Museum In The Streets
Discover Wyandotte, Michigan
As we walk along the street, we walk in the footsteps of earlier generations. Becoming aware of the past gives us a historical perspective that broadens our horizons.

This walking tour spotlights 16 historic locations on Biddle Avenue, revealing the landscape as it was 50 to 150 years ago.

A parade of former dime stores, movie theaters, libraries, fire stations, pharmacies, hotels, banks, shipyards and iron mills—and the people who made them possible—are depicted in words and photographs on the 16 panels.

Enhance your tour with a specially designed map available from many merchants on Biddle Avenue. Enjoy this self-guided trail of discovery.
  • 1) Arlington Hotel & Armstrongs
    When travelers stepped off the train or streetcar and inquired about decent accommodations, they were directed to the Hotel Arlington. From 1884 to about 1919, the Arlington occupied this building. The guest list from one week in September 1890 shows visitors from Boston, Cleveland, Racine, Akron, Toledo, Lansing, Detroit, Wayne, Flat Rock, Ypsilanti, Monroe and Saginaw. It was noted for its fine dining, and as a place for civic meetings and assemblies. When the local boys mustered to serve in the Spanish American War in 1898, they gathered here. In 1920, the building became the new home for Armstrong’s Men’s Wear that had relocated from another site on Biddle. Armstrong’s occupied the site for the next 76 years. Beginning in 1997, an antique store filled this space for a few years. In 2006-2007, a new occupant, the financial management company Merrill Lynch, beautifully restored the building.
  • 2) R. P. McMurphy’s
    This block has been an essential part of Wyandotte’s business district since the 1860’s. The structure at 2922 Biddle was built in the 1880’s, but wasn’t given its Old World German façade until after 1900. In the 19th Century, this was the site of Mehlhose Groceries and Oyster Depot shown in the small photo, and then a dry goods store. In the 1920’s, it housed the Bon Ton sweet shop. After prohibition ended, a succession of bars and taverns located here, including Schroeder’s Café and Sonny Gandee’s. In 1980, R. P. McMurphy’s opened as an old style saloon with an interior featuring fanciful murals, oak wood trim, distinctive tiles and leaded glass. The large photograph shows this block in the 1940’s. Note the Rialto Theater down the block, as well as Lewis-Star Clothing, Cahalan’s Drug Store, Schroeder’s Café and The Ladies’ Shop.
  • 3) Thomas Drug Store
    From 1879 to 1928 the Thomas family operated a pharmacy at 2948 Biddle Avenue. Before 1914, there were few laws regulating the sale of drugs. The shelves of drugstores were stocked with odd shaped bottles with curious labels holding patent medicines. The Thomas store mixed its own compounds and elixirs. In this photograph of the store’s interior in 1912, owner Charles W. Thomas II and his young son, Charles, stand on the right. The cigar showcase occupies a prominent spot near the entrance. The Thomas family lived above the shop. Many nights the ring of the doorbell jarred them from their sleep. Some distraught individual was urgently seeking medicine, or even first aid. In that era, many people turned to the druggist for medical help. For a time, Thomas Drugs and nearby Cahalan Drugs served as first aid stations for the City’s large industries. The first hospital in Wyandotte wasn’t established until 1899. This storefront also served as Woolworth’s dime store from 1928 to 1948, Asmus Hardware in the 1950’s, and for the next forty years, Gail’s Office Supply.
  • 4) First Fire Station
    From 1880 to 1940, Wyandotte’s first central fire station stood on this corner. The building shown in the smaller image also housed the jail, council chambers, courtroom and public library. The two-story brick building had a mansard style roof with slate tiles and 60-foot tall tower used to dry fire hoses after use. In the earliest days, a “bucket brigade” from the Detroit River was the most efficient method of fighting fires. In 1876, cisterns were built throughout the town to hold a supply of water. A volunteer department was established in 1870. In 1876, a hand-drawn steam fire engine, pictured here on the grounds of the Eureka Iron Works, was purchased. In 1885, a team of horses was stabled at the station to haul the heavy fire fighting equipment. By 1890, Wyandotte had a water pumping plant and water mains that made hydrants possible. In 1891, there were ten fire alarm boxes located in the city. Each locked box displayed the message: “Key may be found with occupants of house on corner.” In 1902, the station added second floor living quarters for fire fighters, as well as a brass sliding pole for quick access to the fire engines. By the 1930’s, the building was outdated and overcrowded. It was razed in 1940. From the 1940’s to the 1960’s, this site housed the Kinsel Drug Store, and beginning in 1967, the Willow Tree store.
  • 5) Melody Brothers Building
    In 1895, brothers James, John and George Melody built this two story double storefront building and opened one of the first department stores in the region. Spacious and elegant, with oak floors and tin ceilings, it stocked the latest fashions and home furnishings. During World War II, Melody’s was able to sell silk stockings, a scarce commodity when silk was needed for parachutes. When a supply of hosiery arrived, long lines formed before the doors opened. James Melody’s daughter, Cecilia Melody Mix, and descendants continued to operate a retail store in this building, and later across the street, into the 21st century. The façade of this building has changed somewhat, but still presents a handsome look. The word “Melody” and the date “1895” are embedded in the brickwork above.
