Reader Clears the Bar with Correct Answer

This bar is the only remaining building of the largest employer in Traverse City in 1917.  What is the name of that company?

Congratulations to reader Larry, for his correct answer!: “That is currently ‘Side Traxx’, located at south end of Franklin street. I believe the company was ‘Oval Wood Dish Factory’ which left Traverse City in 1917.”

A causal exploration of the grounds by Your Editors yielded little evidence of the building’s former use. Should you visit, take a look for yourself! A number of interesting features, including frames of windows visible on the outside but not on the inside, and layers of wood paneling, gives us much to speculate on.

History Talks in the Month of February

“The Dennos Museum Center – 25 Years and Growing,” talk delivered by Eugene Jenneman to the OMPHS

The Old Mission Peninsula Historical Society will meet at 7:00 p.m.February 2, 2017, at the Old Mission Township Hall, 13235 Center Road, Traverse City.

A short business meeting will begin at 7:00 p.m., followed by a
presentation by Dennos Museum Executive Director, Eugene Jenneman, on “The Dennos Museum Center – 25 Years and Growing.”

The meeting is open to the public, and visitors are welcome. Donations are encouraged, as the Historical Society maintains many spots of interest on the Old Mission Peninsula.

For further information, please e-mail President Barbara Berthelson at bbrthlsn@gmail.com , or telephone Judith Weaver at 231-947-0947.

“Steamers of the Grand Traverse Bay Line,” Steve Kelsch to address TAHS

“The Missouri,” at a dock in Traverse City, undated.
On the 3rd Sunday of every month, the Traverse Area Historical Society presents a program on local history. This month, we welcome Society favorite Steve Kelsch, who will speak on Steamers of the Grand Traverse Bay Line.
Program is free and open to the public. Program will take place Sunday, February 19th, from 1-3pm, at the Traverse Area District Library, McGuire Room, 610 Woodmere Ave.

Women’s History Project hosts program on “Reliving the Women’s March”

All are welcome to participate in an informal discussion  hosted by the Women’s History Project of Northwest Michigan on the Women’s March on Washington, which took place on January 21 in Washington, D.C.  Several attendees, including local organizer Becky Beauchamp, will answer questions about their experience.

Attendance is encouraged for all those who participated and those who wished they could, and anyone who has ideas about the March, women, and our place in history.  The WHP Souper Sunday is an annual event for the public, featuring camaraderie, a casual and delicious soup luncheon, and a thought-provoking program.

Program will be Sunday, February 5th, from 12:30-2:30pm, in the McGuire Room of the Traverse Area District Library, 610 Woodmere Avenue. Your $5 donation gets you entrance, as well as a hearty lunch catered by Centre Street Café. To reserve your place, contact Sandy at 231-421-3343 or at sansep19@earthlink.net.

Common Mergansers and the Itch

Swimmer’s Itch plagues many Michigan lakes.  Children are especially affected as itchy red bumps appear on legs and torso, soon after swimming.  Little can be done to alleviate the itching—the old remedy of baking soda is probably as good as any.  In a few days it disappears on its own, anyway.

This historic 1942 photomicrograph revealed some of the morphologic details displayed by a schistosomal cercaria, which is the larval stage of a parasite that causes “swimmer’s itch”, and was magnified approximately 150x. This was one of a series of instructional images used by the Minnesota Board of Health to train its state public health workers. The purpose of the images and the accompanying training was focused on protecting potable water supplies from contaminants including toxins, and pathogenic organisms, such as the parasite pictured here. This material was obtained from Professor William A. Riley, of the University of Minnesota. The sample itself was taken from Lake Owasso, Minnesota.
Image made available on Wikimedia Commons by the CDC/ Minnesota Department of Health, R.N. Barr Library; Librarians Melissa Rethlefsen and Marie Jones, Prof. William A. Riley. This media comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #8556.

