Nathan Ball Bradley (1831 - 1906)
By Marvin Kusmierz (July 2003)
Pioneer and first Mayor of Bay City, MI.
Birth: 1831, Lee, MA
Death: 8 Nov 1906, Bay City, MI
Parents: William Bradley and Lucy Ball
On (date unknown) to Hulda Chase of Sparta, OH
Children: Eleanor, Fred W.
On (date unknown) to Emilia E. Gaylord, the widow of Hon. A.S. Gaylord of Saginaw City.
Nathan was the sixth child born to William and Lucy (Ball) Bradley, both born themselves in Lee, Berkshire Co., Massachusetts. The other children were: Emily (1816), William (1818), Charles (1822), Henry (1824), Nancy (1825) and Frederick E. (1832).
In 1835, his father who was in the tanning business decided to move the family to Lorraine County, Ohio to take up farming, and is where Nathan lived most of his childhood years. He learned the skills of a custom clothier from his father and at age of 16 began work in that profession. Desiring a more lucrative occupation, he moved to Wisconsin where he was hired to operate a saw mill which he did for two years. He returned to Ohio where he and his brother partnered to build a new saw mill. In 1852, he moved to Lexington, Michigan and purchased land and began lumbering. Still looking for greater opportunity, in 1857, he move the Saginaw Valley in the St. Charles area. There he was superintendendant of a lumbering plant.
After spending only a year in St. Charles, he moved to Lower Saginaw in 1857, the year Bay County was organized. He ran the Frost & Bradley Mill which was located at the foot of Sixteenth street. Four years later, in 1861, he and his brothers partnered and purchased the sawmill which was renamed N.B. Bradley & Company. Three years later, saw manufacturing was added to the business making it among the first in the area. Some time afterwards his brother opted out of the business, then about 1880, the other brother died and Nathan brought his two son into the business, renaming it, N.B. Bradley & Sons.
One of the first civic activities that Nathan involved himself in was the Masons. Shortly after moving to Lower Saginaw joined up with William F. McCormick, James J. McCormick, C.B. Cottrell, John F. Cottrel, J.H. Little and Clark Moultrop to organize an effort to obtained a local lodge here. In 1861, there persistence paid off when the Masonic Lodge No. 129, F. & A.M. received its charter.
In 1864, he and several others created an organization with plans to build a street railway system. Nathan was its secretary, treasurer and managing director for several years.
In 1865, the village of Bay City incorporated as a city. Nathan ran for the office of mayor and was successful, establishing himself the "city's" first mayor. However, a year later he put his hat in the ring for a seat in the Michigan senate, which he won that made his term as major one of the shortest on record.
In 1867, he and B.E. Warran partnered to reorganize the First National Bank of Bay City which was on the brink of financial ruin.
In 1872, he decided to try national politics. That Fall he was elected to the Congress serving during the 43rd and 44th congresses. During his congressional career, Nathan was able to direct funds into the community for the dredging of the Saginaw river and its harbors increasing its appeal to shipping related industries.
After the peak years of local lumbering, the State of Michigan was anxious to find alternative industries to help support the econonmy. It was determined that sugar beet manufacturing might be a successful enterprise for the fertile soils of Michigan, and Bay County was chosen for a state sponsored test plant. Nathan was appointed Chairman of the selection committee to determine what would be the best spot in the county to build a sugar beet factory. The village of Essexville got the nod because of the rich nearby farmlands of Hamptown township. The Michigan Sugar Beet Company was formed and construction of the plant began at the foot of Scheurman street near the rivers edge.
Nathan was an investor in the new business along with Thomas Cranage, E.Y. Williams, Rasmus Hanson, S.O. Fisher and E.T. Carrington. The test plant was great success and other plants opened shortly thereafter. Sugar beet farming and manufacturing remains an important part of the local economy today.
Nathan was a member of the First Presbyterian Church on Center avenue in Bay City which has a fine history in this community. The church founded Alma College, and Nathan as a u>trustees helped the college through its initial years of operation.
When the "Sisters of Mercy" came here to esablish community hospital in 1899, Nathan offer to sell him his residence, a large three-story building, at price they could well afford. His home which sat at the foot of Fourteenth street served as home for Mercy Hospital for a number of years. Eventually, a new multi-story brick building designed specifically for heath care was built. Mercy Hospital closed during the 1970s, but the building still stands and is now an apartment complex which appropriately carries Bradley's name.
Nathan Bradley set a fine example as a citizen and first mayor of Bay City. Althought, I haven't researched the contributions of the majors that followed him, it hard to imagine they any could have contributer more to this community than he did. If you should happen to visit the Elm Lawn Cemetery, take a moment let him know that he's still remembered and appreciated for the many contributions he made to our community
History of Bay County and Representative Citizens, Capt. Augustus H. Gansser, pub. 1905
"City's First Major Was Man of Many Pursuits", Bay City Times, Feb. 28, 1937 (Central Library).
Encyclopea of Michigan History, pub. 1890.
[-] Descendants of Danyell Bradley - Genealogy website (www.bradleyfoundation.org)
The Bay County Story - Footpaths to Freeways, Leslie E. Arndt, pub. 1982.
April, 2012: Stuart V. Bradley, Jr. has contributed extensive family genealogy and history of the Bradley family, which are in pdf format:
Bradley, Frederick E.
Bradley, Fred W.
Cottrell, John F.
Gaylord, A.S. (Hon.)
Gaylord, Emilia E.
Mason Lodge No. 129
McCormick, James J.
McCormick, William F.
Bay City (Lower Saginaw)
Elm Lawn Cemetery
First National Bank
First Presbyterian Church
Frost & Bradley Mill
Lee, Bershire Co., MA
Lorraine Co., OH
N.B. Bradley & Co.
N.B. Bradley & Sons Co.
Sisters of Mercy
Street railway system
Bradley's home on 14th Street near the Saginaw river was the first building used by Mercy Hospital.
Michigan Census Data
1870 Bay City:
On 14 June 1870, census taker, John M Knaggs, lists Nathan Bradley of Massachusetts, age 39 , Lumber and Salt Manufacturer, Real Estate Value $220,000, Personal Value $50,000. Living in same homestead are:
Huldah age 37, of OH, keeping house;
Eleanor of MI, age 12, at school;
Fred of MI, at school;
Leona Voight of Prussia, age 19, domestic servant.
1880 Bay City:
Bradley, Nathan B., age 49, Born MA, Lumberman.
Bradley, Huldah, wife, age 47, Born OH, Keeping House.
Bradley, Fredric N., son, age 20, Born MI, Book Keeper.
Bradley, Effa E., Dau., age 11, Born ME
Carr, Anna, servant, age 27, Born MI.
Elm Lawn Cemetery
Nathan's final resting place is a mausoleum in Section 7 of Elm Lawn. The mausoleum was erected in January 1908, over a year after his death. Cemetery records show the following individuals rest there with Nathan (Please note these are burial dates and not actual death dates.):
Hulda L. Bradley (27 Jul 1906)
Nathan B. Bradley (8 Jan 1908)
Elmar E. Bradley (24 Nov 1919)
Ada A. Bradley (15 Aug 1924)
Frederick W. Bradley (8 Jun 1932)
Bessie Bradley (6 Apr 1964)
and, three unknown individuals.
Cemetery records state that the three unknown and Hulda L. Bradley were moved to the masusolem from Pine Ridge cemetery.