Albany Resident Learns of Honor

To Grandfather William Haldane

The story of the Historical Marker in tribute to the Grand Rapids furniture industry was erected in June 1958, on the lawn of the Furniture Museum on Fulton Street. This is essentially a testimonial by the State of Michigan through the Michigan Historical Commission, to the industry and the story appeared in the July issue of this magazine, along with the part its editors played in effecting this recognition. Actually, the marker perpetuates the name of William Haldane, Grand Rapids’ earliest furniture maker who came to the village in 1836, died here March 56, 1898 and was buried in Fulton Street Cemetery.

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In November, 1958, the following letter was received from John T. Ferris, an architect of Albany, N.Y. He writes:

"Recently, a former neighbor of the family in Grand Rapids sent me a clipping from the July issue of your Peninsular Club Magazine, which was a particular interest to me: The Furniture Industry Memorial to William Haldane -- my grandfather. So I wonder if it would be possible for me to have a complete copy of the magazine.

My mother desired to have such a memorial for him before she died, some ten years ago.

Hope to visit Grand Rapids next summer at which time it may be my pleasure to see the memorial and inspect the Furniture Museum.

"Enclosing a copy of family notes which came from my mother’s paper."

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The "family notes" are a copy of some facts concerning the life of Mr. Haldane as they appeared in "American Biographical Histories of Eminent and Self-Made Men of the State of Michigan" and was written before his death. This biography came from the papers belong to a niece, Rubey Tomlinson Ferris, also deceased, and came into the possession of Mr. Ferris’ mother.

Although Baxtret’s History has considerable to say concerning "Deacon" Haldane (he was one of the deacons of Park Congregational Church along with Harvey J. Hollister and N. L. Avery who served at the same time, as well as being a member of the Executive Committee of the Kent County Bible Assn.) there is some background material in the biography that historian Baxter didn’t cover.

This biography goes on to say that "Haldane, William, of Grand Rapids, was born in Delhi, Delaware County, New York, May 5, 1807, and was the eldest son of a family of four children. His parents, James and Elizabeth (Preston) Haldane, were natives of Edinburgh, Scotland, and came to America about the close of the Revolution.

"When he was eight years of age, his father died, and he was hired out to do chores for farmers. In this he was engaged until he was fourteen years old, being allowed to attend school a part of the time. He obtained his education, however, principally through his own exertions, studying many nights by the dim light of the fire, to which was sometimes added a burning pine knot.

"When he was fourteen years of age, he apprenticed himself to a carpenter and joiner in Nunda Valley. For his service he was to receive his board and clothing, and be allowed to attend school two months during each winter term. His time and attention were thus engaged until he was twenty years old, when he became a journeyman. After one year and a half he began taking contracts, employing his two youngest brothers as apprentices.

"After carrying on this business, about five years, he abandoned it to undertake the manufacture of furniture, and built a shop for that purpose, in which he remained three years.

"In 1838 he went to Ohio, and there, for three years, made machinery for the manufacture of chairs. He then returned to Michigan, taking with him the first machinery of the kind ever taken into the State. Here he commenced the manufacture of furniture, and also carried on the undertaking business until 1871.

"From an early date he has been denitrified with the material development of the city, having built the first good brick house, of brick which he brought from Milwaukee. He has been a member of the Congregational Church for fifty years. In polities, he belonged to the Free Soil party until1854, when the Republican party was organized, and he became a member of it. He has since voted Republican. Mr. Haldane was married, August 17, 1831, to Miss Sarah Tomlinson. He is a quiet, unassuming gentleman. By persevering industry, good management, and strict integrity, he has carried his way to success, and has won the esteem of his fellow low-citizens.

Baxter’s History has Mr. Haldane arriving in Grand Rapids in 1836 along with several others whose names are still remembered: Hinsdill, Perkins, Turner, Scribner, Walker, Ball, Peirce, Calkins, Coggeshall, Fuller, Withey, and Stocking.

The "Deacon" did however, go to Ohio, but later returned to Grand Rapids to continue the manufacture of furniture on a larger scale.

