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Attracted by the vast stands of timber, the many rivers that could be harnessed to power sawmills, and the fine gill-net fishing available in Thunder Bay, settlers arrived here in the 1830s. By 1858 the lumber industry was underway, and it continued to dominate Alpena's economy until surpassed by the cement industry in the early twentieth century. Logging peaked in the 1880s, when Alpena's population reached 11,000. The Huron Portland Cement Company began in 1907 as an expansion of a 1903 Thunder Bay limestone quarry operation of the Michigan Alkali Company of Wyandotte. The plant at Alpena became one of the world's largest cement-producing facilities in the twentieth century. In a related industry, Herman Besser and his son Jesse invented and manufactured a machine for making concrete blocks. The Bessers' philanthropic activities deeply affected Alpena in the form of donated and purchased lands for various schools and churches, and the creation of the Besser Foundation and the Jesse Besser Museum (1964; 491 Johnson Street). Always the gifts carried the stipulation that all buildings erected on the donated land or with donated funds be constructed of concrete block. When title to land held by Besser was acquired by private individuals or corporations, it, too, came with a covenant that improvements were to be made in concrete. Thus, the nineteenth-century architecture of Alpena is limestone and wooden Queen Anne, and the twentieth-century architecture is gray concrete.

Writing Credits

Kathryn Bishop Eckert

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