Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, February 6, 2005, pg. 8
It’s an Albion landmark that is so routinely noticed, that it has remained unnoticed when listing the assets of our community. It’s the Victory Park dam/waterfall. This cement structure was built to hold back and regulate the waters of the South Branch of the Kalamazoo River in order to produce electric power at the Commonwealth Power Company plant on E. Erie St. The Company had purchased the old Red flour mill on E. Erie St. and converted it into making electricity. The water behind the dam/waterfall was called the millpond. The mill part referred to the flour and sawmills that were once located downstream in a variety of locations. They harnessed the water power to turn the wheels which ground the grain. For example, the Citizens Bank building was once a water-powered flour mill built by Jesse Crowell in 1845.
Adjacent to the dam was a “raceway” where the flowing water “raced” to the mills. This was kept deep in order to provide adequate flowing water pressure by time the water reached the mills downhill. When the mills were working, water was diverted through the raceway, and the flow of water over the Victory Park dam was greatly diminished to the point where there were some bare spots.
Why am I mentioning this? This year, 2005, is a special year. It marks the 100th anniversary of the building of our present Victory Park dam. It was in September, 1905 that local contractor George E. Dean (1872-1932) built our present cement dam to replace the old stone one that had existed at the site since Albion’s pioneer days. The new dam was built over the old one. Mr. Dean, as you might recall, laid Albion’s first cement sidewalks in 1901. One of the last stretches of these walks was finally removed this past fall in September 2004 in the 800 and 900 blocks of S. Eaton St. His sidewalks might now be gone, but his dam remains today! Also during September, 1905, Mr. Dean built the Hannah St. bridge at “Dutchtown,” which included a decorative arch underneath. This bridge is often pictured in postcards of the period.
When the new dam was built, Mr. Dean had to let the water out of the millpond (that’s up by S. Superior St. and Riverside Cemetery) in order to let the cement dry. This created fish traps in holes, where people scooped up large fish by hand in the rocks below the dam. Imagine what the area around Riverside Cemetery would look like today if the water was “let out” as it was in 1905.
The dam area contained various features and contraptions which were used in the regulation of the water for generating purposes. That accounts for the various metal rods that stick up here and there in the structure complex, including the triangular shaped piece of cement in the very center. On the south footbridge below, there is a metal property line boundary marker imbedded in it that states, “Consumers Power.” One special aspect of the dam was the building of a “fish ladder.” This was so fish could swim upstream. It was located on the north side of the dam.
Consumer’s Power Company used the millrace to generate electricity at its E. Erie St. plant until shortly after World War II. Apparently the millpond was filling up with silt and the water pressure (which turned the generators) was lessening as a result. For whatever reason, Consumers abandoned local water powered electricity in Albion. The closest date I can come up with is around 1948 when water powered electric generating stopped. If anyone has an accurate date, please let me know.
After that point, Consumer’s abandoned the site, and much of the land was acquired by the City of Albion. The raceway was filled in the Market Place, and three ponds were fashioned out of what remained upstream. The first was developed to become the skating pond at Rieger Park. The second just north of Walnut St. was transformed into an outdoor hockey rink. This was shaved down and finally eliminated by the 1980s. The pond by the dam still stands today, with the old mechanism used to raise and lower the gates still there, though unused. A buried drain line carries the flowing water into the Rieger Park pond today. The water then exists into the Kalamazoo River, instead of flowing across E. Erie St. as it once did to the Consumer’s Power building.
From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph taken around 1907 of the Victory Park Dam (Note: the area wasn’t known as Victory Park until after World War I). Notice that the water flow is sporadic in this photo, meaning water was being diverted at the time to the raceway on the side for generating purposes. There are also alot of cattails growing on the south side. A woman is standing on the large cement wall on the north side. In the center bottom below, you can see the edge of the fish ladder which once was located here.
With September, 2005 being the 100th anniversary of the building of our present Victory Park dam, and September also being the month the Festival of the Forks is held, wouldn’t it be appropriate to center a theme around this Albion landmark this year? After all, it is located just above “The Forks,” and this dam site is what provided the waterpower which brought the pioneers to Albion.
1907 Fish Ladder at the Dam
Next: MONTFORD B. MURRAY
All text copyright, 2021 © all rights reserved Frank Passic