This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Rensselaer Horatio Alger

As I was writing about the William C Babcock scrapbooks recently, I googled his sister's name, Margaret Paulus, and found that she had some books listed on Amazon. Searching a bit further, I found that the Saint Joseph's College library had some of them. So I went to see what was there.

The books were less than I expected. They were xeroxed pages of her handwritten genealogies and transcriptions from newspapers along with an assortment of newspaper clippings that had been bound. They had no page numbers and the contents were not in chronological order. However, they did provide some interesting information about early businesses in Rensselaer.

The person who made the Babcocks a force in business was the first William C Babcock, the father of the William C Babcock who kept the scrapbooks. He was born in 1862 and grew up on a farm south east of Rensselaer. His father died when he was eleven or twelve (different sources give different dates) and in 1893 he married Avanelle Daughterty.

In 1894 Babcock sold his farm of 160 acres for $4800 and moved to Rensselaer. In November of 1894 he bought four lots on the railroad between the planing mill and the Paxton Lumber Yard for $395 with "a view of erecting a large hay barn."

Less than a year later he and W. R. Nowels consolidated their grain buying business under the firm name of "Nowels and Babcock."  A newspaper clipping from January 2, 1896 reported, "In 1888 W. R. Nowels purchased the elevator of B. F. Ferguson and for four years the business was conducted under the firm name of W. R. Nowels & Son. In the winter and spring of 1892-3 additional buildings were erected and a complete outfit of flouring machinery was put in and the manufacture of flour commenced, their brand "White Lilly" attaining a very large sale."

In February of 1896 Babcock bought the Osborne Planing mill near the railroad with plans to expand the operation. In March of 1896 W. R. Nowels retired. Babcock continued the grain business but sublet the milling part to D.E. Hollister and Homer Hopkins. In January of 1898 a fire destroyed the planing mill and Babcock decided not to rebuild.

On July 10, 1900 wind blew a corn crib owned by Babcock onto the Monon railroad tracks at Lee. A train hit it and destroyed it.

In 1901 Albert Hopkins became a partner in the Babcock grain business. The firm, now Babcock and Hopkins, tore down the old building and built a new elevator, which was expanded in 1905. This elevator and much stored grain was destroyed by a fire on April 11, 1911. At peak season the elevator employed 22 people. (The picture below shows the elevator in 1902.)

The elevator was rebuilt by the fall, but this rebuilt elevator was in turn destroyed by fire on July 14, 1914. From the newspaper account of the fire: "Practically every person in Rensselaer was at the fire, while they came in large numbers from the surrounding country and from other towns. The light from the tall building gave a red tinge to the sky that could be seen at Monon, Remington, Mount Ayr and other places."

By the time of the fire the firm controlled the grain business along the Monon railroad from Monon to the Kankakee River and also on the Gifford branch line from McCoysburg to Dinwiddie.

Babcock found that Hopkins was stealing from the firm and forced him out, buying his share. The company became W C Babcock Grain Company. In addition to rebuilding the Rensselaer elevator yet again, other elevators were built at Virgie, Fair Oaks, Parr, Pleasant Ridge, and Roselawn. He owned portable loading elevators (I am not sure what those were) at Lee, Moody, Lewistown, Newland, Gifford, and Surrey. He had the largest individually owned chain of elevators in Indiana.

Bad health forced Babcock to give up his business activities in 1928. He died in 1930 at the age of 68.

Babcock was elected Jasper County Auditor in 1898 and served one term. He did not run for re-election because he wanted to devote his time to building his business.

He was one of the first car owners in Rensselaer. There were only two or three other cars in town when he got his first one. When the telephone arrived, the Babcock company had the phone number 5, which it kept until the "Babcock Construction moved their offices to the old Drake home near the stone quarry."

Babcock overcame several serious setbacks. In addition to the fires in Rensselaer, an elevator at Parr burned, and in 1905 the McCoy Bank, where Babcock had substantial deposits, failed.

The Babcock grain company was purchased in 1945 by the Jasper County Farm Bureau, which had been organized in 1927. The purchase of the Babcock grain business tripled the size of the Farm Bureau.

After his death, Babcock's wife and two children inherited his company. His son, the second William Cary Babcock, graduated from Rensselaer High School in 1913 and worked a year as an electrician before enrolling at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He joined the Navy after the U.S. entered the Great War, but the war ended before he served. From a soliloquy by his sister after his death: "After his return to civilian life, Bill started building roads in Jasper and Newton County under the firm name of Babcock and Roberts. Seeing the need for crushed limestone for roads, he persuaded his father to buy the small Washburn Quarry in the south part of Rensselaer. There was need for more land to quarry the stone; so land was purchased from Conrad Kellner. The quarry was moved across the river with Ernest Beaver as manager in 1923.

The quarry was then later moved again to its present location on the south side of Emmet Avenue.
The second William C Babcock seemed to be more interested in the construction and quarrying business than in the grain business. It was finally sold by the family after his death to Larry Jenkins and a Mr Ward (the first name was clipped in Mrs Paulus' book.) in 1981.

The third William C Babcock was a marine in World War II. His unit of 90 men was part of the invasion of Okinawa. Of the 90, only seven survived, and only two, one of whom was Babcock, were uninjured.

As for Mrs Paulus, she was interested in history and genealogy, and you can find much of what she did in the Jasper County Public Library. She had two daughters, one of whom predeceased her. Sally Paulus was born in 1931, was valedictorian of Rensselaer High School in 1949 and salutatorian of Hanover College in 1953. She taught some years at Morton College in Illinois and died in 1973.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I bought an 0ld picture at an auction of a man with a mustache holding dead ducks at a farm. In the back of the picture is written "W. C. Babcock Rensselaer with a mess of ducks shot at the Kankakee River on Hank Granger Camp at the intersection of the Hodge Ditch and Kakakee River."

I wonder if be is the W. C. Babcock in this articcle?