The history behind the Battle Creek federal building

Posted at 6:35 PM, Jun 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-09 21:15:03-04

BATTLE CREEK, MI. -- What has been a part of the Battle Creek skyline for more than 100 years has quite the history behind it. Known to many as the federal building, but more officially as the Hart, Doyle, and Inouye Federal Center on Washington and Sanitarium Streets. It was named after three U.S. senators. If you've ever been to Washington D.C., this building is a reminder of a similar area. It now employs 1500 people as part of the (DOD) Department of Defense. Their jobs revolve around logistics for the military and armed services, mainly producing catalogs for the goods they need and use everyday. They also coordinate the disposal of millions and millions of dollars of unwanted, old, and outdated equipment.

The building actually had four different functions over the past 100+ years. It was the Battle Creek Sanitarium up until the early 1940s, then it became the Percy Jones Military Hospital, then the Headquarters for Civil Defense, and now the federal building. That said, the history of the sanitarium is incredible! It was Dr. John Kellogg that became the director of the sanitarium in the late 1800s. He remained in that position most of his life, but the sanitarium grew from smaller locations in to a much larger building in the late 1800s. It unfortunately burned down in 1902, but was completely rebuilt without the use of wood. Make sure not to confuse sanitarium...a place where people learned to live healthy, with sanatorium...a place where people went to die.

In 1928 the two existing towers were added in hopes of drawing more patients in, but the depression hit shortly after and business was never the same. Most would probably never know that famous names like Amelia Earhart, J.C. Penny, J.D. Rockefeller, and President Howard Taft were all patients at one time. This indeed was a world class spa and five-star hotel where the wealthy learned healthy ways in which to live. No meat, no smoking, no caffeine, and daily exercise and plenty of sleep. In fact, Dr. Kellogg was responsible for developing and inventing several exercise machines that were in use at the time, some of which ended up on the Titanic, and many of which the premise of todays machines are based.

Another interesting tidbit? It was in this very building that Dr. Kellogg and his brother W.K. Kellogg (the cereal magnate) invented the corn flake as part of a healthier diet with the grain they used. Once business began to drop during and after the depression the sanitarium moved in to another smaller location and the building was transformed in to the Percy Jones Military Hospital, one of the largest of its kind and the largest in the United States for amputees and veterans that had lost limbs in the war. It was also during this time that big name entertainers like Bob Hope and Ed Sullivan visited wounded veterans in recovery.

The current cafeteria in the federal building is huge. It was also the main Venetian dining area for the sanitarium and the size is amazing! Original paintings in an Asian motif are still visible on the wall in the cafeteria today. The main tower lobby is also untouched with beautiful fluted pillars and a decor reminiscent to something on the Titanic. Horse hair and plaster was used to simulate wood in an effort to not use real wood after the fire in 1902. There's also a meeting room that was once the famous palm garden room in the sanitarium laced with palm trees, waterfalls, and a glass ceiling dome that allowed sunlight in...all in an effort to help folks relax. The main entrance to the federal building, aside from the security station and guard, also contains the original marble staircase that has been closed due to wear and tear over the years. There's also a room with plenty of historic photos and a complete timeline of the building from start to finish.

If you'd like to tour the old the Hart, Doyle, and Inouye Federal Center, don't contact the federal center! They don't give the tours. You'll need to contact Betty Scherencel with the Adventist Historic Village down the street...she conducts all the tours. She can be reached at (269) 965-3000. The connection to the village is that Dr. Kellogg was a seventh day Adventist and the entire sanitarium was started on that premise. Everything they did at the sanitarium can be traced back to the early roots and beginnings of the seventh day Adventist church. Find more information on the building here.