A. W. Stevens Factory

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This article, sent by Mark Corson, 9374 Roosevelt St., Crown Point, IN 46307, is reprinted with permission from the Marinette County (Wisconsin) Historical Society publication, Vol. 10 No. 2, July 1985.

In 1898, the last logging drive on the Menominee River was still 19 years away, but employment in the mills and the woods already was dropping, so Marinette business and professional men pooled their resources and energies to provide new jobs for the community.

They raised $300,000 of local investment money despite depression conditions and purchased the A. W. Stevens Company, which had been established in 1842 at Auburn, New York, for the manufacture of engines, threshers, and farming implements of all kinds.

The Stevens firm needed modern facilities to replace its 56-year-old factory built long before the Civil War, and the aging Stevens heirs welcomed the Marinette offer. Most of the $300,000 was spent for a mammoth new plant of brick on a 15-acre site along Pierce Avenue between the present Daggett Street and Cleveland Avenue. Gleaming steam-powered machinery soon was turning out the Stevens line of familiar farm products while research was begun on new items to widen the line.

A catalog in the possession of Carl Erickson of Menominee even found its way to the Erickson family farm in Sweden, where little Carl never dreamed he would someday be employed to tear down the sprawling structure four decades later.

Several key Stevens employees made the move to Marinette, but the founding family stayed in New York State, content to wait for dividends on $355,200 in stock they received for their equity. Most of this was for patents, customer lists and good will.

No accurate record survives of the actual employment at the Stevens plant in Marinette, but it was substantial for a few years. When announced by the local committee, the firm was predicted to provide employment 'the year round. . .for five-to-six hundred skilled mechanics and laborers.'

Success of the stock drive probably was responsible for creation of the 'Marinette Advancement Association' in 1900 to seek other opportunities. This group was headed by banker William Brown as president, and timber and land dealer George W. Taylor as secretary.

As usual, lumber king Isaac Stephenson, whose pride in his community was evident on every hand, set the pace for the Stevens stock drive with an investment of $55,000. Three other leading lumbermen were next on the list with purchases of $27,500 each. They were Fred Carney, John Witbeck and A.C. Merryman.

Logging and lumber money continued to be represented in the following subscriptions: Lewis Gram, $10,000; Mrs. Maby Parent, $11,000; H. C. Higgins, $5,500; which was matched by Caleb Williams, Michael Corry, J. A. Van Cleve, I. K. Hamilton and Lauerman Bros. The Lauermans had not yet moved to Dunlap Square, but were prospering on Main Street.

In a day when thirty dollars a month was the usual wage for woods and mill workers, other stock subscriptions also were impressive. They included C. R. Johnston, $4,500; Gus Reinke, $3,300; Bertha Merryman, W. A. Brown and C. S. Brown, $2,800 each; Watson Bros. & Hitchcock , hardware merchants, $2,700; G. W. Hanley and W. S. Baker, $2,200 apiece as well as W. E. Daggett and Michael Bohman, $1,500 each.

Wider community participation in the fund drive is shown by subscriptions of eleven hundred dollars apiece by Dr. W. W. Squire, Lindem and Miller, George Ridsdale, J. F. Hancock, D. J. McAllister, N. P. Jacob-son, Frank E. Noyes, Mrs. A. E. Mountain, M. J. Culnan, J. K. Wright, James I. Scott, Otto Lantz, E. H. Schwartz and Lauritz Anderson.

Pledges of $700 to $1,000 were made by C. J. Swanson, C. E. Shields, August Westlund, Gilbert Estate, Charles Reinke, Dr. G. Fred Colter, F. G. Fernstrum, Anna Eastman and E. C. Eastman.

Completing the stock subscription list were $500 investments by Dr. Frank Gregory, W. A. Dennis, Ira Buck, W. E. Cleary, Quinlan and Daily, Kirmse and Schutt, C. A. Lind, Amos Holgate, Ella Brown, S. and H. Freidstein, August Westlund, C. I. Saxton, J. E. Utke, Gustave Zeratsky, S. H. Johnson and Andrew Peterson.

This cross-section of Marinette's civic leadership chose John A. Van Cleve, president of the Stephenson National Bank, as president of the firm, with A. C. Merryman, head of several enterprises, vice president, and G. W. Hanley, operating manager of the Boom Company, secretary.

All of these individuals were among the ablest and most successful businessmen in the community, but the Stevens enterprise ran into major difficulties within a few years and most of original investments were lost.

Not until the Enstrom Helicopter stock drives of twenty years ago was the community prepared to back another job-creating dream on such a wide scale. However, after several changes of ownership, Enstrom remains in business.

The two-story brick factory built for Stevens was taken over shortly before World War One by the Kreiter Piano Company of Milwaukee, which turned out a line of quality standard and player pianos until about 1931, when the Great Depression and the popularity of radio broadcasting killed the market for pianos temporarily.

The building gradually fell into disrepair and was stripped of its machinery and other equipment. For a few years, it served as the site of a hockey rink for local teams and casual skaters.

As recently as 1941, the Chamber of Commerce was offering the building to industrial prospects and landed one a glove manufacturing firm from Milwaukee, which held government orders. Some community members were critical when the property was sold to the newcomers for $10,000, but soon changed their tune when state representatives ruled it was unsafe.

The building was dismantled brick by brick for use in erecting the modern one-story structure now located at the southeast corner of Pierce Avenue and Daggett Street. After years of use by the glove making concern under the management of Harmon Juster, the building was purchased by the Ansul Company to house some of its operations.

Despite the disappointment of that first venture more than eight decades ago, a drive through Marinette's flourishing industrial park organized by the present Chamber of Commerce a quarter century ago testifies to the resilience and optimism of those pioneers' successors.