A flat-bottomed boat was strolling the riverbank on a summer's day in 1860. An observer could be forgiven for not realizing that the lone occupant was a young man who would come to dominate Michigan's two industries, logging and logging. sugar and promote a number of companies in other industries that would add immeasurable wealth to Michigan's developing economy.
The coffin swayed in an incessant motion from side to side, influenced by waves that crashed against the bank and then receded with the movement of vapors and sloops churning the Saginaw River channel. His captain, Benjamin Boutell, sixteen, sighed contentedly. The rocking motion of the river lulled him deeper into sleep as he basked in the warmth of the sun, dreaming of sea adventures in which he was the central figure.
He did not hear the sounds of sawing and hammering, the noise of coastal ships, and other noisy activities common in Bay City, Michigan, in 1860. Within ten years, the city's population has exploded from a mere fifty souls to over three thousand, with more arriving every day from Canada or Detroit to get jobs in one of the fifteen sawmills clustered on the river bank. Before the timber came to an end, forty years later, thirty thousand people called Bay City home, and more than a hundred sawmills lined the banks of the Bay City River to Saginaw, twenty kilometers away.
His father, Daniel Boutell, owned one of the hotels within walking distance on the southeast corner of Water and Third Streets. Not long before it was Sherman House. Situated opposite the Detroit Steamboat Company landing, it used to be the first stop for newcomers to the city. Daniel Boutell had moved his family 50 miles north of Birch Run to take over the hotel and, after extensive renovations, hung a new tile near the entrance. It was now Boutell House, a home away from home for Great Lakes sailors, who felt more like family guests than hotel guests, because many of the Boutell's nine children shared the hotel with them.
Fascinated by the stories the sailors told, Ben came to love the river and the great bay of Saginaw, the Great Lakes port, a port he planned to pass one day. In the meantime, he got what he wanted by being on duty at the Fire Protection Company, where he served as first foreman's assistant and helped his father at the hotel, where he set sailors on fire with questions about schooners, cottages, barges, and tugs. A contagious smile and sincere interest loosened the tongues of the sailors who enjoyed Ben's enthusiasm; they happily shared accounts of their adventures and knowledge of all things nautical.
Having learned much about the nature of goods passing from port to port in the Great Lakes, he began to pay special attention to the movement of logs towed by powerful tugboats. The task of moving felled trees to factories in one of the state's main sawmill cities, Saginaw, Bay City or Muskegon, was critical to the success of the logging industry. Water transportation provided the least expensive solution. Logs carved into the forests of Michigan floated downstream, collected at the mouths of the rivers, classified in floating corrals, called "barriers" and towed by sawmills lining the Saginaw River to Bay City. From the forests along the coast of Canada's Georgian Bay, tugboats towed barriers containing thousands of logs across Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay for shipping to the waiting sawmills.
The tugboat captains faced many dangers: sudden storms that would threaten to destroy the delicate loop of logs that made the boom, disasters on board, exploding boilers, and fires that could leave the teams abandoned to icy water away from rocky shores. The idea of taking charge of a vessel like this aroused the imagination of the hotelier's son.
His ambition gained momentum in his twenty-first year, when the fire destroyed House Boutell. Dan Boutell fought the fire until only steaming remains remained. His lungs burned with smoke, he refused health until death claimed it the following year. In support of the endangered family, Ben immediately entered as a full-time sailor on the Wave steamship. Within a year, he was Wave's mate, and the following year he gained documents that gave him the responsibilities of a ship's captain.
As Captain Boutell, he took command of the Ajax, a steam trailer that had recently become the property of Bay City's First National Bank. The bank acquired it the way banks usually acquire assets – through missing notes. The twenty-two-year-old captain had the help of an engineer named Samuel Jones, whose salary, like the captain's, depended on the ship's income, and a cook whom he treated kindly as Aunt Kitty, who both had an impressive circumference. and willingness for adventure. Ben, Jones, and Aunt Kitty executed the trailer that fell with Ben, just as easily handling mundane tasks such as chopping wood for the boiler and managing the boat business. The trio released the owners $ 6,000 (about $ 84,000 in 2009), giving the young captain a reputation as a ship captain that he can do with first-class knowledge of the Great Lakes.
The bold competence caught the attention of Captain William Mitchell, master of the tug Union. Mitchell admired the slender young man with an attractive smile whose energy seemed to expand to meet any challenge. The two quickly became friends and business partners, acquiring over time a fleet of tugs, barges, schooners, and cargo transporters that eventually reached more than fifty. Boutell arranged large rafts containing up to 4 million feet of wooden planks, making it the largest timber carrier of the lumber era. In total, rafting and other towing work for its tugboats employed the services of five hundred people. He counted among them. Even as his assets and reputation grew, he remained in charge of one trailer or another, five years alone as captain of Annie Moiles, until finally the responsibilities created by his rapidly growing wealth kept him on shore.
