Monday, January 20, 2014

A Piece of Michigan History on Your Street

by Bryan Whitledge

The Clarke Historical Library maintains a rich collection of the archives of one of the leading companies in the kit-house industry – the Aladdin Company of Bay City, Michigan. The kit home industry boomed in the early-to-mid twentieth century and the Aladdin Company was one of the major players with offices and mills in Bay City as well as Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ontario, and Oregon. Over 75,000 homes were purchased from the Aladdin Company during its 75 years in business and Aladdin Company houses can be found across North America and even in the United Kingdom.

Of the 350 cubic feet of records held in the Clarke, two of the most frequently consulted series are the catalogs and the sales records. Many of the catalogs, showing kits and furnishings that could have been purchase by prospective buyers, have been digitized and can be accessed via the Clarke website. The sales receipts are a more detailed record of the individual order for a home that was placed with the Aladdin Company. The Clarke holds receipts for most all of the sales handled through the Bay City office from 1914-81. Unfortunately, copies of the receipts for sales from the other Aladdin mills cannot be found in the Clarke, but it still leaves us with tens of thousands of sales receipts documenting the purchases of every model of home, from the Adams to the Yorktown

The Georgia - from the 1919 Aladdin catalog
Generally, sales records are used by researchers who are in the process of tracking down the history of their own Aladdin home. Other times, local historians and house enthusiasts contact the Clarke to find out how many Aladdin homes might be in their town. This type of research can be difficult because Aladdin usually shipped kits to railroad stations rather than specific lots, which means that there is no street address provided on the receipt. Additionally, the purchaser of the kit listed on the sales record might have been a developer and, therefore, one cannot match the first homeowner from county registers of deeds records with the name on the sales record.

A. C. Balden's home, Northville, Michigan
But occasionally, the hunt to find an Aladdin home in a given city is fruitful. Such was the case with order number 15368 - a Georgia #2 sold in 1919 to A. C. Balden of Northville, Michigan for $1,522.40. A researcher in Northville used the information from sales records in the Clarke’s holdings to find the Balden family's nearly-100-year-old home. The Clarke received a photo of the home and surprisingly, the advertising image from 1919 looks like the actual home today.

click on the image for an enlarged view
A little further digging into the historic Northville newspapers revealed some more information about A. C. Balden. He was a Northville businessman who owned both the Palace Meat Market and the Ideal Milking Machine Manufacturing Company. He was a charter member of the local Rotary club and an official in local government, sitting on the village council among other positions. Furthermore, he was one of the directors of the Northville State Savings Bank, which is noted on the Aladdin sales record as being the bank from which the $1,000 balance was drawn.

Each one of the thousands of sales records held by the Clarke has a similarly interesting story to tell. For the Library staff, who frequently consult the typewritten information on these yellow receipts, it is gratifying to see how the Aladdin records are connected to actual homes that are still in existence. And for the owners of Aladdin homes (or local historians), they can take pride in the fact that they own (or admire) genuine pieces of Michigan history in towns across North America.

images courtesy of Wendy Mutch, Northville District Library