Buchanan’s Clark Equipment Campus added to National Register of Historic Places
Published 10:18 am Wednesday, March 22, 2023
BUCHANAN — A collection of buildings, campuses, and manufacturing grounds from the rich history of Buchanan’s industrial past has been designated on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Michigan State Historic Preservation Office voted at their meeting in January to designate the Clark Equipment Complex on the National Register and it was officially listed on the register last week. The City of Buchanan has been working with the Buchanan Preservation Society and historic preservation consultant, Kurt West Garner, on the implementation of a Historic Preservation Plan that identifies properties and districts in the city that are eligible for designation.
“Buchanan has a rich history that can be leveraged,” Garner said. “Not only does this National Register Designation tell the Buchanan story and bring notoriety and prestige to Buchanan but it opens doors to significant historic tax credit funding that will assist in the redevelopment and reuse of the campus and buildings.”
The Clark Equipment Complex was eligible for listing based on both its architectural and industrial significance. While the complex’s greater significance is related to the history of Clark, the complex is also notable for its architecture. The corporate offices and manufacturing center during the 1910s-1960s, Building No. 2, has features of the Renaissance Revival. Clark seemed to be acutely aware of the image it wanted to project as it incorporated a vast number of planters to give the building hanging gardens from its windows and terrace. This image was further enhanced on the campus when three small buildings, including a guardhouse, were built c. 1920-1940 with matching attention to style and materials. When Building No. 42 was constructed during WWII and the employment office in the early 1960s, it seemed that Clark wanted to project a more modern image. However, they continued the use of the same cream-colored brick and banding that matched Building No. 2. This gives the entire campus from which Clark Equipment originated a unified, cohesive appearance.
The Clark Complex, just beside Historic Downtown Buchanan, is an impressive reuse story in Buchanan. Originally, the multiple-acre grounds was home to the corporate headquarters, campus, and manufacturing operations for the Fortune 100 Company, Clark Equipment. Clark Equipment was a large manufacturer of heavy machinery axels and other equipment that included national defense contracts in both World Wars. The main 80,000 square foot assembly building at 324 Dewey Street has an impressive art deco façade and was recently purchased by Randy and Jessica Hendrixson. Under their ownership, Building 324 has become a bustling downtown hub with several maker and artisan tenants, a day care facility, and several other small businesses and job creators.
Randy Hendrixson, who owns the Buchanan production company DPM Events, has a vision to redevelop the southern half of the building to host a future events center. When addressing his passion for this project and the revitalization of the building, Hendrixson said, “For decades, Clark Equipment played a significant role in the 20th century industrial revolution of our country. Preserving this building and its campus ensures it will continue to provide opportunities for future generations, and this historical designation goes a long way toward making that possible.”
Hendrixson, a history buff who collected and preserved many documents and artifacts from the Clark era, worked closely with Garner to craft a strong case for the nomination.
“The Hendrixsons have created a dynamic epicenter of economic activity, probably the largest job creator and economic engine in downtown Buchanan,” said Community Development Director Richard Murphy. “We deeply appreciate, and frankly we marvel at the hard work that this entrepreneurial family puts into our city every day.”
Clark’s historic industrial significance reached well beyond Buchanan. The company traces its origins to a Chicago manufacturing firm, George R. Rich Manufacturing, established in 1902 and lured to Buchanan through city-inspired incentives to attract manufacturing. Rich relocated in 1904 and produced heavy-duty drills used in the railroad industry. The company struggled, but with oversight and retooling by Eugene Clark, the company quickly turned around and started on a good trajectory by 1906. That year the name was also changed to Celfor Tool. With the company on solid ground, they paid their first dividends to stockholders in 1909 and expanded with the construction of a new building for both corporate offices and manufacturing. Expansion with their truck-tractor division during WWI, further enhanced with government contracts in WWII made Clark a leading supplier of heavy industrial trucks and equipment across the country.
The large former laboratory building at 204 North Red Bud Trail just west of Building 324 was redeveloped by Steve Lecklider as Lehman’s Orchard Brewery and Farmhouse, a restaurant that serves and sells home crafted spirits, cider, beer, and wine.
“It’s such a cool open space with large industrial windows and an outdoor terrace for al fresco dining,” Murphy said. McCoy’s Creek, a designated trout stream that runs through downtown Buchanan, runs right beside and actually under the building, adding to the ambiance for local and regional customers.
The last reused building in the Clark Complex is Buchanan City Hall. Once the human resources and infirmary wing of Clark Equipment, the building is now home to the city administration offices and the City Commission Chambers.
“I found it remarkable that I was able to help tell the story of a company with an international reputation and connect its origins to a small Midwestern city,” Garner stated. “Buchanan should be proud of this heritage.”
Garner has a degree in architecture from Andrew’s University and has worked extensively throughout the Midwest submitting nominations to the National Register. Community Development Director Richard Murphy praised Garner for his work.
“We are very lucky to be working with Kurt to tell our story in Buchanan. Kurt is the foremost expert in the region when it comes to National Register nominations.”
Murphy said it is likely that Garner holds the all-time record number of National Register Nominations in the country with more than 240 nominations to date.
“Some call him the Michael Jordan of Historic Register nominations,” Murphy quipped. “We’re glad he is on our team.”