Since the 19th century, the buildings along South LeRoy Street have contributed to the charming, quaint allure of downtown Fenton. These historic landmarks, nestled among bookstores, galleries, yoga studios and other local businesses, have played significant roles in the growth of the city and continue to hold potential for its future.
“The buildings in downtown Fenton are a testament to our community’s proud history,” said Donna Seger, president of the Fenton Historical Society. “Some have been part of the city’s landscape for as far back as 150 years."
Seeger said although part of Dibbleville (Fenton’s original downtown) still stand, many of the older structures were torn down during the 1970s as part of an urban renewal initiative. However, she said she feels fortunate to have such treasures as the , , old fire hall, and which officials are continuing to maintain and renovate.
Thanks to Seger and the other members of the Fenton Historical Society, the histories of these cherished buildings are being preserved in archives at the A.J. Phillips Fenton Museum. Seger’s husband, Ken, is curator of the museum. For decades, the Segers have been known around town as the “go-to people” for information about the people, places and events that have transformed Fenton into the city it is today.
United Methodist Church (119 South LeRoy)
With its award-winning Gothic architecture, the United Methodist Church is known as one of the most beautiful churches of its era. The original structure was built in 1852 and a new sanctuary was added in 1869.
On Mother’s Day (May 12) of 1929, the church caught fire. The blaze was so enormous that the Flint Fire Department was called in to help. The congregation spent the next few years raising the money to reconstruct their place of worship. In 1930, the cornerstone for the present building was put in place. Since then, the church installed a pipe organ in 1977 and underwent a $1.5 million renovation in 1996.
Fenton Community & Cultural Center (150 South LeRoy)
Across from the United Methodist Church is the Fenton Community & Cultural Center. The building was dedicated on October 3, 1937, as a “civic gift” by local philanthropists Mary (Horton) and Horace Rackham, who made millions as a stockholder in the auto industry.
The building’s architects were Gottlieb Eliel Saarinen, a world-renowned Finnish-American architect who was born in Rantasalmi, Finland, and his son, Eero. Saarinen pioneered the Arts and Crafts movement in Finland and was a leading proponent of the Art Deco and the modernist currents design movement. His other projects include the Finnish pavilion for the Paris Exposition of 1900, Helsinki railway stations, the Finnish National Museum and Cranbrook among others. Eero designed the TWA Terminal New York, Austere CBS Building New York and the prize-winning Jefferson National Expansion Memorial/Gateway Arch.
Consistent with the Saarinens’ approach to design, the Fenton Community & Cultural Center is known for its sleek, geometric architecture and continues to be used for the Rackhams’ intended purpose—a gathering space for the promotion of leadership, educational advancement, social enjoyment and civic improvement.
“Old” Fire Hall (201 South LeRoy)
Fenton’s first fire hall was built in 1875 and stood on the site of the Fenton Community & Cultural Center. As fire trucks began to replace horses, wagons and steamers, the building no longer provided enough space for equipment. The fire hall was razed in the 1930s to make room for the Community & Cultural Center. In 1938, a second fire hall, currently known as the “old fire hall,” was opened.
By 2002, the fire department once again outgrew its building. A new hall was built on Caroline Street leaving the “old” fire hall vacant for the past nine years. Currently, plans are underway for the to transform the fire hall into a restaurant/taproom expected to open in July 2012.
A.J. Phillips Fenton Museum (310 S. Leroy)
The A.J. Phillips Fenton Museum building dates back to 1900 when it was built as a private office for local entrepreneur, A.J. Phillips, who owned and operated his nearby 12-acre factory that once stood where the post office is currently located. Phillips’ factory manufactured lawn swings, ironing boards, ladders, snow shovels and screens that were used in the White House windows.
When Phillips died in 1904, the building was donated to the city and was used as a library from 1906 until 1987. When the library moved to its new location, the building became the A.J. Phillips Fenton Museum. The building still features Queen Anne architecture and the Victorian room still has some the original items contained in it, including Phillips’ desk.
First Presbyterian Church (503 South LeRoy)
The present sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church was dedicated in 1863 after its original location on the corner of Adelaide and Rockwell burned down in 1861. The church is known for its 16 large stained glass windows, most likely created by the Detroit Stained Glass Window Company.
This spring, project to add more space for fellowship and youth activities. Plans include a new fellowship hall, narthex, kitchen, offices and school rooms. The last renovation to the building was in 1962 to expand the church’s school facilities.
Be sure to log on Thursday morning to read about the future of downtown Fenton.