Bryan Rotary Club met both in-person and virtually to hear Kevin Maynard discussing the Bryan industry growth and development spanning 200 years.
Bryan was surveyed on July 14, 1840, and designated the new Williams County seat. Early descriptions of the town indicated it to be little more than a forested swamp. From 1840 to 1855, Bryan grew slowly but steadily.
Bryan was incorporated in 1849, and the first municipal election saw 43 eligible men voting. By 1850 the town’s estimated population had grown to 265.
Bryan’s first industries relied on local raw materials and served primarily local markets due to transportation limitations. It was nearly impossible to bring a wagon through the thick, primitive forest and underbrush that had a stranglehold on the area.
Traveling by canoe on the county rivers could take up to ten days. With no graveled roads, the paths would constantly change as woods were cleared. The first industries in Bryan were tanneries, asheries, a saleratus factory, and various industry mills.
The first tannery was on South Main Street around 1842 and started by Jacob Youse. The tannery would turn animal hides into leather. It was considered the most important manufacturing industry in Bryan until it closed in 1848.
The asheries would convert hardwood ashes into lye, potash, or pearl ash. These ashes were sold by local farmers clearing their land. The produced lye would be mixed with fats to make soap.
The potash would be sold as fertilizer. At the saleratus factory, the pearl ash was converted from potassium carbonate to potassium bicarbonate.
This compound was then ground into a powder and used as a leavening agent to quickly make bread.
The four primary industrial mills were sawmills, gristmills, and wool carding mills. The wool carding and sawmill were located on South Beech Street and owned by the Wertz family.
Local lumber was refined in the sawmill to erect frame buildings, replacing the original simple log structures. The wood carding mill would separate, organize, and lay the wool fibers parallel in preparation for spinning.
The gristmills offered a market for farmers’ grain and produced cornmeal and flour, essential elements of the pioneers’ diet.
The Michigan Southern & Northern Indiana Railroad (now known as Norfolk Southern) finally reached Bryan in May 1855.
With the arrival of the railroad, markets were opened for agricultural produces and manufactured goods by providing inexpensive, rapid transportation of raw materials.
The railroad also allowed for regular mail delivery and faster, more reliable transport of passengers. The population also saw a sharp increase from 265 in 1850, to 1,064 in 1860, to a significant jump in 1870 to 2,284. The railroad also allowed new industries to blossom and transport material.
By 1858 George Wise established a brewery in a wooden frame building at the northwest corner of Beech and Center Streets. Henry Arnold leased Wise’s brewery and equipment for $29/month ($936.76 in today’s money) before purchasing it in 1862 for $1,351 ($43,640). Arnold operated the brewery in April 1865 when he sold it to Jacob Halm, a native of Germany.
Mr. Halm constructed an 88- by 84-foot brick brewery on the site in 1873 and by 1881 was selling more than 200 barrels of beer weekly. The business flourished and passed from father-son after the accidental death of Halm senior at the brewery in 1883.
Unfortunately, Williams County was voted dry in 1908. With the loss of the lucrative local market, the brewery was forced to close. Part of the old building still stands at the corner of Beech and Center Street and are now converted apartments.
The Bryan Foundry was established in 1862 by Robert Park of Fairfield, Huron County, Ohio. They occupied a wooden frame and brick structures at the corner of Beech and Butler Streets. In 1865 it became the Morrison, Fay, and Company.
By 1890, the buildings housed the Bryan Plow Company that manufactured plows, sugar cane crushers, corn shellers, harrows, steam engines, and cultivators. The company officially employed, by 1875, 35 people, manufactured 3,000 plows and 1,500 corn shellers.
In 1919, the company was sold its parts, patterns, and business to Parker Plow Company of Richmond, Michigan. Parker continued to manufacture the “Bryan” plow and furnish parts and service for thousands of Bryan plows then in use. Two of the plow company’s former brick buildings still stand on South Beech Street.
The Bryan Manufacturing Company was incorporated in 1873 by local businessmen. Initially, the company manufactured wooden butter tubs, tobacco tubs, pails, and handles but later also manufactured the patented “Champion” wheelbarrows at Portland and Trevitt Streets for 50 years.
