The Acolhua people were one of the three “city-states” to once control the Valley of Mexico – the highland plateau in central Mexico where current day Mexico City is located. The Acolhuan people were advanced both cultural and technologically, living in piece with their neighbors to form what we know today as the Aztec Empire. The Acolhuan state was located on the eastern shore of a great lake which once dominated the plateau – its capital named after the large body of fresh water at its doorstep: Texcoco. The city was the second largest in the region, behind only the Aztec capital itself. The city was thought to be home to over 24,000 people, and cover an area of nearly 5 square kilometers at its peak. Unfortunately upon the arrival of the Spanish in 1521 the Aztec empire was defeated and disbanded, the old city of Texcoco destroyed and the great lake at its feet drained.
Fast forward several more centuries and another remote region of the new world found itself innundated by non-native visitors, this time it was American’s looking for mineral riches in the rugged hills of Michigan’s western upper peninsula. With unintended irony these new arrivals would appropriate terminology associated with the great native peoples of the new world, using them to name their newly minted mines, steam engines, towns, and roads. When it came time to name the streets of the region’s newest mining camp – Hancock -it was the old Aztec city of Texcoco that served as namesake for one of the village’s cross streets – phoenetically altered to become Tezcuco.
Tezcuco Street was one of the four north-south streets found in Hancock’s original platt, found one block west of the neighboring Quincy Stamp Mill. It was a steep avenue, cutting its way down the hillside straight down to the Portage shore where several warehouses and docks were erected. Before the arrival of the Portage bridge and the railroad its supported, travelers arriving to Hancock would do so at those docks, beginning their journey into the Copper Country by first making the climb up Tezcuco Street. Thus for a time Tezcuco Street became the village’s most important avenue, attracting a plethora of businesses catering to travelers including over a half dozen saloons and a half dozen hotels and boarding houses.
Here’s Tezcuco Street as it appeared in 1900, looking north from Hancock Street up towards Quincy Street at the top left of the picture. By this time the bridge and railroad had arrived, and the village’s Main Street had migrated up to Quincy, though Tezcuco continued to be just as lively as it ever was. While up on Quincy Street the buildings were being built of stone and brick, the older business blocks seen along Tezcuco were instead built primarily out of wood. Because of this these old buildings would not survive the ensuing decades as well as its Quincy Street bretheren, their increased age and wood-frame construction ushering in their demise. By the time the modern age had arrived, almost all of the buildings along Tezcuco had vanished from the landscape.
At least that’s what I thought. Thanks to fellow copper country explorer Tom Roberts I now know there was at least one of the old buildings still standing into the late 70s at least. That’s because he took its picture – several times in fact.
It was 1978 that Tom took several pictures of this rickety old wood-framed building standing tall at the corner of Tezcuco and Hancock Streets. Though gone today, the building would have sat within the current parking lot of Gartner’s Gallery. Tom labels the picture as “Watson’s Electric Phonographs Building” and in another as the “Old Building Near the Red Owl”. The Red Owl was a regional chain grocery store headquartered out of Minnesota, one of which was once located within the adjacent Gartner’s Gallery building. As for the Phonographs’s reference I can only assume that its the last tenant of the building – which by the looks of the building had vacated years ago.
The building had a rather unique design, featuring a chaffered corner that sported doors on all three floors. What looks to be a small balcony hangs off the second floor door, while a rail-less porch adorns the second floor opening – complete with an old stair way connecting it to the sidewalk below. Down on the main floor a pair of doors face the corner – accompanied by several large plate-glass store windows.
Looking back away from the corner facade we find the main floor to be built out of brick – its piers interspaced by more large plate-glass windows. Yet another door can be found near the building’s back side, this one facing Hancock Street. Up top the brick gives way to more wood clapboarding and a rather generous amount of windows. This many windows would seem to suggest that the building houses apartments up on its upper floors, with stores taking up residence down along the street level.
Out back Tom provides yet another angle of the old building, this one showing its back side addition and its false front. A pair of rather old chimneys along with a small dormer can also be seen protruding out of the roof. Even more windows and doors can be found along this side of the building as well – far to many for a simple Phonograph shop. Turns out those windows are an essential part of the old building’s identity – as its original role was that of a hotel – the Milwaukee Hotel to be exact.
The Milwaukee Hotel (or Milwaukee House as it was known in its early years) was one of three major hotels to call Tezcuco home, joining the likes of the Hancock House up at the corner of Quincy and the more famous Lake View Hotel just across the street. It was built originally around 1890, but would receive many updates and expansions over the years. Above you can see it in all its glory, a rather distinguished structure even though it was only built of wood. The hotel itself occupied the top two stories of the building, entered via the doorway just to the top of the stairs. While the Lake View across the street featured a grand veranda on its upper floor for guests to enjoy their “lake views”, the Milwaukee House instead featured a pair of rooms with their own balconies – surely offered at much higher rates then the rest.
Downstairs was yet another saloon, this one sporting what at first glance seems to be a rather ambiguous name of “Saloon 8”. Turns out this particular saloon is in fact the 8th to be found on Tezcuco Street at the time so perhaps the name isn’t so ambiguous after all. if not slightly lacking in imagination. Both saloon and the hotel were run by a pair of businessmen – Nicholas Evert and Nicholas Dollinger – who by any indication of their saloon’s name probably became partners just because they shared the same first name.
Today unfortunately the old hotel no longer graces Tezcuco Street, as just like the old Aztec town the street was named after the old hotel has been removed from the landscape. I don’t know when the old building was demolished, but it wasn’t standing upon my arrival in the 1990s. Today the space is just an empty portion of a parking lot, one a concrete wall serving as any clue to the presence of anything else ever at the site. In fact we may never have known the place even existed at all, if it wasn’t for the incredible foresight of Tom Roberts who photograph the aging building in its final years. At least now we were able to tell its story.