In 1893, hundreds of homes, businesses, and churches on the East Side of Saginaw were burned to the ground in Saginaw’s Great Fire.
On March 20th and fanned by 50-mile-an-hour winds, the blaze began on Ojibway Island and spread throughout the City. In hours, 249 structures were destroyed including businesses, churches, and City Hall.
In the face of devastation two Scottish immigrant carpenters, Hugh and Matt Spence, saw an opportunity to rebuild.
The construction company Hugh Spence & Brother - now known as Spence Brothers - was born.
Herb Spence is the President and CEO of the family-owned company now in its fourth generation and 126th year of operation.
“Honestly, it’s a little bit of pressure,” laughs Spence. “We have a tremendous legacy in the construction industry and throughout the state that was built by previous generations people who dedicated their lives to keeping the company alive.”
Part of keeping the company alive was transforming from residential construction to general contracting for commercial developments. Projects ranged from churches to schools, hospitals, Federal Post Offices across the nation during the Great Depression, and even manufacturing plants for General Motors.
The company also built many of Saginaw’s most notable buildings: City Hall, the Clark Ring home (now the Saginaw Art Museum), the Michigan Bell Telephone Building, and the Saginaw News Building.
Spence and his team also led the transformation of the Saginaw News building into a mixed-use development housing the SVRC Marketplace and many office and corporate spaces in 2016.
"SVRC Industries, Inc.had an amazing vision and we wanted to be part of it because the building means a great deal to us,” says Spence. “We wanted it to succeed because we believed it was a key part of the revitalization of Riverfront Saginaw.”
What goes around comes around, as the building they originally built and then redeveloped they also now call home, along with the SVRC Marketplace, CMURC, and others.
“We had definitely outgrown our previous facility and needed a nicer home for our people, especially for those who worked in what we called our ‘lower level suite’ - the basement.” Spence smiles. “They didn’t have much light down, and I think they still wear sunglasses to the office because of all the windows we have.”