Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.


Morning Star, June 9, 2013, pg. 3

It was 100 years ago this month that Albion was plunged into electric darkness when the Commonwealth Power Company water-powered electric generating plant on E. Erie St. was struck by lightning during a major electric storm on June 30, 1913. The fire began at 5:30 pm that afternoon on the third floor during a storm, and within thirty minutes the whole three-story brick building was ablaze.

The live high tension wires prevented firemen from dousing the building with water. Local accounts stated that as late as 10 o'clock that evening, flames were still lighting up the sky, and explosions were frequent. The fire department devoted its energies to saving the wooden Model Laundry next door, and were successful in that endeavor. The fire caused an estimated $100,000 in damage.

The loss of electric power to the city meant that the water supply gave out in the middle of the night as the electric pumps would no longer work. Every factory in town was partially shut down for several days until electricity could be restored. The exception was the Cook-Kneeland plant near Union Steel, which made gasoline engines. That firm had a booming business that day for people wanting to purchase electric generators from them. Those that could obtain gasoline-powered electric generators were able to continue in business, including the Albion Recorder newspaper.

The Albion Recorder reported, "Dealers in kerosene lamps and oil had almost unprecedented sales Tuesday, as the prospect of being without electric lights for several days boomed the sale of these commodities. Candles are also being used in many homes, while gas users are shaking hands with themselves."

The storm also caused other damage all over Albion. Several homes and other businesses were hit. Numerous trees were split by lightning and felled. The Michigan Central freight house was struck by lightning, which opened the roof at the western peak and started a fire. Fortunately, it was extinguished fast enough before doing major damage. The fence around the Winter-Lau Athletic Field at Albion College was blown over by the storm. The interurban line between Albion and Jackson was powered by the Albion plant, and service was stopped until an alternative source of power could be provided.

A new power plant was subsequently erected, and that plant is the one which was demolished in 2007. From our Historical Notebook this week we present a postcard photo of the charred remains of the smoldering powerhouse. This photo will be included in my upcoming book "Postcard History Series—Albion," which is now at the printers.

The charred remains of the Commonwealth Power Company water-powered electric generating plant in 1913


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