The cause of the itch has been known for many years: a tiny parasite inhabits snails of the lake, shedding them into the water on warm summer days.  These cercariae are neither bacteria nor viruses, but a member of the flatworm phylum.  In short, they are worms.  Many years ago, at the University of Michigan Biological Station, I remember seeing them emerge from snails confined to a watchglass under a low-power microscope.  Compared to other such water creatures, they weren’t that small.  You could see them with your eyes if you cared to look.

After leaving the snails, apparently tired of the pace of life there, they swim around looking for a secondary host, frequently diving ducks such as the Common Merganser.  Finding one, they bore through its skin, somehow finding one another in the circulatory system to mate (I believe the animals are bisexual).  Afterwards, they migrate to the digestive tract where they produce eggs ready to be shed into the water with the duck’s feces.  Gaining the freedom of open water, they locate snails to infect, thereby completing the cycle.

An eruption of cercarial dermatitis on the lower legs after having spent a day getting in and out of canoes in the shallows of a lake, 21 September 2007, en.wikipedia. Image courtesy of User:Cornellier

We humans should be bystanders to this unwholesome series of events, but for one thing: the cercariae mistake us for ducks.  Only after entering the outermost layer of skin do they realize their awful mistake, but it is too late for them: our body’s immune system reacts to kill them off, that response leading to an angry, itching bump, swimmer’s itch.

Various methods have been used to control the pest.  At least two of them have been tried locally: copper sulfate and removing duck populations.  Copper sulfate kills snails, one of the hosts, but that method has been largely abandoned because it is not particularly effective in the long run and because it has harmful effects on other life.

Getting rid of ducks is easier said than done.  You can’t shoot them all—after all, there are game laws and many of us (including me) like them.  One technique is pyrotechnics.  At first I thought this had to do with firecrackers and bombs to drive away flocks, but that is not exactly so.  As applied to duck control, pyrotechnics has to do with firing a variety of noisemakers including propane cannons, thunderboom sticks, and bird bangers.  A loud noise sends flocks flying, no matter what the source.

Glen Lake has tried this method for several years with inconclusive results.  The Glen Lake Association on its website reports the itch still is bothersome, but not as bad as at Higgins Lake, where no such control has been attempted.  For some persons, the intermittent detonations may prove as annoying as the itch.

A friend whose family owns a cottage at Glen Lake for many years tells me that the lake has always had a swimmer’s itch problem.  The red, itching bumps were a rite of summer.  Usually, they do not discourage children to the point they will not go in the water.  Swimming and splashing in the water are just too much fun.

Female Common Merganser, Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park, Scotland Neck, North Carolina, January 2011. Image provided by DickDaniels through Wikimedia Commons.

There are some things you can do to avoid swimmer’s itch (aside from scaring ducks and poisoning snails).  There is some evidence that the cercariae are to be found more often on sunny, warm days, especially close to shore.  Onshore winds drive them close to beaches where children are likely to play.  Shorter swimming sessions might make infection less likely, too.  Unfairly, suntan lotions often contain compounds that attract the itch organisms.  Parents cannot catch a break—they must protect their children from the sun and from annoying creatures in the water.  Apparently you cannot do both at the same time.

Common Merganser (male). Image taken in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada, February 2007. Image made available through Wikimedia Commons.

My reaction is that we will probably have to use these common sense measures of control—at least for now.  As a duck lover, I hate to see flocks constantly chased off lakes by loud noises.  Besides, how long will it take for them to get used to booms and pops?  After all, the sounds of traffic in New York City used to be so quiet that they were ignored in 1850.  Now, in 2017, it is no different, only we accept 70-decibel noise as normal.  Wouldn’t the ducks do the same as we did—learn to ignore the noise?

Richard Fidler is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal.

Steamers Stump Readers for January Mystery

Here are two images of the Queen City No. 2 Steamer, separated by more than 200 years. Traverse City’s second Steamer is still preserved at a location near Lansing, Michigan. Where would you go to view the two steamers? Extra credit if you get both!

Sorry, readers! No one gets the accolades this month. So where can you find both of these standing relics, true testaments to the ingenuity of our historic fire fighters! The Traverse City Steamer is located at Fire Station No. 1, on West Front Street.

