Albion Historical Notebook



Gardner (1845-1928) was Albion’s “most distinguished citizen,” and held numerous public-service roles during his lifetime. A Civil War veteran and a native of Ohio, Gardner was highly educated. His degrees included an A.B. degree from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1870. He received his L.L.B. degree from Albany Law School in 1876, and was class valedictorian. He came to Albion in 1887 as pastor of the local Methodist Episcopal Church. Under his leadership, the church raised funds for the erection of a new building on E. Erie St. He subsequently became a professor at Albion College and served as its vice-president.

In 1894, Michigan Governor John Rich appointed Gardner as Michigan Secretary of State to fill out an unexpired term. He was subsequently elected to this office and served until 1899. From 1899 to 1911 he was elected as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Michigan’s 3rd District, which included Albion. During his tenure, he secured the funds for our local Post Office building, and was a member of the House Commission of Appropriations.

In 1913 he authored the thick two-volume set entitled, “A History of Calhoun County,” which even today is a standard reference for our area’s history. By the way, this set weighs 9.8 pounds when you place it on your bathroom scales.

Another high honor for Gardner occurred in 1914, when he served as Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Civil War veterans’ organization. He was the main attraction in a spectacular parade attended by thousands, held in Detroit on September 2, 1914 as part of the National Encampment of the G.A.R. The Recorder reported the next day: “Then came the figure on whom all eyes rested with respect. On a strapping prancing horse, Commander-in-Chief Washington Gardner, his black hat in hand, and his snowy hair glistening in the sunlight, was a picture of his beautiful old age as he rode ahead of his staff.” There was a bronze medal issued with Gardner’s image on it that was distributed at this Encampment for those that attended. These are collectors’ items today.

For many years, Gardner was a director of the Michigan Children’s Aid Society and helped place numerous children for adoption in Albion homes. Albion newspaperman Rae Corliss (1900-1990), himself adopted, recalled in February 1968 Gardner’s fondness for children in his publication the Journal of Albion: “He seemed always to have a number of brand-new pennies in his pocket. When he saw a group of boys playing on his daily walks downtown, he’d toss a handful in the air and as they dropped in the grass watched with laughter as the youngsters scrambled for them. Kids knew, when they saw the Congressman coming, what to expect.”

Gardner’s final years in public service occurred during the years 1921 to 1925, when he was made U.S. Commissioner of Pensions. Injured in an auto accident in 1925, he was forced into retirement, and eventually returned to his home in Albion. He died here on March 31, 1928, at the age of 83, only seven weeks after the school bearing his name had opened.

From our Historical Notebook this week we present an “action” photo of the Hon. Washington Gardner in the center. The scene shows N. Superior St. at the Michigan Central Railroad tracks in front of the Hotel Albion, present site of the Shell gas station. Gardner is headed south on Superior St. on his prancing white horse. I am assuming this is a Decoration Day parade, circa 1914. Next to him riding on a dark horse is an unidentified woman in costume, wearing sunglasses. How many of our readers went to Washington Gardner High School, Junior High, or Elementary School?