Unsightly building, now demolished, had historic roots
You may have thought it was just an old garage. Most people did.
What many did not know, however, is that the run-down building that used to stand at the southwest corner of Duncan and Macomb Streets was once a part of a large group of businesses owned by local resident Allen Schaffer, who also owned Schaffer Lumber locations in Manchester, Jackson, and Ann Arbor, and the Union Construction Company.
In 2015, Sharon Curtis of the Manchester Area Historical Society interviewed a number of local history icons, including Joe Fitzgerald, for a story that appeared in the 2016 MAHS calendar. Fitzgerald, who passed away in May 2017, told in his account that he began working for Schaffer in this building, beginning the company then known as “Manchester Ready Mix Co.” in March of 1954, and ran it until the business closed in 1968. He then continued to work at the Union Construction site at 505 Territorial Street, which had started out as just an airplane hangar and a trailer. Under Joe’s tenure the company expanded to the current brick office building, and continued to grow until the 1980s.
Fitzgerald’s story, as published in the 2016 calendar: “When I got out (of the service) in 1954, I went to work for Allen Schaffer who owned Schaffer Lumber Company (where the township offices are now), a Ready-Mix plant across the street, and Union Construction Company. He had about 25 guys working for him here, all local people. Allen built Schaffer Court, which was the first subdivision in town. He wanted me in the first house that was built here … so he gave me a huge bonus for a down payment.
“We also built that office building at the end of Schaffer Court, and he had an airstrip behind it.
“The (Ready Mix) building is still there on the corner of Duncan and Macomb. The cement came to us in big semis from Cement City, but when they started building I-94, there was a shortage and we had to buy bags which came in on the railroad. It would take a couple of days to unload all those bags, and we’d hire high school kids to do that. We helped build the Jiffy Mix towers in Chelsea, taking turns with two other companies, working 24 hours a day. They eventually closed the Ready-Mix plant because it got too competitive and everything was upgrading. That’s when I started working with Union Construction.”
Allen Schaffer had an intense interest in keeping local men–including young men–gainfully employed. In the summer, high school aged boys would unload cement and gravel from railroad cars. Pat also remembers that Joe would have a few younger “trainees,” including Jeff Schaffer, Jack Creech, Barry Grossman, and Jim Schook, who were too young to work, “but he allowed them to pull the levers that ran the elevators.”
Schaffer also built the original Riverbend subdivision on the north end of the village. He died in 1989, having left a lasting imprint on the Manchester community.
Mary Frances Fielder, who grew up in the house just across what is now Duncan Street, at 124 S. Macomb, remembers Manchester Ready Mix as “quite an operation.”
“It looked altogether different than it does today,”she said. “It was so close to our house; the plant was very noisy at times. There was also a gas pump out front and I remember seeing Doug Schaffer pump gas there for his convertible when we were in high school. But when the Ready Mix closed down, my dad, Clarence Fielder, bought the building right away so it wouldn’t be used for a business again. He landscaped the property and the kids and grandchildren used to play ball over there.”
“My brother Craig ran his painting business out of there for many years,” she added. “They called it their ‘union hall’ and friends would stop in and visit on Friday nights. There’s a lot of mixed feelings in our family about seeing it torn down. We had a lot of memories there.”
The pole building remained in the Fielder family until the house and accompanying property were sold in 2005. The strip that had been the Ready Mix Company, and later the Fielder “union hall,” was sold to Wallace & Wallace, the partnership that also owns the adjoining Manchester Market. More recently, after inquiries were made by the Manchester Township Fire Department to use the building for storage, the Wallace partnership made a generous donation of that portion of the parcel to the township.
Laurie Carey, the current Manchester Township treasurer, acknowledged that the building was used for storage for several years, but had become run down on the exterior and the inside was full of mold and wild animals.
“The township contracted with Thompson Excavating to tear the building down, and the immediate use will be to improve the parking lot for the township hall,” she explained. “But it also opens up the conversation to be able to discuss the future expansion needs of the Manchester Township Fire Department.”
“It’s sad,” said Pat Fitzgerald, Joe’s widow. “Not many people are left around here who remember the way it was; it was a very prosperous business at one time.
“Allen always made sure he had the most up to date equipment and trucks; he always wanted things to look classy. One time he and Joe flew to Oklahoma to pick up a truck. Another time, he went to a show in Chicago and bought one right off the floor and brought it home. He would say, ‘We’ve gotta look good on the road.'”
In its heyday, according to Pat, Manchester Ready Mix Co. was kept busy making deliveries around the county. Many of the the homes along Saline-Milan Road that were built in the 1950s, had their foundations poured by Manchester Ready Mix–sometimes four or five basements were poured each day, she added. The enterprise was also instrumental in building M-52 when it became a state highway. They helped lay the first oval at the Chrysler Proving Grounds in the early 1960s. And of course, there were the famed Jiffy Mix towers.
“Joe would come home from work and we’d drive over to Chelsea with the kids to watch those towers being built,” Pat recalls. “It was quite an endeavor.”
And now, the building is gone. The foundation is still in place for now, but also will be demolished within the next few weeks, as weather permits. And another piece of Manchester’s recent history will have disappeared from our sight.