The Steamer in Lansing  is on display near the Michigan Millers Insurance entrance drive, on Grand River Avenue. Restoration for this steamer was completed by Paul J. Baker, Vice President, an expert in the restoration of antique automobiles. The restored pumper was first placed on display for the public to see in early 1958, according to the Michigan Millers Facebook page.

“The Tribune”: A New Newspaper to Illuminate Our Past

By Richard Fidler, Co-Editor of Grand Traverse Journal

An archives can reveal hidden treasures to investigators with the patience to wade through boxes of records often as uninspiring as ledgers of collapsed businesses and minutes of fraternal organizations.  Marlas Hanson uncovered one of them recently: a stack of newspapers never before recognized by historians as a resource for local news.  There were about twenty copies of them, all dated in the year 1881.  What could they tell us about the area that our other paper of the time, the Grand Traverse Herald, did not?  This is a question that sets a historian’s heart racing—a new source of information.

Image by Amy Barritt, January 2017.

Alas, upon examining issue after issue, it became apparent to us that the Tribune had precious little in the way of stories about the Grand Traverse region.  It was a political paper favoring the Democrats, perhaps a counterbalance to the Herald, a  thoroughly Republican outlet.  Most newspapers of the time were explicitly Republican or Democrat: neutrality was not common.  The later merging of the Evening Record, a paper with links to Republicans, with the Morning Eagle, a Democratic organ, formed the Traverse City Record-Eagle, a newspaper less partisan than most others. 

Unlike the Herald, the Tribune dwelled mostly upon party conventions held elsewhere and descriptions of the nasty things Republicans were doing to the country at the time.  It carried no long, detailed accounts of fires, weather events, and happenings about town, and little in the way of editorial reflections on local issues of the day.  In short, it was a disappointment.

Still, one can find gold among the dross.  Editors at the time had a gift for story-telling, a gift seldom displayed by present-day editors who use the dry, formal language of today’s news rooms.  They frequently wrote about their feelings and things that happened to them, spinning complex sentences that astound us today with their style and expressiveness.  By contrast, when editors raise their voices these days, it is only about their views on issues, local, state, or national.  They do not let us know about their lives, unlike newspapermen of the 1880’s.  One personal story captured from the Tribune’s editorials moves us to tears even now, more than a hundred and twenty years later.  Though unsigned, it was probably written by Albert H. Johnson, editor and founder of the Tribune.

For background, Johnson previously had started the Leelanau Enterprise, but moved on to tackle the Traverse City market after that venture.  We do not know how long the Tribune, lasted in the city—perhaps not long, given the preponderance of Republicans in the area at this time.  Since the area has voted quite consistently for Republicans, a Democratic newspaper would not do well in such an environment.  However long it lasted, the paper did leave us this story about Johnson’s grief at the death of his young son.  It speaks to us across time about the universality of human suffering.

“In the Bottom Drawer

H. Johnson, editor

I saw my wife pull out the bottom drawer of the old family bureau this evening, and went softly out, and wandered up and down, until I knew that she had shut it up and gone to her sewing.  We have some things laid away in that drawer which the gold of kings could not buy, and yet they are relics which grieve us until both our hearts are sore.  I haven’t dared look at them for a year, but I remember every article.

There are two worn shoes, a little chip hat, with part of it gone, some stockings, pants, a coat, two or three spools, bits of broken crockery, a whip, and several toys.  Wife, poor thing, goes to this drawer every day of her life and prays over it, and lets her tears fall upon the precious articles, but I dare not go.

This is not an image of Jack, but of an unknown boy holding a fish, at the northeast corner of Wellington & State Streets. Did little Jack like to fish? We suspect so, as it was a popular pastime. Image from the Historical Society Collection at Traverse Area District Library.

Sometimes we speak of little Jack, but not often.  It has been a long time, but somehow we can’t get over grieving .  He was such a burst of sunshine into our lives that his going away has been like covering our every day existence with a pall.  Sometimes, when we sit alone of an evening, I writing and she sewing, a child on the street will call out as our boy used to, and we will both start up with beating hearts and a wild hope, only to find this darkness more of a burden than ever.

