Along the Three Hundred

Hancock’s original plat was a mere five blocks long, bordered on both sides by mine-owned lands belonging to the Quincy on the east and the Hancock Mine to the west. On that western end would be located the village’s public entities – including its schools, town hall, and later the Finnish College. To the east the economic engine that was the Quincy Mill helped establish that end of the village as its commercial center, so much so that the village’s first fire hall was located at its heart. But as the village grew into a city that commercial corridor stretched westward into the neighboring 200 and finally 300 blocks of that original plat. By that time, however, the great Copper Empire was reaching its zenith and while that 300 block would become filled by wood-framed structures by the turn of the century only a small handful of masonry buildings would ever end up taking root. Yet while slim in number these commercial blocks were not diminutive in scale or scope, especially when it came to the block’s most famous resident – the Germania Hall.

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The Germania Hall was a massive sandstone and brick building that rose over four stories in height, its front facade framed by a trio of arched window openings and capped with a oversized cornice extending far over the sidewalk below. Inside could be found a pair of storefronts on its main floor while the upper two floors housed a kitchen, banquet hall, and a massive third floor hall complete with stage and scenery. These amenities were there to serve the building’s benefactors – the German Aid Society. The benevolent society was formed in 1859 by a group of German-born miners from the Quincy Mine. The group was dedicated in providing assistance to the area’s fellow German-born residents, providing aid to the sick or injured or assist widows of workers killed in the mine. The group also served a social function, providing a place for German immigrants to fraternize with their fellow compatriots.

The society’s new home was built in 1906, replacing the group’s earlier wood-framed hall which originally occupied the spot. The new Germania Hall was also famous as being the home to one of Hancock’s early vaudeville theaters – the Savoy – which occupied the building’s eastern storefront. The theater would later be destroyed in a 1915 fire, a disasterous inferno that would also kill the theater’s underage projectionist (prompting an arrest of the theater’s owner).  Yet that wasn’t the only entertainment to be found in the massive building, as its third floor meeting hall would be home to entertainment of its own including serving as the home to the region’s indoor baseball league – a sport that would later morph into softball.

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Fast forward a century and we find the massive building absent from the landscape – its location now nothing but a large empty lot on the north end of the block. The Germania Hall would end up serving the community for just a decade before the arrival of the First World War would cast an unfortunate shadow over the country’s German associations, prompting the building’s name to be changed to the far more patriotic sounding Lincoln Hall. By that time, however, the German Aid Society had disbanded and the building was under new ownership. The structure would continue to stand for half a century more before Hancock’s recuring nemesis – fire – would strike the building in 1966 burning it to the ground. While gone, the old masonry structure’s neighbors remain including the narrow three-story brick building seen just off to the left – the Rouleau Block.

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As its cornice can testify, the Rouleau Block was built in 1903. Standing three stories in height the predominantly brick structure was decorated with a great deal of sandstone highlights including oversized lintels atop the windows and a carved nameplate centered on its upper floor. The building was named after its benefactor Charles Rouleau, who served as Hancock’s Justice of the Peace at the time. Mr. Rouleau also had an office in the building’s second floor, along with dentist Earl Hays. Upstairs could be found yet another meeting hall, a space used by various local organizations including the “Modern Brotherhood of America” and  the “Fraternal Order of Eagles”.

The building was most famous as being the long time home of the Grinnell Brothers Music House. Ira and Clayton Grinnell opened the first Grinnell Brothers Music House in Ann Arbor in 1879, moving operations into Detroit around 1882. The company would build itself one of the largest piano factories in the world, and began opening satellite stores all across the state including right here in the mining town of Hancock. The company sold all types of musical equipment in addition to its own line of pianos, later branching out into phonograph equipment. The music store would eventually vacate the building around 1917, its space later converted into a bar that today is known as “The Bleachers”.

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On the opposite side of the old Germania Hall we find this interesting old building – its sprawling brick facade on full display with its towering neighbor removed from the scene. The building is a bit of a conundrum, as several sources cite it as being home to the Savoy Theater – the same Savoy that had previously occupied the Germania Hall.  That would explain the odd addition found in the back end of the structure, an extension that looks to have been able to house scenery for a stage. If true that would seem to suggest that after its disasterous 1915 fire the Savoy relocated into new accommodations here in this neighboring building.
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Next door to the possible home of the Savoy is the 300 block’s most impressive commercial block to remain standing to this day – the three story Schneider Block. Joseph Schneider was a copper smelter who rose to some prominence in the region, so much so that in 1906 he had acquired enough wealth to finance the construction of this impressive building. The brick and sandstone structure was one of the first masonry blocks erected on the 300 block, housing a grocer and saloon early in its life. Upstairs in lieu of the standard office and hall space the building instead featured a collection of apartments.

