The History of Genesee County, MI
Chapter XIV
Lumbering & Allied Industries

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Clayton



Lumbering and Allied Industries.

The pioneer beginnings of the lumber industry in Genesee county have been traced in connection with preceding chapters; a word might be added as to the "modus operandi" of lumbering in the early days.

In the earlier period of the lumbering activity, the individual ownership of the timber lands along the river operated to make the logging business simpler in method than afterwards prevailed. The custom in the early time was to established a camp at some place on the lands to be cut over; this consisted of a building of logs or slabs temporarily made, with provision for cooking and bunking the men. The ideal camp was a long house, with bunks along the sides, a long table in the middle and a kitchen in one end. Ample provision was made for fires to warm it in winter, the time of activity.

The men, who were called "lumber jacks," were generally young men, whose fathers were the farmers in the vicinity; and even the fathers joined in during the winter when the period of farming did not demand their attention or when they could give a portion of their time from the clearing of their own land.

The routine of the camp was, "early rising" on the part of the teamsters and the cook and his assistant, the preparation of the breakfast and the feeding of the teams. The breakfast, which was eaten by candle-light, was of pancakes, black strap, pork, or fresh meat when obtainable, beans, potatoes, all seasoned by the appetite of young and hearty men accustomed to work. The morning light found these men out in the woods; two choppers working together with two sawmen made up a gang. At this period the trees were felled by the choppers, and then cut into logs of the proper length by the sawmen. The swampers cut out the roads and hauled the logs cut by the gang out to the skidway, where the skidders aided the teamsters to roll the logs down into the skids. Oxen were used exclusively in the hauling of the logs from the woods to the skidways. The skidways were numerous and the logs were rolled on, or "skidded," with reference to convenience of loading, to haul to the banking grounds.

There was a wholesome rivalry between various gangs, each trying to show results in larger production of logs; the pay of the men depended upon the amount of work accomplished and varied from twenty-two to thirty dollars per month, with board. In later time the gang was decreased in number to three men, one chopper and two sawmen; this resulted from the custom of sawing the tree down, instead of chopping it down. The chopper, or axeman, cut two cuts opposite each other in the sides of the tree, and the sawmen regulated their work by these axe cuts. The tree when felled was measured by the axemen who made the cuts to show where ti should be sawed into logs, the length from twelve to eighteen feet; the nature of the tree as to straightness determined the length; most of the logs, if the tree allowed it, were sixteen feet long, or twice the length of the axemen's pole, which was eight feet long. The judgment of the axeman as to which way the tree should fall, and how when felled, it should be cut into logs, was of great value; an unskilled man could case considerable loss by an error of judgment in either case.

The handling of the logs from the skidway to the banking grounds was done on wide sleds, as wide as eight feet, which contained, when skillfully loaded a large number of logs. At the banking ground these were made into solid piles, or banks, each containing a large number of logs and all being the property of some firm or company. These logs were so piled as to enable them to be dropped into the river by the least possible work and as near the same time as possible. When the river was at running stage in the spring, these banking grounds were the scenes of great activity. The logs were gotten into the river in a short time, and when these, the aggregate of the logs comprised a "run." The size of the river precluded its long-continued occupancy for a run, so each owner took every care to get his run into the river at the proper time with great expedition, and then to run it down as past as possible, so as not to interfere with others likewise engaged. As the river was a highway, the use of it was open to everyone, but the etiquette of the lumbermen led him to do all that could be done to avoid two runs getting together, and mingling the lops of different owners. The run once started, the river men and all the lumber jacks were river men of more or less skill--kept it going until the logs were delivered to the mill. This was the method of the early days of the lumbering industry in Genesee county along the river. It was confined to the river entirely, but the stream that fell into the river were also of utility in running logs. It is to be observed, however, that the Thread creek was never used as a runway for logs, as the pines that attracted the lumbermen did not thrive in the basin of that stream; while along the banks of the flint river, in the spring, twenty million or more feet of logs might be found.

The lumbering business brought into the vernacular of the people various terms that would be unknown to the people of today. The "swampers,' who made the roads in the woods fro the logs as felled and cut by the gang; the "skidders," piled the logs on the skidway' the "jam crackers," who broke out the logs that held back a jam, and so released the same, and the "sackers,' who searched out the logs that had gone astray into bayous, or low water, and so got grounded. The latter, often four to a log, got into the water and eased the log out into deep water, or "sacked" it out.