Although Ben never left behind the boy who probed the riverbank aboard a small coffin, the capital he accumulated as owner and captain of boats on Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, Lake Huron, and Georgia Bay would eventually generate additional fortunes. When Ben Boutell, William Mitchell and his future partner, Peter Smith, joined the logging industry, they tied themselves to a star that rose only a short distance before it exploded. When the white pine forests melted under the onslaught of axes and saws, the need for Boutell's tugboats vanished. For a while, his plan was to continue where he began, transporting logs from Canada. However, prohibitive duties ended any hope of profiting from Canadian timber. With his heart sinking, Ben, who has transported an average of one hundred million feet of wooden plank in one station, watched his boats wander in the docks.
This was how Captain Benjamin Boutell, in 1897, at the age of 53, found himself rich but unemployed and eager for new opportunities. Although he was no longer the elegant young man who inspired legends, he was still affable, easygoing and, as usual, dressed in rumpled clothes. A shaggy mustache was all that remained of a once prominent beard, and while he paid close attention to the weekly sermon at Madison Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, he peppered his speech with unholy phrases that would bring deep grooves to his minister's characteristics. they were spoken in his presence. General sympathy, the result of many dinners prepared under the direction of Amelia, his wife in his late thirties, robbed him of his once athletic build. Though his body had grown rounder, fuller, and less able to handle a schooner's rigging alone, the curious young man was still present in eyes that glittered with the hint of adventure.
Over the age of lumber, about thirty years after Ben towed his first log raft, many who had accumulated wealth in the forests of Michigan departed, taking their wealth to distant cities. Ben Boutell stood still, reinvesting most of his wealth in Michigan. It has opened your mind to possibilities in many industries. Knowing little about either of them, insatiable curiosity guided his direction. Soon he had large stakes in coal mines, shipping companies, machine shops, cement factories, banks, a telephone company, foundries and sugar factories. His interests spanned the country of Boston, where he owned sea barges to Redwood City, California, where he co-founded the state's first Portland cement factory. He eventually served as director or director of thirty-two companies, nine of them in the Michigan sugar beet industry. He also co-founded the Colorado and Canadian sugar beet industries, chairing two Colorado sugar companies and serving on the boards of two Canadian companies that later became the base of the Canadian-Dominion Sugar Company. In addition, he owned large farms where he grew sugar beet and a 4,000-acre farm in the northern regions of the state.
Only their sugar interests would be enough to keep two or three executives busy all year. No individual in Michigan has devoted as much of his wealth and time to the state's growing sugar beet industry as Captain Benjamin Boutell. He was one of the founders of Michigan's first beet sugar company, Michigan Sugar Company, where he served as director and vice president. He served in similar capacities at Bay City Sugar Company. He co-founded Saginaw Sugar Company, where he served as treasurer and held a board of directors. He was president of the Lansing Sugar Company and treasurer of the Marine City Sugar Company and held management positions at the Mount Clemens, Carrollton and Menominee sugar companies.
The vast Sugar Trust, an organization that has kept the nation's sugar supply for decades for decades, has not been supported. As the Trust grew in power, it sold its shares in companies under its control and invested in independent companies, keeping its distance from a form of business organization that was losing favor in the United States.
Captain Boutell commanded the sailboat deck and boardrooms just as easily, routinely making investments that boosted the formation of companies employing hundreds. But as he passed through the doorway of his home, he entered a matriarchal society governed by his wife, Amelia, and their identical twin sister, Cornelia.
Amelia Charlotte Duttlinger and her sister were born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1850 or 1851. Tragedy came early to the twins. Their father died at age three, causing his mother, Catharine, to move to Bay County. There she ran a hotel with the help of the twins when they were old enough, two servants and a bartender. Among the guests in 1869 was Ben Boutell, a young sailor who, at twenty-four, had already become legendary material and a resourceful man. The fact that he was a drug dealer certainly did not escape the knowledge of Amelia and Cornelia, or their widowed mother.
Amelia had a genius personality and good looks, and though physically identical to her twin sister, somehow made a difference to Ben. Perhaps it was a friendlier disposition and an unwary attitude that brought joy to the eyes and the kind of smile that will remain in a man's memory. Her red hair fell long and full over her shoulders, ending in curls that bounced with every step she took.
Cornelia seemed, by comparison, more cautious and often critical of hotel guests, many of whom did not meet her strict standards of dress and conduct. Amelia's unbroken references to Ben began to ring wedding bells for Cornelia. She suggested a rising love affair.
The dating was brief, shaped by the busy schedule of a Great Lakes sailor. They were both in love, and although the term had not yet been used, they were soul mates. Each lost a parent at an early age, each spent years of training taking on adult responsibilities in operating a hotel, and each aspiring to a life measured in achievement. The wedding took place on December 22, 1869, after the sea routes closed for the winter. Ben and Amelia looked forward to a long honeymoon that would end when the Great Lakes melted in March.
