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History of Michigan



Charles Moore







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,^y HISTORY

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MICHIGAN



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CHARLES MOORE



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VOLUME IV



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History of Michigan



Alexander Dodds. It has been asserted that the commencement
of civilization is the discovery of some of the useful arts or sciences
through which men acquire fortune, comforts or luxuries, while the
necessity or desire of preserving them leads to laws and social insti-
tutions. In reality, however, the origin, as well as the advancement and
improvement of society, is based on mechanical and chemical inventions,
ill connection with which Alexander Dodds, of Grand Rapids, has be-
come one of Michigan's best known citizens. As inventor, organizer,
promoter and executive he has shown himself capable, far-seeing and
energetic, and while he has found no time for public life, has always
demonstrated a commendable willingness to perform the duties of public-
spirited citizenship.

Mr. Dodds was bom December 8, 1845, ^t Gouvemeur, New York.
His grandfather, also named Alexander Dodds, was born in 1770, near
the village of Kelso, on the banks of the River Tweed, Scotland, and ait
the age of twenty-four years was married to Jane Wilson, who bore
him five children : Katherine, Margaret, Andrew, John and Alexander.
Shortly after their marriage they began to make plans to emigrate to
the land of promise across the water, but Mr. Dodds was for six months
a mere farm laborer at about twenty-five dollars per month, a salary
hardly conducive to great saving, and it was not until the spring of
^833 that enough money was accumulated for the family to make the
voyage. After a six weeks' journey on a sailing vessel they arrived, in
May, in St. Lawrence county. New York, and purchased a farm two
and one-half miles from the village of Gouverneur. They lived to see
all their children settled on good farms, the mother passing away in
October, 1857, and the father in January, 1864. About the year 1835
another family left Berwick, Scotland, for this country by the name of
Witherston, and, getting lost on the voyage, were thirteen weeks on the
high seas before sighting a vessel from which to get their bearings. They
also settled in St. Lawrence county, New York, and one of the daughters,
Jeanette, married the son, John Dodds, and with him took possession of
the old homestead. To them were bom three children : Jane Elizabeth,
Alexander and William Atkin.

Alexander Dodds, of Grand Rapids, was given a good common school
education in his boyhood, and was twenty-one years of age, or nearly
so, when he started to work at the trade of machinist. In February,
i8i57, he was converted, but could not conceive the teachings of the
Bible as taught by the church of his fathers, the Scotch Presbyterian,
and accordingly became a Baptist and united with that faith to do Chris-
tian work. He came to Lansing, Michigan, in December, 1867, in com-
pany with L. L. Houghton, who commenced the manufacture of wood-

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1760 HISTORY OF MICHIGAN

working machinery at that place, and while a resident there was raised
to the sublime degree of Master Mason. Mr. Dodds came to Grand
Rapids in May, 1878, and went to work for the Buss Machine Works,
and at this time united with the Fountain Street Baptist church and
remained with that organization until 1883, when, with a number of
others, he formed the Second Baptist church. He was interested with
them in the Sixth Ward Baptist Mission school, and, it proving a suc-
cess, it was thought best that a church should be organized there, and
with twenty-five from the Second Baptist church, and a few others,
Scribner Street church was organized and he was elected one of the
deacons. He is also a teacher in the Sunday school of the adult Bible
class, of which there are more than thirty members present every Sab-
bath, and is ex-president of the Baptist Mission society.

