Samuel McBirney Lemon

P.334 - Samuel McBirney Lemon, whose death occurred May 27, 1912, left to the world the impress of a strong, resourceful and noble manhood, for he made his life count for good through every medium of expression that was his. There was much bigness in the thought, the ideals , the service and the general personal stewardship of this representative business man and honored citizen of Grand Rapids, and this history of Kent county exercises a consistent function when it enters a tribute to his worth and his memory, brief as that tribute must be. Samuel McBirney Lemon, who was at the time of his death the president of Lemon & Wheeler Company, one of the important wholesale grocery concerns of Grand Rapids, was born at Corneycrew, parish of Mullabrack, County Armaugh, Ireland, and the date of his nativity was November 27, 1846, so that he was but sixty-five years of age at the time of his death. He was a son of Samuel and Rachael Lemon, and was a representative of the staunchest of Scotch-Irish ancestry. In his youth Mr. Lemon was afforded good educational advantages, as gauged by the standards of the locality and period, and his alert and receptive mind enabled him thereafter to profit in the fullest degree from his continued and appreciative study and reading, as well as from the lessons gained in the practical contacts of a busy and useful life. At the age of eighteen years he entered upon an apprenticeship in the establishment of a leading grocer of Ireland, at Portadown, and five years later, with an intimate knowledge of the grocery business, he came to the United States, in November, 1870. In New York City he entered the employ of the grocery firm of Acker, Merrill & Condit, and so effectively did he prove his value that his salary was raised three times within a period of seven months. He passed the ensuing five years in Rochester, New York, where he rose to the position of manager of the wholesale and retail grocery business of A. M. Semple. He gave thereafter five years of successful service as salesman for a leading wholesale grocery concern in Buffalo, but his ambition was to enter business in an independent way. In 1880 Mr. Lemon came to Grand Rapids and purchased the John A. Covode interest in the wholesale grocery house of Shields, Bulkeley & Company, the firm name having been changed in 1883 to Shields, Bulkeley & Lemon, and later the title having become Lemon, Hoops & Peters. After the retirement of Mr. Hoops the firm of Lemon & Peters continued until Mr. Peters met with financial reverses in connection with other enterprises, whereupon Mr. Lemon effected the organization of the Lemon & Wheeler Company, of which he continued the president until his death. His able and vigorous policies brought about the development of the business to the status of one of the largest and most important of its kind in Michigan, its trade extending throughout the Michigan territory tributary to Grand Rapids and also being further expanded in northern Indiana. The company became the owner of its large and well equipped building in Grand Rapids and also of an excellent building in Kalamazoo, which city was made a supplemental headquarters of the extensive wholesale grocery trade of the concern. Mr. Lemon gave characteristically loyal service as a director of the Fourth National Bank, the Commercial Savings Bank, and the Michigan Exchange Bank. He became president of the Grand Rapids Show Case Company, a manufacturing concern that contributed much to the commercial precedence of Grand Rapids, and he acquired large and valuable real estate interests in his home city and county. He served many years as a director of the Grand Rapids Board of Trade, and had much of the leadership in the promotion of enterprises and measures projected for the benefit of Grand Rapids and the state at large—notably in the matter of river improvement. He was a stalwart of stalwarts in the ranks of the Republican party, and under the administration of President McKinley he was appointed to the office of collector of internal revenue for his district, he having been reappointed by President Roosevelt and his service in this office covered a period of nearly fourteen years—a record unequalled by that of any other department. Mr. Lemon became a member of the Presbyterian church while still a youth in his native land, and his religious faith was ever expressed in worthy thoughts and worthy actions. He was constant and loyal in his support of the various departments of church work, and he and his wife became earnest and loved members of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids, Mrs. Lemon being still an active member. He was a zealous supporter of charitable and philanthropic objects, and his private benevolences were many and unassuming. He was kindly and tolerant in judgment, and it has been said of him that no man has more fully lived up to the letter and the spirit of the Golden Rule. He was steadfast and appreciative in his friendships, and his very loyalty could not but beget objective loyalty. He was honest and true—one of his nature and character could not be otherwise,-- and he deemed it a privilege to be helpful to humanity, especially ambitious and worthy youth. He was a lover of all that is beautiful and true and good, and in this connection it is but consistent to mention the great pride and satisfaction that he and his wife took in preserving the architectural integrity and general consistency of the fine old house which became their home on Jefferson avenue, is said to have been the first brick house erected in Grand Rapids, and in enlarging and otherwise improving the building Mr. And Mrs. Lemon insistently demanded that it be kept true to the period in which it was originally erected and to the original architectural style. In this connection it can readily be understood that this delightful place, which is still her home, is endeared to Mrs. Lemon by many gracious memories and hallowed associations. Mr. Lemon became a naturalized American citizen in the Centennial year, 1876, and none has represented more loyally and completely the true American spirit. Mr. Lemon placed a frame upon his naturalization papers, and ever displayed the document with great pride and satisfaction. From a tribute paid at the time of the death of Mr. Lemon are taken the following significant and glowing statements: "His very positiveness located him and made him a pillar of strength in times of stress or uncertainty. The man in him was so large, the friend in him was so true, that he seemed almost essential to those who were nearest to him." At Rochester, New York, on the 17th of January, 1883, was solemnized the marriage of Mr. Lemon to Miss Mary M. Peoples. Mr. And Mrs. Lemon had no children, but his enthusiasm for the land of his adoption was such that he took a deep satisfaction in bringing two of his nephews from England to this country and assisted them in the purchase of a farm, in order that they might learn American agricultural methods and policies at first hand. One of these nephews, Leonard Hillis, now has a son whom he has named in honor of his uncle, this son being Samuel Lemon Hillis.

Transcriber: John Miller
Created: 3 April 2003