March 27, 1930
Dear Cousin William
Fredonia, New York
Justus Smith Searns [1845-1933] writes a 6-page letter to William S. Stearns in Fredonia, New York, outlining "something of my family history." The two cousins share childhood memories, but apparently they had no contact for many decades until William contacted the well known millionaire late in life. A copy of this typewritten 6-page letter was obtained in 2002 from the library of the Mason County Historical Society at Historic White Pine Village, 1687 South Lakeshore Drive, Ludington, Michigan 49431.
March 27, 1930.
Dear Cousin William:-
Your very welcome and interesting letter came duly to hand and I appreciate your writing me at the length that you have. It is always a pleasure to receive news of you and your family and to know that you are all coming on so well. I am exceedingly glad that you have written me as you have relative to your business affairs, as I really knew but little ahout you before. Mrs. Cushing has written me that you were doing a very successful and substantial business, but I was somewhat surprised to learn that it is evidently such a lucrative one.
I am sorry to learn that your wife ia not in the best of health and that Grace has been sick, and trust they will both regain their health rapidly.
Perhaps you would like to hear something of my family history. My father sold his farm at Van Buren [New York] in 1861 and we moved to Erie [Pennsylvania], where he engaged in the lumber and refining business with a man by the name of Finn, Father furnishing the capital, which amounted to about $8000.00 or $9000.00. They continued in this bussines for about four years, when they lost everytning they had.
This was right after the Civil War and we then moved to Conneaut [Ohio], where we engaged in the lumber business in a small way and bought considerable lumber from the small mills in that vicinity and shipped it to the eastern markets, making a little money in that way. I was nineteen years of age at the time we made this move, and four years later in the year 1868 I was married [on March 4, 1868] to Miss Paulina Lyon [1849-1904] of Conneaut. We continued in the lumber buiness for same years after I was married, coming to Michigan from Conneaut in 1875.
My wife had two older sisters, one of whom [Clarissa Lyon, b. October 26, 1843] was married to Major-James F. Wade [1843-1921], who was a son of old Senator Ben Wade [1800-1878] of Jefferson, Ohio. At the time they were married, her husband was a lieutenant in the army and served all during the Civil War. At the close of the war he was made Colonel of one of the cavalry troops, and was afterwards advanced to Brigadier and Major Genera1 and was in command of the troops in the Philippines while Taft was Governor General of the Islands. After serving there for four years, he was ordered to Governor's Island, whare he served up to the time of his death.
My wife's oldest sister  married Capt. E. B. Ward [1811-1875] of Detroit. who was for many years the leading steamboat man on the Great Lakes. He also built the Wyandotte Rolling Mills [Wayne County, Michigan], as well as the North Chicago Mills and the Bayview Mills at Milwaukee and was the Carnegie of this country at the tine of his death. Capt. Ward was the first man to introduce the Bessemer iron system in this oountry. He also owned an immense tract of pine timber here at Ludington and vicinity, which was estimated at the time of his death at 1200 mllion feet, with two big sawmills here at Ludington. This was right after the close of the Civil War.
I came here in 1876, brimgomg my wifa and baby son, to work for my sister-in-law, Mrs. Ward, at a sa1ary of $75.00 a month, my wife doing her own house work and we paying $6.00 a month rental for our home.
Although Mrs. Ward had this immense tract of timber and the two sawmills and was cutting 50 million feet of timber per year and shipping it to Chicago and Milwaukee, she did not for four years make anything out of it and was greatly concerned fearing that she was going to lose everything, and at that time offered the entire property for $250,000.00. This was about what two two mills cost, besides throwing in the 1200 million feet of pine. All during this time we were cutting this lumber and she was getting only $7.00 and $7.50 per M ft. delivered, whioh scarcely paid the expense of manufacturing ahd getting it to its destination. The best lumbermen in the country looked the tract over and did not or could not buy it because they had not sufficient means, and they said there was more timber in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota than would ever be cut -- this same timber that they referred to was practical1y exhausted ten years ago. However, in 1879 -- three years after I came here -- lumber came up $1.00 per M in Chicago and as Mrs. Ward was cutting 50 million feet a year. she made $50,000.00 that year, and continued cutting from 50 to 60 million feet each year for many years, final1y cleaning up in profits over $6,000,000.00 from what she had offered to sell for $250,000.00.
