Farm Collector

Early Lapeer Factory Rests Secure in History

By Staff

FROM LAPEER COUNTY (Michigan) PRESS April 24th, 1958)

OLD-TIME RESIDENTS of Lapeer who visit Greenfield Village in
Dearborn this summer will recognize a former La-peer landmark.

It is the Lapeer Machine Shop, a one-story brick structure that
once housed a flourishing industry here. Now it belongs to the
past, along with its contemporaries, the circular sawmill, the
Macon carriage shop, the Tripp sawmill and other nineteenth century
buildings in the Greenfield Industrial Area.

The shop’s founder, William McDonald, learned the blacksmith
and machinist trade in his native Scotland. Leaving there in 1847,
he settled first in Montreal. Taking an interest in oil, he went to
Corry, Pennsylvania, during the Civil War.

There a friend, George Morton, suggested that Lapeer was a good
place to start a business and said that his brother, Mathew J.
Morton, a skill machinist, was looking for a partner. McDonald,
always was a machinist at heart, was interested.

The two organized the Lapeer Steam Engine Works in 1863 and it
flourished until wiped out by fire. Rebuilding they also decided to
branch out and operate a flour mill with a third partner, Sandy
McNair.

Flour, however, apparently wasn’t to McDonald’s liking
even as a sideline and he sold his interest in the mill to Morton
who in turn sold his foundry interest to McDonald.

That put McDonald in business for himself, and he soon acquired
an en viable reputation in this area for building steam engines.
Gradually, his fame also spread through Michigan. But once again, a
fire was his undoing. The 1883 loss was estimated at $10,000, with
only a small part covered by insurance. Undaunted, McDonald vowed
‘no more wooden shanties for me’ and advertised for bids to
build a brick shop. This shop, the one we know today, lasted.

Once one of the best-known foundries in the state, the shop in
its heyday employed about 20 men in the manufacture of steam
engines and machinery.

As the senior McDonald became less active, his sons, John and
William, Jr., took over more of the business and the plant name was
changed to Steam Engine Works. The senior McDonald died in 1903 and
the name was changed again, this time to McDonald Machine and
Engine Works.

(The late George McDonald, funeral director here, was a son of
William McDonald, Jr.)

In later years the manufacture of engines was dropped and
business was limited to parts manufacture and machine repair.
Finally, in 1924, changing times and the age of the owners brought
about the shop’s close.

A pattern made in the shop drew the attention of Henry Ford who
recognized it as typical of an early American individual machine
shop. Purchased by Ford, the shop was dismantled in June, 1930, and
a year later its careful reassembly in Green field Village was
complete.

Here the shop’s place in the industrial section of the
village is secure for all time.

  • Published on Mar 1, 1959
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