Chapter XXXIX

Flouring Mills, Saw Mills and Lumber

Grist Mills

The first grist mill in Grand Rapids was made in 1834 by putting a run of stones into the Indian mission saw mill which stood near where is now the railway junction above the north line of the city, west side. For lack of water power it could do but little work, and the stones were not of the best quality. But it cracked some corn for the pioneers, and did the first grinding of gypsum for making stucco, in 1835. The mill was abandoned about two years later. Up to the time of railroad communication, there were only two grist mills doing much business.

In 1836-37, Dwight and James Lyman built a grist mill on Coldbrook, a little above where now is the railroad station. A man named Fish, and after him John C. Stonehouse, were millers there. In 1838 some gypsum grinding, for plaster of paris, was done at that mill. Afterward some wood turning machinery was operated in connection with it, and Charles W. Taylor put in a second set of stones. The stream did not furnish sufficient power to run it steadily in dry seasons, but this became a popular custom mill, and flour from it for home use always found ready sale. In 1861-62 it was operated by Asahel Hubbard. Some years later its use became unprofitable, and the flouring apparatus was removed. February 28, 1880, the building was blown down in a gale.

In 1836 the foundations were laid for the building which came to be known as the "Big Mill." It stood by the river bank, nearly opposite the foot of Hastings street. It was begun by Lyon & Sargeant. In the same year N. O. Sargeant sold his interest to Carroll, Almy and Richmond. The superstructure was erected in 1837 by Smith & Brownell, builders. James A. Rumsey assisted in the building, and was the first miller, operating it until 1845. In 1846 it was purchased by John L. Clements and Martin L. Sweet, who operated it till 1854. With Sweet for some years afterward was associated James M. Barnett. Sweet built in 1854 another large mill, a wood structure, on the east side of Canal street, opposite the "Big Mill." Both mills were sold about twenty years ago to Gardner & Armitage. July 13, 1873, the new mill was destroyed by fire. A little later the old one also burned, and its walls were torn down in September, 1879. The sites are now occupied by manufacturing establishments. The stone work of the original foundation of the "big mill" was but recently removed.

The grist mill known for nearly thirty years as the Kent Mills stood between Canal street and the mill-race, a few rods south of Bridge street. It was in a stone building, built by John W. Squier in 1842-43, and was owned and managed by him thereafter. The castings, machinery and millstones were brought down Grand River from Jackson in a scow or flat-bottomed boat. In 1844 he put in wool carding and cloth dressing machinery which were for a time operated in connection with the mill. It had a good custom and was popular with wheat raisers as well as consumers at home, and its product was in brisk demand abroad after exportation of flour began. This mill was destroyed by fire in May, 1872, at which time it had been operated by H. Grinnell & Co. for a few years.

The Valley City Mills (Mill street, north side of Bridge) were built in 1867, by A.X. Cary & Co. They are still in operation, and have for twenty years done a brisk business. Mr. Cary was their principal manager during ten or twelve years. They are now operated by the Valley City Milling Company, established in 1884, of which C.G. Swensberg is President. M.S. Crosby, Vice President, and Wm. N. Rowe, Manager. Among their specialties is the manufacture of "roller champion" and "Lily white" flour. The mills are now known as the Grand Rapids Roller Mills. They use both steam and water power.

The Globe Mill (Mill street, south of Bridge) was erected in 1868 by G.M. Huntly and C.A. Moross. It was chiefly a custom mill at first, but put in rollers and ground largely for the trade in later years. It is still at work, having passed into the hands of the Valley City Milling Company. It has an elevator attached. In 1873, and three following years, it was run by Jesse Widoe, and afterward by I.W. Wood, until it came into the hands of the present proprietors. In both mills this company do a heavy business, aggregating over half a million dollars per annum.

The Star Mills on the west bank of the river below Bridge street, were built in 1868 by Wellington Hibbard & Co. In 1870 the firm became Mangold, Hibbard & Co., John Mangold having purchased a large interest. In 1875, after the death of Mr. Mangold, it became Mangold, Kusterer & Co., Voigt & Herpolsheimer having bought the Hibbard interest, and Christopher Kusterer having purchased that of the Mangold estate. In 1881 the firm became C.G.A. Voigt & Co. (Carl G.A. Voigt, W.G. Herpolsheimer and Louisa F. Mangold), by whom the mills have since been operated. It is equipped with eight runs of stone, half a dozen purifiers, several sets of rollers and bolts to correspond. The machinery is driven by water power principally, though steam is attached for use when needed. The buildings, which are large and four stories high, are of wood. Some 225 barrels of flour a day in the average, while at work, have been turned out by these mills.

Joseph Rowland established a custom mill in the brick building which had been erected for a woolen factory, Mill street, nearly opposite Hastings, in 1868. It has since been in operation, doing custom and merchant work, as a feed and flour mill, doing a moderate but steady business.

The Crescent Mills, of brick, capacious and well equipped, were erected in 1875 by Hibbard, Rose & Co. Seven runs of burr stones were put in, for flouring exclusively. The original cost, including machinery, was $65,000. In 1876 they passed into the hands of Hibbard & Graff, and were operated by John F. Graff, as lessee, until about 1883, when they were purchased by C.G.A. Voigt and W.G. Herpolsheimer, who have since carried them on, the business name being the Voigt Milling Company. Their flour is in high repute. They have a capacity of near 200 barrels per day, and the product is shipped largely to the New England States.

In 1877 Henry Spink and Tjerk Veenstra started a wholesale feed and flour mill at 122 Ellsworth avenue, which has been in operation since.

A small inland establishment called the Swan Mills, for the manufacture of kiln-dried and buckwheat flour, and feed, was started in 1876 by Thomas Swanenberg and Henry Lindhout, near the junction of Center and Pleasant streets, and operated for a short time.

In 1881 W.W. Hatch and Henry Mitchell erected the Model Mills on Winter street, south of West Bridge, for the special manufacture of "roller process" flour, and operated them some three years, after which they passed into the hands of Herbert P. and Harry L. Blanchard. They have been removed to the side of the railroad track near the west end of the G.R. & I.R.R. bridge, where they are still in operation – J.W. Converse proprietor, O.E. Brown manager – under the name of O.E. Brown Milling Company. The buildings are much enlarged by additions. They have an elevator of 75,000 bushels storage capacity; flour storage for 7,000 barrels, and the working capacity is 200 barrels per day.