In the meantime, Mrs. Ward had advanced me some money and credit so that I became established and bought some timber in this vicinity and was operating on my own accord as well as working for her. She soon afterwards married a Mr. Cameron of Toronto and they went to Europe to live.
Mrs. Wade had two children by her first husband -- a boy and a girl, who were educatad in Berlin and Paris. The boy [Eber, Jr.] led a fast, dissolute life, having had numerous scandalous affairs with women, and died at the age of thirty-five or thereabouts. His sister [Clara Ward] [1873-1916] married [in 1890] [Marie Joseph Anatole Pierre Alphonse de Riquet] the Prince de [Caraman-]Chimay, whose father was the Crown Prince of Belgium, and they lived together about six years. She was but eighteen when she married, and he was forty-five and had always lived a fast life and cared for little but hunting, gambling, etc., with his wife's money. She finally obtained a divorce from him by settling $15,000.00 a year uoon him as long as he lived.
The Princess had an income of $60,000.00 a year, which she anticipated ahead or its coming due and contracted immense debts in Paris. She was finally married again to an Italian officer in the army, and during the late war while paying him a visit at the front, she contracted pneumonia and died very suddenly. During her financial troubles I visited Paris twice to assist in settling up her many bills with the Paris shops and others. She and her brother both became estranged from their mother, who died some twenty years ago at her home near London.
Before Mrs. Cameron died, she sold to me what timber she had left here and one of the sawmills -- the other having burned three or four years previously, and I continued in the lumber business here for a number of years.
In 1892 I purchased all the timber on two Indian Reservations, over in Wisconsin, known as the Lac du Flambeau and Odanah Reservations, which comprised ten tcwnships of solid timber. I, with a couple of associates whom I had taken in with me, built a sawmill on each reservation and manufactured lumber there for 2S years, paying the Indians during this time over $10,000,000.00. In 1903 I went down to Pensacola, Florida, and bought a very large tract of Southern Pine, built sawmil1s and operated there for several years.
In 1901 I went to Stearns, Kentucky, the town you mentioned your latter as having passed through on your way fromn the south, and purchased 130,000 acres of coal and timber lands on the Cumberland River. At that time there was not a house in the vicinity of Stearns, and I built a sawmill, homes and the various buildings that go to make up a community, and also a railroad running back into the Cumberland Mountains some forty miles, where we are now bringing out coal and timber.
In 1908 we bought the Carrom-Archarena Company at Ludington, which manufactures folding tables and Carrom Game Boards, and which we are still operating as a very thriving and profitable industry.
And in 1909, I built the Stearns Motor Manufactuiring Company, which has always been a losing proposition in a financial way but which has afforded employment for 200 men ever since that time.
In 1898 I was foolish enough to allow myself to be induced to enter politics and was elected Secretary of State and served for two years under Governor [Hazen S.] Pingree [1840-1901]. Two years later I ran for governor with five other candidates. On the first ballot I received over a third of the votes of the state, but this was during a period when the railroads of the state controlled all of the state offices and [Aaron T.] Bliss [1837-1906] of Saginaw bought the nomination through money furnished by the railroads. This, I am glad to say, ended my political career as far as aspiration to office was concerned.
If I live until the 10th of next month. I shall be eighty-five years of age and I have practically retired from business, having turned everything over to myu son who is a splendid business man and very much interested in ande devoted to our various industries.
I have now written you pretty much everything pertaining to my life history since I left Van Buren. They say a bore is one who talks so much about himself that he gives no one else a chance to say anything about himself -- so I had better desist along that line lest I earn the appellaticn for myself.
Your letter was very interesting to me and refreshed my memory as to many incidents of my boyhood days at Van Buren. I think as we advance to extreme age, the things which appeal to us most are those that happened in our younger days.
I note that you think you my have some information pertaining to the Stearns family to send me before long and I shall be vary glad to receive it.
The old landmarks of which you write take me back many years and I can recall them all vividly. I remember the Grant Grocery store very well, as my mother used to make nearly all of her purchases there -- and Harry Parker, who had a store just west or nearby the Grant store. Frezines' store I also remember very well, and the Gilbert family of whom you spoke. My mother used to visit there or call there nearly always when we drove to town. One of the Gilbert girls was a teacher at Olivet College [an extention of Oberlin College in Olivet, Michigan] several years ago (I am one of the trustees of Olivet) but what became of her is more than I know. When you write me if you know of her whaereabouts I should like to have yon tell me. I am sorry to hear that Parker came to such a sad ending as I remember him as a jovial, good-hearted fellow. I simply remember the name of Ellis but was not acquainted with any of the family that I can recall.
