Erected in 1917, the Edgewater Flats—known colloquially as the Fairbanks Flats—were constructed by the engine manufacturing company Fairbanks Morse as housing for their growing workforce. The number of African Americans working at Fairbanks Morse rose due to the growing number of migrant families from the South, from six in 1915 to 250 in 1917 (ICMA). The Flats housed workers from the foundry, including blacksmiths, molders, oilers and foremen (Wisconsin Historical Society).
The Flats are the only known company housing built exclusively for Black workers in Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society. Single-family housing was scarce for many Black families in Wisconsin during the Great Migration, so living in the Flats was an advantage for many families (Book of Beloit II 1836-1986, p. 150).
Migrants coming from the South found the modern amenities that the Flats provided—electricity, running water, indoor plumbing—to be a step up from the housing they left behind. The complex was composed of four blocks of apartments, which became the central area for the Black community of the time (Book of Beloit II, p. 150).
Beloit’s local YMCA was segregated through 1945, but Fairbanks Morse built a new YMCA adjacent to the Fairbanks Flats (Book of Beloit II, p. 150). The Edgewater YMCA became the epicenter for Black youth life in the community and included its own Hi-Y club to provide children with scouting opportunities and sports equipment (Book of Beloit, p. 150). The nearby YWCA on W. Grand Avenue, by contrast, integrated in the 1920s, allowing Black women and girls into their facilities decades before Black boys and men integrated the YMCA (Book of Beloit II, p. 151).
In 1999, the City of Beloit bought the Flats with the intention of demolishing them. Community members who wanted to preserve the historic homes worked for years in collaboration with the city to evaluate options for the property until Gorman & Company suggested created renovating the Flats into affordable housing in 2006 (IMCA).