When I was a child the building always looked massive and unique. What its inner workings were intrigued my mind. Farm trucks lined up at certain times of the year. My memory recalls their beds filled with burlap bags. One day my father took me inside. For a very short time I was allowed to marvel at the business. Massive wooden gears turned. Men seemed to be hustling everywhere moving bags. The unique smell, that I later learned to be of grain, filled my nostrils.
This event happened in the mid 1950’s. I had probably seven years of age or less. By time my teenage years hit the long line of trucks ceased being a part of that landscape. The building commenced a sad look. Newer construction of brick buildings made it look old-fashioned. Obviously the heydays were over and it’s future unknown.
Some people referred to it as the grainery. Others called it the beanery. Recently a .
Eyesore – one dictionary defines the word as something unpleasant to look at. There is the saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Rather meaning it is subjective. Eyesore can be the same. New does not mean good or pleasing design. Personally I find these newer building with flat sides of brick and glass that are completely devoid of characteristics such as modillions, egg and dart designs, dental work and other architectural features to be unpleasant to look at. Often the disturbance to the eye is made worse by ugly signs and windows that reflect back at you like empty space or blast questionable decoration in the name of advertising screaming at you to buy this or that.
The white building on the corner of Leroy Street and Grange Hall Road is indeed old. Unfortunately old does not make something unique or worth keeping. It has no famous designer name associate with it. I’m sure the design and construction was more for function than architectural style.
What the building does have is history. In its listing for the National Registry of Historic Places it has a significance of social history as well as industry, commerce and agriculture. It is a part of the story of Fenton. Its function helped make Fenton the city it is today.
What to do now? Possibly those who have owned it since the beginning of its decline have had more love for the building and its soul than they have had money. Actually what can be done may be limited by the building’s inclusion on the National Register. It has been suggested that the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) help this piece of history. Whether they do or do not depends partially on the DDA mission. Are they focused on business only or do they concern themselves with the heritage of Fenton as well. Some have expressed doubt to the latter with their use of the “” campaign. While others point to the and say they are. Much of the money is from taxpayers. So, shouldn’t the fate also be in their hands?
The Fenton Grain Elevator plays a part in the reason why a section of my life path included teaching period interiors at Henry Ford Museum and consulting on historic home renovations throughout our country. So you know where my feelings are. The building is not an eyesore, but rather history and heritage in need of some TLC. Based upon my experience, and what I have seen done with other such historic places, I believe the building has the potential to become a gem for Fenton. It is going to take more than a few people showing up with paint and paint brushes. There needs to be a plan with an objective that preserves what the building means to Fenton. It should not be considered an empty shell in which it is necessary to destroy the character of the inside to put in another restaurant, bar or store. The inside is as much of the character as the outside.
Once people know more about the Fenton Grain Elevator and the part it has played in the city’s history the more they will be inclined to want community resources used to contribute to its rebirth as a city landmark. I hope that someone researches this heritage piece. Perhaps it is possible to find someone who remembers it when it was vibrant with business. An interview with the current owners could help gleam more of what is needed. Then write up the history of the building and its significance to Fenton as well as insight into its potential. We can’t just ask the DDA and others to dump money into it. We need to show them why it is in the best interest of the community to do so.