The development of the business to much greater importance resulted in another change, which was the organization of the boom company. When the experience of the men who managed the logging operations had shown the inconvenience and extra work involved in the skidding of the logs, the removal of the banking ground, and the running of each man's or firm's logs separately, with the danger of one run striking another and so mingling the logs of the two owners, it was determined that the boom plan was more economic. By this plan the Flint river was boomed for five miles or so up the stream above the Hamilton dam, and each mill owner secured boom rights at some place along this reach or river. the logs were then dropped into the river at any convenient place, and allowed to run down as they might; often the river was full from Flint to Columbiaville. These logs were marked with the owner's mark, and in one instance we find the mark made as a matter of record, as stated in the old records of Flint township. the men who run the logs were employed not by the mill owners, but by the boom company and they worked at the logs all summer, generally as many as forty men finding steady work in summer. The logs were run down the river and a man at each boom pulled the logs belonging to the boom owners into the opening made by a swinging boom that ran out into the passage in the middle of the river; the logs so boomed were arranged with reference to economy of space, and as needed, were run down to the mill. The logs of the various mill owners were made a basis for an assessment of the expenses of the boom operations and thus all danger of the earlier runs was avoided.

The river had its tragedies. In 1865 three men tried to run a log down near Columbiaville and the big end grounded on the apron of the dam; a log turned, throwing them off, and two of the three, Harrison Spencer and Ezra Collins, drowned, while Mack Lyman was saved.

The river men responded when the war came and most all of them went out to serve in the military forces of the United States. It is said of them that they made the very best of soldiers, and certainly the preparation in camp, as axe men, as swampers, as skidders, as jam crackers and sackers, was a school for the solider that made for obedience to superiors, discipline and efficiency.

It remains to consider the wonderfully rapid development of the lumber industry in the period during and immediately subsequent to the Civil War. In 1862 the Flint & Pere Marquette railway was opened fro traffic between Flint and Saginaw, and other lines were soon afterwards opened; by affording means of rapid transportation to outside markets, these roads gave a tremendous impulse to all branches of business in the county, especially to lumbering. This region, together with the increased demand for lumber created by the great Civil War, inaugurated for the lumbering interests of the Flint river valley an era of unexampled prosperity. It extended from about 1866 to the great revulsion which came with the financial panic of 1874-74. The zenith of prosperity was reached in the years 1869-71/ then began a gradual decline. In 1870 nine mills were in operation in flint with an annual capacity of ninety million feet of lumber. They employed over five hundred men. Their value ran up tp a half million dollars. In 1878-79 there were but three in operation, employing less than half as many men and cutting but little over a third as many feet. The supply of logs was at that time rapidly diminishing on the upper waters of Flint river. Lumber production for export was approaching its end. Shingles were being extensively made, however, from old logging fields. The supply in Genesee county was already so far exhausted that only two small tracts remained, on section 15 in Forest township and a tract of less than fifteen acres in the township of Richfield. After that, lumbering was continued largely by importing pine from Saginaw and neighboring counties.

One of the most famous lumbering establishments in the county was the Crapo mills, at Flint. In 1856 henry H. Crapo, with characteristic forethought, conceived the idea of competing not only with the principal lumbering marts of the Eastern and Middle states, but with foreign countries. He came to Michigan in 1855, shortly after which he purchased for one hundred and fifty thousand dollars a large tract of pine land in this region. It was his intention at the time to lumber this tract and float the logs to Saginaw, but shortly after, or nearly in 1856, he visited Flint and became satisfied that here was the point at which to manufacture this timber into lumber. In 1856 he purchased the "Walkley" mill and during the summer of 1857 manufactured about two million feet of lumber, which was considered in those days an extensive business. As this mill was shut in by the property of McQuigg, Turner & Company, owners of the mill near the dam, he conceived the plan of purchasing that also. In the fall 1857 he effected its purchase and in both mill during the season of 1858 manufactured about seven million feet of lumber. By March, 1858,m he had his business thoroughly established. He returned to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where his family were residing, and moved with them to Flint. After this time the "old Mills" were improved by the addition of new machinery. They were soon run to a capacity of twelve million feet per annum, even before any railroad was projected to Flint. Before the construction of the Flint & Holly railroad, which was built largely by the energy of Mr. Crapo, the good lumber sawed at these mills was hauled by teams to Holly and Fentonville, to the Detroit & Milwaukee railroad, and from these points shipped east and south.