It is so still and quiet now.  I look up at the window, where his blue eyes used to sparkle at my coming, but he is not there.  I listen for his prattling feet, his merry shout and his ringing laugh, but there is no sound.  There is no one to climb over my knees, no one to search my pockets and tease for presents, and I never find the chairs turned over, the broom down, or ropes tied to door knobs.

I want someone to tease me for my knife; to ride on my shoulder; to lose my ax; to follow me to the gate when I go, and be there to meet me when I come; to call “good night” from the little bed now empty.  And wife she misses him still more; there are no little feet to wash, no prayers to say, no voice teasing for lumps of sugar or sobbing with the pain of a hurt; and she would give her own life almost, to wake at midnight and look across to the crib at midnight and see the our boy there as he used to be.

So, we preserve our relics, and when we are dead we hope that strangers will handle them tenderly, even if they shed no tears over them.”

Innisfree: Fondly Remembered Outdoor Camp, 1970-1988

by S. A. McFerran

Many school groups from Traverse City and Leelanau traveled to Innisfree, a camp for environmental education, on Pyramid Point within the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.  The program operated year-round within sight of the Manitou Passage, and the fifth- and sixth-grade student visitors would stay for four nights at the Camp.  Students were led on beach and wood hikes by a crack team of naturalists. In the winter, there were snow shoe hikes and ski trips. Canoe trips on the Crystal River was a staple activity as were “get lost” hikes.

Gus Leinbach and group, on a hill at Innisfree Camp, ca. 1970. Image provided by the author.

Gus Leinbach bought the camp in 1970 and started the Innisfree Project which was named after a William Butler Yeats poem by that name. Gus was an educator from Ann Arbor who set up the camp with the concept of self-direction for the campers and counselors. If you had an idea, a skill, and interest then you could form your idea, pitch it to a mentor or guide to help, propose it to the rest of the campers and get a group together to do what you wanted. There was a bike shed with tons of parts to work on building bicycles, an old car to learn how to fix engines, a frozen zoo of found animals that were preserved, and an old orchard with apples to pick. The kitchen always seemed to be open for campers to come in and help. It was a true community experience that offered endless possibilities to explore, create, invent, and express.

Gus and his wife Paula operated Crystalaire on Crystal Lake before establishing Innisfree. Camp Lookout “spun off” from Crystalaire and still carries on the tradition of self-directed camp life, where campers and counselors create their own inventive activities. Gus died in 1988, and Innisfree was sold and is still operated as “Camp Kohana.”

During the summers at Innisfree, trips were offered and campers traveled on bikes along the roads of Leelanau and to faraway places such as New England and Isle Royale. I have recently been in touch with Carolyn, my co-leader of a small group of campers to Isle Royale. We both still agree that it was the best trip ever.

Campers at Innisfree. Photograph provided by the author.

In the summer of 1984, we loaded the van with campers and equipment, and we were on our way to meet the ferry boat at Copper Harbor. The trip to the ferry gave us the opportunity to get a sense of the cast of characters within the group. Our first stop was on the Keweenaw Peninsula where I parked the van and made everyone hike up a giant hill to an old fire tower. I insisted that the view was worth it. Everyone was stiff from the long trip across the Upper Peninsula and needed to stretch their legs.

We ate delicious thimble berries along the trail, as I regaled the group with stories of the awesome view from the old fire tower. We got to the top and all we saw was a big block of cement with some metal pieces sticking out. The Forest Service had removed the tower. From that low point, on a high place, it was all downhill to Isle Royale.   

The ferry boat at Copper Harbor was surprisingly small. We loaded our backpacks and were off. Lake Superior was very rough that day and many in the group were sick. The water calmed as we approached Isle Royale, and were greeted by a blast of warm air. Camper Emily said: “It smells like pine air freshener!”