Before the honeymoon was over, however, Cornelia, in great anguish, landed on her doorstep to recover from a tragic turn of events in her love life. After that, the sisters became inseparable; One wouldn't go anywhere without the other. At Amelia's insistence, Ben bought two of everything: coats, dresses, and monogrammed hats to identify the twin to whom he belonged. In a nod of acceptance of Cornelia's continued presence in their lives, he named one of his ore transport barges "Twin Sisters." The twin he loved called him "Meil".
The only distinction between the twins was a small mole around Amelia's neck behind one ear. Ben, however, had a secret method of distinguishing one from another: Amelia's features usually showed satisfaction, while Cornelia's appearance was sour and irritable. The birth of three children, Frederick, William and Bennie, gave Amelia's life a special purpose, while overseeing her development in educated gentlemen in the thick riverside logging town became a special mission for Cornelia. She had given up any hope of doing the same for her brother-in-law. Its volume combined with restlessness made all delicate objects within its reach vulnerable to rupture; teacups, glasses, jewelry clasps, and fine furniture seemed to fracture and break in his presence.
The sisters determined that the time had come for the captain to establish a home of the size and wealth in a way that adequately announced the breadth of his life's accomplishments. At their request, he bought four adjoining lots in Bay City, Fifth, and Madison Streets, one block from Center Avenue. Today, Center Avenue unveils a spectacular display of late 19th and early 20th century residential architecture, for which it has earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places. For the prominent citizens of Bay City in the 1890s and the next half century, it was the right place to live. Lumberjacks and leaders in sugar beet, coal, shipbuilding and other industries built elegant homes that reflected their substantial fortunes.
Phillip C. Floeter, a distinguished architect who had designed the Trinity Episcopal Church a few years earlier, was commissioned to draft the plans and then build a mansion calculated to make Center Avenue homes full-sized and ornate.
Floeter imported Italian tiles and marble for eleven fireplaces and ordered substantial quantities of mahogany, maple, birch and pine for the home and interior panels. The room showed Ben's love of the Great Lakes. It was shaped like a boat prow, and at the other end was a floor-to-ceiling mirror flanked on either side by tall, mirrored cabinets. Another homage to the Great Lakes stones – the glittering stones carried from Lake Erie and set within a front-looking pediment – caught the attention of passers-by. The panels covered the inner walls at a height of five feet, with the area above them first covered with canvas and then decorated with gold leaf. The fixtures were made of sterling silver.
In addition to the storage rooms, the basement contained a kitchen and dining room, where Ben entertained business partners and friends who preferred to smoke cigars while paying tribute to the Bacchic, activities prohibited elsewhere. Two private balconies opened to the second floor bedrooms and a first floor balcony ran the length of both sides of the house. From this point of view, it was possible to catch a glimpse of the river and hear the sigh of corvettes passing in the middle of the night. The house was painted green with white details – with navy paint, of course. A large barn, which housed four horses and a carriage, was behind the house.
Boutell was discreet. He avoided the spotlight often favored by business executives and community leaders, past speeches, public office, or any other pitfalls that accompany success. Compared to those who had set up pulpits or appeared before Bay City's social and business groups, Benjamin was shy, almost retiring. With the exception of his mansion, a concession to his wife, to whom he refused nothing, he avoided public displays of wealth. He was more likely to encourage children who gathered on his wide lawn where he built a waterslide for them than to engage in politics and more likely to spend time with his family than at business conventions.
January in the Saginaw Bay region is a cold weather. The ice thickens in the bay and the rhythm of the river slows to a crawl and finally stops altogether. Each day brings a reminder of the cooler days ahead, as winter sets in to keep the region in a cold hug until spring. It was 1902 and Bay City was no longer trapped by frozen waterways five months a year; the railways now made it possible to travel to the places where Ben did business. He often took advantage of them to travel around the United States and Canada, where he attended meetings of the board of directors and shareholders or to evaluate new investment opportunities.
When he returned from one of these excursions in late January 1902, he entered his home, where he found Amelia and Cornelia together in the living room. Cornelia's hands were busy knitting a shawl, one of the many gifts she and Amelia made throughout the year to family and church members. Amelia's hands were in her lap, one folded over the other, an unusual posture for Amelia, who, like Ben, was usually busy from dawn to dusk.
Something else caught her attention, sending a chill down her spine. The twins were no longer identical! True, their dresses, as always, were the same, elegant Edwardian evening dresses, black and in keeping with the narrow Methodist views, unadorned with jewelry. Each now wore his hair pulled back and tied in a bun at the back of his head. But Amelia's features changed during the few weeks he was gone, or anyway, he noticed an accumulation of changes that had escaped his attention when he saw her every day.