In1860 Mr. Crapo purchased on the opposite side of the Flint river the mill known as the "Busenbark" mill, which he ran two years and afterwards sold. In 1864 the large planing-mill sash, door and blind-factory was added to his business and turned out annually many millions feet of dressed lumber, as well as large quantities of sash, door, blinds, mouldings and boxes. The old "Walkley" mill was destroyed by fire in the season of 1865, but fortunately little lumber was burned with it owing to the rule always adhered to of keeping the space about the mills clean. Hardly had the ruins of this mill become cold when he debris was cleared away and the foundation of a larger mill was laid. This mill, with the old mill at the dam, had a capacity for sawing over twenty million feet per annum, and the two mills were run to nearly that limit until the old mill was burned in 1877. This immense amount of lumber has found a market principally at the East and south, and some of it has even been shipped to San Francisco around Cape Horn. The saw-mill and planing-mill were later shipped with all the modern improvements for the manufacture of lumber and sash, doors, blinds, mouldings and packing-boxes.

Henry H. Crapo, the founder of this large business and governor of Michigan for two terms--1864-68--died at Flint in July, 1869, but the business was continued without any material change under the able management of his only son, William W. Crapo. William Crapo Durant, a grandson of Governor Crapo, received his first business training in the Crapo mill and yard.

The impetus thus given by Mr. Crapo was soon followed by Alexander McFarland, William Hamilton and Messrs. Begole, Atwood, Fox, Carpenter, Smith and Eddy. Alexander McFarlan's mills were established in 1850, the firm at that time having been Hazelton & McFarlan. In May of the following year the mills were destroyed by fire and Mr. McFarland purchased the interest of his partner and rebuilt; in April 1863, they were again burned and immediately rebuilt; again, 1871, they were pursued by fire and destroyed and larger mills erected. The material worked was altogether pine, the logs being cut from timber-lands owned by the proprietor in Genesee and Lapeer counties and floated down the Flint River. The power employed was steam. Two circular saws of large dimensions were run, also apparatus for cutting lath and shingles. The capacity of the mills reached eleven million feet a year. These mills were distinguished as being the oldest on the Flint river.

The lumber-mills of Begole, Fox & company were established in September, 1865. The partners, were Josiah W. Begole, David S. fox and George L. Walker. They ranked among the heaviest lumber dealers in the city and were large manufacturers of lath and shingles.

Jerome eddy's mill was built in the year 1868 on the corner of Kearsley and Island Street. it has a capacity for dressing ten million feet of lumber, manufacturing about ten thousand doors and a corresponding number of sash and blinds per annum. A destructive fire consumed the first mill erected, but Mr. Eddy immediately rebuilt it. In three months from the time it was burned one of the most perfect and complete mills in the state took its place.

The firm of Newall & company was one of the oldest establishments engaged in the manufacture of sash, doors and blinds. It was established in 1855, embracing as partners Thomas Newall, George E. Newall and S. C. Randall. The firm of Beardslee, Gillies & company built a planing-mill in 1867 and the next year added the manufacture of boxes. Hiram Smith's mills built in 1877, made a specialty of handling hardwood. Decker & Haskell's stave-mill had their origin in 1870. They were devoted entirely to the manufacture of staves and headings. In May, 1874, a fire destroyed the mill and much of the stock, but new buildings and machinery soon took the place of the old. The factory of W. B. Pellett was established in 1874 to manufacture sash, doors, and blinds, but later made a specially of extension tables.


F. A. Aldrich, in sketching the industrial history of Flint, has well summed up the facts about the great period of lumbering in Genesee county and its relation to manufacturing industries allied to and growing out of it. Speaking of the fifties, he says:

