Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, August 19, 2001, pg. 5
Albion is fortunate to have retained most of its original downtown brick buildings. In other communities buildings have been demolished to make way for parking or adjacent landscaping, and you just know something is "missing." One historic landmark in downtown Albion is the old Commercial Hotel building at 108 W. Porter St., now the site of the Moose Lodge. This was the first brick commercial structure erected on the north side of the street, and was one of several on that block built by pioneer and entrepreneur James C. Eslow (1836-1918). James was one of the founders of the Republican Party "Under the Oaks" in Jackson in 1854 at age 18, and was active in political life. His father Champion Eslow (1815-1880) brought the family here from Homer in 1836. The Eslow family operated numerous businesses in downtown Albion, their most prominent being a lumber firm in the Market Place. James especially was an active downtown Albion businessman for many years.
James built the Hotel building first, in 1867, and managed it for four years before contracting it out. This hotel was in existence under various names until World War I. The entrance was on the far left (the old Moose entrance when they were located upstairs) and guest rooms were located on the two upper floors. Eslow subsequently erected the adjacent massive four-story "Eslow Block" in 1869 as an extension of the Hotel, where a "catwalk" was constructed above the alleyway between the two buildings. It is still there today. Men patrons used the catwalk as a secret means to cross over into the Eslow building to play cards on Sunday. Between the two buildings, the Commercial Hotel boasted 40 rooms and was a major 19th century Albion.
The first floor of the Hotel structure contained various businesses through the years. From its erection in 1867 until the 1890s, the East Side of the first floor served as Albionís Post Office. This same spot was also the location of George Bohmís very first "Bohmís Theatre," which operated here in 1915 and 1916.
The Art Craft Press was located on the first floor from 1928 through the 1960s. This firm printed the celebrated Albion Centennial book "Albionís Milestones and Memories" in 1932. In the rear of Art Craft Press was the office of Rev. George Bennard (1873-1958), author of "The Old Rugged Cross" which was written in Albion. From this site the "Bennard Music Company" printed numerous hymn-song books and tracts for many years through the 1940s (By the way, Rev. Bennardís name is incorrectly spelled "Bernard" on pg. 24 in the new "Albion--The Smart Community" booklet just published; please make corrections to your copy before this error is repeated as a reference and perpetuates itself).
Changes are now being contemplated for the so-called "W. Porter St. corridor" area. Still fortunately owned by the Moose Lodge which has been snugly located here for decades, the old Hotel building sits next to properties recently acquired by the Downtown Development Authority. It would be an historical travesty for any developer to decide to tear down the old Commercial Hotel building in order to provide additional parking for the Eslow Block project, the Mary Sheldon Ismon building, and the Childrenís Museum. The old Hotel building is the most historic structure on that side of the street and is historically connected to the Eslow Block. The two should not be separated.
While a hypothetical demolition scenario may sound premature as just one of the options that might be considered, our local officials and the readers of this column need to be aware of the historical significance of this building and its status as the primary landmark on that street. Hopefully people will express their opinions should there be any movement to plan to purchase the building from the Moose in order to demolish it for parking. Instead, the building could be remodeled and developed for commercial use just like the adjacent Eslow Block will be by the DDA. That is my opinion.
From our Historical Notebook this week we present the old Commercial Hotel building at 108 W. Porter St. as it appears in a 1993 photograph.
Commercial Hotel building at 108 W. Porter St. in 1993
Next: THE FIRE BELL RINGETH
All text copyright, 2021 © all rights reserved Frank Passic