We were warned about foxes that would steal food by the Rangers as we unloaded our gear. Willy, a short boy from the Philippines, and Steven, a lanky Inuit, were captivated by the idea of seeing a fox. They rigged up an apparatus for tricking the fox as we set up camp at Rock Harbor.

1978 Isle Royale camping expedition by Innisfree campers. Photograph courtesy of Beth Leinbach.

After being splashed by the water of Lake Superior, it was surprisingly hot at the campground. Emily emerged from her tent and informed Carolyn and I that she had changed her mind about the trip. She demanded a helicopter. She wanted to go home. After some tears and anguish Emily was ready to listen. We explained there would be no helicopter and she was with us for the duration of the trip.

Somehow we had ended up with a large cache of frozen hot dogs. Everyone had eaten their fill so Steve and Willy decided that a hot dog would be perfect fox bait. While foxes stole food we informed Steve that he was not allowed to feed them due to park regulations. Not to be thwarted in his quest to see a fox Steve rigged up hot dog on a bungee cord on a string that he could pull just before the fox grabbed it. He was up all night swatting mosquitos and outfoxing the fox.

The water of Lake Superior is known for being frigid, but late summer sun beats down for long days on the inlets and coves of Isle Royale. The water there becomes delightfully swimmable. Large slabs of granite warmed by the sun made fine places for our group to rest after a plunge. The balance of our trip was spent hiking and swimming in Royale coves and inlets.

One afternoon, when we made it to camp on the early side, we decided to build a sweat lodge out of our tent poles and fly tarps. We were near the end of our week on Isle Royale, so by this time all the campers were pretty good friends and didn’t mind trying something new. We built a fire and found some upland cobbles to heat up.  We all got on our bathing suits and crawled into the makeshift lodge.  The hot rocks were placed in the center and we all sat and sweated until we couldn’t stand it anymore.  With lots of hollering, we all ran through the busy campsite and past the families quietly camping. As a group we all jumped off the dock into the deep Lake Superior water.  It was then I knew that we had changed the campers’ lives.

Gus and Big Pig, at Innisfree, undated. Image provided by the author.

After dropping off all of Steve, Willy, Emily and all the rest, Carolyn and I returned to Innisfree where the late summer band camp was underway.  The Big Reds were blasting fight songs out into the Manitou Passage and Big Pig was watching the band maneuvers from his sty near the football field.

The site where the Camp was on Pyramid Point is amazingly beautiful.  The high bluff above Lake Michigan was lined with trees to sit in and among and gaze at the sunset. And the beach below with the rustic waterfront was a wonderful place to play. But the real beauty of Innisfree was in the people.

S. A. McFerran is a graduate of the National Outdoor Leadership School and has led six, 24 day wilderness courses in addition to an Antioch College Environmental Field Program. He has led outdoor programs for Northwestern Michigan College, Appalachian School of Experience, Group and Individual Growth and Traverse Area Public Schools. He worked as a naturalist and trip leader at Innisfree.

Sara T. Chase-Willson: An Early Woman Physician with Modern Ideas

by Julie Schopieray, author and avid researcher

Medicine was in her blood. The daughter of a Civil War surgeon, Sara Thomasina Chase was the first-born child of Dr. Milton Chase who settled in Otsego, Allegan County, Michigan, after the war.  Giving his children a good education after finishing her secondary schooling in Otsego, Sara entered the Ypsilanti Normal School. She graduated in 1891, then taking a position at the Traverse City High School teaching English and science. Teaching until 1896, she decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and entered medical school at the University of Michigan. After her graduation in 1900 at the age of 34, she went back to Otsego and practiced with her father. In 1906, she returned to Traverse City, taking over the office of her cousin, Dr. Oscar E. Chase, while he went back to the University of Michigan for more training. She set up office in the State Bank building where she advertised her practice. 

This 1903 article from the Traverse City Evening Record gives us a glimpse of her ambition and dedication to the practice of medicine as a woman in a man’s world.