The time for expansion had arrived. The knowledge of the resources of the country, the possibilities, the men to accomplish things, the money, had all awaited the ripening of events, and all of these elements had been moving steadily toward this period. There were a few saw-mills along the banks of the river, doing a small business, but there was no enormous output. What surplus was accumulated was hauled to Saginaw, where there were shipping facilities, and where buys for Eastern yards assembled cargoes from many similar sources to supply and shipped them east by sailing vessels to Buffalo, and beyond via the Erie canal. Albany was then the lumber distributing center of America and most of Michigan's forest product found its way there. Explorations had shown the great bodies of magnificent white pine forest in Lapeer and Tuscola counties and in the northwestern corner of Genesee county. The meanderings of the Flint river and its north and south branches made pathways into the very heart of all this wealth of timber and seemed to invite it to come out from its solitude of years to the glamour of civilization and add to the making of a new era. A. McFarlan, William Hamilton, H. H. Crapo, Begole-Fox & Company and J. B. Atwood & company were the chief owners of thousands of acres of timber lands along the banks of these streams and from small beginnings they evolved an immense lumber business, so that the city and surrounding country became dependent to a vast degree upon this industry. The original idea was to float all the logs to Saginaw for milling, but the nature of the river showed Flint to be pre-eminently the place for handling them. The saw-mills could expand under the influences of management, money and market, and the men in Flint possessed the first two of these elements and the further aggressiveness of making an avenue to reach the market. The plank road served for several years, but railroad facilities were imperative. They came because the men of Flint said they must come, and these men did their full share in promoting, capitalizing and even operating. The first rail outlet was to Saginaw in 1862, followed something over a year later by the connecting link between Flint and Holly, making an all-rail route to the South and East.

All this was accomplished during war times, and with the close of that tragedy came to leap in all kinds of commercial undertakings. Thoughts and ambitions and efforts could be centered on material domestic expansion and all things pertaining to industrial Flint were ripe to take advantage of these conditions. Eight or ten miles had come into operation at various points along the river front and millions of feet of logs were being cut up in the forest sections, poured into the river and floated to Flint. The whole industrial atmosphere was surcharged with lumbering and the ramifications of the industry were many, affecting innumerable interests. An army was gradually accumulated in the woods with which communication must be maintained and to which supplies must be forwarded. There must be a plan and system for driving the logs from where the woodmen felled them, to the saw-mills resulting in the Flint River Boom Company. Another army gathered around the mills, running machines, sorting, piling, and shipping lumber. The selling force was by no means a small one; the accounting for all the business required another crop of helpers. So several thousand men were attracted here and affiliated with this splendid enterprise. They were added to the population of the town and had to be provided with homes. Building flourished, attracting carpenters. They must needs eat and be clothed, so that stores multiplied, with there attendant proprietors and clerks. There was a steady train of wagons or sleighs, hauling foodstuffs into the woods for men and beasts, and the country around the city was the source of supply. Requirements of every sort were active, and every element of trade participated in the prosperity of lumber.

The fame of Flint a a lumber center was wide and buyers were stationed here to bid for the products of these mills r arrange for special cuts that building requirements in any direction might demand. Earnings were good and a splendid business training center came to thousands of men who afterwards arrived at that stage where they took up and have carried on the stream of prosperity that had its rise in the primitive lumbering days, swelled into the rushing might flood of the seventies, and was later to pass on in the deep, steady, strong current of a fixed and diversified industrial activity. Statistics are not particularly interesting and the billions of feet of lumber cut in Flint count for little now except as leaving a legacy far more valuable than the computed price of all the forest products that have passed through Flint's gateways of commerce. That some of it weathered Cape Horn to fill orders in San Francisco, or sought a market in Europe or Asia, is a mere lesson in geography. Lumbering commenced to decline in the eighties; it was history in the nineties, but it left wealth in homes, property, mercantile enterprises, schools, churches and, equal to all the rest, men--men who had been trained to meet emergencies, to accomplish things, to work out problems and to succeed. It left women who had made homes, homes indeed; it left a society that was welded together by the unity of a common interest.


A few asked the question, "What next?" and o a very truth for a year or two the destiny of Flint hung trembling in the balance. More went to work with energy to create "Next." The character of lumbering changed and for some years logs cut far to the north were hauled in by trainloads, tumbled into the river, to follow the pathway of their predecessors, up the gang and out in boards to waiting cars. Lumber cut in mills that had followed the receding pine northward was stopped off here, milled in planing-mills and forwarded as a dressed product to the East. In the forests out of which Genesee county was carved were great sections, or, in mining terms, pockets of hardwood, and in the cleaning process such came to Flint in vast quantities in the shape of bolts. To covert these into barrels, or barrel material, was another manufacturing interest, which lasted for some time after the pine lumbering had practically ceased and was one of the many industries into which manufacturing business resolved itself as the supreme lumbering interest were dissolving into fragments. So the planing and stave mills superseded the saw-mills and the umber workers were still in demand. Their earnings still swelled the sum total of domestic transactions; their families still formed part of the social body and their children were growing up for future commercial activities.