On March 3, 1882, Mr. Dodds purchased a half interest in a machine
shop at the comer of Front and Pearl streets, on the second floor, owned
by the late Charles A. Whittemore, and on May 9th of the following
year he bought the remaining half interest. The year 1883 did not prove
a very successful one, for in June came the great freshet, which will
be remembered as the time when the logs went out, taking Pearl street
bridge on a trip down the river. This caused a delay for lack of power
for six weeks, as the shop was operated by water power, and, coming
at a time when money was scarce, proved detrimental to successful busi-
ness. On July 9, 1884, in order to get on the ground floor and thus to
secure better power, Mr. Dodds moved into what was then known as
the G. W. Dean building, located on the east side of Canal street, opposite
the Berkey & Gay Furniture Co. Things moved along very nicely until
March 16, 1887, when about thirty feet of embankment between Canal
street and the river gave away, washing in through under the shop
building and allowing it to all cave in. Nothing daunted, Mr. Dodds
at once began to get his machinery out of the wreck and to find a place
to set it up in operation again. During the day he had some business to
dispose of at the Grand Rapids Savings Bank, then situated on Pearl
street, and at the bank had a conversation with the late C. G. Swens-
berg concerning what had occurred. At the time Mr. Swensberg made
the remark : "Well, Dodds, anything that I can do for you or that this
little bank can do we are ready to do." Mr. Dodds thanked him for his
kindness, but nothing more was said at the time, and the next morning,
while Mr. Dodds was working at getting out the machinery, F. A. Hall,
then cashier of the bank, came to him and said that he did not know as
he had understood what Mr. Swensberg had said the day before, but
that they wished him to know that he could have all the money he needed
to get started. Although he did not expect to need any help, this cir-
cumstance gave Mr. Dodds more courage and confidence than any one
thing that had happened. During that day Julius Berkey kindly offered
to rent him a part of the Geoiige W. Gay building, where he was manu-
facturing tripods at that time, and after moving there, getting fairly
started, and seeing that the tripod business was growing, he knew he
would have to sedc other quarters. Deciding that No. 43 South Front
street offered favoring advantages, he leased the ground from the late
J. W. Converse and commenced the erection of a one-story building,
28x60 feet in dimensions, into which he moved on May 3rd. The
demand for the machinery manufactured by Mr. Dodds had increased
to such an extent by the spring of 1892 tjiat it was apparent that more
room was needed, and October 19, 1892, Mr. Dodds succeeded in con-
cluding negotiations with Wilder D. Stevens for that part of the Dean
property on which was located the building, 26x94 feet, four stories in
height, and including water power equipment. After expending over



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HISTORY OF MICHIGAN 1761

$i,ooo on the building, Mr. Dodds moved into it, feeling that he was
now situated comfortably, with machinery, premises and accommoda-
tions in first-class order. Business continued to prosper until June, 1893,
when it seemed as though everyone who was indebted to the firm had
concluded to make an assignment under the pressure of the hard times
of that period, but through his capable management and excellent finan-
cial ability, Mr. Dodds managed to weather the storm, discounting his
commercial paper when due and paying his employes every Saturday
night.

As business revived and public confidence was restored, the manu-
facture of special machinery prospered. Orders increased to such an
extent eventually that more room became necessary, and in 1907 the
fine four-story brick building at No. 181 Canal street was built over
the canal. This enabled Mr. Dodds to double his capacity and add to
his equipment and output. In 1909 the business was merged into a cor-
poration, and since December i, 1909, the business has been conducted
under the style of the Alexander Dodds Company.

Much of the success of the business has been due to several patents
obtained, of which Mr. Dodds invented all except the morticing and
boring machine. The first one was procured June 6, 1885, o" ^ wood
lathe; another December 31, 1889, on a rubbing machine; and still
another April 22, 1890, on an automatic carving machine. Mr. Dodds
in June, 1887, patented and invented a dovetailer for making furniture
boxes. Some of these, especially Dodds' new gear dovetailing machine,
used for dovetailing furniture drawers, and which has made him a
fortune, are used in every part of the United States where furniture is
manufactured and in numerous foreign countries. The patent for the
dovetailing machine was secured June 14, 1887. At this time Mr. Dodds
occupies offices at Nos. 451-53 Monroe avenue, Northwest.

On November 10, i88i8, Mr. Dodds was married to Mrs. A. J. De-
Lamarter. Mr. and Mrs. Dodds reside in their own home at No. 325
Benjamin avenue. Mr. Dodds is a member of the Association of Com-
merce. He is a Republican in politics, but his business aflfairs have
demanded his undivided attention and he has found no time for the
activities of the political arena. In December, 1894, he became a member
of Columbian Chapter No. 132, R. A. M. ; in February, 1895, became a
member of DeMolai Commandery No. 5, K. T., and has since taken
the Scottish Rite degrees up to and including the thirty-second degree.

In connection with a biographical sketch of Mr. Dodds, the follow-
ing editorial appeared in the Michigan Tradesman, of December 8, 1909,
to which article credit is herewith given for much of the matter that
appears in this sketch:

"We laud and celebrate the individual who has achieved extraordinary
merit in art, letters, military renown, statesmanship, and fame world-
wide rests on such distinctions. Men also become famous in law, juris-
prudence, medicine and scientific study and demonstration. Yet all
such masters in their several spheres do no more, often not as much,
for the well-being of mankind as the ingenious and untiring mechanics
who discover something and make it conduce to the benefit of an industry
that is the foundation on which rest the stability, livelihood and happi-
ness of many thousands of people. Peace hath its victories no less
renowned than war, and no victors are more deserving of acclaim among
the chieftains of peace than those who invent something that adds to
productive power and successfully apply it to general use. The man
who evolves from the fertile mind a contrivance whereby a utility can
be developed so as to greatly enlarge capacity to produce useful things
and at the same time give permanent employment to thousands who