The Bryan Press newspaper reported Champion wheelbarrows were shipped “into every civilized country in the world, and into some not so civilized.” The firm produced numerous wooden and metal varieties of the Champion wheelbarrow. Bryan Manufacturing Company closed in 1925 with the retirement of owner M.V. Garver.
The firm’s facilities were purchased by Bryan Handle Company, and part of the site is now part of the Spangler Candy Company Campus.
Founded in 1917 by Olen Bard, the Bryan Specialty Company repainted automobiles and repainted auto canvas tops and side curtains. Earl Critchfield joined the firm in 1924, and the company began producing truck sleeper cabs and truck and bus bodies.
It was initially located in the 200 block of West Butler Street until 1924, when the firm moved to the former Bryan Plow Company building in the 100 block of South Beech Street.
They more than 1,000 school buses from 1925 until 1942, when the company had to close due to the World War II ban on manufacturing school buses and commercial trucks.
The Bryan Ice and Ice Cream Company began in 1917 with founders Ed Frappier and Olin Gleason. The company occupied the former Bryan Steel Grave Vault Company located at Edgerton Street and Cincinnati Northern Railroad.
The firm had an ice pond and mechanical ice maker to supply ice to residents and businesses before electric refrigeration. Along with ice, the firm also sold coal.
The firm suffered a devastating fire in the ice house in 1935, forcing that part of the business to close. The ice pond was filled, and only manufactured ice was sold after that.
The ice cream brand, Dove Brand, was sold in Northwest Ohio and adjacent Michigan and Indiana counties. Ice cream production ceased in 1960 due to the rise of supermarkets which sold generic brands.
The Delite Manufacturing Company was organized in 1919 by Bryanites E.C. Carroll, N.W. Carroll and Harry E. Huffman to produce electric-powered washing machines. The Bryan Press reported: “everybody knows the popularity of the electric washing machine, which is just coming on the market and which cannot be made fast enough to take care of the demand.”
By 1923, Delite was producing 250 washers per month and needed more room. First only located at the northeast corner of High and Beech Streets, the company expanded in 1923 to include the third floor of the former Bryan Plow Company on South Beech Street, with West High Street opening as the service department in 1929.
Fred Bowman of Elkhart was hired as plant superintendent in 1922 and purchased the firm in 1929. The company stopped making washers in 1940 but continued as an appliance service business by Bowman and his son-in-law, Charles Meyer, for many years
Omer L. Woodson, an aeronautical engineer, came to Bryan from Cleveland in 1924 and served as the U.S. Air Mail field manager on North Main Street.
He began manufacturing biplanes at the airmail hangar in 1925. Unfortunately, according to the Bryan Press, Woodson could not make the business successful.
After leaving Bryan, Woodson manufactured airplanes in Napoleon and Defiance. He received numerous aeronautical equipment patents and worked for Bell Aircraft.
Bryan has a rich manufacturing history dating back to the time of its 1840 founding. Many Bryan industries successfully operated 25, 50, 100 years or more. What has helped make Bryan such a hotbed for industrial development is being the county seat, the largest city in Williams County, railroads, highways, the airport, and municipal utilities.
The residents were known for a strong work ethic in the community of “8 hours work for 8 hours pay.” The high quality, economical water source of “Fountain City” provided natural resources, as did the abundant agricultural and timber resources.
Rail access made transportation easy (there were even three railroads from 1905-1939). Easy transportation was also available from the major highways, Ohio Turnpike access, and the local airport (primarily used by the U.S. Air Mail in the early days).
The entrepreneurial spirit of Bryan was evident in the influence of the Bryan Business Men’s Association (precursor of the Bryan
Area Chamber of Commerce), which brought and supported many industries to Bryan.
Bryan Rotary Club thanked Kevin Maynard for his informative presentation and will donate a book in their honor to the Williams County Public Library.
The club is now meeting in person, with virtual still an option, at Wesley Church. All are welcome to join either in person or virtual meeting; send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.