As the lumbering declined, some of the operatives purchased farms for themselves in the openings and began working their own destinies. The agricultural resources of the locality had vastly increased as the cultivated areas enlarged and Flint was the market center. The Thread grist-mill was at the high tide of its activity; had been rebuilt as a thoroughly up-to-date merchant mill, and was buying all grain offered, milling it into flour and shipping it far and wide. The Genesee Flouring Mills had absorbed the attention of the Hamiltons that had formerly been devoted to the saw-mill business, and this mill was also in the market for the grain of the locality and was distributing it as a manufactured product in all directions. Still another, the City Mills, came into commission because of the great agricultural resources, and the flour-milling activities of the city went a long way toward keeping up the aggregate of business that might drop off by reason of the decline in lumbering. The Thread Mill had been burned down, but the other two mills have changed their equipment to modern requirements and are in continuous operation. Their capacity is far beyond the local supply and they ship in many cars of grain and distribute in all directions many cars of milling products. Not only was the grain marketing and milling active, but all farm products of the section were pouring into he food store-houses of the work through the assembling point of Flint and shipping increased rather than diminished from year to year. This is equally true today and, while not strictly to be classed as a manufacturing interest, it would not be fair to withhold from agriculture its full share as a devolving agency, hand in hand with the industrial contributions.

Men who had been employees of the mills became proprietors of their own business, he it what it might, for the atmosphere of prosperity was here, and the spirit was buoyantly "Forward." They created avenues into which latent talent could turn and were responsible for the new lines of manufacturing which was assuming a diversified character instead of the one great interest, lumber. The agricultural prosperity naturally dictated a factory to supply farming tools and for several years such an industry, including foundry, machine shops, wood working and finishing was a prosperous and aggressive institution, employing many operatives. Another result of agricultural expansion was a factory making creameries, and it was a power in educating the farmers into a proper appreciation of the value of their grazing land and cows. A soap factory was another industry that was eminently prosperous and accumulated wealth. Unostentatiously this wealth was invested and was steadily increased into an estate of generous proportions. Through these years of accumulating, the owner cherished a thought of returning to the city that gave him his home and competency, a monument of his gratefulness. Therefore, when James J. Hurley was called to his eternal rest it was found that he had generously endowed a hospital for the city of Flint.

Pump factories added their usefulness tot he needs of the developing country and contributed to the aggregate of the city's manufacturing, until the more modern drive-well largely replaced the wooden pump. Broom factories have been a part of the manufacturing interests for many years. The manufacture of clothing, both for men and women, has at different times been of importance. A shoe factory was organized here at one time, hoping to develop a business along lines that have made other localities wealthy, but conditions were not favorable and after a year or two it was dismantled,. A table factory was another institution that offered work to craftsmen in wood, and for several years did a large business and drew generous earnings to the city. The receding of the lumber supply made operations too expensive, and its activities ceased. Before Begole-Fox & Company suspended ,lumbering operations they had provided for utilizing their property for further manufacturing enterprises. The water-power site was sold to F. R. Lewis, who organized a paper manufacturing industry, making a market for all the surplus straw of the farming community. His product was straw wrapping paper and straw aboard. Eventually there was added a plant utilizing this straw board in making egg crates in large quantities.

Cigars came to be manufactured in flint in 1875, when Myer Ephraim started a little shop. Others were attracted tot he business and succeeded. Graduated from Ephraim factory, they essayed a business career for themselves, or employees became employers. So new factories were created and they seemed invariably to fill a need and increased the aggregate of business. Gradually Flint has come to be a cigar manufacturing center, with a dozen large factories, making and shipping thousands of dollars worth of manufactured tobacco annually and distributing good earnings to the hundreds of skilled operatives. The traveling forces of these factories cover a wide territory and a large clientele looks to Flint for their cigar stocks. It is to the credit of the industry that healthful conditions for work prevail in all the factories and that the profits have added not a little to home making in the city,.

"The only factory of its kind in the world," was the announcement of another institution started primarily to introduce a Flint invention; a novel revolving device for displaying hats.