  • 6) The Triangular Corner
    The intersection of streets sometimes results in a triangular bit of land that's too small or too irregular to utilize in the usual ways. The photograph shows this site at Biddle and First about 1912. Except for a drinking fountain, the corner is empty. A woman with a parasol walks along Biddle Avenue while horses and buggies trot along the street. This charming little building was erected in 1918 to serve as a newspaper office. In the 1920’s, it housed a real estate office; the 1930’s through the 1950’s, the Style Shop; the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Christian Science Reading Room; 1979 to 2010, the Owl's Korner gift shop, then in 2010, Purple Frog Photography. The plaza to the south was extended to Maple Street in 1956 and underwent a major renovation in 2000 as part of the Millennium Plaza project that included the addition of the clock tower. A time capsule to be opened in 2050 lies buried under the tower.
  • 7) Neisner's Dime Store
    “Dime stores” were variety stores that originally sold items for ten cents or less. Through the 20th century, Biddle Avenue supported several dime stores including Kresge’s, Woolworth’s, and Ruby Stores, but best remembered is Neisner Brothers. Neisner’s occupied the southwest corner of Biddle and Maple from 1931 to 1978. A soda fountain ran along the interior of the Maple Street side. The after-school crowd met at the counter for cherry cokes and sandwiches. Shoppers walked over a squeaky wooden floor and between counters of merchandise filled with toy tin soldiers, cosmetics, bottles of soap bubbles, pinwheels and paper dolls. Racks held paperback books and aprons. Cages held chirping yellow canaries and green parakeets. The basement sold hardware, and a beauty shop operated on the mezzanine. Inexpensive, eclectic, and finally nostalgic, the dime store could not compete with newer discount stores. Most dime stores disappeared by the close of the 20th century.
  • 8) Milkins Jewelers
    In 1905, with only $ 85.00 in capital, 20-year-old Archibald Burdett Milkins opened a jewelry store on Biddle Avenue, just south of Eureka. In 1914, the store relocated to the Marx Theater building, a block north. Finally, in 1919, the business moved to this location, 3160 Biddle Avenue. Recognized as a Centennial Retail Jeweler, the business continues into its fourth generation. There were major renovations to this building in 1927 and 1956. This photograph shows A. B. Milkins and wife Mary at the original location. The smaller photograph from 1910 shows Dwight Baxter driving his automobile through a flooded portion of Biddle Avenue. The original Milkins storefront is visible in the background.
  • 9) Marx Opera House
    In 1886, through the efforts of the Marx Family estate, the first building for the exclusive use of theatrical entertainment was erected in Wyandotte. Named the Marx Opera House, it was located on Biddle Avenue between Maple and Sycamore streets. This elaborate and luxurious building seated up to 600 occupants on the main floor and balcony. Destroyed in 1908 by a disastrous fire, it was replaced by a new structure at the northwest corner of Biddle and Sycamore. It became highly popular for troupes of entertainers as an additional stop between Detroit and Toledo engagements. Managed by Mr. Frank Marx, a strict code of behavior was maintained. A codified set of rules were printed on the walls and became known as “Heavens First Law.” As movies gained in popularity, business decreased for live entertainment and the building became the first location of the Rialto movie theater. In 1931, it was decided to raze the building to make room for the S. S. Kresge Co. and in 2005, Stroh’s Ice Cream Parlour relocated here.
  • 10) Biddle North of Eureka
    Thriving businesses, from variety stores to an undertaker, crowded along Biddle Avenue from Eureka to Sycamore in this photograph from about 1910. From the left, they are Little Dry Goods, Gettleman’s 5 & 10 Bazaar, Genthe Grocery, H. Rosenthal Dry Goods, Gartner Shoes, Loeffler Clothing, Gartner Hardware, Kaul’s Dry Goods and Thon Undertakers. Pedestrians, including a group of children, amble along the sidewalk. Streetcar tracks are visible on Biddle Avenue. In the smaller photograph, Genthe’s storefront is pictured with bushel baskets of produce, barrels and oysters. In 1981, the Wyandotte Savings Bank built a four story office building set back from the street filling the entire block. Over the years, successor banks have occupied the building, and beginning in 2012, it housed the offices of the City of Wyandotte.
  • 11) Shipbuilding
    In 1871, Eber Ward, who had earlier founded the Eureka Iron Co., was instrumental in building a large shipbuilding facility on the Detroit River between Pine and Orchard streets. Over the next 51 years, renowned marine architect Frank E. Kirby and his brother F. A. “Joe” Kirby (pictured on the right in the smaller photo) oversaw the construction of 212 iron and steel vessels at this site. Under the names Detroit Dry Dock Co. and Detroit Shipbuilding Co., hulls for tugs, freighters, ocean vessels and excursion steamers, including the Tashmoo, the Put-in-Bay and the Boblo boat S. S. Columbia, were built here. Hulls were towed to Detroit to be fitted with boilers and upper works. The freighter Wyandotte, launched in 1907, was the world’s first boat constructed as a self-unloader. Ship launchings were festive occasions. Crowds gathered to cheer as ships, some over 300 feet in length, slid down the ways and into the water with a mighty splash. The launching of the Angeline in 1899 is pictured. The shipyard experienced economic cycles of boom and bust. During World War I, thousands of workers toiled here, but by 1920, business was sporadic. The facility closed in 1922. Some operations were moved to Detroit and others to Lorain, Ohio.