Early Saw Mills

The first saw mill in Grand Rapids was that for the Slater Indian Mission, built at Government expense in 1832, by Gideon H. Gordon. It was on that little creek near the north line of the city, west side, called Indian Mill Creek, and stood near where now is the railroad junction. It was a small, slow mill, with the old-fashioned upright saw, capable of cutting, perhaps, from five to eight hundred feet of boards per day, when there was water sufficient to keep it in motion. There was made the lumber for a school house and meeting house at the Baptist Indian Mission, and for a small house and chapel at the Catholic Mission. Boards were also sawed there for the pioneer dwelling house of Joel Guild, and for some other buildings put up by Louis Campau and others in 1833 and 1834. Some lumber was procured there also for early building in Ionia. When Darius Winsor came down here, he purchased or leased the mill, and ran it for a short time. The creek was very small, and the mill could not be operated steadily, it being necessary to allow the dam to fill, the pond covering several acres of ground, but very shallow, then saw till the water ran out, when the operation must be repeated. A pair of grist mill stones were put in that mill, for cracking corn to make hominy for the Indians and settlers, but did not do very good execution, and were not run very long. It had its day, doing some good service for the pioneers, and was soon allowed to go to decay.

The second saw mill was built at the east channel of the river, just above the present site of Sweet’s Hotel. It was begun by Luther Lincoln, and completed in the spring of 1834 by Abram S. Wadsworth. A low dam was constructed from the head of Island No. 1 to the east bank, and the power was applied through an undershot wheel. It was a lazy mill, the old-fashioned upright saw hung in its cumbersome sash or gate frame, and did its work slowly. Not much lumber was cut there. The mill stood but a few years, and the great freshet of 1838 swept it away. But it furnished slabs for building several pioneer huts.

Three saw mills were built in the town of Wyoming in 1834, another in 1835, and one in 1836 on Plaster Creek where has since been a plaster mill. Louis Campau had a mill built by Josiah Burton on the small stream that runs into Plaster Creek, just south of the city. Some ten years later it was run by James A. Rumsey, who built another there. In the winter of 1837-38 Harry H. Ives built a mill for William H. Withey, some miles above the rapids, west of the river, on a small creek. And near the same time Samuel White and Sons erected a saw mill a short distance northwest of this town; and James M. and George C. Nelson also built one on Mill Creek. From these little outside mills much of the lumber was procured for building during several years after settlement.

About 1837 was planted the first mill with a muley saw in this section – a small one on the little Lamberton Creek that comes to the river near the Soldier’s Home. It was a novelty, and attracted considerable attention at the time. It was operated only a few years.

The first saw mill on the race, or east side canal, was built by James M. Nelson and H.P. Bridge, in 1837, at the north end of the "big mill" of Lyon & Sargeant. In the beginning the intention was to put in a gang of sixty saws at that "big mill," but the panic of 1837 took the teeth out of many a great speculation, and this mill with a single saw was not after all a very poor outcome for these times.

The second saw mill by the canal was that of James H. Scott, just above Bridge street, and the third was that of James M. Nelson a few rods below, built in 1842. Near Nelson’s was the Haldane mill, and a little above, shortly afterward, was built the Harry Wartrous mill. In 1851 Powers & Ball built a small mill east of the canal, by Erie street, which they operated with a muley saw for a few years. In 1854 C.C. Comstock built a mill adjoining that of Wartrous. In 1858 David Caswell and Rosenberg & Day were running saw mills by the canal. All the early mills were run by water power and only cut from 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 feet each per season. A mill which would turn out 4,500 feet per day was in those times considered an exceptionally good one – mills that would cut ten times as much had not then been invented.

There was in 1837 a mill with an overshot wheel on Coldbrook, just east of Plainfield avenue, afterward owned by Charles W. Taylor. It was built by Dwight and James Lyman, who in 1837 advertised for 1,000 pine logs, to be delivered at the head of the rapids.

Later and Steam Saw Mills.

About 1853 Powers, Ball & Co. put up the first steam mill, with a circular saw, in this region. It was north of Leonard street, where the Long & Company mill now stands, west side. The latter was built in 1873. Wonderly & Company erected a large mill near there in 1870, with a cutting capacity of 100,000 feet or more daily. In 1864 C.C. Comstock built the water power mill near the head of the east side canal and put in a circular saw, which was burned down in 1878, but rebuilt and is still running. He also built in 1868 a water power mill by the river bank opposite Erie street, where the Leitelt machine shops are. This also was burned in 1871, rebuilt and again burned in 1884. About 1865 Elijah D. and Daniel H. Waters built a saw mill and box factory south of the old Nelson mill on the canal, which was burned several years later. When William T. Powers finished his west side canal he built a saw mill at the foot, but subsequently turned the power to other uses. There was also a saw mill run in connection with the agricultural implement works on that side of the river.

On the east side, by the head of Canal street and below the railway, B.R. Stevens & Sons put up a steam saw mill, about 1864. This was afterward sold to Robinson, Solomon & Co., rebuilt on a larger scale, and finally, two or three years ago, sold and removed. Benjamin Ferris about the same time with Stevens & Sons, built a mill which was afterward purchased by L.H. Withey & Company, who operated it till about six years ago, when the machinery was sold and taken away. Ichabod L. Quimby also for a number of years operated a mill near the one last mentioned. In 1882 C.C. Comstock built a steam power saw mill on the bank of the river above the chair factory. This was burned down in 1884, and rebuilt by the Cupples Wooden Ware Company, who were running it. The mill now cuts about 7,000,000 feet of logs per annum into lumber, besides large quantities of pail and tub staves. C.F. Nason had for about a dozen years a steam power saw mill a little north of the D., G.H. & M. Railway junction, west side, which burned about four years ago. The Phoenix Furniture Company also have built and operated a large saw mill in connection with their factory.

This comprises nearly a full list of the saw mills of Grand Rapids in their order. Their business is almost completed, the timber available for sawing at this point being so far consumed that comparatively little work for them remains. The capital invested in them, and the power which they have employed, must be turned to other industrial uses, if not abandoned. As the march of improvement brings in new inventions and new industries, their places are supplied by new undertakings, and still the manufacturing interests increase and grow.

