Delos A. Blodgett
(Article in the Grand Rapids Herald,
Monday, November 2, 1908 on his death.)
One of Michigan’s Foremost Citizens for Many Years.
Delos A. Blodgett died at 1:30 yesterday afternoon (Sunday) at his home, East Fulton and North Prospect street, in his eighty-fourth year. For nearly a year his strength had been gradually failing. Since August the decline had been rapid. The end came in peace yesterday with his family at his bedside. The announcement of the funeral will be made later.
The life of Delos A. Blodgett was one not of words, but of works, not of neatly turned phrases, but of deeds, of striving and of achieving. His name is written large in the history of the great lumber industry. It is inseparably linked with the growth and development of western Michigan. It is widely known in the world of finance. Where he wished it to be it was a power in the political affairs of the state. In philanthropy it is a name that is loved and that will be long remembered.
Mr. Blodgett was born March 3, 1825, in Otsego County, N.Y. His father, Abiel
D. Blodgett, was a farmer, descendent of the Massachusetts colonists. In 1828
the family removed to Erie County, where the children attended district and
later a select school, helping on the farm at planting and harvest times. Just
before attaining his majority in 1845, Delos, wishing to gain a personal
knowledge of what was then the west, in company with a friend took a trip
through Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri. This
trip did much to broaden his ideas, to give him an appreciative knowledge of the
west and its opportunities and to shape his subsequent career.
The family moved to Harvard, Ill. in 1846 and in 1847 Delos attended school at Geneva, Wis. The following spring found him employed in a sawmill at Little Bay de Noque, now known as Maronville, in the upper peninsula, owned by Read & McCagg of Chicago. During this winter he studied the logging and lumbering industry. It fascinated him. Is it he saw opportunity and wealth.
Going to Chicago in the fall Mr. Blodgett, with a farsighted precedence that
was one of his characteristics, inquired among the lumberman where the best
forests were situated. He found that in quantity and quality the pine of western
Michigan stood best. In October, 1847 Mr Blodgett, then 23 years old, came to
Muskegon and obtained employment with Henry Knickerbocker, then a prominent
logger on the Muskegon River. He worked in the camp that winter and the
following winter he was foreman of the woods crew.
Another young man in the logging camp of that day was Thomas D. Stimson. Blodgett and Stimson became friends and then partners. They located a tract of timber land in Clare County on what is still known as "Doc and Tom’s" creek, tributary to the Muskegon. There was no written agreement between them, merely a verbal understanding, but the young men had confidence in themselves and in one another. They built camps, and the first winter put in 600,000 feet of logs. The next season they enlarged their operations, each taking charge of a camp and dividing the profits. The partnership was terminated in 1854. Mr. Blodgett continued his logging operations, and all the money he made he put into more timber lands. In 1858 he built a saw and grist mill at Hersey, the first in that section.
In 1871 he formed a partnership with Thomas Byrne, who had for several years been in his employ, under the firm name of Blodgett & Byrne. They engaged in buying pine lands and logging, having the lumber cut on contract at various mills. In 1880 they purchased the Watson & Hull mill at Muskegon. A year later Mr. Byrne died. His interest, remained in the firm and when the estate was finally closed a few years ago Mr. Blodgett turned over a million dollars to the heirs of his old partner. In 1878 Mr. Blodgett purchased a half interest in the Tillotson mill at Muskegon and this was operated until it was dismantled in 1885.
The lumber industry at Muskegon reached its growth in 1887, but two years before this Mr. Blodgett saw what few others of that period realized or even imagined – that the timber resources of the north were not inexhaustible. He began to make investment in southern pine. He was one of the first northern men to buy the southern timber lands. He bought many thousands of acres and in subsequent years added largely to his holdings. His first investment was regarded by his associates as a mere speculation. Events have proven that his judgment was sound; that he saw an opportunity and grasped it. The timber lands he purchased are today worth many times what he paid for them.
Mr. Blodgett was more than a destroyer of standing timber. He developed the lands which in his operation he cleared. He was the founder of Northern Michigan prosperity as an agricultural district, the demonstration of his capabilities for farming purposes. In 1851 he cleared a field in Osceola County and planted the first crop of potatoes grown in that famous potatoes district. His first farm is now a part of the village of Hersey. Later he established a 400-acre farm in Clare County and on of 700 acres in Missaukee County. There farms proved the value of these lands for farming purposes and had a marked effect in attracting settlers. Not only did he point the way to successful farming in the north, but he showed the settlers the value of blooded stock. The draft horses and cattle raised on his Hersey farm became famous at the fairs in Michigan. He did much also to encourage local and district fairs as a means to advance agricultural interest. He was long a director in the West Michigan State Fair.
