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Montreal Company Location Historic District

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1895–1940, Albert D. Taylor. Roughly bounded by WI 77, Bessemer St., Minnesota Ave., and the mine
  • Clapboard miner's house

Montreal, a notable example of an industrial planned community, was a company town, owned and operated by the Montreal Mining Company. The wooded streets lined with modest clapboard and shingled houses represent an enlightened approach to employee housing developed in the first half of the twentieth century. Planned industrial communities had been part of the American landscape since New England’s mill owners built dormitories for workers in isolated mill towns. Like those mill owners, mining companies in the Lake Superior region had to provide housing because of the operation’s remote location.

The discovery of iron ore in the Gogebic Range stretching from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula into Wisconsin brought a mining boom to this region in the 1880s. The industry’s rapid development and the related development of Bessemer steel undergirded the increased industrialization of the United States. In 1885, Oglebay, Norton and Company of Cleveland (eventually the parent corporation of the Montreal Mining Company) opened a small pit in the Montreal area. Nine years later, the Montreal Mining Company formed, and by the 1920s, it had become the foremost producer in this range. Italians, in particular, but also Cornish, Swedish, Irish, Finnish, and Polish immigrants flocked here, chaotically constructing houses on land around the mine shaft leased from the company, creating the neighborhood now called “Old Location.” By the first decade of the twentieth century, however, the company decided that an orderly, even spacious residential community with detached houses would attract more desirable workers with families. Called the “Company Location,” it became a classic company town. Employees rented housing from the mining corporation, which built and owned the houses and thus exercised considerable control over the employees and their families.

Over the years, the Montreal Mining Company constructed several housing areas. In 1907, the company platted a gridded townsite north of its No. 4 shaft and erected twenty-seven clapboard houses. Clustered on Wisconsin Avenue between Saxon Road and Hamilton Street, the simple one-and-a-half-story, gable-front buildings are among the most common house types in America. Spindled posts support a hipped-roofed, balustraded porch across the first story. The company built twenty-four more of these houses between 1913 and 1917 on Wisconsin Avenue between Hamilton and Montreal streets and on Michigan Avenue between Saxon Road and Laurence Street. Between 1915 and 1917, seventeen similar but somewhat larger houses went up, lining much of Michigan Avenue between Hamilton and Montreal streets. These are two-story structures with jerkinhead roofs supported by exposed rafter tails. All have hipped-roof porches with Tuscan columns and simple balustrades.

The Joseph Calvi House (1912; 128 Saxon Road) on Bourne Hill is a foursquare house, with a steeply pitched, hipped roof, a large hipped dormer, a one-story hipped porch with concrete-block piers, and concrete-block walls cast to resemble quarry-faced stone. The Calvi family had emigrated from Italy long before the discovery of iron and retained three acres of private land within this company town. They operated a grocery store (c. 1895) next door. The Superintendent’s House, the General Superintendent’s House, and the Montreal Mining Company Office are at 29, 33, and 30 Wisconsin Avenue, respectively, and all were completed in 1914. They are located amid the workers’ housing but distinguished by their imposing size. Each is a two-story clapboard building with a steeply pitched hipped roof, classically detailed one-story porches, large central dormers, and an overall symmetry that suggests Colonial Revival.

By 1918, the need for housing to attract good workers intensified, as World War I reduced the number of men in the labor force. The corporation turned to the Aladdin Company of Bay City, Michigan, which marketed “Readi-Cut” houses for industrial towns, as well as for the general public. Founded in 1906, the Aladdin Company was the first American firm to sell mail-order kit houses on a large scale. With the kits using standardized measurements and a factory production system, all materials were precut to size, labeled, and keyed to a set of instructions for easy assembly on site. For Montreal, the Aladdin Company produced a design for fifty miners’ cottages, apparently based on “The Raymond” (called “The Leota” in the company’s industrial housing catalog), the company’s most modest Craftsman bungalow. These are concentrated on Michigan and Minnesota avenues between Bessemer and Hamilton streets. Wooden shingles clad the one-story, front-gabled bungalows, and most retain their balustraded stoops at the off-center entrances.

At the conclusion of World War I, ore production expanded rapidly, and the larger workforce needed more housing. The company hired planner and landscape architect Taylor of Cleveland, who, noting the disorganized appearance of “Old Location” and the monotony of “Company Location,” proposed a curvilinear street pattern mixing single-family houses with duplexes and apartments. His design clustered a school, a hospital, a chapel, and a company store. Landscaping, however, was Taylor’s key contribution. Trees, shrubs, vines, and flowers spruced up Montreal’s denuded cutover landscape. Little of the rest of his plan bore fruit, for increasing car ownership reduced the need for housing within walking distance to work. Nonetheless, the last spurt of construction shows his imprint. Between 1924 and 1926, the company built thirteen two-story houses and three duplexes in a small subdivision east of Montreal Street. Some of the houses are side-gabled and others front-gabled, to add the visual variety Taylor suggested. In the 1960s, the Montreal Mining Company ceased production. Since then, ski tourism has become the economic base, and the town caters to vacationers.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Marsha Weisiger et al.
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Citation

Marsha Weisiger et al., "Montreal Company Location Historic District", [Montreal, Wisconsin], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/WI-01-IR1.

Print Source

Buildings of Wisconsin

Buildings of Wisconsin, Marsha Weisiger and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017, 303-305.

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