Dr. Chase entirely disapproves the old idea, which once was quite prevalent, that a professional woman could not be a womanly woman. She is a physician of no mean ability, and has considerable skill with the needle. She is thoroughly accomplished in household science. She is very fond of outdoor exercise, being an especially fine horsewoman. Still they are outside interests to her, after all, as her heart is in her profession, and it is this that receives first and best thought. [TCER 15 May 1903]

Known to be as good a physician as her male counterparts, she was  be able to handle just about any situation. In 1908 she traveled five miles past the village of Cedar in a blizzard to tend to a patient. The Traverse City Record Eagle reported, “Dr. Sarah T. Chase has a hard trip yesterday afternoon, driving five miles beyond Cedar in the blizzard. She went to Cedar on the train and was met there by a driver. Ten miles in such a storm required nerve even in a man.” (7 Feb. 1908)

Always wanting to improve her skills, in the summer of 1909 she took a six-week break from her practice and attended a special summer school course at U. of M.

Active with the Congregational Church, she served as Sunday School teacher. She often gave lectures on children’s and women’s health at events of the Woman’s Club and Central Mother’s Club. Her lectures were about topics important to the women of Traverse City and covered subjects such as the proper feeding of children and babies and “What to do Until the Doctor Comes,” a lecture about first aid.  As chairman for the public health committee for Grand Traverse County, she often gave talks about various health topics relevant to all citizens:  “The Air We Breathe and the Value of Ventilation,” “Children’s Diseases,” “Suppression of Tuberculosis” as well as sensitive women’s health topics, such as  “Sex Hygiene,” and “The Responsibility of Girlhood to Womanhood.”  The notice for the last talk stated: “No men will be admitted to this lecture.”

Not content just to maintain her practice—or to be pigeon-holed into women’s care only—she became involved in local health-related issues that mattered to the entire community. In 1911 she was instrumental in petitioning the state to pass a bill “requiring licenses for the sale of patent and proprietary medicines by itinerant vendors.” In simple terms, the bill would require licenses for traveling elixir salesmen. She served as meat and milk inspector for the city and reported to the city on sanitary inspections of farms and slaughter houses. As part of her county responsibilities, she acted as secretary for the county Tuberculosis Society.  Dr. Chase was one of the first woman members of the Grand Traverse County Medical Society. In 1907 she accepted the position of secretary of the Society when her associate, Dr. Myrtelle M. Canavan, left for Boston after her husband’s death. She was also a member of the Michigan State Medical Society and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.).

Tuberculosis hit Traverse City hard in 1915.  Dr. Chase worked tirelessly as head of the board of the Anti-Tuberculosis Society, a group she helped found.  That organization aimed to improve health conditions by working with others in the medical field and offering free clinics in the city to educate the public about the dreaded disease. She used experimental treatments, publishing her positive results in the American Journal of Clinical Medicine.

In 1920 she accepted a job at the Kalamazoo State Hospital as assistant physician, where she worked until 1922, moving to Port Huron and taking the position of “Great Medical Examiner of the Ladies of the Maccabees”, a post she held for the next seven years.  She assisted with Maccabees clinics for children and was on the board of the Anti-TB Association.

While in Port Huron, she was reacquainted with Harlow Willson, whom she likely knew as a young girl in Otsego. He had been living in Boyne City with his wife Maybell and their children, working as a postman. After the two were divorced in 1924, Dr. Chase and Harlow were married in May, 1926.

A progressive woman, she did not give up her maiden name, instead preferring to use a hyphenated name: Dr. Sara T. Chase-Willson. They were both sixty years old at the time of their marriage– her first and his second.  After their marriage, Harlow and his mother ran Willson’s Garden shop on River Road, while Sara worked for the Ladies of the Maccabees.

During her years in Port Huron, Dr. Chase was actively involved in the Ladies Library Association, fought for child labor laws, and served as an active member of the Ottawawa Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R).  She was a committed member of the Theosophical Society, and, as an expert in that movement, gave speeches on the history of Theosophy. In 1929 she resigned from her position with the Maccabees, but remained active in medical causes.

