|By Eric C. Rodenberg
HOLLY, Mich. – Patricia Kenny has worked in Battle Alley Arcade Antiques mall in this village about 55 miles north of Detroit for 28 years. It’s a convivial atmosphere, with “always something interesting going on,” she says.
Her 30 vendors in the stately, 19th century building, most of whom have been with her a long time, are happy, “doing what they love to do,” she says. The selection at Arcade Antiques is broad-based, with her veteran antique hunters, constantly bringing in fresh merchandise.
Bolstered by the unique history associated with the address, 108 Battle Alley, near downtown Holly (pop. 6,086) and the draw of unusual antiques, is the curious parade of “ghost hunters, many of whom are extremely animated about “readings” on the second floor.
As Kenny says, never a dull moment.
Back in its boom days, say in 1855, when the Detroit & Milwaukee Railroad, and in 1862 with the arrival of Pierre Marquette Railway, Holly was known as a “rowdy little town,” Kenny said.
Holly was one of the first Michigan communities to get railroad service. To a great degree, the railroads were initially built to haul white pine from the forests of northern Michigan to the East. The streets of small Holly teemed with lumbermen and railroad workers, many of whom pushed beyond the great intersection of Saginaw and Broad streets, into what was then called Martha Street.
Martha Street was one of the early byways, named after the village’s founder’s daughter, that soon became a cluster of bars, brothels and gaming houses. The tension between railroaders and lumbermen, after a few drinks, was always palpable. But, the arrival of the Boyd & Peters’ circus, as related in a May 7, 1880 Special Dispatch to The Detroit Free Press, upset what was a precarious balance.
“Will Smith was struck blows after the show, when his brother Eugene made the remark that he could whip any showman, and in a few minutes a body of showmen came running, and a general fight ensued.
“Elijah Alger was hit with a club near the ear and badly hurt, while Eugene Smith was pounded severely,” The Dispatch reported. “D.O. Stone was knocked down, after which he fired two shots at a circus man.”
No arrests were made. The circus men who were in the fight escaped. Alger and Smith were not expected to live.
Not only did the brawl result in the change of Martha Street to Battle Alley; but, Holly also received dubious national notoriety and, later, the attention of adamant prohibition activist Carrie Nation.
On Aug. 28, 1908, according to a story by Fenton Press (1998), “Nation would step off the train in Holly and make her first official stop at the Holly Hotel. Making a beeline for the bar, she then used her umbrella to send mugs of beer and other intoxicants crashing to the floor. Nation then saw the painting of a nude woman that hung behind Holly Hotel’s bar. She would scream, ’Naked Jezebel.’”
She was removed by the owner of the Holly Hotel and “pitched” into the street, according to one account. Dusting herself off, she renewed her crusade in several other taverns along Battle Alley.
“Wielding her umbrella, she strode through the alley’s bars bellowing about the “Demon Rum” and its sins,” according to a historical marker. She screamed scriptures while destroying property, according to period accounts.
The Holly Hotel, which had once hosted magician Harry Houdini and other acts of the era, was next to the building that is now Arcade Antiques. Rumors circulated during that time, that men would use a tunnel from the Hotel to the Arcade to avoid being seen on the streets after drinking.
Throughout the years, the Arcade Antiques building had been a silent movie theatre (with a piano player), tavern (with a bordello upstairs), a casket factory, a confectionary store and a boutique mall.
Today, Kenny has designed the 6,500-square-foot mall to adhere to the earlier, or British, concept of an arcade as a building that contains many shops. “I’m sure there were arcade, or pinball, machines here before, perhaps back when there was a movie theatre,” Kenny says. “But, our idea is to have it all set up like a Victorian village inside, with all the antiques on display.”
The 30 vendors inside Battle Alley Arcade Antiques cover a wide variety of collectible niches. “We have a lot of younger customers who are all into the vintage fashion and jewelry,” she says, “We have one vendor who offers vinyl records … he’s doing well now. We also specialize in antique and vintage dolls. We have dealers who have participated in antique shows for years and are very knowledgeable of their wares. We also have several sports collectibles, old cameras and typewriters … there’s something for everyone, beginning or advanced collector.”
Kenny began working at Arcade Antiques in 1990, eventually purchasing the business in 1998. “I’ve been in antiques all my life,” she said. “I come from a ’green family,’ of antique collectors. It’s just the way I grew up, wanting to be around old things.”
Seemingly, she is not alone in wanting to be around antiques.
“Together with the tendency for antiques and articles of sentimental value to draw spirits in, the entire building has the potential for being a hotbed of activity,” according to a conclusion written by an investigator with the Motor City Ghost Hunters.
The paranormal investigators have conducted a series of soundings between 2009 and 2015.
In her 28 years spent inside Arcade Antiques, Kenny has heard the inexplicable sounds and the occasional eerie feeling. “I’ve had customers who have gone upstairs, then come back down and asked me if the building was haunted. Others tell me they get an uncomfortable feeling.
A few years ago, a man was coming downstairs and something knocked the baseball cap off his head. He stopped, looked around, looked behind him. And then, he took off, nearly running, out of the door. We haven’t seen him since.”
There’s never a dull moment at Battle Alley Arcade Antiques.
The store is open Monday through Saturday, from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.
Contact: (248) 634-8800