin Avenue used to be a state highway? By the end of World War I, the state of Michigan was developing its highway program and was modernizing main roads between towns. This included the laying of asphalt on what was previously a dirt or gravel road. Irwin Avenue, the "back way to Homer" (or "the front way to Albion" if youíre from Homer) was improved locally to meet state highway standards and was taken over by the state. The local paper reported on December 18, 1919, that the Albion city manager had received word that "the state had accepted the recently improved strip of highway on Irwin Avenue and that the city would soon receive a large sum in state reward money to aid in paying for the expense gone into making the improvement." Hereís the historical application for today: Letís "turn in" our other streets to the state and receive "a large sum in state reward money" to repair them, too!
The highway was first called M-34, which was later changed to M-64 in the late 1920s, and later to M-9 in the 1930s. M-64 began at the Indiana state line, went up through Hillsdale, then traveled northwards through Jonesville, Litchfield, and Homer. It turned northwards in Homer, went through Babcock, then into Albion and ended at the intersection of Irwin Avenue and S. Superior St. The route was later expanded northwards into Lansing, and was re-designated M-9, and later changed to M-99.
Irwin Avenue was named for Samuel V. Irwin (1823-1890), who was the founder and president of the National Exchange Bank, and the First National Bank of Albion. The bank was located in downtown Albion where the north half of Fedco is today. Irwin lived in a large brick house he erected at 103 Irwin Avenue (still standing today) and owned considerable land in that part of town. He operated a fruit nursery there and sold thousands of pear and apple trees. He also made a considerable amount of money by selling the oil rights to his property for $50,000. Unfortunately, there is no known photograph of Irwin.
Irwin was a staunch Republican, and according to one article, "was recognized throughout the state as one of the political war horses of the Republican Party." In 1883 the Albion Village Council renamed Homer Road as Irwin Avenue in his honor. Following his death in 1890, the land was subdivided and numerous homes were built in the area, including the one of yours truly.
Towards the end of the Great Depression, the old steel-arch bridge across S. Superior St. that led to Riverside Cemetery was replaced with a new $45,000 one, and was dedicated on September 15, 1938. The state highway M-9 was then re-routed this way to meet M-60 several miles to the south, and then west into Homer. The Irwin Avenue M-9 highway was abandoned by the state and reverted back to local control. Some people today still refer to this way to Homer as "old-9."
From our Historical Notebook we present a 1927 road map of Michigan showing how our area looked like back then. Roads with a solid line were paved. U.S. 12 between Albion and Marshall had been paved with brick during World War I. Roads with a dotted line were called "improved roads," while those with a double line were still gravel. Here we see M-64 (Irwin Avenue) between Albion and Homer.
At this time there still was not a state highway going from Albion to Lansing. Notice that Devereaux is shown right on the main road between Albion and Springport, and not "off the beaten path" to the west where it is actually located.
Irwin Avenue Map 1927
All text copyright, 2020 © all rights reserved Frank Passic