But it so happened that the manufacture of vehicles has come to be the dominant, but by no means the sole interests of industrial Flint, and around the word, "Vehicle" are now united all of life's phases for many individuals, families, societies and business interests of the city. In 1869, W. A. Petersen came to Flint, started a small carriage and repaid shop, and there in was born the industry that has come to be Flint's trade. This business was for many years almost entirely local in character and of exceedingly modest volume, but by the force of splendidly directed efforts it has advanced to a commanding commercial position. The Begole-Fox & company lumber yard became the site of the Flint Wagon Works.

In 1886 W. C. Durant became owner of a patent on a road cart and invited J. D. Dort to join him in the manufacturing venture, which eventuated in the largest manufacturing institution of the city, the Durant-Dort Carriage company and its allied interests. The real introduction of all three of these big factories to the market of the world was through the road cart which enjoyed a wonderful wave of popularity from 1885 to 1895 and in the manufacture of which all three institutions were heavily involved during that period. Looking down upon this industry from the heights of present knowledge, it almost seems as though advanced sheets of the book of futurity might have been spread out before those responsible for the management. It was not fortune, but business ability and business foresight that has given Flint this preeminence. As time passed along a fixed purpose formed and a stead advance toward the attainment of that purpose has made Flint the Vehicle City. Also, as the industry has advanced, men whose experience and training with the growing industry have made them valuable, have been drawn within the circle of administration; have been admitted into councils; have been assigned to execute positions and by their experience and their genius have contributed their quota to Flint's success. Around the home of the complete vehicle are clustered factories for many of the component accessories, and with the very fact of manufacturing itself has come the idea of a manufacturing district, equipped with everything conductive to ideal working conditions, coupled with homes and enjoyable environment readily accessible. The very nature of the coming of the present plants intimate the eventual coming fo more.


Flint's manufacturing development was never characterized by a scramble to take advantage of existing condition, but came about in an orderly way; as needs were felt, the response came upon that solid foundation which, with business judgment, insures success. In the early days of the carriage industry, W. F. Stewart commenced making buggy bodies and wood work. His experiences have been but those of the industry to which he was allied and, by thought, study and energy, he kept pace with its march of progress and contributed a goodly proportion to the sum total of Flint's commercialism. So the Armstrong Spring Works came into existence and has justified its right to be continued and increasing usefulness. So came the Imperial Wheel Company, an institution all over vehicledon as the largest and best wheel plant in the world. Its equipment includes mills and forest areas in the South to supply its timber requirements. The history of the automobile industry would show that tat about the beginning of the Twentieth century it has passed all experimental stages and was a fixed element in the world's business. The management of the wheel plant, perceiving the possibilities promptly equipped its factory to supply automobile wheels and today Flint furnishes the majority of these wheels for American cars. Attracted by the vehicle interests, the Flint Axle Works established a plant in farm lands just outside the city limits, but the municipal boundaries were soon expanded to insure it fire and police protection. The flint Varnish Works soon followed into the same locality, known as Oak Park, where an ideal manufacturing center was created. The Michigan Paint Company has a history like many other industries more or less allied to the vehicle interests--of a small beginning and expansion. The Flint Woolen Mills which were so important in early development were later discontinued. The Flint Specialty Company makes the whipsockets of the world. A tannery was established to make carriage leathers and another factory furnished buggy boots, aprons and cut leather necessities. This detail is not exploitation, but an exposition of the result of concentrating every fibre of business ability and thought into channels of progress along a specific line. Modern geographies will tell you that Flint is noted as producing more vehicles than any other city in the world; therefore, it is not particularly surprising that accessory interests would ally themselves with a locality that can offer such a market and attract such attention, and it is easy to comprehend what a wide publicity must result for Flint when such an output is being spread over the earth by the selling corps of all the factories. The permanent character ofd their equipment is the best comment on the question of their success and their gradually increasing shipments to other vehicle centers is the evidence of their profitable operation and expansion.

Like the lumbering operations of early years, these varied vehicle industries have attracted to the city, mechanics and operatives of many kinds. Young people have grown up with the business and have attained to responsible position in divers lines. They have been graduated from the college of experience, and have gone as proprietors or managers elsewhere. Merit is recognized and appreciated while organized promotions develop both talent and loyalty. Their business or mechanical education is not all that the management has done to make condition attractive to the great body of helpers and co-workers. The various vehicle and accessory companies have equipped a splendid club with reading, billiards, bowling, bath and gymnastic rooms. The operatives themselves maintain it, as well as a generous sick and accident benefit association. An organization effort for beautifying landscapes in resident sections is another interesting element of this community idea.