His departure for Ohio, however, must have been delayed beyond his original expectations according to a story in Baxter’s:

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"The pioneer who needed a sleigh, if he had some carpenter 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 stumps or bushes. 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 $5.00 extra for a little nicer finish. The third cutter was disposed of similarly, each buyer advancing the price to outdo his predecessor. Those were sold for $75.00 and upward -- about three times as much as such vehicles would cost now, were they fashionable."

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But he went to Ohio all right, for Baxter relates a story he told about his return trip. This appeared under the chapter "Incidents and Reminescences":

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"William Haldane, yet living, tells a good bear story. In 1837, while on his way from Ohio with a horse and buggy, on the trail between Yankee Springs and Ada, he saw what at first he thought was a dog, ambling toward him, in front and in the pathway. It was a welcome sight, as he was a little in doubt as to his bearings, and hoped the dog’s master might be near. On coming nearer, the animal, instead of turning out, raised upon his haunches and seemed to be disposed to maintain his right of way. Mr. H. therefore reined to one side and passed at a respectful distance. Coming opposite, he stopped to look at the beast, which, though it sat facing him, did not seem aggressive. The animal, after a moment, took fright and ran to a tree, which it climbed.

"At once it dawned upon Mr. Haldane’s mind the fact that he had met a yearling bear, instead of a dog. After waiting a little, and no one coming along, he determined to try and capture the animal.

"He tried clubbing, but the animal only climbed higher. Then he took a rein from his harness and followed. Making a slipnoose he succeeded in getting it about the bear’s neck, and after much pulling and choking it to the ground, by that time quite exhausted by the strangling. "He then lifted it into his buggy, where, by the use of a hopple and halter and straps, he tied it securely. A little further along, on a piece of corduroy road, bruin was aroused by the jolting and attempted to escape. But he only hung over by the wheel till the choking again disabled and subdued him, and this time Mr. Haldane threw over him a coffee sack or feed bag.

"Arriving at the mouth of the Thornapple after nightfall, he found lodgings at the house of John W. Fisk. Mrs. Fisk objected to the company of a bear in her room, therefore she and her husband slept upstairs. Mr. Haldane sleeping below with the bear under his bed. He had no difficulty in bringing the animal home, and it soon became tame and a pet in he neighborhood.

"But civilization proved too much for his bearship With petting and high feeding he grew fat, but died, apparently, as has many a gourmand, a victim of gluttony.

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Under the "Manufacture of Furniture and Cabinet Wares" chapter, Mr. Baxter write:

"About 1835 came into the settlement of Grand Rapids two or three who set up a foot lathes and were instrumental in the change from the era of square work to turned work.

"When William Haldane built his house in 1837, no sooner was the rough sheathing on the frame, and the roof shingled, that he moved in upon a rough board floor. Mrs. Haldane relates that blankets sufficed to cover the windows temporarily, and were not very inconvenient doors. Her husband, being a mechanic, made a door and some sash, and traded other specimens of his work for 8 by 10 window glass. He cut from an old bootleg hinges for the door. They put up a square post bedstead, put in the cord, put thereon a straw bed and retired, feeling they had a comfortable home of their own.

"The house was at the head of what was called Justice Street, now the southeast corner of Pearl and Ottawa streets, and here for many years he carried on the cabinet making business.

"Most of the furniture making here was done by hand until about 1848, and it is well to remember that in those days the maker had to learn his trade. William T. Powers came in 1847, and he and Mr. Haldane introduced working by machinery. In 1853 Mr. Haldane began working by steam instead of water. At that time he had a shop and salesroom near the lower end of Canal street."

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The original Haldane home was moved first to the west side of what in now Ottawa and then to the north until it was near Lyon, all on account of the extensive excavations necessary to reduce the height of Prospect Hill and make it more adaptable for the growing community. The original home was eventually torn down in 1888.

In the meanwhile, however, Haldane had built another home -- a so-called Gothic cottage on the original site of his first home. The front was made of brick and these are the ones shipped from Milwaukee -- as mentioned in the biography. It was torn down in 1890. For what reason Baxter’s History does not say, but it is known that the site is now, and has been for a long time, occupied by the Michigan Trust Company, recently a partner in the consolidation with Old Kent Bank into what is now known as the Old Kent Bank and Trust Company.

Deacon Haldane would hardly recognize the old place any more, but it is cheering to know that the state and the city has failed to recognize him.

Transcriber: Barb Jones
Created: 23 January 2011