Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, November 23, 2014, pg. 5
A happy Thanksgiving to all my readers of this column. If you would like to purchase copies of my latest books, "Albion (Postcards)," "Albion in Review," and "Growing Up in Albion" for your relatives who may be visiting this holiday season, give me a call at (517) 629-5402 or e-mail me at Albionfp@hotmail.com for further information. I’ve got ‘em at my house and also in my car. These make great gifts and will surely bring back many fond memories.
Over the past few years we’ve seen several crumbling structures in the 200 block of the west side of S. Superior St. and its surrounding block demolished. Others are sure to follow. The only "stand alone" building erected in that block on Superior St. is the Howard Block building at 204-206 S. Superior St. This is the location of Foxy Nails, and the former Sam Friia law office, respectively.
This commercial Italianate style brick building was erected in the mid-1850s by local harness maker John Howard. The grocery and dry goods establishment of brothers Billings and William Bidwell was located on the south side, while the hardware store of Augustus P. Gardner was on the north. The second floor contained apartments, and even today is used for that purpose.
The third floor of the Howard Block contained Howard Hall, a large multi-purpose room which was a major social center for Albion in the middle and late 19th century. Several commercial and educational endeavors were begun here, including: Albion Commercial College (1860); the Albion Public Schools (1867), and the Homestead Savings Bank (1889). The "Fire Alert" Department also held its meetings here.
Most importantly however, Howard Hall was a very popular gathering place for young and old, even though they had to climb two flights of stairs to get to it. Dances were held here every Friday night, and various orchestras provided live entertainment in the days before phonograph records were invented. Music was performed on a square grand piano (ca. 1850), a treasured instrument which miraculously survived through the years.
James C. Reed (1843-1893) was a student at Albion College in the late 1850s and kept a diary detailing his various social activities. Reed frequently mentions Howard Hall in his writings. Numerous references are made to singing schools, old-folk songs, and concerts held at Howard Hall. The booklet highlighting Reed’s diary entitled "A Young Man in Albion Village" (1975) by the late Audrey K . Wilder states (Pg. 14): "Glamour arrived with theater for five nights, and Old Lull’s opera Troupe brought drama and real live actors to the little community. Bullock’s concert on December 21, 1858 at the Hall was followed January 11, 1859 by ‘The Nationals,’ a singing group. ‘The Dutch Dance’ in February gave evidence of enough Germans in the neighborhood so that they were able to organize themselves."
In summary Howard Hall was a unique community asset with its diversity of programs appealing to a wide variety ranges of tastes. From our Historical Notebook this week we present a "then and now" pair of photos. The first is an 1857 lithograph of the Howard Block building showing the first floor businesses and the inviting center staircase leading upstairs to the Hall. The second photo is how the building looks like today. This building is one of Albion’s historical edifices which hopefully will be "safe" from any future demolition plans.
1857 lithograph of the Howard Block building
All text copyright, 2021 © all rights reserved Frank Passic