Felix Raniville

Page 440-443 was a man whose personality won to him steadfast friends, he was a citizen whose loyalty was expressed not only through his upbuilding of an important industrial enterprise but also in other and valuable contributions to the material progress of his home city. His course was guided and governed by the highest of principles and he was ever the courteous, genial gentleman and vital and resourceful business man. Mr. Raniville was a resident of Grand Rapids from 1874 until the time of his death, which occurred December 2, 1902, and the large and prosperous industrial enterprise that was founded and developed by him is still carried forward under the direct control of his two sons, who are well upholding the prestige of the honored family name, both as citizens and as representative business men. At the time of his death the subject of this memoir was active in conducting his business, the manufacture of high-grade leather belting for the transmission of power, and the business, representing one of the leading enterprises of its kind in the middle west, is still continued under the name F. Raniville Company. A scion of sterling French ancestry, Felix Raniville was born at St. Mary's, province of Quebec, Canada, October 18, 1836, and thus he was sixty-six years of age at the time of his death. He was a son of Dennis and Josephte (Patenaude) Raniville, and was reared on the home farm of the family. His alert mind combined with his youthful ambition to make him profit greatly from the specific educational advantages that were accorded to him and also from the self-discipline that he gained through well directed private study and reading, he having become specially well fortified in the reading and speaking of the French language. He early became accurate also in his use of the English language, and before he had attained to the age of nineteen years he initiated a successful service as a teacher in rural schools of his native province. He soon, however, at the age of about twenty years, left Canada and made his way to the industrial city of Lowell, Massachusetts, where he established his residence in 1856, and where he entered the employ of Josiah Gates, a manufacturer of leather belting and hose, all fire department hose in that period having been made of leather. Mr. Raniville developed distinctive mechanical skill, and this, coupled with his fidelity, diligence and executive resourcefulness, gained him advancement to the position of foreman of the Gates factory, then one of the leading American establishments manufacturing leather belting and hose. He gained authoritative knowledge of all technical and working details of this line of industry and continued to be associated with the Gates manufacturing business until his loyalty to the land of his adoption led him to volunteer for service as a soldier of the Union in the Civil war. In the spring of 1863 Mr. Raniville enlisted as a private in the Fifteenth Battery of Massachusetts Light Artillerly, and with this gallant command he continued in active service until the close of the war, he having in the meanwhile taken part in many engagements, including a number of major battles. Upon receiving his honorable discharge, he gained, by virtue of his military service, status as a full-fledged citizen of the United States. In this connection it may be noted that Mr. Raniville was a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln, and that this undoubtedly had influence in making him a stalwart advocate of the principles and policies of the Republican party, to the advancement of which he was always ready to lend his aid, both in a financial way and in active campaign service. He ever retained deep interest in his old comrades of the Civil war, and manifested this in his active affiliation with the Grand Army of Republic. In the autumn of 1865 Mr. Raniville returned to Lowell, Massachusetts, where he was advanced to the responsible office of superintendent of the Gates Leather Belting and Hose Company, in the factory of which he had served his apprenticeship. In the autumn of 1867 he became superintendent of one of the largest of the eastern factories engaged in the production of leather belting, that of the Bickford, Curtis & Deming Company, at Buffalo, New York. In that city he formed the acquaintanceship of Simeon R. Sikes, and their close friendship led to the forming of the partnership of the two for the manufacture of leather belting for Michigan sawmills. The members of the firm of Raniville & Sikes decided that business expediency would be conserved by establishing a base of manufacturing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and in September, 1874, Mr. Raniville here opened a small factory or shop in the basement of the A. B. Judd building, which occupied the site of the present Stowe & Moore building, on Pearl street Here his partner, Mr. Sikes, later joined him, and their careful methods and honorable policies combined with their production of reliable goods to make their enterprise rapidly expand in scope and importance, as there was insistent demand for leather belting for use in the Michigan sawmills, and Grand Rapids was a normal center for the supplying of this product. In August, 1877, the manufacturing plant of the firm was removed to larger quarters, in the Pressburgh & McConnell building that then stood on Canal street. In 1880 removal was made to the Philo C. Fuller building, which had just been completed, on Pearl street. In 1882 Mr. Sikes retired from the firm to engage in the same line of manufacturing in Minneapolis, and the business at Grand Rapids was continued by Mr. Raniville in an independent way. In the fall of 1883 he purchased the property now occupied by the F. Raniville Company, on Pearl street, and in 1884 he here erected a building that had a frontage of fifty feet on Pearl street and was three stories in height. In the summer of 1885, to meet the requirements of the constantly growing business, he erected another building, just to the east of the first one. In 1886 he admitted Samuel Lyon to partnership, and the firm of Raniville & Lyon continued until December 1, l888, when the partnership was dissolved. In the summer of 1890 Mr. Raniville built the red-brick building that adjoins the other properties he had acquired and which is near the Grand river, this giving him an aggregate frontage of 155 feet on Pearl street. Some of this building he leased to tenants and in the same year the prosperous enterprises of the Macey Company, the Grand Rapids Hardware Company, and Dickinson Brothers had their virtual inception. In the autumn of 1901 Mr. Raniville purchased the land and building formerly owned by the Grand Rapids Street Railway Company at the corner of Lyon and Campau streets. He rebuilt the structure on this site and converted the same into a building that afforded 80,000 square feet of floor space, this building having in the intervening years been utilized by various new industrial concerns initiating operations in Grand Rapids. August 28, 1923, the Raniville estate sold this building to G. A. Hendricks, who converted it into a furniture exposition building. Mr. Raniville achieved substantial financial success, and his deep interest in his home city was shown in his investing money in many local enterprises and his liberal contribution to worthy causes. He always took earnest interest in the welfare of his employes, and they repaid him in their loyalty and ready co-operation. He was loved by those who knew him well and was esteemed and respected by the entire community. The business that was founded by the honored subject of this memoir has become on the extensive order, with trade extending into all section of the United States, and with Branches in Boston, New York, Chicago and San Francisco. May 7, 1886, Mr. Raniville was united in marriage to Miss Loova A. Child, of Lowell, Massachusetts, she being a daughter of the late Samuel and Ulysse (Eastman) Child, the former of whom was born in Barford, Canada, and the latter in Coventry, Vermont. Since the death of her husband Mrs. Raniville has continued to maintain her home in Grand Rapids, a city that is endeared to her by many gracious associations and memories. Two sons, Eugene and Francis Felix, likewise survive the father, and they are successfully carrying forward the important business industry that was founded and developed by him.


Transcriber: Gloria Paas
Created: 31 May 2003
URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/white1924/personal/ranivillef.html