Pine Lumber

The beginning of lumber shipments from this point was made by George C. and James M. Nelson, and William H. Withey, about 1838. It is claimed that the first lumber rafts down the river were sent out in that year by James M. Nelson. About that time, or soon after, George W. Dickinson brought down a raft of 30,000 feet of lumber from Flat River, said to be the first one from that locality. For twenty years from the commencement of the lumber trade, the only profitable avenue for shipments to other markets was by floatage to Grand Haven and shipment from that port by lake vessels. Until 1850 or thereabout, the growth of the lumbering business was moderate, but as the western country filled up the demand increased and the trade grew rapidly. The forests along the river and its branches contributed also somewhat, but not very largely, to the furnishing of timber for ship-building. Occasionally a very fine stick for a mast or a spar or keel for a lake vessel was procured. In July, 1846, a stick for the keel of a new propeller, designed to run between Grand Haven and Buffalo, the hull of which was then building here, was hauled across the bridge and down just below the present steamboat landing. Such incidents, however, were isolated items, not belonging strictly to the lumber trade. In 1855, lumber shipments from Grand River at its mouth, amounted to 45,000,000 feet, and an estimated value of $450,000. Of this the larger part went down from the rapids in rafts or in logs. Shipments of the same year also included about $100,000 worth of shingles and $33,000 worth of lath. The principal sources of supply of logs for sawing here, and also of logs floated past this point to Grand Haven, were extensive tracts of pine timber along Rouge River, Flat River, Maple River, Fish Creek, and one or two other affluents of Grand River, with their tributaries, above Grand Rapids. These forests, within available distance of streams for running logs, have furnished thousands of millions of feet of the finest of pine timber, but under the destroying hand of the lumberman, have been rapidly stripped until the supply is almost gone.

But little timber is left that will be available here, either by river or railroad, except what must be utilized for home manufacturing uses, and for these every kind, soft and hard, that grows in these woods, is already in demand. The young man of twenty to-day will see, at fifty or sixty years, little or no wood for manufacture, for building, or even for fuel, in this part of Michigan. Some other material must take its place, very largely; possibly our buildings may yet be grown on the farm lands, and worked into shape from fiber and straw, as paper is made. There are now only one or two operators at Grand Rapids who have any pine supplies left, or who will saw any lumber for the outside market hereafter. Grand Haven parties are also doing their last work in lumbering, and there will be few or no logs floated in Grand River after 1890.

Log Running and Booming

The Grand Rapids Boom Company was organized in 1870, and since that date has handled all the logs in Grand River that have been run to or below this city. Prior to its organization the Rouge River and other log running companies did substantially a similar business, but often each owner looked after his own. The principal officers of the Grand Rapids Boom Company have been: President – I.L. Quimby, 1870-74; C.C. Comstock, 1875-76; L.H. Withey, 1877 and since. Treasurer – L.H. Withey, 1870-74. Secretary – F. Letellier, 1870; Daniel H. Little, 1871; W.J. Long, 1872-73; F. Letellier, 1874. Since 1874 F. Letellier has been Secretary and Treasurer. Besides the logs delivered by this company to local mills, during the seventeen years of its existence, it has passed by for parties at the mouth of the river not less than 2,000,000,000 feet. The following table shows the deliveries to saw mills here; in connection with which the explanation should be made that on July 26, 1883, a flood in the river broke away the boom and bridge and let all logs then in down the river, involving losses then estimated at upward of $300,000 in the aggregate, a portion of which was retrieved by stopping many in their passage toward the lake:

Year. Feet.



















Total 654,975,851

THOMAS STEWART WHITE – a resident of the Grand River Valley from his birth, and prominently active in its business life during the past quarter of a century – is a son of Thomas W. and Caroline N. White, of New England nativity. Captain Thomas W. White is well remembered by all old residents as prominent among the pioneers, and in the development and progress of this region. He was born November 16, 1805, came to Grand Haven, Mich., in June, 1835, and in 1866 removed to Grand Rapids, where he died January 5, 1884. Capt. White was a member of the State Legislature in 1844, and was influential in procuring the grant of land for the building of the first bridge across Grand River in this city at Bridge street. He won an enviable reputation as an honorable man and good citizen. T. Stewart White was born at Grand Haven, Mich., June 28, 1840. His education was that of the common school, rounded out by the many and varied experiences of the early days in this valley, and the training of active business life. At nineteen years of age he was employed in the bank of Ferry & Sons at Grand Haven, where he remained about three years; in 1863 and 1864 was shipping and receiving clerk in a wholesale grocery house at Chicago, and in 1865 returned to Grand Haven and again entered the bank of Ferry & Sons as Cashier. In 1866 he came to Grand Rapids. In 1867 he formed a partnership with Capt. Heber Squier of Grand Haven; the firm owning tugs, dredges and pile drivers, for wrecking, and contracting for harbor work along lake Michigan. This business they carried on some ten years, and it is continued at present by White & Finch, as contractors only. In 1868 he formed a partnership with John M. Avery, under the firm name of White & Avery, in the lumber business; afterward merged successively with the firm of Robinson, Solomon & Co., Robinson, Letellier & Co., Letellier & White, and the present firm of White, Friant & Letellier. In 1869 Mr. White formed a partnership with Thomas Friant, which still continues as White & Friant; taking charge of all the logs in the river at Grand Rapids, running them to Grand Haven; booming, sorting and delivering them to the mills, for twenty-one years. Also in connection with John Rugee, of Milwaukee, Wis., the firms of White, Friant & Co., and White & Friant Lumber Company were formed. Mr. White is President of the latter, by which an extensive lumber business is carried on; involving the handling in 1890 of some 45,000,000 feet. He has been a Director in the First National Bank of Grand Haven since its organization; was for a time a Director in the Fourth National Bank of Grand Rapids; is a Director in the National City Bank, and also in the Michigan Trust Company of this city; is President of the Grand Rapids Safety Deposit Company, and Vice President of the Grand Rapids Fire Insurance Company. He has uniformly avoided active political life and public or official positions. Mr. White married April 20, 1870, Mary E. Daniell, of Milwaukee, and the family live quietly and unpretentiously in a pleasant home at Waverly Place, this city.

