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CHAPTER XLI:
WAGONS, CARRIAGES AND OTHER VEHICLES.
THE difference between the mode of wagon and carriage making now and that of half a century ago is not more marked than in the present improved machinery as compared with the rude tools of our forefathers.  How many of the present generation have seen, or, seeing, know the use of, hand spinning wheels, clock reels, and swifts?  Yet less than fifty years ago the wagon maker was often the provider of those articles, then household necessities, every part of which was made by hand.  So also with the other products of his skill; he must be master of his trade, to do good work, and able to fashion every portion from the raw material into the finished vehicle; though perhaps the result of his labor sometimes would be an article of curiosity rather than of use.  Now, he goes to the supply store and picks out, ready-shaped, nearly every piece needed in the construction of his work, and, fitting them together, behold one man has done the work of ten!

In a work of this nature two things may be said to be nearly impossible -first, to make no mistake; and second, to mention every one connected with any particular industry.  In the first case, the absence of reliable information may cause unauthenticated rumors or traditions to be taken as facts.  In the second case, "out of sight, out of mind" - how many persons in any particular trade, today, could twenty-five, or even five, years hence name all or half of those now engaged in the same business, even though constantly meeting them at the various institutions in the city, unless brought very closely in contact?  Prominent ones might be recalled, peculiar ones might be remembered, but the mass of the rank and file are like the vague and shadowy impressions of a dream, in memory.

A FEW CUTTERS.

The pioneer who needed a sleigh, if he had some carpenters' tools, generally managed to hew out a rough and rather heavy one for himself, and with a little aid from the nearest blacksmith made it serviceable; though sometimes a "pung" was constructed with no ironing.  Undoubtedly the first cutters made and marketed here were built by a cabinet maker - William Haldane.  Wishing to take a winter trip to Ohio, in the fall of 1837, he made for himself a "gooseneck" cutter, with a square box, and tall knees the better to get over low bushes or stumps.  But immediately came along the young man who kept the first bookstore in Kent and wanted to buy it.  Haldane sold it, and proceeded to make another.  This caught the eye of another ambitious young merchant, near the Eagle Hotel, who purchased it, giving $5 extra for a little nicer finish.  A third cutter was disposed of similarly, each buyer advancing the price, to outdo his predecessor.  Those were sold at $75 each and upward - such vehicles as now, if they were fashionable, would be marketed for perhaps $20 or $25.

EARLY SPOKESHAVERS.

 A few carpenters or other workers in wood managed to do the little repairing in wagons that was necessary during the first six or eight years of this settlement, and perhaps among them were one or two skilled wagon makers by trade.  In 1842, it seems, there was not enough of exclusive carriage work to keep a shop busy, if one may judge by the following advertisement, then the only one of its kind which appeared in the newspaper here, the Grand Rapids Enquirer:

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 It appears that, in addition to carriage work, several articles of household use (known in few houses, if any, nowadays) were among the manufactures of this wagon shop.  It stood on Ionia street, a little South of Fountain.  Joseph J. Baxter and Hezekiah Green composed the firm.  Within two or three years, several other wagonmakers came.  One named O'Flynn had a small shop near the junction of Ionia and Fulton streets.  Luman Powers, after 1845, and Benjamin F. Martindale, from 1844 to 1850, worked at the trade.  The firm of Baxter & Green lasted but a year or two.  The former built a new shop, a little south of the old, and formed a partnership with William H. Stewart, which was also short-lived.  At that shop, in 1846, was put up for Canton Smith the first covered cab or barouche built in this city.  In 1847, Albert Baxter and Jesse Newsom, and in the following year John Roost, were at work in this shop.  In 1848 came George C. Fitch, and opened business at the corner of Monroe and Ionia streets.  In 1849, L. G. & A. Baxter (Leonard G. and Albert) bought the shop and succeeded to the business of Joseph J. Baxter.  After a few months John L. Baxter purchased the interest of Albert Baxter, the firm name being changed to L. G. & J. L. Baxter.  In 1852 Leonard G. retired and was succeeded by Albert.  Blacksmithing and painting were carried on with this business from 1848 till 1854.  Other early wagon makers were: Alphonso W. Almy, in 1849, on the corner of Canal and Erie streets; and William Edmondson in 1853, near Bridge street.  A considerable number of carriage makers and factories are mentioned more at length elsewhere.

GEORGE C. FITCH.

