Fairbanks Flats is the state’s only known example of company housing built specifically for African American industrial workers during World War I. Nearly half a million African Americans migrated from the rural South to northern cities, attracted by the prospects of relatively high-paying jobs in wartime industries. One of those industries was Fairbanks-Morse, a manufacturer of marine engines, which recruited hundreds of African Americans to work in its Beloit plant. To house them, the company built Fairbanks Flats at a distance from the factory, across the Rock River. The four two-story buildings, constructed of concrete block, contained a total of twenty-four apartments. Each rectangular building was utilitarian, with flat roofs, uniform window sizes, and paired entrances sheltered by shed roofs. It was simple housing, but Fairbanks-Morse also recruited J. D. Stevenson from Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute to start a chapter of the Young Men’s Christian Association for blacks. From these beginnings arose the nucleus of an African American community that shaped Beloit’s social and housing patterns in the decades ahead.
And yet Fairbanks Flats contrasted sharply with the housing the company built for its white workers on the east side of the river, closer to the plant. Eclipse Park, which housed many of these white workers, consisted of single-family cottages, arranged in a suburban-type neighborhood. The contrast between Eclipse Park and Fairbanks Flats illustrates the racial attitudes and segregation patterns that were prevalent throughout northern cities during this time. In 2007, Gorman and Company rehabilitated Fairbanks Flats to restore affordable housing for working-class and disabled residents.