She had lost weight, her face was thin and narrow; his shoulders slanted as if defeated, and worst of all, the glow had left his eyes. He nodded to the left and noticed a pair of kid gloves in the hallway and drops of moisture on the floor. Despite their determined appearance, he guessed that they had arrived home shortly before him and hurried to deceive him into believing that they had been there all day. Knitting needles gleamed in Cornelia's busy hands. Her gaze flew first to Amelia and then to Ben. Amelia managed to get up to greet her husband, but Ben, seeing her anguish, ran through the small space between them and hugged her.
He summoned experts to her side and took her to those who could not visit her at home. She got worse. Cancer was the sixth leading cause of death in Michigan at that time, behind tuberculosis, heart disease, pneumonia, cholera and flu. Despite Ben's fierce efforts to save her, she got worse and worse.
On Thanksgiving, Ben realized that Amelia understood that the end was near. He pulled his chair close to her bed when, with a fragile movement, she called him closer. With a voice too thin to travel more than a few feet, she made her final wishes known. Cornelia, he reminded him, had been part of his life from the moment of his birth and part of Ben from the moment of his marriage. She begged him to marry Cornelia to protect the family's wealth, which would be threatened with division or total loss if Benjamin married another. Marry, Cornelia, she said, and everything stays together where it belongs.
She grasped Ben's hand with the remaining strength and asked him to promise her now. In thirty-three years of marriage, Ben had given in to all his wishes; he saw no reason to object now. He made the promise, then smiled and told her it was an easy promise, because she would be right as rain at Christmas at the latest!
Amelia died five days later, on November 25, 1902. Ben retained his deathbed vow and married Cornelia fourteen months later, on February 11, 1904.
Ben increased the pace of his activities by forming businesses, expanding others, and dedicating additional time to community projects such as the founding of YMCA and YWCA, serving as a church administrator and freely donating his time and money to local needs.
In April 1912, he attended a meeting of the Wallaceburg Sugar Company shareholders in Wallaceburg, Ontario. At the conclusion of the meeting, he arrived at Chatham railway station for the return trip when the engine was warming up. Black smoke rose from the chimney. The starter seemed to scream Hurry! Hurry! The driver, impatient to have a passenger at the last second, leaned forward as if to remove the small wooden step used by passengers to board the train. Ben galloped off. As soon as he grabbed the bar that allowed him to board, the train suddenly advanced. He held on with one hand, struggling to board, but lacked the strength to complete the maneuver. He loosened his grip and fell to the platform. At first he believed himself no more than badly shaken. Upon returning home, he began to feel discomfort, then pain and then agony. Within a short time, he entered a semi-conscious state from which he was put to death on October 26, 1912.
When Benjamin Boutell entered history, Michigan lost a member of a group of bold men and women born near the time the state arose. He injected vigor and a risk-taking attitude into the border state, pioneering the Great Lakes and Michigan agricultural fields and fostering various industrial concerns. When Michigan faced economic hardship during the abandonment of the lumber industry, he ignored safer paths and plunged into new industries that expanded economic opportunities in the smaller cities of Michigan, risking an uncertain financial return for himself, while others in his home. situation carried profits. in Michigan to distant and safe ports, New York, Cleveland, and Boston. Just for that, he is remembered as a true son of Michigan.
Butterfield, George, Bay County Past and Present, Centennial Edition, George Butterfield, Board of Education, Bay City, Michigan, 1957, pages 117, 195 (mansion photo), 89, 118, and 142.
Gansser, Augustus, History of Bay County, MI and Representative Citizens, Richmond & Arnold, Chicago, IL, 1905, pages 491-2.
Gutleben, Dan, The Sugar Tramp – 1954, Bay Cities Duplicating Co, San Francisco, California, 1954.
Mansfield, J.B. Great Lakes History, Vol. 1, Freshwater Press, Cleveland, Ohio, 1972
Evening Press, West Bay City, Bay, MI, Friday, November 26, 1880, concerning the death of Benjamin Boutell's mother.
Cyclopedia of Michigan: Historical and Biographical Synopsis of General State History and Biographical Sketches of Men Who, in Their Many Spheres, Contributed to Its Development., Western Publishing and Engraving Co., New York and Detroit, 227-8, 230 -1 , Bay City Public Library, Bay, Michigan
History of the Great Lakes with Illus., J.H. Beers & Co., Chicago, 1899. Vol. II, pages 18-22.
INFLATION ADJUSTMENTS: Data prior to 1975 are statistics from the Consumer Price Index of the Historical Statistics of the United States (USGPO 1975). All data since then comes from the United States Statistical Abstracts. Recorded at http://www.westegg.com/inflation
MICHIGAN ANNUAL REPORTS, Michigan Archives, Lansing, Michigan