Around 1941 she and her husband moved to Boyne City where they opened another garden shop and florist business. In 1946 Dr. Chase fell in their home and broke her hip, but fully recovered and continued her volunteer work.  After her husband’s death in 1950, she sold her  Boyne City home and retired to the Maccabee Home in Alma where she died three years later at the age of 87.

___________________________________________________________________

It was unusual for a town the size of Traverse City in the early 1900s to have two female physicians. Sara Chase was not the town’s first woman doctor, but she and Dr. Augusta Rosenthal-Thompson each had tirelessly worked serving the people of Traverse City. Their careers only overlapped by a few years toward the end of Dr. Rosenthal-Thompson’s time in the city, but these two pioneers of medicine– amazing women in their own ways–each had an impact in the community, paving the way by their influence and demonstrating that women could successfully work in a career dominated by men.

You can read more about Dr. Rosenthal-Thompson in the book Who We Were, What We Did,  by Richard Fidler.

Julie Schopieray is a regular contributor to Grand Traverse Journal. She is currently working on a biography and architectural history of Jens C. Petersen, once a Traverse City-based architect, who made his mark on many cities in Northern Michigan and California.

Reader Lights Up the Night with a Correct Answer!

The Gamewell system of fire alarm boxes was installed in Traverse City in 1881, one of only 250 cities that had them that early.  Each box could send a message to a central dispatch board which gave the location where the the box was activated.  Currently one box remains–on exhibition–at a place readers might readily guess: Where is it?

Congratulations to Cornelia for correctly answering the Mystery Photo question for December 2016. The last fire alarm box in Traverse City resides at Fire Station No. 1 on West Front Street, beside the main pedestrian entrance. Well done, Cornelia!

We offer kudos to the Traverse City Fire Department which honors its history. Thank you all for your service!

End of an Era: The Old Immaculate Conception School and Church to be Demolished

by Julie Schopieray

For those of us who appreciate the historic architecture of Traverse City, a sad fact is that many of our early buildings no longer exist. For most buildings, it has been either a result of fire or progress. When it comes to our historic schools, it is a combination of both reasons. There is only one remaining pre-1914 school in our town. It too, however, will soon be demolished and replaced. In the upcoming year, plans to raze and replace the Immaculate Conception school have been put in place. 

As early as January 1900, it became apparent that a second Catholic church was needed. The Catholic population of the city had grown dramatically and the St. Francis parish was becoming overcrowded. Many poorer, working class parishioners on the west side of town also felt it was inconvenient to travel so far. By late 1901, there was more talk about a possible new church and school for the west side. This side of town was home to many Bohemian, Polish, French, and German immigrant families who did not all speak English. They voiced their desire to be able to attend services closer to their homes, and  in their own languages. St. Francis only conducted mass in English.

In May 1902, it was decided by a church committee to establish a new parish. It would be called the West Side Catholic Church and school. The Bishop at Grand Rapids appointed Rev. L. Krakowski, who had been associated with the St. Francis church as well as other parishes in the region, to establish a west side congregation and start the process of raising money for a combination church and school building. Fundraising was enthusiastically begun. Oyster suppers were held, plays and performances put on at the City Opera House, ice cream socials, raffles and many Pedro card parties were held, all to raise funds for the new structure. It didn’t happen quickly, however.

After much discussion between committee members, a location was chosen near the corner of Second and Division streets.  In January 1903, Rev. Krakowski went to Grand Rapids to get the official approval of the Bishop for the new church.

Immaculate Conception School on Division Street, photographic postcard, undated. Image courtesy of Traverse Area District Library, image 4817.

For two long years the parish worked to raise money for the proposed $15,000 structure to be designed by local architect, Fred E. Moore. Construction began in the spring of 1905. Contractor Bert Wilhelm supervised the building of architect Moore’s plans. The building plans included plumbing even though there were no water lines or sewers on that part of the west side at the time. It was decided by the City Engineer that temporary water and sewer lines would be extended down Division St. to accommodate the new structure, but, since plans to install city sewers there were not yet in place, “the easiest and cheapest [sewage] outlet would be to build from Second Street to the Asylum Creek at a cost of $150.” [TCRE 8 Aug., 1905]  The building was completed and ready to accommodate students by the beginning of the school year. 

