Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Albion Recorder, April 12, 1999, pg. 4
In 1910 local sportsman Frank H. Darrow (1869-1945) built a steel boat for himself in his barn, and that marked the beginnings of the Darrow Boat company. Darrow was a native of Clarendon Township near Tekonsha, and had operated a hardware store in that small community. He came to Albion in 1905 and worked at the Gale Hardware located at 307 S. Superior Street. Darrow was known as a prominent area fisherman, trapper, and hunter. His wife Luelle Hartung (1866-1945) was a member of the Hartung family clan which settled in the South Albion and Homer areas. The family home was at 612 E. Erie Street. Frank was a member of the A-B-C-D land development company, and Darrow Street near his home was named for him.
Frank Darrow built a few more of the flat bottom steel boats in his barn, and in the meantime obtained a patent from the U.S. Patent Office for his invention. Previous to that time, steel boats were of the round bottom type. They had been costly, heavy, and not well suited for fishing and hunting. Darrow’s patent included the procedure of joining (welding) sheets of steel together for the hull, being reinforced by wood. Oak and cypress were used for the framing. The result was a lightweight, strong and rigid boat which turned out to be quite popular. The boats were designed to carry outboard motors. Darrow also held a patent on a specialty fishing reel he designed.
Darrow moved his boat shop to a fence and pipe storage building (presently the site of the east side parking lot) located behind the Gale Hardware where he worked and continued building boats there. The Darrow Steel Boat Company was incorporated in 1912. Several local investors saw the potential of the new lightweight steel boats. These included banker Homer C. Blair, druggist Hadley H. Sheldon, former mayor Dan McAuliffe, banker David Garfield, and other prominent men such as George B. Hunt, elevator operator Frank E. Nowlin, banker Carl M. Kreager, local attorney Edward R. Loud, Albion Recorder owner Walter S. Kennedy, and hardware merchant O. Harry Gale. Darrow’s brother-in-law Ralph C. Hartung was also an investor and served as the first manager of the firm.
Following World War I the firm moved to the Hurley Block, a large barn-shaped structure on the east side of N. Clinton St. just north of the Kalamazoo River. Located at 110 North Clinton Street, the Hurley Block was constructed in 1902 by local real estate investor John J. Hurley. It was constructed on the site of the old Fred Sheldon & John Fanning livery which existed in the late 19th century. The Hurley Block was first used as a livery barn and housed the horses and delivery wagons of O. V. Eastman and O. B. Granger. Part of the facility was then turned into a roller skating establishment operated by Harry R. Richards and Hotel Albion operator E. C. Richardson. During the 1910s it was used as the “City Paint Shop,” for painting carriages and autos.
The Darrow Boat Company produced a complete line of steel boats. One of its popular models was a sectional steel boat which could be dismantled for easy mounting on the side of an automobile and driven to the lake. One half of the boat could be fitted inside the other half. This meant not having to procure a trailer to haul the boat from the back. One customer transported his Darrow boat on the side car of his Harley Davidson motorcycle. There even was a three sectional rowboat. Boats from the Darrow company were shipped all over the United States, and were especially popular in this area. The company also sold kits containing pre-cut steel and wood for “do it yourselfers” who wanted to build their own.
In 1929 Darrow added another investor, local plumber Arthur S. Wildt, but continued to own a majority of shares and continued as president of the firm. Wildt then moved his plumbing business into the building. He had come to Albion in 1924 and purchased the plumbing business at the Gale Hardware. Wildt stayed with the boat firm until 1931 during the Great Depression. At that time Darrow bought out Wildt and the other stockholders. It was realized that it was more profitable to operate the firm as a two-man operation, with Frank doing the metal work, and another employee the woodwork.
Following Frank Darrow’s death in 1945, the company was operated by Frank’s grandsons Merrill D. and Melvin J. McCune, and later managed by Frank’s daughter Lola McCune (1892-1968) who was a retired schoolteacher. The firm was moved to a quonset hut at 944 Austin Avenue in 1947, where it operated until its closure in 1951.
What happened to the old Hurley Block barn on N. Clinton St. after the Darrow Boat Company moved out in 1947? After being vacant for about a year, the building became the home of the Albion Bowling Lanes in 1948 operated by Harold Collmenter and Dale Nutt. This 10-lane facility was Albion’s main bowling establishment for many years until 1962 when Collegiate Lanes opened east of town. The Albion Bowling Lanes was then used for the remainder of the 1962-63 year by bowlers from Homer and Concord who were displaced by a fire at the Homer bowling alley. The Albion facility was finally closed in late spring, 1963, and the summer open bowling was held at the Collegiate Lanes instead.
Fire broke out at the closed Albion Bowling Lanes on the morning of August 7, 1963. This provided the fire department its “shortest run” as they were just across the river with plenty of water nearby. The building was destroyed however, and subsequently demolished. Today the site is used for parking by employees of the City of Albion at the nearby City Hall.
This week we present four illustrations, courtesy of the Local History Room at the Albion Public Library. First is a photograph of the front of the Hurley Block where the Darrow Boat Company was located. Second is a picture showing a Darrow boat attached to the back of a car for transport. Third is an illustration of the three sectional rowboat. Finally we present a photograph of Frank H. Darrow. Does anyone still have and/or use a Darrow boat today? The Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven has one which was donated in 1997.
* Photo Credit Information Below
Darrow Boat building
All text copyright, 2020 © all rights reserved Frank Passic
"Albion Historical Society Collection / Local History Room / Albion Public Library Collection"