March 24 • 12:44 PM

Capac's gifts of history, distant and recent

July 18, 2007
The village of Capac has brought me a lot of things over the years.

I considered my "adopted home town" when I first moved to the area 17 years ago. I had a Capac mailing address and a Capac phone number. The area was still so small that you only had to dial the last four digits of a 395 exchange to get your neighbor, local merchant, school, etc. I felt like I'd arrived in Mayberry and I loved it.

Some things changed as the years went by, including the four digit dialing. Uncle Bill's Kitchen—where Rod and I would stop every Sunday for the best omelettes around—is no longer there. Paisano's, the only Italian restaurant in the area, gone too.

I pay taxes in the Capac School District. Three superintendents have held the post since I moved here, and there've been three police chiefs in the same period too.

Village Coucil presidents have been too numerous to recall. Liz Hargrave was the council president when I was assigned to Capac Village Council meetings.

Of course, the Pete Kavanagh days immediately spring to mind. By then, I'd been moved to the Imlay City beat and Diana Farley was the Capac reporter then. Then, of course, was the 'village manager' year. Maria's turf. Boy oh boy. Don't need to say too much more than that, I believe.

I've met two very interesting people from the Capac area who've had a profound impact my life.

Story-wise, Capac brought me to many, many people who've shared their triumphs and tragedies. Among them was Spence, who I had the pleasure of interviewing a few years back—actually thanks to one of the above-mentioned duo. I spent an early even-ing driving around on a golf cart with Spence at Holly Meadows as he shot 18 holes. A perfect gentleman, he opened my eyes to a wealth of history, both national and local. He was actually in the Citizens Conservation Corps—something I knew very little about until the interview prompted research into the national program that helped the country get through one of the roughest times in history.

On the local level, Spence told me all about the hotel he used to operate in Capac. How it was a booming place.The old building Spence bought in 1967 was built in 1891 when the original wooden French Hotel was torn down by its new owner.

Before it burned to the ground—investigators suspected arson—Spence had transformed the place into a hopping night spot known for its top notch entertainment and good food.

I never saw the place, and I regret it.

Kevin, the sports guy, remembers "eating the best $5 steak" he's ever had at the hotel—Spence had a restaurant there called Aubrey's Supper Club. It seems Kevin and the other boys on the high school cross country team had an outstanding performance at some meet and they were rewarded with a meal at the hotel courtesy of the coaches or school district.

Kevin told me all the other guys on the team ordered spaghetti and stuff, but he just had to have a steak. And for $5, he got a tasty one. It surely must have been because he still remembers it. While I'm going to avoid mentioning the year—even Kevin can't recall it exactly—let's just say that it was about a hair under a quarter-century ago.

It seems five bucks would get you a lot back then. It was the cost for an overnight stay in one of the hotel's 16 rooms. If you were a weekly boarder, $40 would take care of a month's rent.

Spence told me he loved that old building, and was devastated when it burned down. He believes someone threw a firebomb through the hotel's only large, plate glass window in the area that housed pool tables and a bar.

Lucky for me, I could confirm his suspicions by digging through the archives here at the office. In the January 23, 1980 edition of the Tri-City Times, the banner story and main front page photo reflected the tragedy at the historic landmark. The inside pages show more photos of the building and the blaze, and contain a follow- up story on the investigation that was being conducted by state fire marshal investigators. For several weeks after the fire, the paper continued to carry stories about the loss of the hotel and the status of the investigation. Called "suspicious in nature," the origin of the fire was never determined.

Though I never had a chance to step foot in the place, I'm bummed out that a rather fascinating piece of Capac's history was cut out of the picture. What's worse is that it may have been removed on purpose.

Capac's been a fascinating place in many ways in the 17 years that I've been here. And stretching back 150 years has been even more fascinating. Happy birthday, Capac.

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