THOMAS FRIANT is a native of Kent county, "to the manor born." His parents, Cornelius and Huldah (Hatch) Friant, came to Michigan in 1837 from Wayne county, N.Y., and settled in Plainfield, this county, bringing their goods by Grand River from Portland, after having taken up land and built a log cabin. His father was a stalwart, vigorous man, with the will and energy characteristic of the successful pioneer. Thomas Friant was born in Plainfield, Kent county, Michigan, February 16, 1840. In youth he attended the district school, doing farm work also, until at the age of 17 years he commenced teaching school in the winter season. In 1858 he entered the lumber office of Hopkins & Friant at Grand Haven, where an elder brother was one of the firm, and afterward was in the forwarding office of Galen Eastman at the same place. From 1862 to 1867 he was engaged in the business of druggist, and held several town offices, among them those of Justice of the Peace and Town Clerk. In 1869 he worked for Nelson, Comstock & Co. of Grand Rapids as book-keeper, and also as book-keeper for Comstock & Wartrous. In 1870 he went into partnership with Squier & White of Grand Haven and entered into contract with the Ottawa County Boom Company to run, raft and deliver all logs on Grand River destined for Grand Haven. In 1873 White & Friant renewed this contract and have conducted the business ever since to the end, up to 1890, when they had no more to handle, the entire output of the pine forests tributary to Grand River having "gone west." Since 1879 the firm of White & Friant have also been engaged in the manufacture and sale of pine lumber, under the different firm names of White, Friant & Co., White & Friant Lumber Company, and White, Friant & Letellier. At present they are actively engaged in manufacturing at Manistee and Menominee. Mr. Friant is a representative of the active, pushing, enterprising and successful business men of Western Michigan. Grand Rapids has been his home and headquarters during most of his business life.

Sash, Doors and Blinds

In the beginnings of the village the skilled carpenter and joiner usually carried in his chest the tools necessary for the making of mouldings, casings, sash, doors and blinds. These things were plainer and simpler in construction than now, fifty years ago, when all the work was patiently wrought by hand. Haldane, Burnett, Woodward, Covell, Blakely, and other early comers of the craft, usually performed (peformed in the original text) their own work in this line. James M. Haldane was perhaps the first to make a specialty of manufacturing window sash and blinds to be kept on hand for sale. His shop was on Prospect Hill in January, 1842, where he advertised to supply farmers and others at short notice. Alson D. Pelton in the same year advertised a stock of window sash on hand at a shop one door east of the bookstore. That was on what is now Crescent avenue and fronting the County Building site. He also advertised that he was "on hand at the shortest notice for any kind of work in the carpenter and joiner line, from a meeting house to a hen coop." Soon after the lengthening of the east side canal, about 1844, James H. Scott operated a sash and blind factory in connection with his pail works, just north of Bridge street. In 1854 Kelley & Livingston, and in the following year D. & J.S. Kelley, were making doors, sash and blinds by hand in a little factory on the south side of Monroe street, below Ionia, and Adolphus N. Bacon was making blinds to order, by hand work, near the corner of Ionia and Fountain streets.

At about this time came the introduction of planing machines here, and very soon Charles C. Comstock, Noyes & Berkey, Elias Skinner, Edward F. Ward, N.A. Harrington & Co., the Pew Brothers, Charles D. Blakeslee and others had planing mills and sash, door and blind factories along the canal and in the vicinity of Canal street.

Until Ward, Skinner & Brooks, together with Mr. Comstock, introduced new machinery, most of the doors, sash and blinds made here were such as would not now be used in the cheapest of dwelling houses. They improved the goods, changed the styles, and revolutionized the trade, besides reducing prices. With the large amount of building that has been done here, and the great quantity of lumber that has been cut and used in this market, the sash, door and blind business has been a heavy, attractive and in many cases a lucrative one. For a good portion of the last twenty-five years it has been among the leading occupations. In it a great deal of money has been invested, and for the supply of the home demand alone it is a very important industry, saying nothing of the vast amount of the products exported. Among the later mills and factories of this class in operation, are those of Blakeley & Jenison, C.C. Comstock, L.M. Cutcheon, Dregge & Hodenpyl, Fuller & Rice, White, Friant & Letellier, Rowson Brothers, and DeGraaf, Vrieling & Co. To make a complete list would be impracticable. At the present time half a dozen factories are using nearly $150,000 of invested capital, giving work to from 90 to 100 employees and turning out a product amounting to not far from $225,000 annually.

Among local establishments dealing in rough and dressed lumber and shingles is the lately established enterprise of J.F. Quigley & Co. (John F. Quigley and Frank H. Furman), occupying an acre of ground by the G.R. & I.R.R. between First and Second avenues. The partners in the firm have separately been many years in the business. Doing chiefly a home trade, they handle, besides lath and shingles, nearly half a million feet of lumber per month. The planing mill of S.P. Swartz on First avenue also does a lively business.

To attempt an enumeration in detail of all, in this city, who have been or are manufacturing and dealing in lumber, would be useless. Dealers in pine lands and lumber have done heavy business since the war closed in 1865. Among the more prominent who have been in the trade, some of them for periods varying from ten to thirty years, may be mentioned C.C. Comstock, White, Friant & Letellier, Barnhart Lumber Company, L.M. Cutcheon, D.A. Blodgett, Osterhout & Fox Lumber Company, Dunham, Peters & Company, Fuller & Rice, the brothers E. Crofton and Charles Fox, David M. Benjamin, Wetzell Brothers, W.F. Raiguel & Company. It is a business using capital in the aggregate estimated at upward of $3,600,000, chiefly furnished here, yielding an annual product of some $8,000,000, and giving work to more than 1,250 employees. The market is wide, domestic and in almost every State in the Union. The local trade has passed its zenith; with the rapid destruction of the woods, the period of its decline has nearly reached its terminus and the final cessation of the business.