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1762 HISTORY OF MICHIGAN

would otherwise have to struggle for a meager and squalid existence,
has done more for community or state than a general, or legislator, or
judge, or any other celebrity whose name figures among the galaxy of
notables in ordinary historical annak. The foundation of society and
state is in the productive industries, for they are the means whereby the
population pursues an orderly and prosperous life. In the absence
of war and consequent destruction of human life there is a growth of
population. Productive capacity must keep pace with this increase of
human units or the peoples will lapse into a horde of vagrants, becoming
savage, gregarious, degraded and, like hungry, predatory animals, de-
vouring their fellows weaker than themselves. For this reason no one
' confers a greater benefit upon the country than he who contributes to
the enlargement of productive capacity. Not to everyone is given the
privilege of adding something of value to the commerce of this world.
Those who do enjoy this privilege have not lived their lives in vain and
their greatest satisfaction should be the knowledge that their efforts
have been of a practical, material benefit to all mankind."

Thomas J. Ramsdell. The first distinction to be noticed in the career
of Thomas J. Ramsdell is that he was the pioneer lawyer in Michigan
north of the Grand River, and for more than half a century his name has
been closely linked with both the professional and the industrial interests
of the city of Manistee, where he now resides in, his eighty-third year.
If success consists in a steady betterment of one's material conditions
and an increase of one's ability to render service to others, Thomas J.
Ramsdell deserves mention as one of the exceptionally successful men of
this state.

He was bom in Wayne county, Michigan, in 1832, a son of Gannet
Ramsdell, who was bom in the state of New York in 1802, and came to
Michigan during the twenties, a number of years prior to the admission
of the state to the Union. As a pioneer he took up a tract of wild land in
Wayne county, reclaimed a farm, and became an influential and promi-
nent citizen. In the early days he owned and operated machine shops,
was engaged in the buying and shipping of grain, and gauged by the stand-
ards of the locality and period was a wealthy man. His home was in
Wayne county until his death. Gannet Ramsdell married and brought his
wife to Wayne county, and they were the parents of four sons: Ashley,
Dyer, Jonathan and Thomas J., the last being the only survivor of this
family. The Ramsdell family is of Scotch lineage and was founded in
America during the seventeenth century.

Thomas J. Ramsdell was reared on the old homestead farm in Wayne
county, and as the opportunities for gaining an education were limited
he devised means to supplement his resolute purpose for a higher educa-
tion. Independent and self-reliant, he did not wait for fortune to over-
take him, but went in search of those things which his ambition craved.
In early youth he set out for Poughkeepsie, New York, to acquire a col-
lege education. A considerable part of his journey was made on foot,
and on arriving at his destination entered the law department of a col-
lege and while a student maintained himself and paid his tuition from
the earnings of his individual labors. He finally completed a course and
was graduated Bachelor of Laws. On his return to Michigan Mr. Rams-
dell engaged in the practice of his profession at Lansing, the capital city
being at that time a mere village. In 1858 Mr. Ramsdell moved to
Manistee, then a lumbering town, with all the typical activities and en-
vironment of such an industrial center. He was the first lawyer to set
up an office not only in Manistee but in the entire region north of Grand
river. As a pioneer member of the bar and through his exceptional abil-



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HISTORY OF MICHIGAN 1763

ity, he soon came to control a large and representative practice, and
through the medium of his profession and his judicious investments laid
the foundation of a large fortune. Mr. Ramsdell retired from active
professional work in 1894, being at the time one of the oldest and most
honored members of the bar of his native state. Since then his time and
attention has been given to the supervision of his extensive and important
property interests, and his estate is one of the largest in that section of
Michigan of which Manistee is the metropolis. His real estate holdings
include many improved business and residence properties in Manistee, and
he took a leading part in the organization and is still president of the
First National Bank of that city.

Thomas J. Ramsdell has been a supporter of the cause of the Repub-
lican party from the time of its organization, and has been one of the
dominating figures in public aflFairs in his section of the state. After
Manistee was incorporated under a city charter he served as a member of
the first board of aldermen, and also gave valuable service while a rep-
resentative of the county in the state legislature. For one who began
life without financial resources or influence outside of himself, he has
filled the years with large and worthy achievement, and throughout
his course has been governed by the highest principles of integrity and
honor. No citizen has done more to further the best interests of Manis-
tee, and he takes ^reat pride in the city which has been his home since
pioneer times.

