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Memories and Thoughts on the Fenton Grain Elevator

My memories and thoughts on the Fenton Grain Elevator

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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Graham Dawson June 18, 2012 at 12:49 PM
Yes I remember the trucks, the bags and the smell. My grandfather and I bought chicken seed there. I remember stopping in to the old Michigan Bean Company on the way home from school before Easter and looking at the baby chickens about to find their demise in a dual with a cat on someone's floor or forgotten in a pocket. I remember walking past it on my way doing an errand to pay the Consumers Power bill in their office with Reddy Kilowatt in the window at the strip of stores behind the Fenton Hotel, kitty corner from the ice cream shop. But yes, that building is part of the past of people who remember the past. But does Fenton have a real past other than one of "urban renewal" greed and deceit that those who remember would just as soon others forget? I hope it does not get torn down with the rest of Fenton's history. But the Studebaker Trucks and International Harvester Tractors are not coming back.
Dr. Ron June 18, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Since it is one of the first things visitors see when they arrive downtown, it would be nice for the DDA to help the owners spruce up the place. With that said, why not organize something to get the community involved with its clean up? A dozen or two volunteers on a weekend could paint the old building and clean up the grounds.
Jason Alexander (Editor) June 18, 2012 at 01:59 PM
This building is privately owned.
Dr. Ron June 18, 2012 at 02:15 PM
I am aware. You would think the owners would welcome working with local volunteers to bring some life back into the building. The community and the owners would both benefit.
michael henk June 18, 2012 at 02:33 PM
My wife & I both commented this weekend that we would love to have a tour of the building - see the beams, construction and old equipment if it still exists. Perhaps the owners could arrange for a weekend where there would be tours of the building - to raise funds to assist in the restoration. I know I'd pay a reasonable amount to see the structure and history of the interior. Maybe if a certain amount was raised, the DDA could match the funds and make the restoration fund more impactful. It is in the best interest of the City of Fenton to include this historical building in any plan to improve the vision of future Fenton. Has anyone from the Fenton DDA ever gone to Romeo/Brighton/Rochester, seen how they manage their historical interests and spoken with their DDA or similar to find how they are so successful in making history a part of their present and future plans?
Joe Kershaw June 18, 2012 at 02:35 PM
Graham - thank you for reading and jogging my memory. I had forgotten about Reddy Kilowatt. Then between the Grainry and electrical store (where they use to give you free light bulbs) was an ice cream shop located at the now non-existent island.
Laura Jones June 18, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Very nice article...but why stop at the Grainery? The entire area is historical...the Fenton Hotel, the old "Hagerman's Dairy/Restaurant" Building (another nice story there!)..Consumer's Building? It was historically know as the "Rail District." Going way back, there was even a horse & buggy service from the Hotel to N. Long Lake Rd.. The inclusion of historical refernces along with help to improve the area/buildings could possibly create another "Dibbleville" area. There are many possibilites for the entire historical area. Possibly starting with the dead bushes surrounding the city parking lot adjacent to the Hotel.?
Dr. Ron June 18, 2012 at 04:13 PM
That's my biggest issue with these historical buildings; the overgrown garbage bushes against the buildings or the parking lots looks horrible.
Naomi Bigelow June 18, 2012 at 11:42 PM
As a 15 y/o, my folks gave me my first horse; the deal was that they would get the horse and put up a barn for her but that I would purchase her feed. I pastured her in the back yard (a field) and supplemented her winter hay with a grain-mix 'treat' that the folks at the elevator ran as a special batch. They were so nice to a skinny, borderline poor kid. (I earned money for horse feed by babysitting.) They kindly ground up a 50-pound batch of oats, a bit of corn, and a touch of molasses, and never made fun of my microscopic mill run. Still have a fond spot for the grain elevator; it was also my mother's first (and only) employer. She, Madeline Cooley Bigelow, was hired out of high school in the 1930s at $5 a week and was thrilled to land such a good job in town!
Joe Kershaw June 20, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting. Naomi and Graham - I enjoyed hearing your memories. Laura - you are correct. It seems a little off that the DDA would spend thousands of dollars on signs and advertising campaigns that constantly draw criticism from residents and not do something as simple as clearing tacky dead bushes. I noticed on my recent visit that there seems to be much more emphasis by the DDA on one side of the tracks and not the other. Michael - If you and your wife get into the Grainry, be sure to take photos and share your experience with readers. But I hope that someone (difficult for me as I am in Bogota) interviews the owners of the places in that area and gets their opinions about things.
EclecticCitizen October 18, 2012 at 10:31 PM
You talk about the "tacky dead bushes" around the Elevator in one breath, yet in another you think chicken farming in the city of Fenton is acceptable for a city. What exactly do you want, Mr. Kershaw, a city that is well kept and manicured, or a city that resembles a township? You can't have both. If you view Fenton as a city that resembles a township, then chickens and dead bushes are acceptable. But if you want a city that looks like a city, then no chickens and no dead bushes.

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