ETHELBERT CROFTON FOX, more familiarly known as Col. E. Crofton Fox, capitalist and lumberman, fifth son of the Rev. Charles and Anna M. (Rucker) Fox, was born June 18, 1852, on Grosse Isle, Wayne county, Michigan, and he and his younger brother, Charles, are the only surviving members of a family of six sons. His father was the fourth son of George T. and Anne S. (Crofton) Fox, and was born November 22, 1815, at Westoe, County of Durham, England. He was educated at Rugby School, which he left at the age of sixteen years to engage in mercantile pursuits. In 1833 his father sent him to New York. His business calling him into various parts of the United States and Canada, he made many friends and acquaintances among those who were, or afterward became, prominent members of New York society. During this time he developed a taste for natural history, and made many small collections of animal and bird skins, of fish, and specimens of mineralogy, which he sent to his father in England, who took much interest in the Newcastle Museum, and was making collections for a museum of natural history in Durham. In the latter part of 1835 he returned to England, to take a course of study in the University at Durham. Returning to America he studied for the ministry, and was ordained a Deacon in Hartford, Connecticut, June 11, 1839. Mr. Fox soon after accepted a call to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at Jackson, Michigan, the first church organization in Jackson, save that of the Free Will Baptists which had been organized in February of the same year. His first sermon was preached in the Court House, August 1, 1839. He was ordained a Priest, December 1 of that year, at St. Paul’s Church, Detroit. In 1841 he resigned his Rectorship at Jackson to accept a call to Trinity Church, Columbus, Ohio. This charge he soon resigned to accept an invitation from the Bishop of Michigan to become his assistant in St. Paul’s Church, Detroit. In the spring of 1843 Mr. Fox resigned this charge and purchased a farm on Grosse Isle. Having but little knowledge of practical farming, he devoted himself to a thorough study of the subject, and soon mastered it both theoretically and practically, and during his residence there organized the Island into a separate parish, an Episcopal Church being founded and a building erected through his efforts. In 1852 he began publishing the Farmer’s Companion and Horticultural Gazette, opening an office in Detroit for that purpose. Its publication was, however, brought to a sudden close by the untimely death of Mr. Fox, which occurred July 24, 1854, at Detroit, from an attack of Asiatic cholera. Mr. Fox had been instrumental in establishing an agricultural school in connection with University of Michigan, and, while occupying the chair of Professor of Agriculture, he wrote and published the American Text Book of Practical and Scientific Agriculture, which proved to be a work of extensive research, and admirably adapted for the purpose for which it was written. His death cut short a useful career which promised much to the religious and temporal welfare of the people of Michigan. The mother of our subject, Anna Maria Rucker, was a daughter of John Anthony Rucker of Grosse Isle, and a native of Newark, N.J., where she was born September 1, 1816. She and her parents were passengers on the Walk-in-the-Water, the first steamer on the lakes in 1818. Mrs. Fox is still living, and in good health, residing with her son in Grand Rapids. E. Crofton Fox received his early education at the hands of a private tutor, and in 1861, when his mother removed to Detroit in order to give her sons better educational advantages, he entered the private school of Prof. Philo M. Patterson, continuing his studies there until 1868, and working on his mother’s farm on Grosse Isle during the summer vacations. The family then removed to Ann Arbor, where our subject entered the High School, from which he graduated in 1871, and entered the Literary Department of the University of Michigan, in the class of 1875. In 1873 he left the University and came alone to Grand Rapids, entering a hardware store as clerk, remaining about nine months, when he associated himself in business with Willard Barnhart, and Smith W. Osterhout, under the name of Barnhart, Osterhout & Fox, to engage in buying and selling lumber at wholesale. The capital of the firm was somewhat limited, Mr. Fox borrowing five thousand dollars, which he contributed as his portion. For the first two years he attended to the outside business of the firm, selling lumber from Louisville, Kentucky, to Boston, Massachusetts, and subsequently spent several years in charge of the logging and manufacturing departments. They commenced manufacturing in 1876, their mill being located at Pierson, and afterward at Fife Lake, Grand Traverse county, and Crofton, Kalkaska county. In addition to this branch, the firm engaged extensively in buying and selling pine lands. In 1876 Mr. Barnhart retired from the firm, and Mr. Charles Fox became a partner, the name being changed to Osterhout, Fox & Co., and in 1882 the Osterhout & Fox Lumber Co. was incorporated, with a capital stock of $260,000, paid up, the officers being Smith W. Osterhout, President; Robert Cutler, Vice-President; E. Crofton Fox, Treasurer, and Charles Fox, Secretary; these officers continuing until January 1, 1889, when, owing to the death of Mr. Osterhout, December 2, 1888, E. Crofton Fox was elected President; Robert Cutler, Vice President; W.G. Hinman, Treasurer, and Charles Fox, Secretary. From 1875 to 1880 the company were large manufacturers and shippers of shingles by rail, some years shipping as high as one hundred millions. In 1878 and 1879 they made large purchases of pine lands in Lake county, containing about 175,000,000 feet of standing pine, and a mill was built at Deer Lake, to which the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad built a spur line known as the Manistee branch. Of this timber about 100,000,000 feet have been cut. They are also owners of other tracts of pine lands in various parts of the Lower Peninsula and Wisconsin. In addition to their own mills, the services of several others have been utilized in cutting their timber under contract. Their trade extends from Kansas City, west; through Ohio, Indiana, northern Kentucky, southern Michigan, Pennsylvania, and other Eastern States. In 1888 the volume of business transacted amounted to over $300,000, employing from 150 to 200 men. Mr. Fox is also the owner of a considerable tract of pine land in the Northern Peninsula, and is Secretary and Treasurer of the Leaf River Lumber Co., of Grand Rapids, the capital stock of which is $250,000, organized for the purpose of purchasing timber lands and manufacturing lumber in Mississippi. He was one of the incorporators of the Kent County Savings Bank, and has been a member of its Board of Directors since its organization, December 24, 1884. He is also a Director of the Old National Bank of Grand Rapids; likewise a Director of the Grand Rapids Fire Insurance Company, and one of its original stockholders. He was one of the organizers of the Grand Rapids Board of Trade, since when he has been a member of its Board of Directors, and its Treasurer. He is also connected with numerous other business enterprises throughout the State. In politics Mr. Fox has always been a Republican, and in 1879 served as Chairman of the Republican City Committee of Grand Rapids. In 1887 he was appointed by Gov. Luce, a member of the State Military Board, with the rank of Colonel, and was elected its President. He was reappointed in 1888, and re-elected President of the Board. Col. Fox was made a Mason in Valley City Lodge, No. 86, in 1875, and has taken all the degrees to the thirty second, inclusive. He is a member of the Grand Rapids Chapter No. 7, Royal Arch Masons, and is Commander-in-Chief of DeWitt Clinton Consistory of Grand Rapids. He is also a member of DeMolai Commandery, No. 5, Knights Templar, of Grand Rapids. He is also a member of Eureka Lodge, No. 2, Knights of Pythias, and of the Chi Psi Society, the oldest secret organization of the University of Michigan. Mr. Fox is a member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church of Grand Rapids, of which he has been a Vestryman since 1888. A friend of Col. Fox, speaks of him as follows:

It has been my privilege to have been intimately acquainted with him for the past seventeen years. He possesses a character that few have, combining that of nobility, kindness for all, unswerving integrity and pure Christian motives and desires. His thoughtfulness for his friends has always been marked in the "little things" of life so often neglected. It is unnecessary to speak of his standing as a business man , because that is well known and established in the different communities where he has been engaged. His success has been that which naturally crowns an upright, conscientious career. Few persons have the privilege of as many friends, and as much honest respect as he.

