Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, August 18, 2002, pg. 10
Here’s another new identification in my new book “Albion in the 20th Century.” The man riding the old-fashioned high-wheel bicycle on page 62 is the late Maurice Osborn. Special thanks to his daughter Betty Hicks for letting us know that information.
It certainly has been easier to appreciate the prominent buildings on the north side of W. Porter St. since the two apartment houses across the street were demolished this past spring. The sun shines on these commercial buildings in the morning and highlights them. This is one of downtown Albion’s most historic blocks which needs to be responsibly preserved, especially the building which now houses the Moose Lodge.
The buildings on the north side of the 100 block of W. Porter were part of the businesses erected by Albion entrepreneur and pioneer James Champion Eslow (1836-1918) in the 19th century. The centerpiece and most historic on the street is the Commercial Hotel building at 108 W. Porter St. This was the first brick commercial block erected on the street, in 1867, and was managed by Mr. Eslow for four years before he contracted it out. The hotel operated until World War I. Today the building houses the Moose Lodge.
The building to the east is the Eslow block which served as an addition to the Hotel building, and hotel rooms were continued on the second and third floors. The fourth floor was used for meetings and storage; it burned in 1919 and was removed. The “catwalk” between the two buildings is an historical feature which allowed carriages to pass underneath and drop off passengers out of the rain. Mr. Eslow and his son sold insurance in the early 20th century and an advertisement was painted on the side of the Eslow Block.
To the west of the Hotel building is the two-story Lottie Eslow building at 110-112 W. Porter St. It was erected rather late, around 1900. It was named in memory of Mr. Eslow’s late wife who was an 1860 graduate of Albion College and passed away in 1871. One of downtown Albion’s only minority businesses, Frank Bennett’s pool room and tavern operated here from 1917 to 1945. All of these buildings contained mercantile shops on the first floor, with living residences on the second floors and even some basement businesses.
On the corner at S. Clinton St. was the Post Office building which served as Albion’s post office in the 1890s. It was demolished in the 1980s. Between the Post Office building and the Lottie Eslow building was the Airdome theater which operated in the 1910s, and later the Roscoe DeWeese garage auto sales.
The prominence that W. Porter St. once had in the life of townspeople was echoed in a “Town Topics” item published on October 12, 1895: “James Eslow is making West Porter Street a monument to his enterprise and untiring energy. He is now 59 years old, but says that he believes he will live to see this street built in solidly from the Commercial Hotel to the new post-office. The substantial hitching posts set along the north side of this street this week will doubtless be utilized by the farmers, and this with the large increase of travel which the post-office will call into this street will certainly create a demand for building and renting opportunities.”
From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of James C. Eslow, the man who built the 100 block of W. Porter St. Most of it is still fortunately standing today, including the “centerpiece” Commercial Hotel building.
James C. Eslow
Next: ROAD PROJECT
All text copyright, 2020 © all rights reserved Frank Passic