 Among the early carriage makers in the city is George C. Fitch, still in the business, who came from Vermont in 1848 and began work on the south corner of Monroe and Ionia streets, and a little later moved down toward the then new Catholic Church building, to a lot of 66 feet front which cost $500.  In 1850 his brother James 0. Fitch entered into partnership with him, which relation continued as G. C. & J. 0. Fitch until 1854.  In 1858 he removed his shop to Division street between Fountain and Monroe where he continued for several years in partnership with M. P. Brown.  In 1885, chiefly to get out of the business and devote his time to real estate interests, he moved to 488 South Division street, where he has a three story building, in which five men work, earning nearly $180 a month and turning out several thousand dollars worth of carriages annually.  Mr. Fitch has $2,000 invested in his shop.  His reminiscences of the changes in the business during his forty years of experience in Grand Rapids would of themselves make an interesting chapter.  At one time he had made twelve lumber wagons and exposed them for sale in front of his shop.  Warren P. Mills, passing along and seeing the large stock, for those times, asked in astonishment when he expected to sell them.  In 1858 Mr. Fitch was working from twenty to twenty-five men, most of the time, with very little more product than he now gets with five, one of whom - Patrick Fennell - has been with him since 1854.

 James 0. Fitch, who came to Grand Rapids in 1850, has (with the exception of a year or two in grocery trade) followed carriage making ever since.  In 1859 he was in a shop at the corner of Bridge and Canal streets where the Hermitage building now stands.  Afterward for some thirteen years prior to 1880, his factory was on Waterloo a short distance north of Fulton; and later has been on South Division street.  The brothers Fitch are among the quiet and unostentatious but thorough-going, trusty, and highly prized citizens of this community.

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THE HARRISON WAGON FACTORY.

 In August, 1856, William Harrison laid the foundation for the present mammoth Harrison Wagon Works by erecting a substantial stone building on Front Street of such solid proportions that it was soon familiarly known as "The Old Fort," though now it would not be considered a very great undertaking, the shop being only forty by eighty feet, two, stories and basement.  At that time many people regarded it as a daring business enterprise, that being the largest and most substantial factory of the kind in the State.  When he moved his stock from Kalamazoo, where he had been engaged in the same business three years, the long train of wagons loaded with materials coming in over the plank road and crossing the bridge attracted nearly as much attention as would now the street pageant of a Barnum.  Before the building was completed, all commercial and manufacturing enterprises were sadly crippled, and many of them driven to the wall, by the financial crash and business panic of 1857.  Among the sufferers was the man who was under contract to put in and furnish the factory with water power.  This made it necessary for Mr. Harrison to procure power from the East Side canal, and cramped his new enterprise, in spite of the twenty thousand dollars worth of stock on hand, to such an extent that matters progressed slowly.  Mr. Harrison arranged for the use of part of the basement of a sash, door and blind factory on Mill street, of which he took a five-years lease.  Soon, needing more room, he threw up the lease, and purchased a building on Mill lots F and G - that for some years had been used as a sawmill - which he occupied until 1879, doing a large business compared with the size of the shop and the conveniences for turning out work.  In 1867 water power was made available on the West Side, and the "Old Fort" soon shared the benefit therefrom.  In the spring of that year the building stood a test that showed it had not been misnamed.  A freshet occurred before the owner had sufficiently strengthened the guard gates at the head of the canal, and they were swept away.  This threw a heavy current of the high water, loaded with logs and ice cakes from above the dam, directly against the walls of the factory, which withstood the shock with only small damage.  About 1867 Mr. Harrison had so far recovered from the effects of the panic that he was able to build seven hundred wagons, which he sent from Grand Rapids to Ionia, Muir, Saranac and other central points, where he peddled them out to farmers; in some cases taking their notes for the purchases.  In June, 1879, the buildings on the East Side with their contents were destroyed by fire.  Mr. Harrison had meanwhile purchased land near the Detroit and Milwaukee junction, at the North end of the city, with the intention of erecting a larger and more convenient factory.  The new works were occupied in the fall of 1879, and then consisted of only two buildings, two stories high; one 40 by 210 feet, the other 180 by 48 feet; wood frames veneered with brick.  In 1869 commenced shipment of the Harrison Wagon into the Western States.  At the time Mr. Harrison began in the business, a clumsy vehicle, frequently unpainted, was considered a triumph for the wagon maker and a great boon for the farmer, and commanded a price which, if ruling today, would make fortunes for all in the trade.  While the manufacturer has steadily advanced, with the march of science, the farmer has not been idle, and, not satisfied with the former rude article christened a wagon, demands the latest improved, and receives that which would astonish and delight his worthy ancestors, were they alive to behold it.  Since opening his trade Mr. Harrison has steadily pushed the work, devoting his energy to the effort of furnishing farm and freight wagons only.  A great difference in the manner of doing the business now is seen, as compared with that of twenty years ago.  Then wagons were sold for cash or short time notes, amply secured.  Now the great competition makes profits small, and often forces the manufacturer, in order to secure his proportion of the trade, to sell on long time or ship to the agricultural depots to be sold on commission.  Finding it difficult at first to procure help in his new location, on account of the scarcity of houses and convenient boarding places, Mr. Harrison devoted a portion of his time to overseeing the erection of a large number of comfortable cottages for the workmen, until in the spring of 1880 he was able to run his works at full blast, and now Harrisonville, as the ninety-three acre plat around the factory is called, contains several hundred inhabitants.  In the mean time, improvement in the factory has progressed, until the plant consists of an enclosure of ten acres, containing three large factory buildings from 200 to 300 feet in length, and from 40 to 68 feet in width, and with ten large warehouses, covering over 120,000 square feet of shop room, concentering all the energies of an industrial hamlet toward the one object of making a perfect farm and freight wagon.  These works are now giving steady employment to an average of 150 workmen; with a capacity equal to turning out a finished wagon every fifteen minutes during the day.  Still this is not a very young enterprise.  In age it covers almost two-thirds of the period since the first frame dwelling was erected in the Grand River Valley.