CHARLES FOX, lumberman and capitalist, is the youngest of six sons of the Rev. Charles and Anna M. (Rucker) Fox. Some of the salient points in the life of his parents are given with the biographic sketch of Col. E. Crofton Fox, and need not be here repeated. The junior Charles, the subject of this sketch, was born at Ann Arbor, Michigan, December 15, 1853, his father at that time being a Professor in the State University, and giving courses of lectures on agricultural topics. Shortly afterward the family moved to their farm at Grosse Isle, where they resided until he was seven years of age, when the mother moved to Detroit, the father having died in 1854. There they lived until he was fourteen, he in the meantime attending the private school of Professor P.M. Patterson. They then moved to Ann Arbor, where, after graduating from the High School in 1871, he entered the University, taking the classical course. In 1872, during his freshman year, he shipped at Gloucester, Mass., on a mackerel vessel, for the benefit of his health, and spent eight weeks fishing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. From the University he graduated in 1875, and immediately sailed from Boston for Europe in company with his brother, Dr. G.T. Fox, his mother, and his uncle and aunt, Sir William and Lady Fox of New Zealand; remaining abroad until the following spring, traveling in England, France, Germany and Italy, and visiting Egypt. Returning in March, 1876, he came to Grand Rapids and engaged in the manufacture of lumber, purchasing a one-third interest in the firm of Osterhout, Fox & Company. Here he remained until 1883, when he took another tour abroad, traveling in Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain, Algiers and other countries, spending some six months thus. Since then he has devoted his time chiefly to his business interests at Grand Rapids; but in 1886 took a trip through Nova Scotia and the region thereabout. In 1885 he organized the firm of Fox & May, which operated in the region along the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad, and which was afterward reorganized into the Grand Rapids Tie and Lumber Company, extensive lumber manufacturers in the Northern Peninsula of Michigan. Mr. Fox is President of the last named company; Secretary of the Osterhout & Fox Lumber Company; a Director in the Michigan Trust Company, and is also a Director in the Owashtanong Club, a social organization of this city. Besides the above business connections, he is interested in mining in the Upper Peninsula; also in valuable Mexican mining concessions in the State of Chihuahua, controlled by Grand Rapids capital, and at the time of this writing (January, 1890) has started for a six months’ tour in Mexico and the West Indies, and to make a personal inspection of the last named properties. Mr. Fox has never married. In politics he is a Republican; in religious affiliation an Episcopalian, and a member of St. Mark’s Church in Grand Rapids. Since 1881 he has been a Mason; has taken all the degrees, including the Knights Templar and Scottish Rite to the thirty-second, and is a member of DeMolai Cammandery No. 5, Knights Templar. He is also one of the Chi Psi fraternity, a University secret society. Now, at the summit of middle age in life, Mr. Fox is an active, energetic, ambitious and public spirited citizen, who has been successful in business, and has a fair and hopeful prospect; enjoying the confidence and respect of all who know him.

Smith W. Osterhout was a native of Schoolcraft, Mich., where he was born September 30, 1851, the only son of Peter Osterhout, now of this city. He came to Grand Rapids in 1872 and soon after, in partnership with Willard Barnhart, engaged in the manufacture of pine lumber and shingles; next with E. Crofton Fox established the Osterhout & Fox Lumber Company, in 1874, which has since carried on a large business, and of which he was President. He was one of the Directors of the Old National Bank at its organization and till his death. He was also connected with the Pascagoula Lumber Company; the Santa Barbara Water Company and Pasadena Improvement Company in California, where he passed several winters; with the Bissell Carpet Sweeper Company, and some others. He died December 2, 1888. He had accumulated a handsome property; and was an unassuming, upright and highly respected citizen.

