Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, January 18, 1998, pg. 6
Part of Albion’s ethnic mix is the Mexican-American community. Their history here dates mainly back to the 1940s when many came looking for employment on area farms and factories during World War II. The first recorded Mexican-Americans in Albion, however, passed through here during World War I as part of railroad repair crews, or as local temporary laborers. Yours truly has found several references to them in the local news column on microfilm. For example, a Joe Arona and an Albert Acota boarded on N. Albion Street in 1916. They did not, however, take up permanent residence in Albion.
McAuliffe Park on the southwest corner of Austin Avenue and N. Albion Street was once the site of 200 housing project units which brought in hundreds of immigrants to our community. The first was company housing erected by the Albion Malleable Iron Company to house European immigrants during the 1905-1930 period. It was called the “foreign settlement,” and many Albion families today had their origins here. As tenants improved their economic status and moved into homes of their own, the company houses were torn down or moved. Some of them were moved to Jefferson Street where they still stand today.
A major railroad rebuilding project was initiated in 1945, and the majority of the workers along the main line in our area were Mexican-Americans. They were housed in railroad car housing along the old Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad tracks that went past the Gale Manufacturing Company. They lived there for about three months while work was being done in our area before they moved on.
The U.S. government established the “West Park Trailers” housing project in the “foreign settlement” to house additional workers at the Albion Malleable Iron Company and other area factories during wartime. It opened on April 21, 1945, and 100 trailers were placed on the site.
Relatedly, Mexican-American workers (mostly from Brownsville, Texas) were recruited to work at the Malleable by Feliznro Sanchez and Theodoro DeLaRosa, and the recruiters were paid a commission of $8.00 a worker. Theodoro DeLaRosa was the liaison and translator for the workers, who spoke no English at the time. They new Mexican-American workers were placed in the trailer park. DeLaRosa lived there for several years before returning to Texas. The Albion School Board noted in its October, 1945 minutes that 17 Mexican-American children had been enrolled in the Albion Public Schools.
Albion Mayor Norman H. Wiener requested that the trailer park be removed in January, 1949, and by the end of the year the area was cleared of remaining company houses and trailers. The next year the site was developed and McAuliffe Park was opened, named for former Albion Mayor Daniel McAuliffe, who was mayor during the great flood of 1908.
From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of the government trailers at the West Park Trailers with a group of five Mexican-American workers. The man in the center is Theodoro DeLaRosa, the step-father of Jose Benavidez who supplied yours truly with this photograph and information. The others are unidentified. Benavidez worked at the Malleable starting in 1946, and retired in 1990. He was the first Mexican-American in Albion to serve on the Albion City Council (1875-1976). How many Albionites remember this trailer park?
If you have a story with a photograph you’d like me to write about here in this column (such as this one), let me know. I can either borrow your photo, or just copy it myself with my macro-lens camera. I am also looking for old Albion city directories for my own research archives and other Albion history materials, such as photographs and Albion postcards. Thank you for your help and support.
Five Mexican-American Workers at the West Park Trailers
All text copyright, 2016 © all rights reserved Frank Passic