The short life of George S. Blesch

January 26, 2017

By Julie Traynor
Correspondent

 I’ve been hunting old ghosts on Main Street for quite a while and one in particular has been eluding me for a long time. I’ve seen glimpses in old photographs; a peek here, a hint there, but never a good look. In fact, this big white ghost became quite an illusive tease. I asked around. Nope. No one knew who the ghost could be but it kept popping up. Not even the Marion history book had an answer or a clue.

My suspicions were that this ghost had been a prominent resident on Main Street for a time, and true to the nature of ghosts, did not want to be forgotten. The ghost had an identity; I had just not come upon it yet. I was sure that if I was patient and kept looking, at some point this ghost would be caught. Someday.

Someday arrived last year. When former Marionite Roy Kress visited the Marion Area Historical Museum he brought along a couple of fine items to donate and offered several photo postcards showing Marion when she was much younger. I looked at several and then, there it was. Among the very familiar picture postcards of Marion’s old Post Office, High School, Main Street from both directions and the dam, was a card showing an unknown building in a very familiar place. There it was. The ghost was caught.

This is the ghost building, the Geo. S. Blesch Block, built about 1906 on the south side of Main Street. It stood less than ten years and left virtually no impression or history with anyone. All photos courtesy the Marion Area Historical Museum.

This is the ghost building, the Geo. S. Blesch Block, built about 1906 on the south side of Main Street. It stood less than ten years and left virtually no impression or history with anyone. All photos courtesy the Marion Area Historical Museum.

This was a Eureka! moment. At last, my ghost had a face, and better still it proudly bore its name. My long elusive ghost was a two story white brick building with G. S. Blesch Block lettered on its eave. (Block meaning building, a standard term used then). The photographer scratched Marion, Michigan into the glass plate negative. This is a pictorial birth certificate, almost as good as it gets.

The Blesch Block was constructed on the south side of Main Street, between the river and the Mill Street corner. The Great Fire of 1904 had leveled pretty much everything in the west side business district. In a more current frame reference the G. S. Blesch Block was constructed on the site where, in 1953, the Smith Brothers of Evart would construct the new Marion Press Office building, which housed this weekly institution until just a few years ago.

Previous to the Great Fire buildings here were naturally constructed of wood. Two older wooden structures stood where Blesch built his new business. They too are relegated to ghost status, also seen from aside in other photos. Blesch’s white brick building would have been touted as ‘fireproof”. Much of the improved brick and stone rebuilding after the fire was billed as such.

The Blesch building bore a striking resemblance to the larger and much better known A.H. Corwin building, which stood for 99 years on the corner of east Main and Carland. Blesch had the same white brick construction, same cast iron finials and windows as Corwin only on a lesser scale. Blesch was probably the slightly younger and smaller sibling of Corwin. It was quite likely built by B.F. Meade and his crew, who was the local builder of brick and block buildings at this time. When it was finished, like many other businesses on Main Street, the name of its owner, one George Simon Blesch, was put on the building in large letters. Blesch, an ambitious young man in his mid 20’s hailed from nearby Isabella Co.

This is a view of Main Street looking east, taken about 1909. The Blesch building may be seen just to the left of center. It is the large white square ghost seen beyond the porch of the J.L. Curtis Hardware and Undertaking building on the corner. The Marion Shell now occupies the Curtis site.

This is a view of Main Street looking east, taken about 1909. The Blesch building may be seen just to the left of center. It is the large white square ghost seen beyond the porch of the J.L. Curtis Hardware and Undertaking building on the corner. The Marion Shell now occupies the Curtis site.

From what little I found, it seems that our Mr. Blesch was an eager entrepreneur for his time, anxious to do well and sell what folks what they wanted in our young village. It would also appear that he wanted to make a name for himself. Blesch’s face was displayed on the windows of his store and according to local advertising; the G.S.B. cigar he sold bore his likeness as well. It is unclear whether these cigars were manufactured in Marion by the cigar maker Gronda, or were a vanity cigar which Blesch ordered from elsewhere, as he did picture postcards.