AMASA BROWN WATSON, more familiarly known in the later years of his life as Major A.B. Watson, was born at Worcester, Washington county, Vermont, February 27, 1826. His parents were Oliver and Esther (Brown) Watson. He received an academic education, and as a boy exhibited the traits of character which most distinguished him in his manhood. At an early age he left home to make his own way in the world; having as his chief capital good health, correct and steady habits, courage and ambition – qualities that won him steadfast friends. Going to Glens Falls, New York, he entered active work and developed a taste for the lumber business. He left there at the age of 27 and came to Newaygo, Michigan, in June 1843, as a pioneer of the old Newaygo Lumber Company, representing Eastern capital, which was invested in pine land and a saw mill. In his business on the Muskegon River he met with good success, and there by judicious investments laid well the foundation for a comfortable fortune. On the breaking out of the War of the Rebellion his patriotism was stirred into action; he took part in raising volunteers for the Eighth Michigan Infantry, and was commissioned Major of that regiment August 19, 1861, which he accompanied to the field, and was assigned with his command to General T.W. Sherman’s expedition to Port Royal, South Carolina. There he was wounded in action – shot through the thigh, at Coosaw River Ferry, January 1, 1862. He was reported killed, but recovered, and was afterward in the battle at James Island, June 16, 1862, where his horse was killed under him by a shot through the neck, but the Major in falling received no serious injury. Major Watson resigned September 10, 1862, and was honorably discharged from service. Afterward he again became interested in the lumber manufacturing business, in a saw mill at Muskegon, residing a part of the time in Chicago, and taking charge of the lumber shipments from his mill and attending to the sales. He was at the Palmer House during the great fire, but escaped with small loss. Major Watson came to Grand Rapids to reside November 14, 1873; but during all his residence in Michigan had been well known here, especially in business circles, and often visited this place. In 1881 he closed out his mill interests at Muskegon and disposed of his pine lands in Michigan; his lumbering and milling operations and business connections having proved the basis of a handsome fortune. His enterprises had been pushed on a broad scale and with rare judgment and energy. After this the Major invested largely in pine lands at the South, in Mississippi and Louisiana, and in various manufacturing and business enterprises in Grand Rapids. Here he erected the fine homestead mansion on the southeast corner of Fulton and Sheldon streets, one of the most beautiful residences in the State, of which he made a Christmas gift to his wife on the first Christmas Day spent by the family in the house. Politically, ever after the organization of that party, Major Watson was a staunch and stalwart Republican, and influential in Republican counsels. Yet he was wholly unambitious for political preferment, and would accept no nomination for public office; though regarded by men of all parties as worthy and capable to fill any representative or executive position, and often urged both for places of local and State trust. As an organizer and manager his services were in request. He was a Delegate to the Republican National Convention at Cincinnati, in June, 1876, and to that at Chicago in June, 1880, at each of which his first choice for candidate for President was James G. Blaine; also to that at Chicago in June, 1888, when he supported Russell A. Alger. He was President, at the time of his death, of the Kent County Republican Club. In business life he was prominent, as an investor, worker manager and officer. He was President for some years of the Fourth National Bank, and stockholder and director therein; stockholder and director in the Kent County Savings Bank; Vice President, director and stockholder in the Grand Rapids Street Railway Company; director and stockholder in the Chicago, Kalamazoo and Saginaw Railroad Company; President, director and stockholder in the Grand Rapids Brush Company; stockholder and director in two of the large furniture factories; stockholder, director and Treasurer in the Grand Rapids Fire Insurance Company, and stockholder and director in the Grand Rapids Electric Light and Power Company; besides his connection with many other business and private interests. He was also, when that movement was in progress, Chairman and Trustee of the Committee to secure a site for the Soldiers’ Home. These things testify to the confidence placed in his sagacity and integrity. Major Watson, December 30, 1886, became a Companion of the First Class of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion, Michigan Commandery. He never belonged to any other society. He was also President of the Peninsular Club, one year. Amasa B. Watson married, at Newaygo, Michigan, October 7, 1856, Martha A., daughter of John A. and Lucina (Parsons) Brooks of Newaygo, the Rev. Courtney Smith of Grand Rapids officiating. They had no children. August 11, 1873, Mrs. Watson’s youngest sister, Mrs. William J. Mead, died, leaving four children – John A. Brooks Mead, James Andrew Mead, Julia Agnes Mead and Willie Watson Mead – the oldest six years and the youngest five days old. Their father died less than three months after, and these children were adopted by Major and Mrs. Watson, by whom they were greatly loved. In a letter to his sister, written a short time before his death, the Major said of them: "They are all model children, that a king might be proud of." John A. B. Mead graduated at the Michigan Military Academy at Orchard Lake in 1884, at the age of 17 years, taking the highest honors in a class of eleven. James A. Mead entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at Boston in 1886, for an engineering course, and was admitted without condition. Julia A. Mead finished a course of study at the Misses Masters’ School for Young Ladies, at Dobbs Ferry on the Hudson, N.Y., at the age of 17 years. Willie W. Mead was about to enter the Michigan Military Academy at Orchard Lake at the time of uncle’s death. All the boys had been honorable students at Professor Swensberg’s Grand Rapids Business College. These children were all at home when their uncle died, and mourned for him as for a father whom they dearly loved. Major A. B. Watson died suddenly, September 18, 1888, at the age of 62 years. He left home apparently in his usual health and excellent spirits for a business trip to Northern Wisconsin. Entering a sleeping car of the night train at the Union Depot in this city, he walked down the aisle to the center, stood for a moment leaning against the berth, was seen to be falling and was caught by a passenger – two short gasps, and all was over; he was beyond the reach of human assistance. Heart failure was supposed to be the immediate cause. His funeral on the following Sunday, September 23, at three o’clock, in charge of the Loyal Legion, called together a very large concourse of sorrowing citizens, many prominent people attending from Detroit, Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Chicago and other points abroad, to pay tearful tribute to his memory; special trains coming from the first three cities named; the Detroit train, composed of General R. A. Alger’s and General Manager J. B. Mulliken’s private cars, bearing the members of the Loyal Legion. The services were conducted by the Rev. Charles Fluhrer, pastor of the Universalist Church, and the Rev. Campbell Fair of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Than Major Watson, few in any community, when called from earth, are more generally and sincerely missed and mourned. Resolutions of condolence were sent the bereaved widow and family, eulogistic of the life and character of the deceased, and expressions of their esteem and their sorrow, by the various associations with which he had been connected – all testifying to his worth as a man and a citizen; to his energy, fidelity, highmindedness, uprightness, benevolence, and particularly his charity to the deserving poor. None came nearer to the hearts nor more strongly enlisted the gratitude of the latter class than he. Scores of worthy and unfortunate ones received aid direct from his hand in time of need; in many cases not knowing who was their kind benefactor and helper. His acts of quiet and well-directed charity were unnumbered. In the hearts of those who knew him Major Watson has left a memory fragrant with the sweetness of well doing. His life work is a eulogy; what more or better could be added? Amasa B. Watson Post, G.A.R., and the Amasa B. Watson Woman’s Relief Corps in this city are thus named in memory of him. In person Major Watson was tall and commanding; strongly built and symmetrical in figure; erect and stately in bearing; with an open, manly countenance, genial and frank and smiling; of fair complexion, with bright, friendly, gray-blue eyes, and a cordial hand, that irresistibly won and retained warm and steadfast friendships.