WILLIAM HARRISON is a native of Lincolnshire, England, born Jan. 10, 1824.  He attended school in his boyhood at Sibsey, also a select school at Cambridgeshire.  At fifteen years of age his father gave him his choice between education for a profession and learning a mechanical trade.  He chose the latter, and accordingly he was apprenticed in 1839, for six years, to learn the trade of joiner and wheelwright; his father paying for his instruction £20, and furnishing everything except board.  His uncle became his bondsman upon the articles of indenture.  After serving his time as an apprentice, he worked four years longer for the same employer; his, wages much of the time being not more than twenty cents a day and board.  The eight-hour day was not fashionable then; working hours lasted from six o'clock in the morning until eight at night, with half an hour allowed for breakfast and an hour for dinner.  Nevertheless at the end of four years he had managed to save about $100 (£20) which he loaned to two friends at five per cent interest, but lost it all.  In 1849 he again attended school for a short time, and then determined to come to America.  Before leaving he had a conference with his father, and asked if the latter would furnish him some funds.  The reply was that he would not if the son was going to the United States, but would help start him in business if he would stay in England.  Thereupon the young man started without aid and reached New York May 1850.  Stopping there but a few days, he proceeded to Kalamazoo, Mich., and on arriving there had but half a sovereign and a few shillings left.  He soon found work at his trade, his wages being nearly two dollars a day - something better than he had been accustomed to in England.  Most of his pay, however, was in barter, on account of the great scarcity of sound money in Michigan at the time, which most people of mature years well remember.  With the net proceeds of his labor, which included one dollar in money, he went the next year to Galesburg, Mich., where he worked seven months.  He then returned to Kalamazoo and entered upon a contract to make fifty sets of wagon wheels, for which he was to receive cash, but the other party failed to fulfill the agreement.  In 1852 Mr. Harrison went to Schoolcraft and began business there for himself, at which he worked for about a year.  Returning then to Kalamazoo, he bought a shop where he carried on business for several years, in the mean time making some investments in real estate which proved profitable.  In 1856 Mr. Harrision came to Grand Rapids and at once established himself anew in his favorite occupation; opening a career as an enterprising and successful wagon manufacturer, the course of which has been steadily onward and upward in the front rank of that business.  The history of the Harrison Wagon Works is given in these pages.  In October, 1852, Mr. Harrison married Rebecca McCullough, a native of Ireland.  Of five children born to them only three - Mrs. George I. Davidson, Mrs. James Curtis and George E. Harrison are living.  Mrs. Harrison died May 5, 1869.  February 5, 1870, he married Frances Adelaide, daughter of Samuel H. Gilbert, formerly of Canterbury, England.  Of five children by this union four are living - Bertha L., Roy G., William and Morton.  Mrs. Harrison is a devout and esteemed member of the Second Street M. E. Church, and Mr. Harrison has been for forty-five years an active member of that religious denomination.  In politics he has ever been a stanch Republican since the organization of that party.  As a citizen Mr. Harrison is known and appreciated for his industry, enterprise and integrity.  He is methodical and thorough in his business, and candid, companionable and obliging in social and domestic circles.  Few, if any, have contributed more than he to the upbuilding and material progress of Grand Rapids.  As a fruit of his energetic operations in manufacturing, he has become the holder of extensive properties in real estate; owning in several parcels within the city 130 acres, and 100 acres outside of and adjoining the municipality.  A plat of 93 acres, by his wagon works, on which a large number of his workmen have excellent living quarters, is popularly known as Harrisonville.  His is a notable example of steady success in the business life of our city.

