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 8, 2014, pg. 9

The clean-up of the Kalamazoo River in the vicinity of N. Eaton St. and the River Walk Trail by the old Albion Gas Light Company (later the Southeastern Michigan Gas Company) property is certainly a major operation. This area was once the site of a manufactured gas plant, which was in operation from 1902 until 1945. Natural gas came to Albion in 1943, but because of World War II was not readily available until 1945. The Albion Gas Light Company subsequently was merged into the Southeastern Michigan Gas Company on December 31, 1954.

Prior to 1945, gas in Albion was made with a coke (no, not Coca Cola) oven producing process. According to a 2007 presentation made by SEMCO Energy, the plant "manufactured coal gas from a battery of 12 ovens with two producers installed by the Improved Equipment Company in 1927. The gas plant included a coal carbonizing plant, 2 gas holders, a relief holder, coal handling and storage equipment, and purifiers."

The operation included a long coal shed which was bounded by a reinforced cement wall on the north edge of the property. Today this cement wall is the site of the recently-moved recycling area behind our fire station. Just above the wall, a railroad track spur once ran on the south side of Michigan St. to service that coal shed.

The pollution in the River which is now being removed goes back many years. In 1922, a local black youth, Donald Richardson Dungey, age 4, lost his life in the water, just west of the N. Eaton St. bridge in saving the life of his little sister who had fallen into the River. The report at the time stated, "The body was finally located by Frank Sanders, local young man…he dove and recovered the remains with difficulty, owing to the fact that the body was held to the bottom of the river by a quantity of tar from the gas works, which is located just upstream on the north side of the river." This is exactly the area that is now being dredged today.

From our Historical Notebook this week we present a view of the manufactured gas plant as it looked in the 1930s. The view looks northeast towards the New York Central Railroad Freight Depot (now the former Davan’s Restaurant building) which can be seen in the distant center. Just to the left is a large 90-foot smokestack, made of brick and erected in 1927. This stack remained for many years after manufactured gas ceased, and was demolished in 1968. Just to the left in the distance can be seen a couple of railroad cars along that spur track. In the far right foreground of course is a holding tank for the gas, which also provided the gas pressure. The building on the far left later became a service building, which was demolished in 2007.

How many of our readers remember the manufactured gas plant in operation (before 1945)?

The manufactured gas plant as it looked in the 1930s


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