Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, August 22, 1993, pg. 12
With the abandonment of the E. Erie St. substation by Consumers Power Company this year, 90 years of electrical service at this location has ended. Many people do not realize that the building housing the electrical equipment was once a water power generating station, utilizing the raceway waters of the Kalamazoo River.
Electircal service came to Albion in 1886, when the Foote brothers of Jackson installed one arc light on S. Superior St., powered by the water wheel at the Stone Mill (now the City Bank & Trust Company building). People came in wagon loads from Duck Lake and other places into Albion to view this spectacular phenomenon. A short time later, a group of Albion men formed the Albion Electric Light Company, and built a plant on the northeast corner of E. Cass and N. Monroe Sts., on the site of the present-day bicycle shop. The only power generated from this plant during the 1890s was for lighting purposes.
The facility burned in 1903 and the Company purchasd the Red Mill on E. Erie St., which had been erected in 1883 as a grist mill. This very historic site had originally been the Brown Mill erected in 1837 by Jesse Crowell, and was one of the oldest grist mills in the State of Michigan. That mill burned in 1883, and was repalced by the Red Mill. The Albion Electric Light Company converted the facilities into an electric generating plant. Its first customers were: Bullen’s Big Busy Store, C. S. Tucker Dry Goods, and George Mitchell’s Confectionery. Manager of the Company was Arthur G. Noble, a future Albion auto dealer. The Albion facility received extra power from the Kalamazoo Valley Electric Company. The use of electric power was expanded to 236 customers, using only 92 horesepower. All but two of that horsepower of current was used by the J. W. Brant Company, a local drug manufacturer.
The old Red Mill facility burned in a spectacular blaze on June 30, 1913, which caused $100,000 in damage. The cause was lightning. Albion was plunged into total darknesss for about a week, until a temporary plant could be placed in operation. A new powerhouse building, the one standing today, was erected. Consumers Power Company (which took over the Commonwealth Company in 1910) continued to use the water power obtained from the west millrace of the Kalamazoo RIver, which flowed from the Victory Park waterfall, across what is today Rieger Park, across E. Erie St., and then to the plan. The Albion plant generated approximately 200 horsepower from the water-powered generators. Out-of-town transmission lines were also installed, supplying Albion with additional electricity.
The Consumers Power office was located just west of the powerhouse, and during the 1920s also served as the passsenger station for the Michigan United Railways, otherwise known as the Interurban. That building, still standing today, was abandoned as a local office, and was sold by Consumers in 1990.
Water powered electricity was abandoned by Consumers in 1948, and the powerhouse was converted into an electrical substation. The portion of the raceway that flowed behind the powerhouse through the Market Place thereby became a parking lot, now the location of Stoffer Plaza. The portion of the millrace south of the powerhouse was devloped into Rieger Park, with the old millponds being converted into skating and hockey rinks.
As we observe this bit of history passing before our eyes, let us recall the historical signficance of the E. Erie St. substation. From our Historical Notebook this week we present a present-day photogoraph of the 1913-built powerhouse. Compare that with the other photograph taken around 1910 of the original “Red Mill” powerhouse, with a derailed interurban car in front.
Next: THE ALBION MIRROR
All text copyright, 2021 © all rights reserved Frank Passic