[Note: The excellent article by Mr. Aldrich was written in 1905 and before the city of Flint became on the greatest manufacturing centers for automobiles in the world,]


The manufacturing industries of Fenton have shown a steady development since the late fifties. The first saw-mill and grist-mill there, built about 1837 on the Shiawassee River by Wallace Dibble, Robert LeRoy and William M. Fenton, did a great service for the settlement of this part of the county. The old mill gave place to one built on the same site by Riker & Adams in 1858. This mill was burned and a new one was pout up, later owned by Messrs. Colwell and Adams, who entered into business in 1867. Mr. Colwell was a native of Livingstone County, and Mr. Adams came here from the army after the close of the Civil War. The mill stood on the site of the original one built by LeRoy & Fenton, who, in 1876, expended twenty-one thousand dollars upon it in repairs and improvements. From August 1, to November 1,. 1877, ten thousand barrels of flour were ground at this mill. The warehouse was built in 1865 by J. R. Mason on the east side of LeRoy street immediately north of the railroad. Before the fire of April 24, 1879, this firm was engaged to a large extent in the manufacture of lumber, coopers' material and barrels, but their mills were destroyed at that time.

About 1855-56 Samuel G. Alexander located in Fenton. He was an Englishman by birth and a practical worker in woolen cloth. He had formerly been employed in the mills of the Messrs. Stearns, at Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and upon coming to Fenton engaged in buying wool and selling cloths for the Pittsfield mills. He in time started a small woolen-factory here, but for want of capital could do but little. Finally the citizens became interested, and on the 15th of October, 1864d, the Fenton Manufacturing Company was organized with a capital stock of sixty thousand dollars, taken by the principal business men and farmers in the vicinity. David L. Latourette was the heaviest stockholder. A large factory was built and furnished, at a cost of about sixty-four thousand dollars, and the material manufactured was of the first quality. For some time an extensive business was transacted. In January, 1868, the stock was increased to one hundred thousand dollars. Upon the failure of Mr. Latourette in 1871, and the consequent collapse of his bank, the woolen-factory was forced to suspend operation. A. Wakeman became Latourette's assignee. The factory long stood idle, and its price to any purchaser continued to decrease until finally it was bought in the spring of 1873 by Mr. Wakeman's son, L. B. Wakeman, F. H. Wright and J. H Earl (the latter of Flint), for eight thousand dollars, the firm name being Wright, Wakeman & Company. Mr. Wright purchased a half-interest. After the great panic of 1873 they continued business until they had sunk all their capital and the stockholders generally had lost. They were finally obliged to close up and make an assignment for the benefit of their creditors. Since then the factory has not been in use up to the time it was destroyed. It had furnished employment for as many as thirty hands and was closed in October, 1877. It was subsequently purchased on a mortgage by George C. Lee, of Detroit, who owned it when it was burned. (April 24, 1879) its destruction caused a total loss to him, as it was uninsured.

A steam carding-mill and wool-manufacturing house was erected in 1871 by S. G. Alexander & son, after the closing, at that time, of the factory. It was subsequently transformed into a cotton-batting factory by the same persons. 

