Flint Journal presents:
of century a time of vast changes for Flint, Genesee County
steamboats cruised Lake Fenton at the dawn of the 20th century,
and smaller steamers chugged up the Flint River for picnic excursions.
folks pedaled about on bicycles, marveling at the speed and convenience
of personal not public transportation.
in 1900 was a typical slice of small-town America, with the exception
of Flint, which had just over 13,000 souls.
/ Sloan Museum Archives
Nash, daughter of Charles Nash, president at Buick, was photographed
around 1910 in a Buick Model 10. The child is William Rowen.
seems small by modern standards, Flint boasted a bustling carriage
and wagon industry the foundation for big things to come.
Much of the
county was devoted to agriculture, with railroads threading together
such towns as Flushing, Gaines and Fenton, plus settlements like
Duffield and Rogersville.
delivery, dairy farms had to be near the city or within a practical
wagon ride from a rail station. Rail stations were close together
because of the wagons short range, and a train that stopped
at every one was called a milk run.
trips, transportation was mainly a horse-and-buggy affair in the
centurys first decade a tumultuous span that shaped
the nine decades that followed.
the century as the nations leading producer of carriages and
other horse-drawn vehicles. Less than a decade later, the city was
home to General Motors, the nations top-selling automaker.
City' was born of carriages
was the Vehicle City before the automobile. Just before
the turn of the century, iron arches with lights were put
up across S. Saginaw Street downtown. In 1905, two arches
were added with a plaque proclaiming Flint as the "Vehicle
City" a title earned by the city's carriage
and wagon industry. At Christmas, white lights spanning
the arches were replaced with red and green bulbs, and the
arches were strung with garlands of holiday greens. Hasselbring's
flower shop supplied the evergreen cuttings from a swamp
in Tyrone Hills, with red berries from the nearby woods
attached to simulate holly.
unbelievable how fast it was, said political analyst Bill
Ballenger, a Flint native, reflecting on the change that overtook
population swelled 194 percent from 1900 to 1910, and the die was
cast for the city to become an industrial powerhouse and more:
for immigrants from Europe and workers from the rural South.
of wealth that funded educational, social and cultural institutions.
site of management and labor strife that impacted the nation in
industrial developments set the stage for everything that followed
here, and much of it can be traced to a handful of men William
C. Billy Durant, J. Dallas Dort, James H. Whiting and
were really visionaries, said Ballenger, who has had a long
career in state government and now edits a Lansing-based political
William Ballenger, was on hand for some of the biggest events in
Flints development. He came here in 1888 to be a bookkeeper
at the Flint Wagon Works and rose to become secretary-treasurer
of the company. He took the same job at Buick when it was organized
here, then was treasurer at Chevrolet from 1911 to 1926.
was not an engineer, not an inventor. ... He was literally the number-cruncher,
the guy who kept the books, Ballenger said.
here in the first decade of the century, and Durant persuaded Albert
Champion to form a new spark plug company here that became AC Spark
involved in the carriage industry, used his success with Buick to
finance the creation of GM in 1908. For a time, GMs headquarters
was in Durants office at Buick.
Charles Stewart Mott to bring the Weston-Mott Co., an axle-making
firm, here in 1907. Mott later used the millions he made from GM
stock to create the Mott Foundation.
Vehicle Workers Mutual Benefit Association was formed in 1901, and
it grew to become the Industrial Mutual Association, which still
provides recreation programs for area residents.
The auto did
not immediately run the horse-and-buggy off the road. In fact, the
citys carriage industry peaked after the dawn of the automobile
although the end was soon inevitable.
ventures got under way here between 1900 and 1910. By the end of
the decade, one of them the Buick Motor Co. was the
a building boom, with the sudden development of a new industrial
section north of town, including the Buick and Weston-Mott factories
and buildings for the Armstrong Manufacturing Co., Champion Ignition
Co. (AC Spark Plug), Flint Axle Works, Imperial Wheel Co., Michigan
Motor Castings and W.F. Stewart Body Co.
success drew thousands of people to Flint looking for work. So many
came that there was not enough housing for them, and workers lived
for a time in shacks and tents near the factories.
couldnt hire people fast enough and housing couldnt
keep up with them, said Richard Scharchburg, professor of
industrial history at Kettering University. In some of the
rooming houses, the beds were let out in shifts.
did come. New residential plats were added at the citys boundaries
in all directions.
/ Sloan Museum Archives
Maccabee (left) and City of Fenton were two of the steamboats
that carried excursion passengers on Lake Fenton in the late
19th and early 20th century. Others were the City of Flint,
Idlewild and North Star.
Charles T. Maines, built more than 650 houses in the city by 1910
including 200 in that year alone.
The boom in
housing occurred in all levels from the little village of
tar-paper shacks that grew up around the new Buick factory to fine
homes and some not so fine.
curator of collections at the Sloan Museum, said many residents
sold the rear part of their lots, or built small rental homes there.
The resulting houses were often often cheap, substandard homes of
makeshift construction, he said.
theyve all disappeared now, he said either burned,
torn down or collapsed.
many of the homes built in the first decade of the century were
fill-in homes, built in vacant lots in existing neighborhoods.
By that time, he said, most new homes were built with electric lights
and had full bathrooms and maybe a gas stove. Most homes were heated
early in the century were more plain than the ornate Queen Anne-style
homes going out of style about that time.
lots were too small to accommodate a carriage house, but a city
resident didnt need to own a horse.
had numerous stables around the city where you could rent a horse
and carriage, White said.
saw a boom in the construction of public buildings.
The new Carnegie
Library was dedicated during the citys Golden Jubilee
its 50th anniversary in 1905, and part of the celebration
included laying the cornerstone for a new post office.
got a new county courthouse, fire department headquarters/central
station, city hall and police station that decade. None of those
public buildings has survived.
In a time
before movie theaters and long before television, people turned
to teas, card parties and other home entertainment to amuse themselves.
were busy with traveling troupes of live entertainers, who performed
plays, vaudeville shows and variety acts.
new symphony orchestra was greeted by a packed house on Jan. 8,
1901, at Stones opera house.
In June 1909,
offerings at the Airdome theater included The Chamberlains
Marvels with the Lasso; Holman The Happy Frog, Flexible
Equilibriat; a cameragraph on The Test of Friendship;
and Bedini & Sonia, a fascinating Russian novelty introducing
their acrobatic dogs.
arrived during the decade, and many of the old live theaters quickly
adapted to handle both forms of entertainment.
time was limited for factory workers, who toiled through 10-hour
workdays Monday through Friday, with reduced hours sometimes on
also put a damper on spirits. Under Michigans option law,
Genesee County voters put saloons out of business on May 1, 1909
though drugstores with a permit could still sell liquor.
the interurbans could be a source of entertainment, even if the
travelers did not have a destination; young people would ride the
trolleys just to ride.
as the streetcars and interurbans were when they arrived in 1901,
joining with the automobile to replace the horse and buggy, they
eventually fell to competition from cars. The last interurban came
to Flint in 1931, and the last local streetcar ran in 1936.