HEINZELMANN AND OTHERS.

 Charles F. Heinzelmann opened a horseshoeing and general repair shop on Bronson street in 1859.  After a few years he entered into partnership in wagonmaking with Frederick Osterle and Valentine Schaake, the new firm of Heinzelmann, Osterle & Co. hanging up their sign on Canal between Bridge and Hastings streets.  Heinzelmann & Rathman was the next announcement, Julius Rathman purchasing Mr. Osterle's interest.  In 1865 the business again changed hands, Henry Fiebig purchasing Mr. Heinzelmann's interest and changing the firm to Fiebig & Rathman.  They erected a brick block in 1872, and dissolved the relation in 1877, each taking half of the building.  Mr. Heinzelmann then entered into partnership with John Gelock and built a large brick shop on the southwest corner of Waterloo and Louis streets.  This firm did a good business until 1874, when the partnership was dissolved, Mr. Gelock retaining the rear of the building as a carriage shop.  Mr. Heinzelmann then moved to Oakes street, near Ellsworth avenue, and building a large shop, again showed his ability to cater to the public in producing an honest and serviceable wagon or carriage.  In the fall of 1887 he finished a portion of his factory for a dwelling, and retired from the business, which on a smaller scale has since been carried on by his son, in partnership with Martin Gelock.

ARTHUR WOOD'S FACTORY.

 In 1865 H. P. Colby, with James H. McKee, started a carriage factory, and October 1, 1867, Arthur Wood was induced to purchase the McKee interest in the business of Colby, Sons & Co., and the firm was changed to Colby, Wood & Co.  February 1, 1868, Mr. Wood bought out the other partners, and the business has since been handled by himself.  The plant on Waterloo street gives employment to from fifteen to twenty men.  His annual output averages about $50,000, and is sent to all parts of the country, but principally the Southern and Western States.  It consists of buggies, road carts, sleighs and family carriages.  Since 1868 there has been a gradual dropping of prices, until now better articles can be made for one third the prices which ruled then.  As an offset to this, the increasing demand for vehicles and the improvements in machinery, with specialties in all kinds of materials used, enables the wagon shop of today with ten men to turn out more and better work than it could twenty years ago with nearly 100 men.  He then thought he was doing well with thirty-five jobs turned out the first year, and fixed his highest ambition at 200 a year; yet in 1877 he reached 1,381 jobs, and in the two years ending August, 1888, put out 2,500; and still he is struggling for more, with fair prospects ahead.

BELKNAP WAGONS AND SLEIGHS.

 "Merit wins" is an old saw which seems to be verified in this case.  In 1871 we find Charles E. Belknap blowing the bellows at the forge and shoeing horses.  Shortly afterward wagons are made at this smithy.  In 1884 we find the Belknap Wagon and Sleigh Company organized, with an authorized capital of $100,000, for the manufacture of Farm, Freight and Express Wagons; Lumber, Mill and Farm Carts, and Logging Carts and Trucks, with Chas. E. Belknap, President and Manager, and H. P. Belknap, Secretary and Treasurer.  The present works on North Front street, give employment to about fifty men.  Of the annual output of $125,000 some $2,100 comes back each month to the men employed, as compensation for their labor.