There is one species of ancestral pride that rests upon a foundation as enduring as the love of liberty in the heart of a true American. No title of nobility can raise a citizen of the great Republic to the honor conferred upon such as can trace their lineage back to active participants in that great and ever memorable struggle for self-government, the war for American Independence. The heritage which consists in examples of lofty patriotism may well inspire every motive to excellence, to great exertion, and superior worth. The subject of this memoir, David Marcellus Benjamin, was born July 28, 1834, in Livermore, Maine, on what for nearly a century has been known as the "Benjamin farm." His family is one of the most ancient in our country, tracing its ancestry back for eight generations to John Benjamin, who came to America on the ship "Lion," September 16, 1632. His grandfather, Samuel Benjamin, was born at Watertown, in the Province of Massachusetts Bay, February 5, 1753. He was First Sergeant in the Militia Company of Capt. Daniel Whiting at the battle of Lexington. He was also at the battles of Bunker Hill, Monmouth and Yorktown, and many others in the Revolution, of lesser note. At Yorktown he was Acting Adjutant to Col. Scammel’s regiment. He was commissioned Ensign by John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress. He was made a Lieutenant October 7, 1777. Official documents show that his entire service in the War of the Revolution covered a period of seven years, three months and twenty-one days, without leaving said service even so much as one day. Lieut. Benjamin purchased the lands in Livermore, Maine, comprising the "Benjamin farm," and occupied them till his death on the 14th of April, 1824. He left ten children, of whom Martha, born October 4, 1792, married Israel Washburn, of Massachusetts, March 30, 1812. David, the father of the subject of this memoir, was born in Livermore, June 3, 1794. In 1820 he married Catherine Chase Stanwood, who was born in Brunswick, Maine, in May, 1800. Her mother was a descendant of Aquilla Chase, as was the late Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase. She died on the "Benjamin farm" in May, 1882, being soon followed by her husband, who died on the same farm in October, 1883, after having occupied it for eighty-four years. They had five children. David M., the subject of this sketch, received his education in his native State; first attending, as was then the custom, the summer and winter district school near the homestead, later a private school in the vicinity, afterward a few terms in the Farmington Academy, followed by a few terms in the Westbrook Academy, finally completing his education at the Litchfield Academy. He resided with his father on the farm till 1859, when he left the paternal roof, going into a lumber camp on a tributary of the Penobscot River, during the winter of 1859-60; providing for his necessities so far as his compensation of $11 per month would permit; but the experience and practical knowledge acquired there, and in a higher grade of service in the winters of 1861-62, laid broad and deep a foundation for a princely recompense in after years. In 1862, with a capital composed largely of energy, experience, and practical sense, he left his native State for Michigan, reaching Muskegon in October of that year. Soon after, he entered into a partnership to do a lumber business with O.P. Pillsbury and Daniel W. Bradley, constituting the firm of O.P. Pillsbury & Co., which firm is still (1889) in active business under the same name, the only change being the death of Daniel W. Bradley, who was succeeded in the firm by his three sons, William H., Edward and James W. On the 16th of June, 1869, Mr. Benjamin married Anna Louise Fitts, of Portsmouth, N.H. They have two children – a son, Fred. Washburn; a daughter, Catherine Chase. Soon after marriage, he removed to Big Rapids, Mich., where he remained until November, 1870, when he removed to Grand Rapids, residing here until November 1887; then, to be in proximity to his large lumbering business, he moved to Milwaukee, Wis., where he now resides, and where he is building for his occupancy one of the most elegant of modern homes. It will be a fitting monument to the success that has crowned an active business life, guided by the hard earned experience acquired in the days of small beginnings in his native Pine Tree State. The indomitable energy that moves so many of the sons of New England to successful results in laudable pursuits, is most fully personified in the business career of Mr. Benjamin. In personal appearance Mr. Benjamin is commanding. Physically, he is a robust and powerful man, being six feet in height and weighing two hundred and eighty-five pounds. In bearing he is dignified, but, as his face indicates, genial and companionable. In conversation, he is fluent and interesting. Sound common sense, with ability to express it, are qualities quickly discerned to be his, by his associates. As a citizen, he has regard for the public weal. In his relations with his fellow-men, he is honorable and just. He admires active, intelligent, honest men, who have the courage of their convictions. Politically, his father was a Whig of the Clay and Webster school; he grew up under that training, and ever regarded them as the ideal statesmen of their time, yet he is a well-informed, outspoken, uncompromising Democrat. In no sense a politician, he has no desire for political preferment; but few men devoted to the requirements of a large business as he is, feel the interest he manifests in the politics of his country. In this respect his example is most commendable, because, being intelligent, and based upon principle, it is honest and unselfish. At the present time, living statesmen for whom he has high regard are few, but Grover Cleveland stands foremost. He is broad enough to see much to admire in the public life of men with whom he differed politically. He admires many of the qualities exhibited by Abraham Lincoln, Peter Cooper, Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner, William Pitt Fessenden, and his cousin Elihu Benjamin Washburn. In theology, he recognizes no creed. He is not a member of any church, but is identified with the Unitarians, and is represented by the teachings of William Ellery Channing and Theodore Parker. Mr. Benjamin is an excellent type of a transplanted, thrifty, growing New Englander of expansive mind, who justly merits his ancestry, who is an honor to the State of his nativity, and to the States of his adoption.

Among local operators in lumber manufacture and pine land dealings, is Daniel McCoy, who has been among the prominent and public spirited residents of this city for some seven years past.

DANIEL McCOY, lumber manufacturer and dealer, was born July 17, 1845, in Philadelphia, and was educated in the public schools of that city. In 1867 he came to Michigan. October 19, 1869 at Romeo, Michigan, he married Gail L. Ayer, daughter of Alvan B. Ayer of that place. He commenced lumbering on the south branch of the Manistee River, the firm being composed of James A. Remick of Detroit, John G. Riggs of Saginaw, and himself. The logs were floated down the river to Manistee, and there cut into lumber. In 1873 Mr. McCoy went to Clam Lake where he began lumbering operations with Charles M. Ayer, under the firm name of McCoy & Ayer, remaining in that partnership until 1883, when the firm dissolved and Mr. McCoy continued in the business alone. In April 1883 he removed his headquarters to Grand Rapids and has since resided in this city. He is now (1890) operating saw mills, planing mills and a narrow gauge logging railway in Lake county; also a farm near the city, out towards Reed’s Lake. He has been connected with the Grand Rapids Edison Light and Fuel Gas Company since the organization of that corporation, and its President continuously. He was President of Clam Lake Village, when living there; and after its incorporation as the city of Cadillac, he was elected its Mayor for three successive terms. He was also Chairman of the Wexford County Republican Committee, and since his removal to this city has been the presiding officer of the Kent County Republican Committee. Mr. McCoy, now at middlemanhood, is a representative, go-ahead, energetic, progressive citizen; one of the class who give vigor and strength to a place like Grand Rapids.

Document Source: Baxter, Albert, History of the City of Grand Rapids, New York and Grand Rapids: Munsell & Company, Publishers, 1891. (Name Index)
Location of Original: Various.
Transcribers: Sister Michael Ellen

Created: 24 January 2002[an error occurred while processing this directive]