Vassar Industries

Taken from The History of Tuscola County,Biographical Sketches and Illustrations, H. R. Page Co., Chicago, 1883. Transcribed by Bonnie Petee.

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A noticeable feature in the more recent history of Vassar is its strong and steady growth. This is partly accounted for in the number and flourishing character of its manufacturing industries, some of the most important of which we will mention.

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The Vassar Mills

In the year 1858, the Vassar Mill Company built a flouring-mill with two run of stone, and commenced running it in November of that year. This was practically connected with the enterprises inaugurated by Messrs. North & Edmunds. Somewhere about 1854, a small gristmill was attached to their saw-mill, and for some time furnished adequate facilities for grinding the grain product of the surrounding country. A few years later, however, there was a demand for a flouring-mill, and this mill was built. In 1864, Mr. B. F. McHose purchased the property, and has operated it ever since. In 1877, the new process and two run of stone were added. Early in 1883 the style of the firm was changed to McHose & Clark, the latter being a Boston capitalist, and important improvements made upon the mill making it one of the best in the State.

The mill is 50x56 feet on the ground, and four stories high, including the basement. The framework is of a massive character, and the entire structure is built with an eye to durability as well as convenience. The building is surmounted by a cupola, 18x56 feet in size.

The engine-house, which is located 100 feet east of the mill, is 30x40 feet in size, and is absolutely fire-proof, being sheeted and roofed with iron. Two large boilers supply steam for the engine, which has a capacity of 100 horse-power and is connected with the mill by a 150-foot shaft.

The cooper shop will turn out from 300 to 400 barrels per day.

The mill is fitted exclusively with centrifugal bolting reels, and by their use the grade of flour is greatly improved.

The capacity of the mill is 300 barrels per day, and it is considered by competent judges to be one of the very best in the country.

The old saw-mill, originally built by North & Edmunds in 1849, forms a part of this property, and it is the intention of Messrs. McHose & Clark to soon put it in running order.

Mr. McHose is one of the pioneers of Tuscola County, and has had many years’ experience in the manufacture of flour. He is a native of Pennsylvania, but lived for several years in Ohio, where he was engaged in milling. In 1854, he settled in the town of Tuscola, where he remained until 1864, when he purchased the Vassar mills. He has always been engaged more or less in lumbering, and has the reputation of being one of the best business men in the county.

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The Vassar Woolen-Mill

In 1868 the Vassar woolen-mill commenced operations, Messrs. North & Selden being proprietors. At first wool carding and cloth dressing constituted the business of the mill, but the business was gradually extended to the manufacture of yarn, cloth, etc. The business outgrew the capacity of the mill, and during the past year a stock company was organized and a large brick building erected. This is now one of the important institutions of the Saginaw Valley.

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Miller’s Elevator

In 1878, R. A. & F. Miller built the above elevator in the village of Vassar. It is 40x80 feet in size. Its business amounts to about 40,000 bushels per annum. It is near the Vassar depot of the Detroit, Saginaw, & Bay City R. R. Frank Miller bought his brother’s interest in 1881, and is now sole proprietor. Mr. Miller also deals in building material of all kinds in addition to his elevator business.

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The Fenner Mills

This property consists of a saw-mill and flouring-mill, and was owned and operated by William Fenner until his death, which recently occurred. Since that time, a company of Vassar gentlemen have purchased the property and will continue its operation.

The furniture factory of M. D. North has been in constant operation for several years, and has every year been adding new machinery and facilities, so that now it is one of the best equipped factories in the valley. Its principal manufactures are furniture, sash, doors, blinds, and all sorts of cabinet work.

There are also the shingle mill of C. D. Bennett, the tannery of Williamson & Taylor, one of the old industries of the place, the brick and tile works of H. Coffeen, O. G. Emerson’s basket factory, which gives employment to about ten hands, M. L. Gages, ashery, pump factory of T. Clyne, Morrison & Son, marble works, two foundries, a wagon shop and various other industries, which give employment to labor, and import vigor to the general prosperity of the community.

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Railway Facilities

Vassar first secured railway communication through the building of the Detroit & Bay City Road in 1873, to aid which the people of the village subscribed $28,000. The construction of this road marked a new era of progress, and imparted increased vigor to the growth of the place. Since the building of this road, the Michigan Central Railway Company have secured control of it, and the Caro and Vassar branch has been built, also the Saginaw and Vassar branch; the former in 1878, and the latter soon afterward. The company purchased a tract of land near the depot, and have built a round-house, turn-table, coal sheds and new depot.

In 1881, the Port Huron & Northwestern narrow gauge was built, giving Vassar an eastern outlet. The people of the village subscribed $15,000 to aid the building of this road.

With these railway connections, Vassar has come to occupy a central position and is provided with superior shipping facilities. Three express trains leave daily for Detroit,

three for Bay City and Mackinaw, three for Caro, two for Port Huron, and five for Saginaw, an equal number arriving from each of these places.

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The Spirit of the Time

A local writer, speaking of the prevailing spirit of the place at the beginning of 1883, very truthfully says:

"We have many natural advantages, among which might be mentioned the river, with a dam at this point furnishing power for milling, and water supply for steam manufactories; an abundance of timber for almost any manufacturing purpose; a vein of pure spring water cropping out from the hillsides in quantities sufficient to quench the thirst of thousands every day; a surrounding of as good agricultural country as there is in the world; a wholesome distance from other trade centers, and a good climate. The few men who invested here in the beginning were shrewd enough to recognize these, and during the succeeding years there has been a constant effort toward supplementing nature

with the things that make a town of life and progress. It was this spirit of improvement that twenty-two years ago built a brick school-house, which has ever been our pride until we outgrew it, and which, a little more than a year ago, doubled it in size and converted it into a handsome, modern school building, by far the finest and largest in the country; that built here the first church in the county; that built a handsome bridge across the Cass; that erected an elegant brick opera-house; that lighted our town with street lamps; that ornamented our streets with rows of beautiful shade trees in every part of town; that laid good, wide sidewalks in all directions; that improved our roads wonderfully. The most encouraging feature of our recent improvements is, that the business buildings now erected are almost all of brick, solid and substantial, and looking though their owners meant to stay. Vassar now passes for one of the prettiest villages in Michigan, and we believe there are none that excel it for business prospects. Never a season passed without witnessing the erection of a goodly number of solid business blocks, and a proportionate number of residences; never a year goes by without increasing the business of the last."

"The village council has been busy this year, improving and beautifying the village more than has ever been done in one year before. The first work of importance was procuring the services of civil engineer E. F. Guild, to survey the entire village, establish the grade of every street, make an elaborate set of maps of the same, and draw a large and correct plat of the village. This done, the work of grading the steep hill at the upper end of Main Street was begun, and when completed, an easy and handsome driveway was made, where before was a dangerous spot. The benefits of these improvements extended upon three streets, Main, Maple, and Grant. Main Street was then graveled from this point to Oak Street, and is now in splendid shape nearly its entire length."

"Considerable improvements have been made on the east side; several new streets have been opened or lengthened, and some impassable places have been cleaned out and graded; the junction of Goodrich, Butler, and Cherry Streets has been graded and greatly improved, several tile underdrains have been laid, and such great changes have been made in the appearance of this part of town, that no one who has been absent would recognize the place."

"New sidewalks have been laid in nearly every part of town, and Vassar now boasts of more and better sidewalks than any town of its size in Michigan."

"The village has also purchased the Whittaker Building at the foot of Pine Street hill, and converted it into a village hall, and engine house below and council room above, which it has fitted up in creditable shape, and now no longer pays a dollar for rent."

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May 1998

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