CHARLES EUGENE BELKNAP was born at Massena, St. Lawrence county, N. Y., October 17, 1846.  The family moved to Grand Rapids in 1855.  His educational opportunities were those of the city schools.  At twelve years he joined a theatrical company, with which he remained about one year.  He then served one summer as cabin boy on a Grand River steamer.  August 12, 1862, being then not quite sixteen years old, he enlisted as a private in Company H of the Twenty-first Michigan Infantry.  Thereafter he was promoted to be Fourth Sergeant, September 1, 1862; First Sergeant, January 1, 1863; Sergeant Major of the Regiment, February 1, 1863; Second Lieutenant, April 1, 1863; First Lieutenant, September 22, 1863, for gallant service at the battle of Chickamauga, by special order of General P. H. Sheridan; Captain, January 8, 1864, in recognition of services rendered at and near Chattanooga, Tennessee.  He served in the Army of the Cumberland during the Atlanta campaign, and with General Sherman's army in the "march to the sea" and through the Carolinas.  He was mustered out of service June 8, 1865.  At the battles of Stone River and Chickamauga he received seven wounds, none of them very serious.  Thus it appears that he was where the bullets fell thickly.  After the war, from the fall of 1865 to 1871, Captain Belknap lived on a farm in the town of Sparta.  He then returned to this city, and in a moderate way entered upon the manufacture of wagons, which, has been his principal business pursuit since.  Further mention of his wagon and sleigh factory precedes this sketch.  In 1872 he joined No. 3 Fire Company of which he soon became foreman.  Afterward in the fire service he was Assistant Chief under General I. C. Smith, with whom he served upward of four years.  During this period a change was made in the Department from the volunteer to the pay system.  In 1878 he was appointed a member of the Board of Education, and served seven years.  In 1880 he was elected Alderman from the Seventh Ward for the term of two years.  In 1884 he was elected Mayor of Grand Rapids, for the term of one year, receiving a majority of 753 votes.  February 1, 1885, he was appointed by the Governor a Trustee of the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb at Flint, for the term which expires in February, 1891.  At the general election in November, 1888, he was elected; on the Republican ticket, Representative in Congress for the Fifth District of Michigan, receiving 26,309 votes to 23,642 for his leading competitor.  Mr. Belknap married, December 25, 1866, Chloe M. Caswell, a resident of this city.  They have a family of four daughters.  In domestic and social circles he exhibits genial affability and kindness of disposition that win him friends everywhere.  He has come to his present high estate in popular esteem and confidence by persistent, straight-forward industry and perseverance, through upright and manly dealing and conduct, and faithfulness in all public trusts.  Therein lies the promise of much future usefulness and success.  Quick of perception and prompt in execution, with untiring zeal, he carries the elements of a yet more notable career.

MACK'S BENT WORK.

 John Mack thinks he made the first bent logging runners in this part of the country, in 1868, at Tallmadge, Ottawa County, that being his start in manufacturing bent wood work for the wagon and sleigh trade.  He carried on the business there until 1872, doing the work by hand, disposing of his product, about $7,000 annually, to Marcus P. Brown.  In 1872 Mr. Mack came to Grand Rapids, renting room and power of the Grand Rapids Manufacturing Company for a year, after which he entered a partnership with George T. Kendall on Canal and Fairbanks streets, which continued until the death of Mr. Kendall in 1878, at which time Charles, A. Boynton & Co. purchased the plant.  Shortly after this Mr. Mack started the manufacture of buggy bodies and cutters in a small way, in the third story of Mechanics Block, corner of Louis and Campau streets, where he remained until the completion of the Raniville Block, on Pearl street, near the east end of the bridge, in the fall of 1883, into which he moved.  He there occupied two, upper floors, employing in 1888 eighteen men, at a monthly pay rate of about $800.  His annual product amounts to about $25,000, for which he has an invested capital of $5,000.  He makes a specialty of one of his own patents, consisting of a bob sleigh made of selected material and having bent knees, set bracing in grooved benches, thus giving more strength with less weight than the ordinary bob-sled.

SPIRAL SPRING BUGGIES.

 In July, 1881, George Smith procured letters patent on a carriage spring consisting of a spiral coil of spring steel rod about five-eighths of an inch square, adjusted underneath the seat and directly in the center of the body, attached to two steel bars, from which are four steel arms or levers leading to the side bars, and so constructed that by the simple turn of a nut the tension is adjusted to any desired point.  For years inventors and manufacturers had been taxing their ingenuity in efforts to devise some means by which a carriage body could be kept approximately level when unevenly loaded, but nothing satisfactory had resulted until this invention.  The general introduction of the spiral spring was considerably delayed by want of capital on the part of the inventor to push it, but enough were built to attract the attention of men with sufficient means, and at the little shop, No. 44 East Bridge street, in May, 1881, was organized the Spiral Spring Buggy Company, with a capital of $100,000, of which Norman Cummings was President, George Smith, Vice President; and Charles Cummings Secretary and Treasurer.  The sales increased to such an extent as to render the shop too small, and in January, 1885, they occupied new quarters in a four story brick block on Kent street, where they claim to have the largest strictly hand-made-carriage factory in the world; turning out only carriages and buggies made to order, by hand work.  Up to 1885 the spiral springs used were all made in Grand Rapids; but to facilitate the filling of orders, factories have been started at Chicago, Ill.; Rochester, N. Y.; Hammond, Ind., and other convenient points for their distribution; while the Grand Rapids factory controls the sale of all carriages having these springs.  The annual output is now estimated at $100,000 from the home factory, and this is claimed to represent only about twenty per cent of the whole amount which the company put upon the market in the United States.

