Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, January 18, 2004, Pg. 4
With the massive Eslow Block in downtown Albion headed for demolition, we thought we would review its history these next two weeks. We’ve previously written about it and other buildings erected on W. Porter St. by James C. Eslow (1836-1918), a major early developer of our community. Those articles are published on the www.albionmich.com website. From our Historical Notebook this week we present an 1894 photograph of the Eslow Block, published in the 1894 “Souvenir” pictorial booklet about Albion. We’ll refer to this photograph as a reference point in this week’s article. This same photo was also reproduced in the 1895 “Headlight” railroad magazine.
The Eslow Block was erected in 1868 as an addition to the Commercial Hotel which is on the far left. The “catwalk” below was added as a place to load and unload passengers and goods under protection from the elements. The upper stories also served as a way for hotel patrons to walk between the two buildings to play cards on Sundays in the Eslow Block with its numerous rooms, without being seen by church-going citizens. Notice in the photograph the decorative brick archway, and the advertising plastered on the side wall of the Commercial Hotel.
To the right of the alley was a storefront in the Eslow Block bearing an address of 104 W. Porter St., which can be seen in this photo. During the 1880s it was the site of the Albion U.S. Post Office under the direction of postmaster Martin S. Haven. Being political appointments, postmasterships and often locations were changed every several years when a different-party U.S. President assumed office.
During the 1890s the 104 location was the site of the retail seed store of Aldie S. Torrey. In 1898 George Mitchell began his confectionery business here and operated a soda fountain and candy manufacturing facility, before moving elsewhere in October, 1900. To the right is a separate arched doorway opening which led to the first floor businesses and the elevator. It was bricked over years ago.
The Eslow Hall was the name of the multi-purpose entertainment and meeting place located on the second floor. It opened on May 11, 1868. A few weeks later the local paper reported, “We took a look at Eslow’s Hall the other day, and found it quite a capacious one--47 x 81 deep, 18 feet from floor to ceiling, clean, white walls, and well lighted by 7 windows in front and 6 in back, for day use, and 6 large chandeliers for lighting a night. It has a fine reception room attached, and a good entrance. We believe there has been some objection to this hall on account of its un-safety, but we believe from an examination of the walls, and the structure of the supporting partitions below, that the hall is perfectly safe and will readily sustain all the people it can hold.” Numerous acts performed here, including Tom Thumb (the original!) and Commodore Nutt in 1869.
Appropriately, the side of the Eslow Block was painted with various advertisements for upcoming events. In this 1894 photo it contains advertising and scenes from the play “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” This play was performed “one night only” on an April 1 by the “Uncle Tom’s Cabin Company”, and boasted a live orchestra. The event had apparently been held several years earlier and the old advertisement was left up. The 1895 “Headlight” publication uses the same photograph of the building, but the advertisement has been shaded out. In the classic picture postcard of W. Porter St. taken in 1912, the advertisement was for “The Fighting Parson,” bearing a September 18 date. For many years an advertisement stating “J.C. Eslow & Son Insurance” was featured along the top of the advertising section.
Numerous musical concerts, productions, plays, parties and events were held in Eslow Hall in the late 19th century. By the 1890s, it was apparent that the space was too small for contemporary needs. A local paper reported in April 1892: “The only thing that has in any way served to mar the pleasure of the parties was the smallness of the hall which on each occasion was insufficiently large for the number attending.”
On the corner along the curb sat a small shack-like building. This was the popular so-called “popcorn” stand which once stood there for many years. It sold popcorn and refreshment items, and probably entertainment and excursion tickets. It was replaced by Mr. Eslow in 1915 with a small “lean-to” building attached to the Eslow Block. It produced so much controversy that the Albion City Council ordered its removal. Mr. Eslow prevailed however and that popcorn stand remained until the 1919 fire.
Next week we’ll survey the merchants who have been located in the front of the building. A couple of closing observations about this week’s photograph. Notice there are several small trees that have been planted near the curb along W. Porter St. Even back then, beautification apparently was a concern. Notice the huge cornice overhang on the Eslow Block. This must have been a sight to see. Finally, take a look at the windows--they are all there and not one is boarded up!
1894 photograph of the Eslow Block
Next: THE ESLOW BLOCK, Part 2
All text copyright, 2021 © all rights reserved Frank Passic