OSCODA – The complete overhaul of a historic building in Oscoda Township has breathed new life into the 106-year-old structure, but its captivating past will forever be intertwined with the modern updates.
A ribbon cutting and open house was held on July 18 at the newly established Huron Shores Artisan Hall (HSAH), located downtown just off of US-23, behind Enchanted Blooms and Truly Yours.
Throngs of people gathered together for the event, with roughly 200 visitors showing up in the first 30 minutes of the three-hour occasion.
Guests were treated to free appetizers and other goodies from such donors as Sunrise Kava Cafe, Office Lounge & Grill, HealthQuest, Hilltop Bar and Grill, Camp Inn Lodge, Wiltse’s Brew Pub and Family Restaurant, Sugar Sisters and Tait’s Bill of Fare.
Visitors also got to witness several artisans who had their work on display and/or demonstrated firsthand how they produce their creations. This included members of the Sunrise Artists of Michigan, Len Puzewicz of Ivory Impressions, Greg Wilkinson of Spirit Line Creations Wood Carving Studio Gallery and members of Shelton Fund for the Arts.
Music echoed throughout the venue also, with performances from Oscoda Area Schools students, as well as harpist Susie Manning.
In attendance were members of the public, Oscoda Township officials, Oscoda-AuSable Chamber of Commerce representatives and members of the Oscoda Township Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the latter of which are responsible for bringing HSAH into existence.
In addition to the inviting ambiance, tempting treats and engaging artwork, attendees also got a history lesson on the structure.
According to a pamphlet distributed at the open house, the building was originally constructed on State Street in 1911, following the Oscoda/AuSable fire. It was located where Myles Insurance Office operates today.
The building, known as Shore Laundry, housed the reopened business of H. Clayton Sherman, who likely lived there with his family.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows purchased the Sherman building in 1912 and moved it up State Street to the southeast corner of Michigan Avenue, near its present location.
It is also noted that the Odd Fellows expanded the structure, installed a kitchen and banquet room and rented out the hall to many different users over the years.
The Rebekah Lodge met at the venue for years, as well, and traveling women evangelists held a revival there in the late 1930s.
The brochure reads that, when the Richard Killmaster Oil Company purchased the northern end of the block – around the time of the Second World War – the lodge building was moved to its present location at the rear of the lot and used for storage.
The history of the building was elaborated on by one of the former owners, Bill Parsons.
He was introduced by DDA Chair Joe Maxwell, prior to the ribbon cutting celebration.
Parsons shared that he first became involved with the building when he started working for Killmaster in 1964.
“Killmaster was a very astute businessman. He started a gas station, right there on the corner of State and Michigan, in about 1945,” Parsons noted.
“Killmaster eventually sold heating oil, diesel, wholesale gasoline and made deliveries with tank trucks in the area,” he continued.
“He eventually became a wholesale distributor for Sunoco [Sun Oil Co.], which allowed him to wholesale to other Sunoco stations,” Parsons said of Killmaster.
“In 1965 I became manager, and eventually owned it after Killmaster sold out to Sunoco and retired,” he went on.
“When I first saw this building, it was like going into a time warp. All the furniture and the Odd Fellows paraphernalia were still in the building,” Parsons recalls, saying it was as though the members had simply left after their last meeting.
He described how the staircase of the two-story building used to be located at the back of the edifice, and there was a kitchen and pantry downstairs with nearly 60 old food cans and boxes lining the shelves.
“Killmaster had pretty much used this area for overflow of old stuff that he no longer used in his business,” said Parsons, citing such examples as car repair parts, equipment and lubricants.
According to Parsons, there were two speakeasy doors upstairs, which were opened when Odd Fellows ceremonies were held there.
“One of the speakeasy doors is still upstairs,” Maxwell added.
“The room was lined with wooden chairs, and all the Odd Fellows ceremonial costumes and hats were still present,” Parsons said of what was beyond the doors.
“There was a box I found up there, which was very interesting. It was on a long handle and had a little door on it with a hole in it,” he proceeded, sharing that when he opened the box, it contained multiple white marbles and one black marble. “And that’s when they voted. If you got the black marble, you didn’t get in. I thought that was unique.”
Parsons also recalled a period of time when youngsters in the area began breaking out windows in the building, which he had to board up.
When he noticed a couple of the youth hanging around one day where there used to be an outside stairway on the building, he invited them in and led them upstairs to show them a large pine box which had been left inside.
When Parsons threw back the lid of the box, he said the expressions on the children’s faces were priceless.
“They tore out of there and down the stairs and they were gone! You know what was in the pine box? A skeleton,” he said.
Parsons said he assumed the skeleton was that of a smaller built man or woman, and it was used during Odd Fellows ceremonies.
He later donated the item to Oscoda Area Schools, but said he is unsure what happened to it from there.
“Anyway, they didn’t bother the building much more after that,” he said of the youngsters, once word got around that the building was “haunted.”
According to Parsons, when Killmaster sold to Sunoco, he kept the 24 feet on which the building sat – and those from Sunoco didn’t catch it at first.
A couple weeks into the deal, deliverers had to go behind the building to drop off product, at which time Parsons informed them that they didn’t own that property.
Sunoco representatives advised that they believed they had purchased it but, when Parsons suggested they double check, they found out the 24 feet was, in fact, not included.
Sunoco wanted to purchase the remaining 24 feet, but Killmaster didn’t want to sell, Parsons said.
“But he would lease it. So he leased it to them for several years, until I bought it out. When I bought it out he sold it to me on a land contract – and that’s another whole story!” Parsons remarked.
He owned and operated the facility from 1975-1985, when Scott and Sharon Ostrander purchased the properties.
The Ostranders then sold the building and lot to the DDA for $30,000 in 2016, as members were looking to transform it into a farmer’s/artisan market.
Maxwell, who carried out the ribbon cutting duties, extended his thanks to the DDA members who helped make the endeavor possible and who arranged the open house event.
He also said that the ones who renovated the building, Butterson Construction, went above and beyond during the project.
He explained that the DDA made a lot of changes along the way as they noticed things they could improve upon, and those from Butterson were receptive to the changes, while also offering useful recommendations of their own.
“They did a wonderful job,” Maxwell praised.
“But, without Ann Richards, this project couldn’t have happened,” he said of the former DDA director, who was a driving force behind bringing the HSAH idea to fruition.
Richards attended the open house, where she received an exuberant round of applause from the crowd when her name was announced by Maxwell.
As previously reported, plans to establish HSAH had been in the works for a few years.
Construction was recently completed on the 2,000-square-foot building, in order to turn the structure into a venue which can be used as an artisan and farmer’s market, as well as a rental for such events as baby showers, graduation parties and other functions.
The DDA secured an install purchase contract in the amount of $100,000 to assist with the completion of HSAH, after also being awarded a U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Development grant in 2014 to help fund the project.
Information on renting the hall can be had by calling the township offices at 989-739-3211, or sending an e-mail to DDA Treasurer Jolene Senn at email@example.com.