THE ANCHOR-CIRCLE WAGON.

 William John Russell started his wagon shop in 1884, and in January, 1885, Edward M. Simmons purchased a half interest in the business, at which time the firm of Russell & Simmons was formed.  After some experiments, March 23, 1886, the firm secured letters patent on an invention of Mr. Simmons, of which they now make a specialty in their work.  It consists of an anchor circle for high wheeled wagons.  In making a short turn the body of the wagon travels outward.  Dispensing with the fifth wheel, the kingbolt enters seven and a half inches back of the center of the axle.  It makes an easy running gear, and as the body of the wagon is kept in equilibrium by this device, it is almost impossible to upset the carriage in making a short turn.  Their shop on south Waterloo street gives employment to eight men, mostly on ordered work and general repairing for the home trade.  They estimate their annual output at $10,000 while the capital invested is $10,000.  A first prize was awarded to the firm, on this style of wagon, in the fall of 1888 at the annual fair of the Western Michigan Agricultural and Industrial Society.

CHILDREN'S CARRIAGES.

 The Priestley Express Wagon and Sleigh Company contribute to the amusement of the rising generation by the manufacture of children's sleighs and express wagons.  In 1880 Charles R. Bacon and Forrest M. Priestley started in the business and, after a struggle of a few years, financial embarrassment on their part gave Gurdon Corning possession in 1884, and April 21, 1885, he was succeeded by the present combination of brain and skill, with an authorized capital of $20,000, of which when incorporated $11,000 was paid in, with the following official board: Theodore F. Richards, President; James A. Hunt, Vice President; Forrest M. Priestley, Secretary, and George Arnott, Treasurer.  The offices of Secretary and Treasurer have since been consolidated and the position held by Mr. Arnott.  The factory is on Front street south of Fulton.  Their output consists of all kinds of children's sleighs and coasters, for the manufacture of which they have improved special machinery and ample facilities, and which are sent to all parts of the Western States and Territories; amounting to over $50,000 yearly.  In their employ are some fifty operatives, mostly boys, whose wages range from five to ten dollars a week, the pay roll averaging over $1,200 monthly.

A FEW MORE OF THEM.

 Of the many other wagon shops that are or have been operated here it is scarcely possible, even were it desirable, to give a full list, with separate descriptions in detail.  Some have only the investment of an anvil, a forge and a few tools and yet manage to hold their own, while on the other hand a few that are fully equipped do but little more than pay expenses.

 Bennett Pierce came here in 1855 and opened his shop in a building on Lyon street, near Kent.  In 1859 we find him on Kent street between Lyon and Bronson, and next on the corner of Bridge and Canal.  In 1865 we hear of him on Waterloo street nearly opposite the Eagle Hotel, then again in 1873 in partnership with Frank F. Jeffres new the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad station; and
of late still at work, moderately, like a mechanic of the old school, on north Waterloo street.

 Among others who were making wagons thirty years ago or thereabout were William Edmondson, Sebra Rathbun, George Jennings, John Gelock, Cook & Seymour, Charles B. Dean and D. Aspinwall.  A considerable number now in the business have been at work almost a quarter of a century.

 Valentine Schaake now (1889) on East Bridge street, started in 1863 on Canal street, and after various changes runs a small shop with three workmen, and with but a moderate investment turns out about $7,500 worth of wagons and other carriages annually for the local custom trade.

 Charles Dawson, 12 South Ionia, started with John, Cummings in 1881, and the next year branched out for himself; keeps seven men busy; turns out fine carriages and Russian sleighs, the forging and scroll work on which is all done by hand.  His annual output, is about $15,000.  While the work now is more elaborate on fine goods than it was some years ago, the facilities for obtaining most articles, used has reduced the cost, leaving the net profit about the same.

 John Cummings, 42 North Division street, employs twelve men making a specialty of carriages, sulkies and light road wagons, turns out about $15,000 worth of ordered work yearly, and is called one of the finest workmen in his line in the city.

 Brechting Brothers have been in their present place on West Bridge street for fourteen years.  Their output, consisting mostly of heavy work, gives employment to eight men, and represents $8,000 capital invested.

 Henry W. Fiebig started in 1858 with Robert Rasch, under the firm name of Fiebig & Rasch, with their shop on Canal street, between Bridge and Hastings.  In 1862 the partnership was dissolved, Mr. Rasch leaving and Mr. Fiebig opening a shop where now is Redmond's Opera House, remaining there until 1865, when he bought out Charles F. Heinzelmann and entered into a partnership with Julius Rathman, which continued till 1877, since which Mr. Fiebig has worked alone.  His capital invested is about $2,500, and with four men he puts out about $6,000 a year.  His shop is the half of a three-story brick building at 148 Canal street.