Mr. Blodgett founded the towns of Hersey, Evart and Baldwin, each at one time the center of his logging activities. In 1881 he moved with his family to Grand Rapids and made Grand Rapids his home. He still carried on his lumbering operations, but he found both opportunity and inclination to become identified with the city’s interests and institutions. He became a stockholder in the Fourth National Bank and for several years was its president. He was one of the large stockholders in the Old Kent Savings Bank. He purchased the site of the Blodgett Building on Ottawa Street at a time when real estate in that district was not held in high esteem. The Blodgett building when erected was the finest building in the city, and it was the first building to be used for furniture exposition purposes. In addition to his interest here he was a stockholder an director in the Lumberman’s National and Muskegon Savings Banks of Muskegon, and in the Preston National in Detroit. He was interested in various enterprises, but in a limited degree only. It was his policy not to put his money into ventures he did not understand. He knew all about lumber; he knew banking; he was brought up on a farm; he had faith in unimproved real estate in a growing city – beyond this he rarely invested unless to help a friend, and then it was more as a charity or an encouragement than as an investment. In his seventy-fifth year Mr. Blodgett relinquished all the positions he held in banks and similar directorates. He wanted to be free of business cares and responsibilities and it was against his principles to hold a position of trust and neglect the duties of the place.
In politics Mr. Blodgett was a life long Republican. He was a Fremont Republican in ’56, but election day found him in the woods far up the Muskegon River with no voting place near. He was delegate at large from Michigan to the national convention at Minneapolis in ’92, which nominated Harrison, and to the convention of ’06 at Philadelphia, which nominated President McKinley. He was several times elected district delegate to the national conventions from the old Ninth district. He was a former member of the state central committee. He never sought office, neither elective nor appointive, though honors were many times urged upon him.
In religion Mr. Blodgett was an agnostic. He was a personal friend and a great admirer of Robert G. Ingersoll and of Charles Watts, the great English lecturer. At his own expense Mr. Blodgett brought both to Grand Rapids several times to speak. He was an agnostic to the end, with ho thought of wavering, no hint at a change. Though he had not faith, Mr. Blodgett had works to his credit, and many of them. He give freely to churches to aid them in building or for their activities when he believed their cause was worthy. He was especially kind to the Catholic and colored churches, but he did not draw the line at any denomination. He was equally kind to all provided always the cause for which they asked support stood the test.
Although an unbeliever he was not a scoffer. He had his own opinions, and conceded to others the rights to their opinions. His highest desire was that the churches and the world be tolerant.
Mr. Blodgett was a free and frequent giver to charity, but his benefactions rarely became known unless of such a nature that concealment was impossible. He was a generous contributor to the hospitals and organized effort. The Blodgett Children’s Home will stand as an enduring monument to his memory. His gift originally was the old Clark home, which served excellently in the early days of the work. When the old home became unsuitable as a home for the orphans he announced his intention to build a new home. This building is now nearly completed and is one of the most beautiful buildings in Grand Rapids. It represents a cost of about $150,000 and will be furnished complete when finally turned over to the association. It was one of Mr. Blodgett’s regrets as he realized that the end was drawing near that he would be unable to see the building completed.
Mr. Blodgett was married September 9, 1850, to Miss Jennie S. Wood of Woodstock, ILL. She died in 1890 and two children survive: John W. Blodgett and Mrs. Edward Lowe. He married Miss Daisy A. Peck, daughter of Prof. William Henry Peck, a noted author of his day, of Atlanta, GA, on June 3, 1893, and she survives him, and also their three young children, Helen Delos A. and Mona P. Mr. Blodgett had a winter home at Daytona, FL and spent the summers at his beautiful cottage at Mackinac. He was at Mackinac when his fatal illness came upon him in August and he became so weak it was feared he would not survive the trip home. At Daytona Mr. Blodgett was the chief support of a kindergarten for colored children and gave much to the charity and education.
To the world Mr. Blodgett was known as a man of great wealth. He did have wealth, but with him wealth was but an incident. It made no difference in his character, his tastes or his manners. He retained his honesty of character, his simplicity, his dislike of ostentation through life.
The rise in his fortunes did not cause him to forget old friends. He was as cordial in his greetings to the driver of a dray as to the owner of a coach, and the cordiality came from his heart. There was one thing above all else he detested and abhorred, and that was sham, insincerity, dishonesty, whether in business, in the pulpit, in politics, or in the ordinary relations of life.
Mr. Blodgett was one of Michigan’s business men, one of its builders. In the nature of his calling as a lumberman he was destructive, but he was also constructive. He took off the timber, but he left fruitful farms and thriving towns. He was successful in life but with him success was not luck. It was the result of foresight, enterprise, indomitable energy and perseverance. He had purpose and aim in life and he had the courage to follow the course he marked out until he gained what he sought.
Transcriber: Evelyn Sawyer
Created: 16 February 2002