  • 12) Police Station
    From 1871 to 1922, this stretch of land along the Detroit River was the site of a major shipbuilding industry. In 1918, when ship construction increased during World War I, the Detroit Shipbuilding Co. built this structure to house its offices. After the war, the shipyards closed. The building was purchased by the City of Wyandotte and served as the Police Station and Municipal Court from 1921 to 1959. This photo from the early 1920’s shows a police ambulance and two patrolmen on Indian motorcycles. Since 1959, these offices have provided space for lawyers, health care providers, and various businesses. The jail cells remain in the basement as a concrete reminder of bygone days.
  • 13) The Nine Lives of 3225 Biddle Avenue
    3225 Biddle Avenue, has undergone transformative changes over the last 300 years. In the 1730’s, this land was a forested area on the outskirts of a small Wyandot Indian village named Monguagon. Beginning in 1818, pioneers established farms along the riverfront. In 1854, the pastoral stillness was lost forever when the blast furnaces, smokestacks and railroad tracks of the Eureka Iron Works and Rolling Mills were built between the Detroit River and Biddle. By the early 20th century, small shops and offices, many of which still survive, occupied these blocks. High on the façade of this structure an inscription chiseled in stone reads: “Fantzia Polska R 1917.” This attests to the fact that the building first housed a Polish vaudeville theater. By 1921, the New Star movie theater took its place. In 1937, the Blossom Bar began a 42-year occupancy. The bar is seen here in 1961, along with two other well-known eateries of their day, the Big Chief Bar-B-Q and the Riviera Café. The photograph of sailors from the Grosse Ile Naval Air Station was taken in 1942. The bar treated each of them to a cigar and a shot in appreciation for their wartime service. During the 1980’s and 1990’s B. J. Ryan’s Bootleggers Tavern and the R & R’s Café operated here. Finally, in 2002, Gizzmos Bistro & Bar opened. With its atmosphere of jazz, antique bar and mirrors, one can easily imagine an earlier era.
  • 14) Majestic Theatre
    The Majestic Theatre opened in 1916 with the showing of the silent film, “The Whirl of Life.” A pipe organ added lively background music and acoustic exclamation points. Built as a combination movie and vaudeville theater, the Majestic had a mahogany paneled lobby with mural paintings that led to the 1,200-seat auditorium. A stage for live performances was below the viewing screen. Dressing rooms were in the basement, and a mezzanine contained box seats. In 1925, a bomb was tossed at the theater in the dead of night. Little damage was done. The crime was never solved. In this photo from 1941, the titles of two Abbott and Costello comedies are displayed on the theater’s marquee. Moviegoers left not only with a sense of being entertained, but often with complimentary dinnerware as well. The Majestic closed in 1952 and the building was torn down in 1966, but for generations the magic of Hollywood’s golden age lived at the Majestic
  • 15) Carnegie Library
    There has been public library service in Wyandotte since the late 1850’s, but a fulltime library was formally instituted in 1886 when it opened above the fire station on the southwest corner of Biddle and Elm. The wealthy industrialist Andrew Carnegie used his vast fortune to fund the building of 1,689 libraries throughout the United States. The self-educated Carnegie believed that libraries were the agency that helped those who helped themselves. In 1913, a Carnegie Library was built on this site at 3139 Biddle Avenue. The building served its noble purpose until it was razed in 1941 to make way for commercial development. The interior view shows a day in the life of the Wyandotte Carnegie Library from 1941. This building has passed into history, but public library service continues today at the Bacon Memorial District Library at the corner of Biddle Avenue and Vinewood Avenue.
  • 16) Eureka Iron Works & Wyandotte Savings Bank
    When Eber Ward planned for the creation of his Eureka Iron Works on this site in 1854, he also planned for the creation of the village of Wyandotte. This building, at the southeast corner of Biddle and Elm, was built in 1860 to serve as the offices of a sprawling industrial complex of blast furnaces and rolling mills, which can be seen in the sketch. This is the oldest commercial building in Wyandotte. In 1871, John S. Van Alstyne helped found the Wyandotte Savings Bank. The bank occupied the north side of the building. It successfully served the community through many hard times, until it was bought out in 1989. The smaller photograph shows this building in its capacity as bank headquarters. Mr. Van Alstyne is pictured on the left. The Wyandotte Public Library was located in the building in the 1880’s. The third floor had space for plays and high school graduation ceremonies. That level was removed in 1954.

Thank you to Bacon Memorial District Library for providing Wyandotte historical photos and content.