 Julius Rathman in 1863 went into partnership with C. F. Heinzelmann, who in 1865 sold out to Henry Fiebig, and the firm of Fiebig & Rathman continued till 1877, when it was dissolved, and Mr. Rathman carried on the business alone.  With a capital of $2,500 his annual output is about $6,000, giving employment to four men.

 Felix Gissler and Philip Fritz formed a partnership July 19, 1882.  Their wagon and sleigh factory, on the corner of Bridge and Alabama streets, with an investment, of $12,000, gives employment to six men, and turns out from $15,000 annually, mostly heavy work.

 Colby, Craig & Company make a specialty of fine display and delivery wagons.  The business was started April 15, 1887, by H. P. Colby, H. J. Craig and H. L. Colby, with a capital of $700, which has since been increased to $5,000.  They manufacture to order special wagons of all kinds, and place $15,000 worth of ordered work in the hands of their patrons yearly, giving employment to a dozen men.  The shop is by the west end of Fulton street bridge.

WHEELBARROWS.

 Among the very early mechanics here was James Thompson, who came in 1835 and worked at making wheelbarrows for the use of Nathaniel 0. Sargeant and his men in digging the first canal or race to develop the water power.  After that nearly every wagon maker or repairer, in the village days, made wheelbarrow construction part of his business.  For the excavating when the east side canal was finished down to the foot of the basin a large number of "Irish buggies" were brought from Illinois, to be used by the Holland immigrants who were employed in that work.  Not until recent years in Grand Rapids has the making of wheelbarrows been carried on as a specialty of sufficient magnitude to keep a factory busy, or to be a part of the export trade.

 The Grand Rapids Wheelbarrow Company was organized March 31, 1882, with a capital Stock Of $15,450 - John Broadfoot, President; Frank P. McGraw, Vice President, David L. Stiven, Secretary and Treasurer.  The official board was changed in 1884 by the election of William Hake, President; Adolph Leitelt, Jr., Vice President, and Frank P. McGraw Secretary and Treasurer.  The factory, on Front street near the west end of the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad bridge, furnishes employment for about twenty-five men.  The company claim that they have a larger trade and greater capacity for production than any other establishment of the kind in the United States.  Their shipments go wherever wheelbarrows are in demand in our own and other countries.

A CO-OPERATIVE VENTURE.

 In May 1888 a number of workmen thought co-operation would be to their mutual benefit, and their councils resulted in the formation of the Continental Wagon Works: John Burrows, President; John B. Bonser, Vice President; Lorenzo D. Field, Secretary and Treasurer; Charles A. Bissonette, Superintendent.  The institution breathed long enough to start a shop on the corner of Spring and Goodrich streets which with the remains of the corporation was taken charge of by John Burrows on September 1, 1888, and run by him as a job shop for repairs and the manufacture of wagons.

FARMING IMPLEMENTS.

 During eight or ten years after the establishment of foundries here, the manufacture of farm implements was confined chiefly to plow and wagon making.  Of wooden farming instruments there was not much variety of home manufacture.  Two or three small shops were engaged a portion of the time in the wooding of plows.  Plow making was carried on to some extent as early as 1841, and from that time for several years, by Henry Stone and his son Henry G. Stone.  The making of fanning mills was begun as a business at the corner of Canal and Bridge streets, in June, 1848, by Renwick & Graves.  Horse-power machines for threshing, wood or other similar farm work, a few of them, soon came upon the market, but were not manufactured here until several years later.  In 1852 Jonathan F. Chubb opened a store for the sale of farming implements, and in the same year P. R. Jarvis began the manufacture of straw cutters.  Stone, Chubb & Co., about 1854, opened a factory and sales rooms at the corner of Canal and Huron streets, and about the same time Deane & Atwater were carrying on a similar business north of Bridge street.  W. S. H. Welton was not a manufacturer but opened an agricultural warehouse and seed store on Monroe street.  Ebenezer M. Ball and A. Lamont Chubb in 1858 were manufacturing plows, cultivators, grain cradles and a variety of other farm implements, with warerooms on Canal street and foundry on the west side of the river.  In 1858 Wm. B. Renwick was manufacturing fanning mills and milk safes on Mill street, a short distance above bridge street.  In the manufacture of these articles, a large business was also carried on from 1855 to 1872, by Ledyard & Aldrich; their factory was upon the ground where now stands St. Andrew's Cathedral, and they shipped their products to nearly all points in Michigan and Wisconsin.  The wood working part of the establishment on Canal street, near Huron, was kept in operation about twenty-five years.  In 1867 it was managed by Chubb, Stewart & Luther, and ten years later Luther & Sumner were there.  The latter removed their works and warerooms to South Front street about 1881.  Out of this thrifty enterprise in 1869 grew the Grand Rapids Manufacturing Company, organized for the production of almost every implement of wood and iron used by the farmer.  The factory which they started is still at work, by the corner of South Front and Earle streets.  A. L. Chubb was President and Sylvester Luther Secretary and Treasurer of the company at its formation.  The shops are capacious and well supplied with the latest improved machinery for its class of work.  It uses a capital of $50,000 and turns out an annual product of nearly $200,000, furnishing employment for about thirty mechanics.