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Continuing westward past the Schneider Block we find these two structures, one rather new and another rather old. The newer building on the right replaced an old home which once occupied the space and today is home to apartments on its upper floors and office space on its lower. To its left stands a building of a far more aged pedigree, a sandstone-faced structure which first came to the scene shortly after the turn of the century.

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The building was built from its inception to house a steam laundry, a business operated by Albert Scott. The laundry boasted to be the only steam laundry in Hancock, and such exclusivity enabled it to operate profitable for several decades. The building was more industrial then commercial, as its basement housed a large boiler and steam engine, gases from the boiler vented through a towering iron stack which once rose up out of the building’s roof. Those boilers also necessitated the building’s fire-proof construction and its facade of brick and sandstone. Originally the building was only one and a half stories high with its facade fronted with just a pair of large windows and central entrance door. At some point after the steam laundry’s closure the building was given a makeover resulting in the addition of the second story, cornice, and a pair of upper floor windows (now large closed in).

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Also added during that renovation was the old steam laundry’s most impressive feature – the sandstone archway which frames its main entrance. The archway would help transition the structure from its more industrial beginnings to something a bit more commercial for its later years.

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Headed back to the opposite side of the street we find a streetscape far different in character – thanks to our time traveling photographer Tom Roberts. Though Tom’s shot is from nearly thirty years ago, much of the streetscape seen above is the same still today. No massive commercial blocks ever rose up here, instead only a line of small wood-framed structures would end up taking root. The two buildings on the far left are modern replacements, erected after yet another Hancock fire destroyed the corner’s original buildings. The first building of note of any historical significance would be the third one from the left – a building known through most of its history as the Payn News building.

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Today the Payn News sign still hands from its front facade, but the building hasn’t seen a newspaper or periodical in half a century. Joseph Payn would operate a newsstand out of this building for several decades, selling papers, periodicals from across the country. Local kids knew it better as the best place to get comic books and some penny candy. Before Payn’s arrival the petite building was home to a barbershop.

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Next door to the abandoned newsstand is this large commercial block that has recently received a rather impressive wood-fronted facelift. Though looking a bit of place in relation to the buildings surrounding it, this facade is actually a return to the building’s original look – right down to the pair of small balconies on the second floor.  Back then the old building housed a saloon run by William Flynn and a drug store operated by James Wilkinson. Later it would receive an unfortunate “modernization” destroying much that you see here.  It would then become a home to a popular local restaurant known as the Midway Gardens.

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Past the newly restored Midway Gardens building we find three more wood framed structures. The first (to the left) was yet another part of the Payn News conglomerate, this building housing his wholesale news agency. Before that it was home to a meat market. Meanwhile to the far right sits a petite building that once housed a photography studio and later a confectionery. In between the two stands one of the prettiest little buildings to grace the street – a colorful two-story building that was once home to a Chinese laundry.

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Upon closer inspection the old Chinese Laundry is a rather eclectic building – one bursting with a variety of wood details scattered across its face. That includes a trio of incredibly preserved glass insulators still strapped to its front facade.

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We finish up the north side of the block with another trio of buildings, a group that includes something old, something new, and something brick. The new is the one-story flower shop seen to the left, a building built to replace an earlier wood-framed building that once graced the spot. Next door is the old Meinardi Grocery, a store opened by John Meinardi in 1928. Before that the building was home to a saloon. Meinardi’s grocery would continue to operate out of this petite little building up until the 1970s.

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The last building on the block owes its existence to one of the region’s most prominent candy makers – Charles Gekas. Mr. Gekas built this two story brick building to replace his original shop, which had been destroyed in the great Hancock fire of 1869. This time Gekas made sure to build his new store out of more fire-proof materials, important due to the fact that Mr. Gekas made his own candy on site in a small candy factory found in the building’s basement. Mr. Gekas candy affection was apparantly shared by most of his family, as various Gekas’ confectionerys operated by various Gekas siblings could be found all across the region, including stores in Calumet, Lake Linden, and even Houghton.

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Moving on from the 200 block our attention turns to the elephant in the room – as in that massive wall of glass towering behind the old Gekas Building. That is the D&N Bank Building, a nine story opus to modernity that is as impressive as it is incredulous – a building obnoxiously out of place in a streetscape dominated by two story frame buildings and the occasional masonry commercial block.

To Be Continued…

Information for this series was partially obtained from the book “Images of America – Hancock” by John S. Haeussler – local Hancock historian extraordinaire,  fellow copper country enthusiast and good friend to CCE. 

 

 

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