Mr. Ramsdell married Nettie L. Stanton, who was bom at Lansing,
Michigan, when that place was a frontier village. To their marriage were
bom fourteen children, eight of whom are still living. One of the sons.
Dr. L. S. Ramsdell, is a leading physician and surgeon of Manistee,
and another son, F. W. Ramsdell, has gained distinction in the field of
art, and spent a number of years in study in Europe, and has a high
reputation among American artists.

Robert R. Ramsdell. A son of Thomas J. Ramsdell, the pioneer
lawyer of Manistee, Robert R. Ramsdell is one of the successful busi-
ness men of that city, and for several years has given most of his time
to the management of the large estate founded by his father.

Robert R. Ramsdell was bom at Manistee September 25, 1867, and
in his youth attended the local schools and finished a course at the high
school. Some of his younger years were spent in the west as a caUle
rancher, a life that gave him varied experience and adventure. On*re-
tuming to Michigan he became identified with lumbering, with Manistee
as his headquarters, and his success in this field proves a fine capacity
for the management of important affairs. His later years have been
required almost exclusively in the management of his father's estate,
which involves a number of important business enterprises.

Mr. Ramsdell has given his allegiance to the Democratic party, and
is one of the most progressive and public-spirited citizens of Manistee.
Fraternally his affiliations are with Manistee Lodge of the Benevolent
and Protective Order of Elks. In 1895 Mr. Ramsdell married Miss Zoe
Harris of Chicago. Their two children, Helen E. and Louis S., arc
students in the public schools of Manistee.

Edmund C. Shields. One of the most forceful figures in Democratic
politics in his state, Edmund C. Shields, has risen to his present position
as chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee solely through
merit. A man of vast legal learning, with a broad and comprehensive
knowledge and understanding of men and affairs, he has on numerous



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1764 HISTORY OF MICHIGAN

occasions demonstrated his executive ability and organizing powers, and
these, combined with a capacity to recognize and readily grasp opportuni-
ties, an energetic and courageous nature, and an attractive personality,
make his services of inestimable value to his party.

Mr. Shields has the distinction of being a native son of Michigan,
having been bom at Howell, Livingston county, December 30, 1871. His
grandfather, John Shields, was bom in Ireland, and was a pioneer of
Wayne county, Michigan, during the early 'thirties. About the year 1840
he removed his family to Livingston county, and there settled on a farm,
where he continued to carry on agricultural pursuits for many years, and
at the time of his retirement from active labor located at Fowlerville,
where his death occurred. Dennis Shields, the father of Edmund C.
Shields, was one of Michigan's pioneers and best known legists. He was
bom at Dearborn, Wayne county, Michigan, September 19, 1836, and re-
ceived his early education in the primitive common schools of Unadilla,
subsequently spending one term in the schools of Ypsilanti. He read law
under the preceptorship of Judge H. H. Harmon and Marcus Wilcox, of
Howell, and was admitted to the bar in 1862, entering the practice of law
in that same year and continuing therein until his death in 1898. He was
a man of many attainments, and for years was a familiar figure in the
courts of Michigan, where his connection with numerous important cases
of jurisprudence brought him prominently and favorably before the
public. At one time he was the partner of Judge Person, who is now the
senior member of the legal firm of which his son, Edmund C. Shields,
is now a member. Dennis Shields married Miss Lydia Lonergan, a native
of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada, and she died in January, 1910.

Edmund C. Shields attended the graded and high schools of Howell,
being graduated from the latter in June, 1889. He subsequently became
a student in the literary department of the University of Michigan, where
he received the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1894, and then took the
legal course in the same institution, being graduated with his law degree
in 1896. During his college career Mr. Shields was prominent in athletics,
being a baseball and football hero, and was one of the organizers of the
Board of Control of Athletics at the university, which has since developed
into a decided factor in keeping college athletics clean and sportsmanlike.
Upon his admission to the bar, in 1896, Mr. Shields became associated in
practice with his father, but at the end of two years formed a partnership
with his brother, Francis J. Shields, at Howell, this connection continuing
until August I, 191 3, when he came to Lansing to enter the law firm of
Person, Shields & Silsbee. This is now accounted one of the most for-



Online LibraryCharles MooreHistory of Michigan, Volume 4 → online text (page 1 of 85)