 Besides the above a few individuals with small shops are engaged in the manufacture of special  articles of wood for farm and domestic use.  In the city there is also a large amount of trade in farm implements manufactured elsewhere and brought here for sale - plows, harrows, cultivators, horse powers for farm machine work, windmills, pumps, "drive wells," reapers, mowers, threshers, separators and a great variety of other articles and tools.  Prominent among the dealers in this line are W. C. Denison and Hester & Fox, South Division street; Hanes & Higby, Ellsworth avenue; Brown & Sehler, Front street, north of Bridge; and Adams & North, West Bridge street.  W. C. Denison began his trade in 1862, on Monroe street, and for the past twenty years has done a thrifty business as dealer in nearly every description of farm implements and machinery, and in carriages, steam engines and mill apparatus, in stores at 88 to 92 South Division street.

WILLIAM C. DENISON was born October 1836, in Jefferson, Jackson county, Michigan.  His parents were Asa W. and Eliza R. Denison, and the family moved in 1845 to Cascade, Kent County.  There, in farm life, the subject of this sketch passed his youth, and received a common school education.  In 1862 he came to Grand Rapids and entered business life in the sale of agricultural implements, at first on Monroe street, but seven, years later removed to South Division street, between Oakes and Cherry streets, where he has since remained steadily in the trade, with much better than an average degree of success.  There he erected a two story brick store with seventy-six feet front, and has constantly carried a large stock of most kinds of farming implements and machinery, together with wagons and buggies, and also mill equipments and steam engines.  Energetic and persevering, and in no sense rashly speculative, he has kept the even tenor of a gainful business with such steady success as is realized by but few, and won and retained general confidence in his integrity and honorable trade, not only at home but with dealers elsewhere; as is illustrated by the fact that he has the position of general manager for Michigan of the Cortland and Auburn Wagon Companies of New York State, who have a large trade in this State.  He has recently worked gradually out of the traffic in farm implements to devote more attention to that management and to dealing in steam engines and boilers and their accompanying machinery.  He has lately placed a large engine - 100 horse power - for the Grand Rapids and Reeds Lake Electric Railway Company; also a heavy mill engine for a manufacturing company at Copemish, in Wexford County.  At the high tide of middle manhood he is alert and active in business enterprise.  Mr. Denison married, October 13, 1858, at Cascade, Mich., Frances E. Holt, who died November 10, 1862, leaving a. son, Lavello A. Denison.  He again married in Grand Rapids, January 1, 1867, Minerva A. Davidson.  They have one child, a daughter, Bertie.  He is a member of the Masonic Fraternity.  Besides his store and warehouse and a neat residence on Lagrave street, he has other valuable real estate interests within the city.

BENT WOOD STOCK.

The Grand Rapids Bending Works is an outgrowth from the firm of Kendall & Mack (Geo. T. Kendall and John Mack). On the death of Mr. Kendall a co-partnership was formed between Charles A. Boynton, Wm. H. Fowler and Edward P. Chamberlin, under the firm name of C. A. Boynton & Company, who purchased the plant, and for two years tarried on the business on Canal street.  In July, 1880, they moved to 102 Prescott street and in January, 1882, established a stock company, incorporated by C. A. Boynton, President; E. P. Chamberlin, Treasurer; W. H. Fowler, Secretary, as the Grand Rapids Bending Works, with a capital stock Of $50,000 authorized, of which $29,200 was paid in.  The present works cover 23,650 square feet.  In their employ are about thirty men.  The output, about $30,000 worth annually, consisting chiefly of wagon and sleigh stock, is shipped mostly to the Middle and Western States.
 


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.
Transcriber: Ed Howe
URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/baxter1891/41wagons.html
 
Created: 10 February 2000[an error occurred while processing this directive]