Melvin J. Clark

Page 400-402 - Melvin J. Clark was a man whose character was the positive expression of a strong, loyal and noble nature, and his ability made him long a prominent and influential figure in connection with important business affairs in the city of Grand Rapids, besides which he became a dominating force in connection with the lumbering and mining industries. His business potency was dynamic and he achieved large success. But above his material success was the loyal stewardship that marked him as a man whose course was ever directed along the line of integrity and honor in all of the relations of life. Mr. Clark claimed Ontario, Canada, as the place of his nativity, and was of sterling English ancestry tracing back to the Norman conquest of England. His first American ancestor settled in the province of Ontario, Canada, and it was thence that the pioneer representatives of the family came to Michigan in the territorial days. Mr. Clark was born in Ontario, Canada, October 7, 1836, and his death, of pneumonia, occurred at Globe, Arizona, November 23, 1909. An appreciative estimate of the career of Mr. Clark was published in the Michigan Tradesman of April 1, 1925, and from the same quotations, with minor changes, are here made: "His father was a prosperous farmer, and young Clark was brought up on the farm, receiving a common school education so far as books were concerned, but learning lessons of far greater value from woods and fields and running brooks. At the age of twenty-six years, Mr. Clark left the farm to engage in business on his own account, and at this stage in his career, he was a strong, well-balanced and self-reliant man. His first essay in business was at Solon Center, Kent County, Michigan, where he conducted a small store and handled shaved shingles. The store was of the most primitive character, being little more than a shanty, one side of which served as a residence, while the other side, divided by a thin partition, contained the few goods with which the start was made. The business prospered from the beginning, as everyone predicted it would when recognition was taken of the work of the young merchant, the shrewdness with which he handled his customers, and the broad lines he laid down as the foundation of his subsequent success. In 1864, Mr. Clark removed to Cedar Springs, and formed a co-partnership with his brother, the late Isaac M. Clark, to engage in general trade under the title of Clark Brothers. Two years later the brother sold his interest and returned to agricultural pursuits, and Melvin J. Clark continued the business at Cedar Springs until 1874, the while he operated in the meantime a sawmill and shingle mill. When he first began manufacturing shingles, he sold his product to middlemen, but in 1865, he conceived the idea of selling his brands direct to the lumber dealers, and this policy proved successful. The same spirit that prompted him to changes his field of operations from Solon Center to Cedar Springs likewise caused him to seek a location more in keeping with his capital and his ambitions, and it was thus that Grand Rapids gained him as a citizen and as a business man whose ability and well-directed activities enabled him to accumulate a large fortune." In the year 1874, Mr. Clark established his residence in Grand Rapids, where he again became associated with his brother, Isaac M., the firm of I. M. Clark & Company here engaging in the wholesale grocery business. Subsequently, the business was incorporated under the title of the I. M. Clark Grocery Company, and still later the corporate title of Clark-Jewell-Wells Company was adopted, Melvin J. Clark having retained a controlling interest in the substantial enterprise and having been president of the corporation. He gained place as one of the shrewdest, most progressive and most steadfast and honorable businessmen of Grand Rapids, where his financial interests became of broad scope. He was a director of the Grand Rapids National Bank and was president of the Clark & Rowson Lumber Company, the Clark Lumber Company, the Clark & Jackson Lumber Company and the Clark & Scudder Lumber Company. He was interested in the control of 40,000 acres of mineral and timberland in the vicinity of Duluth, Minnesota. His mineral possessions comprised some of the finest fields of Bessemer ore in the country. At a point about fifteen miles distant from Duluth, Mr. Clark purchased, in the early eighties, a tract of government pine land for which he paid $1,500. Ten years later, he sold the timber for $20,000 and the land for $60,000. This incident is mentioned as indicating the remarkable prevision and business sagacity that characterized every stage in the career of Mr. Clark. A similar investment made by him in the upper county was based on the value of the pine timber, but the tract proved to have the finest grade of Bessemer ore, the exploiting of which, by a subsidiary of the United States Steel Company, gave to Mr. Clark large financial returns. Mr. Clark owned and developed some of the finest farm property in Kent County, and he admitted that his three hobbies were business, horses and farms. He was the owner of a fine ranch near Petaluma, California, and there passed, with his family, numerous winter seasons. From the Michigan Tradesman, tribute from which quotations have already been made, are drawn also the following extracts: "Mr. Clark attributed his success largely to his familiarity with the lumber and pine-land business. He saved his earnings as a young man, and in after years, when the returns came thick and fast, he did not increase his expenses in the same ratio. His personal expenses were by no means large, as he had no ambition to shine in society and had no affiliation with secret orders. He never did anything for effect, never was a heavy borrower, and never found it necessary to bolster up his credit by pretense or subterfuge. His sturdy honesty was a matter of general avowal, and those who knew him well realized that his bond was a good as gold and his work as good as his bond. He was a born diplomat, meeting exceptional success in adjusting losses and trying lawsuits. Simple in his habits, quiet in his tastes, vigorous in his treatment of matters of business, masterly in his comprehension of deals involving vast sums of money and requiring years of development to complete, Mr. Clark had every reason to be satisfied with the success he achieved and the good name he left behind when he was called to face his Maker." The beautiful mansion that Mr. Clark purchased and enlarged in Grand Rapids and which is still the home of his widow, is located on Lake drive and is one of the show places of the Grand Rapids metropolitan district. Ideal relations and most gracious associations marked the home life of Mr. and Mrs. Clark, save that no children were vouchsafed to them. This lack they made good by the adoption of three children, and they were amply repaid in the filial love and devotion given them by these children. In the year 1861 was solemnized the marriage of Mr. Clark to Miss Emily Jewell, who was born in Tioga county, Pennsylvania, October 19, 1843, of English lineage, and who was twelve years of age at the time when her parents came to Michigan and established their home on a farm near Cedar Springs, Kent county, in 1855, the father having taken up government land and the fine old homestead farm being now owned by his son Frank. Two brothers of Mrs. Clark lost their lives while serving as gallant soldiers of the Union in the Civil war, Leander having been a member of the Sixth Michigan Cavalry, and LeRoy a member of the Michigan Mechanics and Engineers. Ebenezer Jewell, grandfather of Mrs. Clark, was a soldier in the war of 1812, and an earlier ancestor, Joseph Jewell, was a patriot soldier in the war of the Revolution. Mrs. Clark is this eligible for, and is affiliated with, the Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution and also the Daughters of the War of 1812, besides which she has been a member of the Ladies" Literary Club of Grand Rapids since 1876, she having joined this club shortly after its organization. She has been the gracious and popular chatelaine of one of the beautiful and hospitable homes of Grand Rapids, and has long been a member of the Grace Episcopal Church, her husband likewise having been a liberal supporter of this church and his political allegiance having been given to the Republican Party. Marguerite, first of the adopted children of Mr. and Mrs. Clark, is the wife of Edmund W. Wurzburg, secretary and treasurer of the Wurzburg Dry Goods Company, Grand Rapids, their three children being Jane Emily, Marguerite, and Edmund W., Jr., and their adopted son being Stephen Clark Wurzburg. Edward J. Clark, adopted son of the honored subject of this memoir, married Miss Florence Teal and they have two children, Edward J., Jr., and Virginia. Mr. Clark is represented in a personal sketch on another page of this work. Melvin J. Clark, Jr., the other adopted son, remains with his foster mother in the beautiful home in Grand Rapids.

Transcriber: Mary Huizen
Created: 12 March 2003