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If these walls could talk: 514 W. Mill St.

June 30, 2013

514 W. Mill Street under construction in 1979.

CULVER HISTORY CORNER

Since launching this column, we've wanderd "virtually" through Culver's downtown and headed along Jefferson Street. This week, we're making our last stop on Mill Street on the western edge of town, an area we visited last time out to take a look at the former McGill's and Walker-Tennaco plant, and today we'll make our last stop on that street, the closest thing nowadays Culver has to an "industrial park."

Reader Jack Houghton commented on Facebook, in response to the article, that Walker-Tennaco actually occupied the building for 13 years instead of nine as reported in this column. He left in 2000, when the plant shut down, so the date of occupation would have been 1987, which makes more sense given that we know McGills began discussing sale of the building with Tennaco as early as 1985 (so 1991 is a lengthy delay before a sale).

"I walked out on May 31, 2000 and I was one of the last ones out the door," Jack writes. "I sure miss the folks I worked with; it was a great group of people."

Directly across the street, at 514 W. Mill, an August, 1979 Culver Citizen article announced members of the town board, plan commission, Chamber of Commerce, and local businesspeople visited the Shirt Shed Inc., plant at Wabash to learn more about the planned establishment of a new plant at Culver. The firm, wrote the Citizen, was in the process of purchasing six acres of land north of Mill Street "across from the new street garage." The then-owners of the land, Everett E. and Catherine Easterday, petitioned the plan commission to rezone the land from Suburban "S" to Light Industrial "M1."

Shirt Shed printed, by heat transfer, slogans and pictures on t-shirts, though it also had a complete printwear program including infant, toddler, and juvenile wear, as well as men's, boys, girls, and ladies wear, producing over 7,000 dozen heat transfer garments daily.

Shirt Shed had launched in 1973, and president Jim Moore noted he chose Culver as an additional plant due in part to his familiarity with the area and past work at Culver's Ben Franklin stores. The plant was expected to hire 100 to 150 mostly female employees at the outset.
Shirt Shed offered to pay for extending the sewer and water lines to the plant (which didn't expect to use a great deal of water), and hoped to open its Culver plant that November (the actual opening was delayed until 1980).

An Oct. 11, 1979 article in the Citizen made note of the remarkable amount of construction going on in Culver that year, and indeed, a number of longstanding entities besides Shirt Shed came to be in 1979-1980, including Miller's Merry Manor nursing home, the (now defunct) bowling alley on State Road 10, the EMS ambulance garage, and the Culver Comm. High School Building Trades program's very first house, among other projects.

If Shirt Shed had seemed a boon to local industry, it didn't last long. On March 30, 1983, Tim Creasy, plant manager at the factory, announced that the plant would close its doors after three years in Culver. Nexus, which owned the plant, cited declining demand for apparel lines produced in Culver as the reason. One employee at the facility told a Citizen reporter at the time that the closing came as a “complete surprise” when it was announced to workers. Shirt Shed had employed 156 persons as of late 1982.

Your editor well remembers as a youngster receiving a treasured "Scooby Doo" t-shirt his mother purchased at some sort of sale at the plant. Those who, like your editor, lived near the plant, continued to call the structure the "Shird Shed" building for years, if not decades, in spite of the brief longevity of that business' occupation there. It's parking lot, empty for some years after, provided a fantastic space for bicycle riding, though personal experience on my part dictates it wasn't a good idea to "jump" one's bicyle at fullest speed possible off the hill at the north edge of the lot, facing the trailer court. That hill has since been graded, but at the time made for a very painful, bloody, and bicycle-destroying lesson.

In August, 1991, the building saw new life when D.W. Wallcovering moved from Starke County to Culver. D.W. had outlets in South Bend and Warsaw as well, and was a Christian-owned (by David Weinberg) business whose workday started with a collective staff prayer. The company relocated to Louisville, Kentucky, in 1998.

Four years later, Tom Heineman, who had come to Culver in 1985 to work at the Culver Marina, partnered with fellow Marina worker Glenn Bailey to launch Portside Marina, renting out the 8,000 square foot building. By that fall, with 75 boats in its care, Portside had well exceeded its goal of maintaining 50 boats, and the crew winterized over 250 boats that same year. By 2003, Portside had begun selling pontoon and ski boats, and manufacturing piers, eventually purchasing the property -- as demands for storage space increased -- that autumn.

Of course, Portside continues to make 514 W. Mill a vibrant and productive space, even if the lot is far less conducive to riding -- and wrecking -- bicycles.

“Culver History Corner” is a semi-regular feature sponsored by the Antiquarian and Historical Society of Culver. whose quarterly newsletter is also sponsored in The Culver Citizen. http://www.culverahs.com -- historyofculver@gmail.com

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