Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, December 1, 2002, pg. 4
I encourage our readers to visit the Albion Chamber of Commerce at 416 S. Superior St. and purchase an autographed copy of my book “Albion in the 20th Century” for someone special as a Christmas gift they will remember. Several of my other Albion history books are also available there. My Riverside Cemetery tour program booklets make great “stocking stuffers” and generate a lot of conversation when read; you might even consider giving some of these as gifts at employee Christmas parties at work.
There have been several structures in town that were demolished over the past year, most notably, the Albion Elevator building. The demolition of the old Oak Grove Service Station at 971 Austin Avenue at the end of October, however, went unnoticed in the local press. It was all that remained of several bustling enterprises that drew their strength from the rise of the automobile and tourists along U.S.-12 where they were located, beginning in the 1920s. The Oak Grove neighborhood was an area of Austin Avenue that encompassed the Oak Grove Oil Company, the Oak Grove Garage, the Oak Grove Airport, and the Oak Grove Campground. It was aptly named because of the grove of oak trees located there that still stand today behind the old “Blue Note” tavern site.
The Oak Grove service station was the first filling station drivers came to inside the city limits when entering Albion from the west. It was originally known as the Albion Marathon Oil Company and was operated into the 1920s by LaVerne W. Encke (1877-1935), beginning in 1917.
LaVerne owned 40 acres of land along U.S.-12, and concurrently owned and operated Albion’s first airport there. The Oak Grove Airport was tested and approved by U.S. Army experts in 1926 as part of a Michigan airport route, and was equipped with search lights. The runway ran north to south. “If you wandered through the nearby oak grove you could find piles of airplane wreckages of planes that had crashed,” wrote Orval Sebastian (now of Akron, Ohio) to this writer recently. The airport hangar was the wood building located at 973 Austin Avenue just to the west of and below the service station. Orval’s brother Wendall recently wrote, “The airport had two or three bi-planes: two-wing planes.” After its closure following the death of Mr. Encke, Horace G. Parker used it as an auto repair garage called the Oak Grove Garage in the early 1940s.
To the east was the 70-acre farm of William J. Folk (1856-1939) at 941 Austin Avenue, who settled there with his family from Hillsdale County in 1908. It was the last large farm in the city of Albion. Between the farmhouse and the service station was the Oak Grove Tourist Camp, at 943 Austin Avenue. It was operated by Folk and his wife Martha. There were four cabins there, a restaurant (called Zone’s Sandwich Shop) and small grocery store. Next to the restaurant was a glass-enclosed outbuilding that served as a barbecue. The campground was also used for annual circuses and tent meetings that came to town, as well as for family reunions and parties. Circuses such as the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey would unload by train at a siding at the back of the property, and set up on the airport area.
What happened to these establishments? The airport was apparently closed following the death of Mr. Encke. The gas station became known as the Oak Grove Oil Company, and was owned and operated for many years by Russell Steffe in the 1940s and 1950s, until his death in 1963. It carried the Zephyr brand of gasoline. It was continued by his daughter Eleanor until 1965 when it was finally closed. It never reopened, but the former airport hangar/garage next door became a welding and fabricating shop at 971½ Austin Avenue from the 1970s into the 1990s. That structure was demolished a year or so ago.
The Oak Grove Tourist Camp and Zone’s Sandwich Shop is last listed in the 1937 City Directory. The old Folk residence was purchased by John Mymachod in 1943, and son Alex Mymachod moved into the farmhouse with his family. Tenant farmers grew corn and soybeans on the farmland. Alex manufactured cement blocks in the oak grove, and with them erected the Blue Note Tavern at 969 Austin Avenue in 1957 on the old campground site. He operated it until 1964 when it was sold and continued by new owners. That building, too was demolished this past year.
The property was purchased by the Albion Economic Development Corporation in 1993 and the farmhouse was used as the EDC office for several years. The house still stands today. The former Folk-Mymachod farmland was developed into the new portion of the Albion Industrial Park which includes Burstein Drive. From our Historical Notebook this week we present an aerial photo circa 1965 (courtesy of Eleanor Steffe Morse) looking north along Austin Avenue. It shows the Oak Grove Oil Company in the center, with the old airport hanger building to the right. How many of our readers remember the Oak Grove area and its enterprises?
Looking North Along Austin Avenue
All text copyright, 2020 © all rights reserved Frank Passic