Harbor Beach Historical Society, Harbor Beach, Michigan

Harbor Beach Historical Society

Places of Interest

Harbor Beach Community House

In a letter dated November 5, 1917, George J. Jenks and Anna Belle Jenks Scranton deeded Lot 34 of the Salt reserve of the City of Harbor Beach to the people for Community House purposes. By early 1918, the citizens of Harbor Beach raised $25,000 for the purpose of erecting and fitting out city offices in connection with the auditorium. This money enabled the Harbor Beach Community House Corporation to move forward, and on November 11, 1918, the Board appointed George J. Jenks and James I. Bennett to oversee the construction of the building.

Actual construction of the building didn’t begin June 1919. The first section of the building used was the theater and auditorium. On November 1, 1920, the D. W. Griffith, six-reel silent movie, “The Love Flower”, and the two-reel Harold Lloyd comedy played to a standing room only crowd. On February 4, 1921, an informal opening and housewarming took place, with the final dedication and opening celebrated on September 21, 1921.

During the next four years, the Community House became a community center. The theater and auditorium, with a seating capacity of 500, was in constant use. The American Legion, Woman’s Club, Girl Scout and Boy Scout rooms, the Community and School Library, city offices, and Council Room were centers of activity.

Then, on March 17, 1926, tragedy struck when fire destroyed one-half of the Community House. Smoke and water damaged the rest of the building. The community immediately made plans to rebuild the Community House, with rebuilding almost complete by August of 1927.

The new Harbor Beach Community House was a monument to community spirit. The theater, with a seating capacity of 681 was the pride of the Thumb, matched by no other facility in the area. The community used the new gymnasium, with seating for 500 spectators, as an arena for athletic events and as a massive banquet hall with full kitchen facilities. The library, with about 3000 volumes, was one of the primary enrichment centers of the area. The new city offices became a hub of governmental activity.

The people of Harbor Beach could look at their new Community House with pride. The building was a focal point for the community and housed numerous activities. Theater attendance peaked with as many as 10,000 people going to the movies in a single month.

The 1950’s brought change to the community, and as interests changed, so did their utilization of the Community House and theater. In April 1959, city offices relocated to the newly built City Hall. Construction of the new high school addition, including gym facilities, refocused the location of many community activities.

By the early 1970’s, the future of the Community House looked bleak. The Community House Council had the task of reviewing operations, and making the building a viable part of the community.

July 1, 1994, the Harbor Beach area district library became an independent governmental entity. The District Library Board now manages the operation of the Community House and Library.

Some of the recent projects include new motion picture projectors, new curtains for the stage, a new roof, refurbishing of the theater lobby, repairs to the exterior brickwork, repainting the interior of the building, refurbishing or replacing floors, windows, and doors, refurbishing of the theater seats, and remodeling for handicap accessibility.

Community participation in activities held at the Community house is, once again, strong and healthy. All of the local schools, as well as individual community groups, utilize the facilities for different activities. Christmas is an especially busy time, with Christmas pageants and concerts presented by various school groups. Spring is hectic with school awards presentations, spring concerts, and the annual High School musical production.

Junior high and peewee basketball teams use the gym for practice and games, and various groups and individuals use the facility for pick-up games and tournaments. The gym sponsors High School and Junior High dances periodically. It is open every morning for those people who want to walk indoors during the winter months.

The Common Room is the site for the Library’s preschool Story Hour, as well as classes in Tae Kwon Do and line dancing. The 4-H Club, Girl Scouts, some Bible Study groups, and School Play participants are also active users of the Common Room and the Woman’s Club Room. The Woman’s Club Room is still home to the Woman’s Club and used by the Garden Club, 4-H Club, and other groups. The various Boy Scout dens in the community still regularly use the Boy Scout room.

The Harbor Beach Community Theater, with a seating capacity of over 600, shows recent movie releases as well as being the site for concerts, live stage productions, and other community projects.

 

 

 

 


Community House Mural

A priority of the Community House Council was to recreate a mural, which had been located in the middle arch on the west side of the building. Paul Honore completed the original mural in 1930, which depicted various Community House activities such as athletics, dramas, and community dinners.

The Council hired Dave Wiley to reproduce the mural. Before beginning work on the actual mural, Mr. Wiley created a three-dimension model depicting some of Harbor Beach’s most prominent personalities, as well as special events and highlights. James Lincoln verified the accuracy of the text.

Over a span of three years, Mr. Wiley painstakingly recreated his mural on the west wall of the Community House, utilizing the arches of the building as framing of his painting. Dedication ceremonies for the mural took place on August 2, 1992.

The mural provides an air of distinction to the building and enhances the downtown shopping district.

 

Membership of the Hallowed Hall

 

  George J. Jenks (1869-1960). Planned and promoted the Community House, which displays the mural. Founded the Huron Milling Company that manufactured starch products for 76 years. Founded the Harbor Beach Resort Association in 1896.
  Jeremiah Jenks (1810-1893). From 1875 to 1965, either he or his descendants owned businesses that employed 50 to 75 percent of the labor force of Harbor Beach. Businesses included a salt well, a general store, a sawmill, a flourmill, and a factory producing starch, gluten, flour paste, and corn oil. In 1926, his descendants donated the lot and gave financial assistance to build the Community House.
   