Rev. John J. Sheehan

The Immaculate Conception Church  was officially dedicated on February 22, 1906.  Rt. Rev. Bishop Henry Joseph Richter of Grand Rapids, assisted by seventeen priests of the diocese conducted a four hour service attended by over 700 people.  So many people came that they filled the hall to standing room only. Many who came were not even able to  get in. The new church would have Rev. John J. Sheehan as priest in charge, with the school staffed by the Sisters of Mercy of Big Rapids.  The small parish worked through difficult circumstances, but eventually paid off the mortgage in thirty years and became debt free.

The church and school were operated in this building until it too, became overcrowded. It was always intended to be a temporary situation- having the school and church in one building. By 1951 it was time for more room. “In the last few years the parish has grown…overflow crowds demanded an assistant priest, but even with four masses each Sunday, the church remained overcrowded and the school had to limit its enrollment for lack of necessary classrooms. The only solution was a commodious new church to accommodate the ever increasing throngs and to enable Catholic visitors to attend mass in the summer and  to allow expansion of school facilities.” [TCRE 28 May, 1953]  A campaign began to raise money for a new church. In 1951, Architect Harford Field was hired to design the modern structure. Ground was broken on May 23, 1952, “the cornerstone was laid and the bell blessed on August 10, 1952 in a colorful ceremony presided over by Monsignor R. H. Baker, vicar general of the Grand Rapids diocese. The church was completed and opened for services on Easter Sunday, April 5, with Rev. Passeno saying the first mass.” [TCRE 28 May 1953]  The church was officially dedicated on May 30, 1953.

Seven years later, it was clear that a larger school was critical. The parish officials once again turned to architect Harford Field to design an addition to the school. The new school building would cost over $400,000 and include “eight classrooms, art room, library, music rooms, visual-aid room, general administration offices, cafeteria, kitchen, adult social room and gymnasium-auditorium…” [TCRE 20 May 1961]  At the time, there were over 400 students enrolled in first through eighth grades which were staffed by the Sisters of Mercy as well as lay teachers.

So, fast forward to the present. Once again the Immaculate Conception school has out-grown its facility. In September, 2016, plans were announced that replacement of the 1906 and 1961 buildings was being discussed and brought to the planning commission for review. At that date, $9 million had already been raised for the new  $12 million structure.

Yes, it is sad that another historic building will be demolished, but that is the way of progress. The cost of renovating old buildings to today’s standards  is not  always the best solution, especially when so much more space is needed. This has been the consistent history for the majority of our old schools. Most were demolished during the 1950s because they had become out-grown, out-dated and just not in line with modern school needs and standards. So, the last of the city’s pre-1914 schools will soon be a memory, but the new building will be an attractive asset to the community and will meet the needs of the school and parish.

Traverse City “Record-Eagle” September 23, 2016

Though not the very first school buildings in the city, these were the first brick structures:

Elmwood School–1892- 1956 (razed)
Oak Park School, Rose & Webster streets–1895-1955 (razed)
Boardman School- 1890-1913- burned, but replaced in 1914- (still standing- Ida M. Tompkins administration building)   In May, 2016 was also being considered for demolition.
Union Street School–1904-1959-(razed)
Central School 1877-  additions in  1885 and 1924,  burned in 1934 and rebuilt in 1936. (Currently Central Elementary)
West Side Catholic- Immaculate Conception- 1906- 2018?

Oak Park School, image courtesy of the Traverse Area District Library.
Elmwood Avenue School, Traverse City, photographic postcard. Image courtesy of Traverse Area District Library.
Boardman School, ca. 1915, image courtesy of Traverse Area District Library.
Union Street School, undated, image courtesy of the Traverse Area District Library.
Central Grade School, ca. 1890s. Image courtesy of Traverse Area District Library.

Julie Schopieray is a regular contributor to Grand Traverse Journal.