A brief history of the Alpena Power Company block

The sound of the wrecking ball can once again be heard in downtown Alpena– and soon, the Alpena Power Company building will be completely gone.

The demolition of any building forces us to look at our familiar spaces with new eyes. It reminds us that how we know a place isn’t how it always will be– and isn’t how it’s always been.

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Photo credit: Don La Barre.

Some may remember that building as the Peoples State Bank before Alpena Power Company moved in in 1964. Alpena Power would then add its iconic murals in 1989.

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Photo taken from a historic Alpena postcard from the 1950’s.

The history of this block runs deep: as early as Alpena (then called Fremont) was first settled by non-natives. Alpena’s first store, Miller, Fletcher, & Co. opened on this very corner in 1857, carrying a general assortment of dry goods, groceries, medicines, and even whiskey and tobacco (essentials, of course).

As more settlers came to the area, most of the settlement’s original permanent buildings, houses, and even school, were located along Water Street near the mouth of the Thunder Bay River.

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Photo from Robert E. Haltiner’s Alpena Gleanings and Stones from her Granite Gardens Part III. Large white building is the Miller, Fletcher & Co. Store.

The adjoining Myers’ building was then completed in 1858, housing a store on the first floor and a court room, county offices, schoolroom, church, printing office, and public gathering space on the second floor before a courthouse was built in the 1860’s.

In 1867, the Myers block, the oldest building in the city at that point, burned to the ground. How it caught fire was a mystery.

From then on and after its rebuilding, that block (where 2nd Avenue meets the river and runs east long River Street) would be known as the Myers block.

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1870’s view with “J Myers” building in the back. Picture taken from (about) where the Maltz Opera House would soon be built. Photo credit: Special Collections, Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library.
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1875 view looking south into downtown. Building with “Lakeshore” on it is Myers block. Photo credit: Ann Taber Collection, Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library.
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1887 looking south into downtown. The tall building on the left is the Maltz Opera House. Photo credit: Fred Trelfa Collection, Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library

Over the years, the block would be home to a variety of businesses: a furniture store, a community auction house, and a chiropractor, to name a few.

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1910 construction of the Federal Building.  Gately’s Furniture Store on Myers block on the right. Photo credit: Special Collections, Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library
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Myers Block in the 1940’s. Photo credit:  Fred Trelfa Collection, Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library

“Some things you forget. Other things you never do… Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place—the picture of it—stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world,”  writes Toni Morrison.

The wrecking ball may again be making its cry in Alpena– but the places stay there, somewhere, out there, in the world, never really gone.

Anne Gentry writes Blog Downtown Alpena in conjunction with Alpena DDA. Have a question about downtown Alpena history? Leave a comment below.

Information for this post came from David D. Oliver’s Centennial History of Alpena County, Michigan (1903), Robert E. Haltiner’s The Town That Wouldn’t Die, and Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library’s online archives and amazing Special Collections staff.

 

 

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