Mr. Blesch seems to fly under the local news radar for the few years he was in Marion. He billed himself as a druggist, which by definition means a dealer of drugs. In addition to the cigars, spirits, and picture postcards, a customer could also purchase certain applications used for farming from Blesch. Druggist covered a lot of things.

In early May of 1909 a news blurb appeared in the Evart Review regarding the arrest of Marion’s George S. Blesch by Osceola Sheriff Houghton. He was taken to Reed City and charged with violating the liquor law. Blesch, apparently always anxious over business, waived his right to any preliminaries and posted a $500 bond to guarantee his appearance at the June term of the circuit court. He returned to Main Street.

June came and went and no further mention appears in anywhere print that could be found of Blesch’s troubles. His advertising for farming compounds and related chemicals continued to run in the Marion Dispatch through the summer. By fall they were gone, as was Mr. Blesch. His short tenure in Marion, Michigan had come to an end. Locally I could find no further mention of his case.

By fall, T.J. Blevins was the new owner of the Blesch Block from which he operated a general merchandise business and more than likely continued to deal in real estate as well. And then that old ‘fiend fire’ struck. It was reported on the front page of the Marion Dispatch, February 13, 1913, that the Blesch Block and the entire contents had been destroyed by fire overnight. Not so much as a shoe was saved. Losses ran to $4,000 with insurance covering $3,000.

This was the last mention I found in old papers regarding the short life of the young Blesch Block. The building was razed with apparently little fanfare and soon forgotten. T.J. Blevins owned other pieces of property along Main Street and elsewhere, including a ‘Block’ with his name on it. The lot sat vacant until 1953.

I will venture that much of the Blesch Block’s remains are there still, part of the fill which helped to bring the south side of Main Street up to grade. They’ve been spread about a time or two, as newer construction began to fill the void. In a waste not kind of place, stone from the Blesch Building’s cellar was probably used for the cellar of what was known then as the Crescent Theater building. We know it today as the former Insurance Lab.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet and some help from the great digging abilities of Jane Johnson Hall we can tell you a bit more about Mr. Blesch. He was born in 1876, the eldest of several children born to George and Mary Bick Blesch, farmers in Isabella County’s Coldwater Township. George the younger married one Lotta Covert, of Orient Twp., Osceola County, in 1898. On June 10, 1902, Blesch, who filed on grounds of desertion, was granted a divorce from the apparently much younger Lotta, who had returned home to her parents. Said divorce also stipulated that she not remarry for at least two years.

George S. Blesch and Myrtle Roe were married in Big Rapids two days later, June 12, 1902. The couple lived in Marion for a few years, and probably in the rooms above the store. They were gone before the end of 1909. Mr. Blesch’s obituary appeared in the Lansing State Journal following his death in April 1954, at age 78. He had been a resident of Alma, Michigan since the early 1910’s. where he organized the Little Rock Coal Company and in 1918 he founded the Michigan Fuel Company, dealers in coal and home heating.

In addition to running his business until his retirement in 1947, Mr. Blesch served on the Alma city council for eight years and became a life member of the Alma Masonic Lodge. He was also a member of the B.O.E. Elks and a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church. He led an exemplary life indeed. Myrtle and four of his siblings survived him. The Blesch’s had no children.

It would appear that whatever caused Mr. Blesch to find himself ‘entangled in the meshes of the law’ while in Osceola County, it was enough to change his occupation, either by choice or punishment, and the course of his life. That information is out there somewhere I’m sure. It would take a deeper dig. Either way, it would seem that G. S. Blesch was not meant for Marion, Michigan. That is not to say that his name is not forever tied to Marion, for there is an area where Geo. Blesch and Marion, Michigan are forever linked. And I’ll show and tell you that story next week.



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