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Monday, December 12, 2005

Eureka Iron & Steel Works Headquarters, Wyandotte, Michigan

Postcard showing building as it originally appeared

The Eureka Iron Works was “America’s First Bessemer Steel Mill,” established by Detroit businessmen led by Eber Ward in 1854.

Major John Biddle’s estate, “The Wyandotte,” was purchased by Ward and his investors so that they could build a mill on this riverfront site, and also subdivide the surrounding land to sell.

Iron ore was brought from Upper Michigan to Wyandotte and smelted under intense heat in furnaces to remove impurities and to turn iron ore into iron. Wood from surrounding forests was cut and made into charcoal to fuel the furnaces.

In 1864 the first steel ingots were made through application of the Bessemer Steel process. The next year the first Bessemer steel rails were rolled at the Wyandotte mill.

Once the viability of this process was demonstrated in Wyandotte, it was quickly adopted by other companies. Work continued at the Wyandotte mill for several years, though was plagued by many difficulties, causing the mill to cease operations in 1892.

Iron and steel were not the only products the company created. They were also involved in real-estate - clearing, subdividing, and selling the surrounding land. As trees were cut down to use for fuel in the mills, the company would sell parcels of land for people to build houses and businesses upon.

This brings us to the company headquarters. A handsome building was constructed in 1860 at the southeast corner of Biddle Ave. and Elm St. This three story building had a corner entrance, round arched windows, battered stone façade, and a mansard roof that wrapped around the upper floors of the building.

The third floor had an auditorium space that was used for High School graduations, school plays, lectures, and performances.

This building played an important role in the business and social life of Wyandotte, though was much larger than the Eureka Iron & Steel Works required. Also, the need for a bank in Wyandotte was very great, because prior to opening a local bank, money had to be carried to and from Detroit on treacherous roads. So, in 1871, the Wyandotte Savings Bank was founded and located in the same building.

John VanAlstyne served as manager of the Eureka Iron & Steel Company, founded and operated the bank, and was elected Wyandotte’s first mayor in 1867. In addition to these responsibilities, VanAlstyne was responsible for selling property that the company owned.

While the fortunes of the Eureka Iron & Steel Works diminished, the bank served an increasingly important role and outlived the company and people like VanAlstyne associated with its founding.

The former headquarters for the Eureka Iron & Steel Works and the Wyandotte Savings Bank is known today as the Municipal Services Building.

Building prior to 1955 renovation

Although the basic structure of the building remains the same, modernization inside and outside was completed in 1955, when the third floor was removed, original round arched windows replaced with rectangular ones, and the original stone façade removed.
Since 1996 Joe Maher’s Century 21 Real Estate offices have been located here – continuing the work of selling property in Wyandotte that John VanAlstyne conducted in this same building over 100 years ago.

It was a significant loss to the Wyandotte community when this historic building was modernized. Connections with its earliest history and with leading individuals and organizations were lost when this historic building was altered.

Building as it appeared in 2005

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