Frank Murphy (1890-1949). Few, if any in the History of Michigan have excelled his record of public service. As mayor of Detroit (1930-1933), he established soup kitchens to feed thousands of staving people during the Great Depression. As Governor General of the Philippine Islands (1933-1936), he advanced their independence and won the hearts of the citizens who would soon be fighting and dying with American soldiers in Bataan. As governor of Michigan (1936-1938), he brought civil service to Michigan and settled the Great Sitdown Strikes without violence. As U.S. Attorney General (1939-1940), he established an unequaled record in breaking up corrupt political machines. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice (1940-1949), in a strong minority opinion he held that no person or race could be treated as disloyal because of race. He declared the removal of American citizens of Japanese decent from the West Coast after Pearl Harbor to be unconstitutional. Time has vindicated his unpopular decisions. This overseas World War I veteran was strong enough to be gentle. His dedication to public service was total. He was born a stone throw from the community house building site and rests in Rock Falls Cemetery south of Harbor Beach.

  John Hopson (1821-1898). John Hopson landed at Allen’s Creek on June 6, 1847. He was the person first to travel with a yoke of oxen and a wagon on the trail through the dense woods to the site that later became Harbor Beach. In 1850, he built the first steam powered sawmill in Huron County near Allen’s Creek. His employees burned it because he refused to allow intoxicating liquors on the premises. He later built a mill at Forest Bay in Rubicon Township, which is north of Harbor Beach. The fire of 1871 destroyed this mill. His descendants still own part of the Hopson farm in Rubicon Township.
  George W. Jenks (1838-1898). First Lieutenant, civil war, Founded J. Jenks and Co. flour, salt, and mercantile business. He served as distributing agent for relief of those who suffered from the fires of 1871 and 1881.
  James H. Lincoln (1916-????). Judge, Author, Historian, and Athlete born and raised on the centennial farm in Sand Beach Township. Varsity wrestler and football player at U of M. Probate judge for Wayne County, MI. One of two people in Michigan who have court houses named after them -- Specifically the “James H. Lincoln Hall of Juvenile Justice” in Detroit.

Judge Lincoln has authored books and articles, including a book he co-authored with James L. Donahue, “Fiery Trial”. “”Fiery Trial” records the history of the Great Fire of 1881.

  Edwin W. Klump (1886-1958). A leading civic leader and businessman, was the founder of Klump Drug Store in 1911, City Commissioner, Mayor, Postmaster, President of the Board of Education, and Michigan State Senator.
  Dr. Pierre O. Wagener (1851-1921). A graduate of Bonne in France. For forty years no night was too dark, no road too rough, no blizzard too severe, and no person too poor but that Dr. Wagner would call with his horse and buggy to attend the sick and dying.

 

  C. W. Armitage (1867-1952). A graduate from the University of Michigan in 1892, practiced medicine in the thumb area for 50 years. Moved to Harbor Beach in 1910. Was the President of the Rotary Club, the State Bank of Harbor Beach, and was active in many community affairs.
  Hiram Whitcomb (1807-1905). Operated a saw mill at Allen’s Creek (Rock Falls) from 1845 to 1855. When the small settlement was isolated by ice and snow, the Whitcomb family risked starvation by giving much of their food supply to their neighbors. Mr. Whitcomb was the chief leader and employer of this early settlement. He rests in Rock Falls cemetery on land he once owned.
  Gertrude Scott Eisengruber (1901-1982). Gertrude graduated from Harbor Beach in 1919, and then taught at East Huron for two years. After attending Michigan State Normal College, Ypsilanti for 2 years and majoring in Public School Music and Art, she taught 2 years in Sparta, Michigan, 3 years in Marlette, and the next 30 years in Harbor Beach.
  Lt. Col. Bruce G. Johnson (1937-????). Missing in action in Vietnam, June 10, 1965. He is remembered as an athlete, soldier, and patriot. His portrait servers as a reminder of the tribute of all those killed or missing in action.
  Darius Mihlethaler (1870-1947). Founder of the Mihlethaler Store, this leading merchant and civil leader used his unfailing efforts in securing a paved highway for U.S. 25 and numerous civic projects for a span of over one-half century.

 

  Jeremiah Ludington Jr. (1826-1896). Ludington and his wife, the former Maria Trescott (1834-1921) arrived at the settlement of Allen’s Creek, late called Rock Falls, on April 13, 1850. Maria was the first white woman to set foot in Sand Beach (later Harbor Beach) and their son Almond was the first white child to be born here. Jeremiah, like his descendants was very successful. In 1869, he cut over 400,000 foot of lumber.

The Harbor Beach Community Center, by Albert L. Cook, Superintendent of Schools, Harbor Beach, MI.

The Community House Gazette, Vol. 1 - 1992.

Harbor Beach, Yesterday and Today, Compiled by the Harbor Beach Woman’s Club. First Printing 1976, Revised Edition 1996.

Return to Home Page

1