I remember the park that was located in the center of the town, and that my mother used to take me occasionally -- and oftener than I cared to go -- to the Presbyterian Church which was as I recall it right opposite the park to the north. I well remember hearing Senator Seward, who was in Lincoln's cabinet, make a speech from the center of the park. That was during Lincoln's campaign and just before election at the time Seward was running against Lincoln for the nomination of the presidency.
I rememer the old hotel, The Johnson House, and that there was a colored barber in the lower part of it. Up until the time that I was eight or nine years old my mother did a11 my hair-cutting. My aunt Mary, who was your grandmother, accused my mother of putting a bowl on top of my head and cutting around the bottom of that. This annoyed me somewhat and by the time I had to have another hair-cut. I had managed to save up enough change so that I cou1d go down to the colored barber and get a regular hair-cut.
I do not recall having known anyone by the name of Clements who went to Buffalo [New York] and organized a bank. I think that must have occurred after I left there.
I should very much like to receive the snapshot of your grandson, John Alan, which you speak of your daughter sending me. You must be proud indeed of the little fellow and I presume he is a great pet with the whole family.
About the only place I had to visit when I was at your grandfather's, who was Uncle Sidney Stearns to me, and I always enjoyed being there as they had four daughters and and they were all very nice to me, Your father and I were always very companionable. I always thought we resembled one another quite closely; however, he was several years my senior. I frequently stayed with the family over night and I remember on one oceasion when Alice, Jane, Annette and I had to sleep in one bed on account of there being a lot of company there at the time. I was about eight years old at the time. Alice and I attended school together at Cordovia -- we were nearer of an age than any of the others.
I am wondering if there are any of the Morians living at the present time. I understood from some sources a few years ago that the daughter was still alive and living in Dunkirk.
I don't suppose you remember the old grocery firm of Bradley and Isham whom we used to trade with some at Dunkirk. As I recall it, there was a family living near Uncle Sidney's by the name of Sellick. I may have the name wrong, but they were the manufacturers of some kind of eye water that they used to prepare and sell. There was a family by the name of Barber living near Cordovia, and I rememember also an Addison Crosby who had a machine shop in Cordovia, and a family by the names of Gates who lived on the lake shore between our home and Dunkirk. I don't suppose any of these people are living at the present time.
I want to apologize for having taken so much of your time and will conclude by saying that my heath has not been any too good for the last four or five months but I am able to be over at my office several hours a day and now that we are having such fine weather, I am in hopes of being out in the open a good deal of the time and believe I will regain my strength in that way.
I shall let you hear from me from time to time and if I am alive and about during the summer, I would like very much to have you and Mrs. Stearns come and visit me for a couple of weeks or longer this summer, and bring as many of your family as you like.
I want to thank you for what you have writting [sic] regarding the Cushings, and I wi11 be governed acoordingly. The daughter has written me relative to her mother three or four times but her letters were always interesting· and very rational, so your statement all to her being slightly demented was a surprise to me.
My son and his wife are now down at New Orleans but I am expecting them back sometime next week.
Please remember me to Grace and her daughter, as well as the rest of your family, and with best wishes for you all, I remain
Very sincerely yours,
[To] Mr. Wm. S. Stearns,
P.S. Since dictating the above I have received the photograph and postal cards which you sent me and am indeed very glad to get them. I never realized when I was a boy that Fredonia would ever possess a building as handsome as the Citizens Trust Company, and the building wrich acccomodates your offices is very fine and modern, too.
I notice on the postcard showing Van Buren Point that the water has receded a great deal since I used to fish there as a boy. At that time the water at the foot of the cliffs was quite deep and many of the men from Fredonia used to come down there to do their fishing.
Should you ever have oocasion to visit Chicago, I wish you would oall upon Barthel1 & Rundall, at 208 S. LaSalle St., who are our attorneys. Mr. Barthell and my son married sisters from Nashville, Tenn. You would find Mr. Barthell a very pleaaant gentleman and I know he would be pleased to meet you.
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