Rebuilding the headquarters of the Salvation Army


Manistee County Historical Museum

By now it can be somewhat schmaltzy to say something like “…the community pitched in and everything worked out for the better” whenever it comes to something in

The Salvation Army (right) was located at 419 River Street for several decades. The above photo was taken in the early 1970s.

The Salvation Army (right) was located at 419 River Street for several decades. The above photo was taken in the early 1970s.

regards to citizens banding together for a common cause.

During the holiday season of 1937, a large fire not only ruined the home of the Salvation Army but along with it, the gifts that were to be handed out to hundreds of children for Christmas. As months went by, the interior of the Salvation Army was rebuilt and with many members of the community pitching in…everything worked out for the better.

By the late 1930s, the Salvation Army had moved into the building located at 419 River St. (part of the Haley Sisters Block) and it is there that they set up offices, offered church services and provided relief for needy families.

One of the community events that they also offered every year was a Christmas party for needy children. Work would essentially take place most of the year as wooden toys were manufactured by area volunteers so that by Christmas, children would be presented with a gift at the annual holiday gathering.

By mid-December of 1937 just about everything was in place to present all of the toys and candy to roughly 400 needy children in Manistee. However, on the night of December 17, fire engulfed the Salvation Army building, located at 419 River St., destroying much of the interior of the structure in the process. Details on the blaze were published in the Dec. 18, 1937 issue of the Manistee News Advocate:

“The blaze came just after the last of the toys and sacks of candy being prepared for a gala Yule party at Rotary Hall on Dec. 22 had been placed in the building. The candy was destroyed, many of the toys were burned, only a few were saved. In addition, the fire delivered a crushing blow at the Army’s efforts to procure its own building at a time when the goal was in sight after a long, arduous struggle.

“The fire started last night about 6 o’clock, the alarm being turned in at 6:08. The blaze apparently started near the rear of the building, on the first floor. A stove was located there and it is possible that an explosion of some sort in it caused the blaze. Captain and Mrs. William C. Davis, in their upstairs apartment, thought they heard a blast. Capt. Davis opened the door, planning to investigate and was met by a rolling cloud of smoke. The family ran to safety hastily.

“By the time the fire trucks arrived, the blaze had made rapid headway. Eventually it ate its way into the walls on the first floor, then upward through then upward through the walls to the roof, where it was extinguished after a long fight. The first floor rooms were gutted, heavy smoke and water damage was done to the rest of the building and the roof was virtually destroyed.

“Captain William Davis, in charge of the local organization, said that insurance on the building amounted to $1,800, which would not cover the damage. The Army had recently completed payment of a second mortgage of $550 on the building, and was paying monthly on a first mortgage of $535. A celebration was planned for the day when it would be able to retire this mortgage and take full ownership of the property.

“Firemen used 4,400 feet of hose in battling the blaze. When the charred walls were still smoldering, Capt. Davis and members of the WPA recreational staff who for months aided in repairing the toys for the party, made their way to the second and carried many of the articles out.

“For a time, it was feared the flames would spread to other buildings in the block, but the lack of wind aided preventive efforts. Smoke damage was done to the Sugar Bowl and the Economy Auto Supply Company buildings, but the fire did not work through their walls.”

With the interior of the building in ruins right before the big holiday party, less than 24 hours later, the Salvation Army (much to their surprise) began receiving donations that were to go toward the cost of purchasing new gifts for the children. A few days later, each one of the 515 children attending the annual Salvation Army Christmas party received candy and a toy as well as a visit from Santa Claus.

A short time later, the Salvation Army decided to begin a campaign fund in order to rebuild their headquarters at 419 River St. By mid-March the organization was past the $1,000 mark with money donated by several local industries, as well as the Kiwanis Club and area residents. While it was hoped that more money would come in over the next several weeks, it was assured that the amount raised would be sufficient to fix up the building.

By late March, the reconstruction of the Salvation Army had been completed and a 4 p.m. dedication service on April 5 was scheduled. Plans for the service were described in an April 2 article published in the Manistee News Advocate:

“Mayor Harold L. Hill will extend the greetings of the city administration; Rev. C.E. Holmer will represent the ministerial association; Postmaster Edward J. Talbot will speak for the American Legion; Robert C. VanAntwerp will represent the building finance committee of which he was chairman. The dedicatory address will be delivered by Commissioner William A. McIntyre of Chicago. Music will be furnished by the Divisional Ensemble of Grand Rapids.

“With the completion of the construction work which has been underway for the past three months, the Salvation Army will dedicate one of the finest structures of its kind in Western Michigan, according to Brigadier Hubert Pugmire, the divisional commander of Western Michigan, under whose immediate direction the building program has been carried to a successful conclusion.

‘The building will be equipped with facilities for housing and feeding of transients which becomes a heavy responsibility for the local branch of the Army during the summer season, approximately 200 persons being cared for last year. While not entirely complete, there is an up-to-date work shop equipped with jigsaws, lathes and power saws, in which the Army, in conjunction with will operate a center for the rehabilitation of old toys to be distributed during the Christmas season.

“A well lighted chapel, artistic in design, will provide facilities in which to carry on the religious character building activities which form a major and important part of the Army’s general service program.

“An apartment on the second floor will provide quarters for administration.

“Firms who helped in replacing the contents by direct gifs of furniture were the Arcadia Furniture Co., the Manistee Manufacturing Co., the Bradford Furniture Co. and the Jamestown Table Co.”

It was also noted in the same article that the National Youth Administration played an integral role in getting the Salvation Army rebuilt:

“A major contribution of the successful completion of the Salvation Army building program launched immediately following the fire has been the fine work rendered by the local personnel of the National Youth Administration under the direction of Harry Armstrong. Without their help all of which came as a contribution to a worthwhile community project, the cost of reconstruction would have been out of the reach of the building committee.

“Volunteering their services, while the building was still burning, this splendid group under the leadership of skilled masons and carpenters, worked through the bitter weather of January to clear away the ruins so that reconstruction could be launched, and they have remained on the job helping in every phase of its progress during the past three months. Through the work many of them have gained invaluable experience in construction work and the building trades. Lathing, plastering, brick laying, floor repairing and painting have all engaged their time during the passing weeks.”

Finally on April 5, 1938, the newly rebuilt Salvation Army was dedicated with almost 200 persons in attendance. The Salvation Army continued to operate a portion of its services out of 419 River St. for roughly the next 40 years until it became fully housed in the former Lyric Theatre building located at 415 River St.



Posted by Mark Fedder

Mark Fedder is the executive director of the Manistee County Historical Musuem. He can be reached at (231) 723-5531

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