Lewis H. Withey

Pg. 408-410 - Lewis H. Withey, who died in Grand Rapids in July, 1925, was one of the foremost citizens of that city. He rendered a great service during the panic of 1893, when he took the lead in the task of establishing and protecting the industrial and financial interests of the city. He was born in Grand Rapids on January 21, 1847, the son of Judge Solomon L. and Marion L. (Hinsdill) Withey. Solomon L. Withey was born in St. Albans, Vermont, April 21, 1820, and spent most of his boyhood at St. Albans Bay. His father, who came west in 1835, was a brigadier-general of the Michigan militia. During the trip west, the Withey family stopped at Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, where young Solomon attended school one winter. Arriving at Detroit, he obtained a position in a store and remained in that city. He attended at Ann Arbor one year, after which at the age of sixteen years, he was thrown upon his own resources. His ambition for a thorough education induced him to return to Cuyahoga Falls, where he entered an academy. One year later his father, who settled in Grand Rapids, became in need of his services. He joined his parents in that city in August, 1838, and in a short while began the study of law in the office of Rathbone & Martin. He possessed an ambition that circumstances could not thwart or dim. During his preparation for the bar, he did not omit the study of general literature and other subjects, so that when he was admitted to the practice of law in 1843 he possessed a ripe and cultured mind. Before he completed his studies the firm of Rathbone & Martin was dissolved and Hon. George Martin continued in practice alone. In 1843, Solomon L. Withey formed a partnership with Mr. Marin and the Hon. John Ball in the firm of Ball, Martin & Withey. His honesty and uprightness, his cultured intellect, his cool judgment and his earnest loyalty to the interests of his clients rapidly won the confidence and respect of the community and earned him a reputation of which any man might well be proud. He was elected Judge of the Probate Court, state senator, a member of the constitutional convention of 1867, serving that body as a chairman of the judiciary committee, and in the same year was appointed by the governor to a seat in the constitution commission. In 1863 President Lincoln appointed him judge of the United States District Court for the western district of Michigan, a position he filled with distinction and honor. In 1869, President Grant tendered him the appointment as United States Circuit Judge, but because of the sacrifices which this higher honor would involve, he declined it. Judge Withey’s death in April 25, 1886, took from the city one of its best=liked and most progressive citizens. He was married, in 1845, to Marion L. Hinsdill, a daughter of Myron Hinsdill, a pioneer fur trader and hotel keeper who was a brother of Jacob Hinsdill. Judge and Mrs. Withey were the parents of two children, Lewis H. and Charles D. Withey. Charles S. Withey was born in Grand Rapids in 1867 and was educated in the public schools of that city and at the University of Michigan. He was a traveling salesman for many years and was married in 1898 to Margaret Conant. To this union were born two sons, of whom the younger, Lewis H. is now living. Charles S. Withey conducts a brokerage business in Grand Rapids. Lewis H. Withey attended the village schools and Williston Seminary, at East Hampton, Massachusetts. He began his business career when he was twenty years old as a partner of Robert D. Woodcock, engaging in the lumber business under the firm name of L. H. Withey & Co. The offices and yards of the lumber company were located at Fountain Street and Ionia Avenue, where the Steketee building now stands. The company later established itself on Mill creek, where it had six hundred acres of standing timber. Still later, the concern purchased and operated the Ferris mill, on what was formerly upper Canal Street. When the exhaustion of the timer supply ended the company’s lumbering operations, Mr. Withey traveled in Europe, the Orient and South America. He was one of the organizers of the Michigan Trust Company and was president of that institution until December 11, 1923, when he became chairman of the board of directors. As a member of the fire and police force of Grand Rapids, he was successful in eliminating politics from those departments. His services extended over a period of seventeen years from the time of his appointment by Mayor Steketee in 1882 together with George Briggs, William H. Powers, I. C. Smith and George W. Gay. Mr. Withey was closely connected with many of the large financial transactions which have made Grand Rapids’ history. In 1883, he organized the Grand Rapids Railway Company into which the four independent street railway companies doing business in Grand Rapids were merged. He was made vice-president of this company and was director of the Commonwealth Railway, Light and Power Company from the time of its organization. He helped to purchase and reorganize the Grand Rapids Gas and Light Company. He owned large tracts of timer land and much other real estate. He was a member of the board of directors of the Old National Bank, being elected to succeed his father, a former president of the bank. He was also a director of the Pantlind Building Company, the Alabastine and the companies mentioned above. He was a member of the Kent and Peninsular country clubs and took a prominent part in the social life of the city. In November, 1872, he married Margaret B. McQuewan. To this union was born one daughter, Mrs. Benjamin C. Robinson. Mr. Withey’s death occurred in July, 1925, at his home, 64 College Avenue, southeast.

Transcriber: Mary Huizen
Created: 12 March 2003