The subject of building a fruit-preserving factory at Fenton was broached to the Citizens of the place in March, 1873, through the columns of the Fenton Gazette, by Charles A. Keeler, but it was not until 1876 that it was established. The dryer first put in proved unsatisfactory and the proprietors, Messrs. Buskirk and Britton, inserted a new Williams machine in its place, which dried the fruit very rapidly and without changing its color. In the fall of that year (1876) one hundred bushels of apples were dried daily. The institution was destroyed with others equally unfortunate in the great fire of April 24, 1879. The Rose Manufacturing Company was incorporated under the general laws of Michigan on January 31, 1870. It had commenced fitting up a building at Fenton about the first of the previous December and early in March following began operations. It had purchased All the machinery, tolls, etc., of the Ypsilanti Whip-Socket Manufacturing Company and, besides the new varieties, it make all the styles formerly manufactured by the company named. The stock of the Rose Manufacturing Company was originally ten thousands dollars. George P. Rose, the patentee of most of the varieties of sockets made, was the general manager, superintending the entire work at the factory, the main office and depository was at Nos. 71 and 73 Jefferson avenue, Detroit. The goods made were at that time undoubtedly the finest the country produced. The rooms in use occupied three stories of a building at the north end of LeRoy street, erected for a carriage-manufactory by Cole, Kimball & Campbell. This half of the building was twenty by sixty feet in dimensions. The motive-power was furnished by a twenty-horse power engine. Mr. Rose had been engaged in this business for some time before coming to Fenton. About thirty-five varieties of sockets were originally manufactured. A fine japanning oven was one of the features of the establishment, in which one thousand could be japanned at once. Malleable iron sockets were cast from patterns made by Mr. Rose. Tubular sockets were also made and an extensive trade was worked up from the very beginning. On south LeRoy street was a large brick building which was erected originally by Messrs. Hirst and Boyes for use a a grist-mill and oil-mill. It was operated by them about a year and was purchased in 1869 by A. J. Philips, who converted it into a pump and safe factory. Mr. Philips manufactured very find iron and porcelain-lined pumps, double and single water-drawers, and mile-safes of all kinds. Planing, matching, sawing, and resawing, turning, etc., were also done to order and a good business was transacted annually.

Thomas Whittle had operated a brewery on a small scale previous to 1870 in a building north of the river and west of LeRoy street. In the year named he, in company with Messrs. Colwell and Adams, built a brick brewery. About 1854-56 a foundry was started by henry VanAlstine, who came to Fenton from Byron, Shaiwassee county.

Besides numerous other articles, he manufactured what were known as "Empire" plows and had a fair custom. The establishment was later town by Messrs. L. Fitch and son.

The Messrs. Fitch were proprietors of this foundry from the fall of 1873. Mr. Firth, Sr., was one of the pioneers of Oakland county, having removed to the township of Oxford, from Genesee county, New York, in 1839.

The Fenton Novelty Works were established by H. S. Andrews about April 1, 1878. Picture-frames in all styles, rustics, brackets, etc., were manufactured. Mr. Andrews was one of the earliest emigrants from New York to Michigan. In 1820, when a boy, he came with his father, Ira Andrews, upon the steamer, "Walk-in-the-Water." The first upon Lake Erie, from Buffalo, New York, to Detroit, where his father became one of the early hotel-keepers. Mr. Andrews, Sr., afterwards removed to West Bloomfield, Oakland county, and died in Birmingham. In 1844 H. S. Andrews worked at his trade, that of blacksmith, in Fenton, subsequently moved away, but ultimately returned. For years before moving here he was well acquainted with the region and when a boy was personally acquainted with Rufus Stevens, the first settler in Grand Blanc. Mr. Andrews for some time owned and kept the Andrews House, in Fenton, later King's Hotel. He wrote numerous historical articles for the press, all interesting descriptions of the early settlement of the region which was so long his home.

The only establishment operated in 1880 by water (since the burning of the saw-mills) was the grist-mill of Colwell & Adams, and this not entirely. Steam was used to a great extent, especially in case of low water, and the same motive-power was also utilized in other manufactories. The Shiawassee river, although but a small stream, furnished a remarkable amount of power, and that without flooding as extensive a tract as would be supposed from the nature of its shores. Later, the Philips family, father and sons, operated one of the largest window screen factories in the country.


At Flushing a woolen factory and carding machine was early operated. It was finally discontinued in that capacity and became part of a flouring-mill, which was afterwards burned. A saw-mill on the west side of the river was originally built by Messrs. Cull and Warner for a sash-factory. A furnace near the west end of the bridge was originally built for an ashery by Mr. Henderson, of Flint, and converted into a furnace by Ogden Clarke. Green & Langdon used it for a time as an ashery. A shingle-factory on the north side of the street, west of the bridge, belonged to Mr. Willett, and a saw-mill and rake-factory near it was owned by Mrs. Henry French and managed by Smith & Martin. The village contained also the usual number of mechanic-shops found in a place of its size. There is no location in Michgian furnishing better advantages for manufacturing than Flushing.


History of Genesee County, Michigan, Her People, Industries and Institutions
by Edwin O. Wood, LL.D, President Michigan Historical Commission, 1916

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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