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Edwin Lewis Gillette (1811-1892)
Among Bay City's earliest lumber business men, later prominent Chicago business man.

1894 biography. (Added May, 2010)

Industrial Chicago: The Lumber Interests, Vol. 6,
by George Woodward Hotchkiss (1894)


The family of Gillette is, as the name would suggest, of French origin, its membership having descended from the French Huguenots who emigrated from France shortly after the massacre on St. Bartholomew's day, August 24, 1572, and settled within the southern boundaries of Scotland. The family remained there for about fifty-seven years, and in 1630 Jonathan Gillette, the ancestor of the subject of this sketch, came to America with his brother Nathan and settled in Dorchester, Mass., but removed in 1635, to Windsor, Conn., where he found a more permanent home. In 1794 the family removed to New York State and finally located at Penn Yan, Yates County, where Edwin Lewis Gillette was born February 7, 1811, a son of Jeremiah and Elizabeth (Hoyt) Gillette.

In the country, at that time, educational advantages were no many, nor of a very high order, but such as there were, young Gillette availed himself of, and when of suitable age he acquired the trade of miller, one in those days of considerable importance, and he worked at it, either for others or for himself, until he came west and located in the Saginaw Valley and became partner of James Fraser's. Fraser was a Scotchman who, with a Dr. Fitzhugh, had located the lands upon which Bay City, Mich., for many years known as Lower Saginaw, now stands. Messrs. Gillette and Fraser built a mill on the Coqualin (Kawkawlin) River, seven miles west of Bay City, and they had a mill also on the bank of the Saginaw River, near the boundary line between Lower Saginaw and Portsmouth, which was later known as the Seth McLean mill, and was destroyed by fire in 1893. Between 1849 and 1854 the firm sent occasional cargoes of lumber to the Chicago market and realized prices which, while they were satisfactory at the time, would now be considered equivalent to a gift of the lumber to the purchaser. The venture was successful enough, however, to convince the shippers that their business would be facilitated by the opening of a yard in Chicago. Their office was located on Sherman Street, just south of Taylor, near the Rock Island Railroad depot, and in 1854 Mr. Gillette came to Chicago to assume the management of the enterprise. Four years later James Clark King succeeded to the interest of Mr. Fraser. When the great fire of 1871 swept away their lumber yard, with between 5,000,000 and 6,000,000 feet of lumber, at Harrison and Firth Avenue, the firm managed to save their principal yard at 238 Sherman Street, and several million feet of lumber stored there was utilized in rebuilding the city. The business of the house was most successful, notwithstanding this heavy loss, and Mr. Gillette came to be most prominent among the leading business men of the city in his day.

Mr. Gillette early saw the value of local real estate investments and in time became a large owner of Chicago property. He conceived and built up the suburban town of Fernwood, one of the most beautiful and in many ways one of the most advantageous residence localities around Chicago. His judgment of real estate values was good and he had such unbounded faith in the future of the city that he ventured largely in down-town property, one of his most successful and profitable investments having been that of 1872, in the Hawley building, Nos. 134 to 146 Dearborn Street, and the lot upon which it stood. This property he leased in 1892 on most advantageous terms for a period of ninety-nine years to the Hartford Deposit Company, and the Hartford building a modern fourteen story fire-proof building of the famous Chicago construction, has been erected upon the lot to replace the old Hawley block.

Mr. Gillette was a resident of Chicago continuously from 1854 until the day of his death, October 8, 1892, and during that long period saw a goodly city grow up, to be swallowed in the flames like the grass on the prairies. He saw, too, the new Chicago, and was one of its builders and one of its promoters until the end of his busy and useful life, for in and through everything he had the development and fair fame of the city ever at heart, and was a typical Chicagoan of his generation. From time to time he was called to positions of importance in commercial circles, among others to the directorate of the Postal Telegraphy Company. He was a religious man and a member of the Unitarian Church. In politics he was a Republican, earnest and unswerving, but not practically active in the ordinary sense.

In 1860 Mr. Gillette married Miss Josephine M. Perley, whose ancestors were New Englanders in the old colonial days. Her paternal great-great-grandmother was Huldah Putnam, a sister of Gen. Israel Putnam, of Revolutionary fame. Miss Perley was herself a native of the city of New York. Of their children, their son, Edwin Fraser Gillette, and their daughter, Delphine May, now the wife of William Shippen Jenks, of N. K. Fairbank Company, are living. The family home was first established at what is now 1223 Michigan Avenue. Seven years later Mr. Gillette bought the William Sturgis residence at No. 306 Michigan Avenue, where the family has since lived.

Related Pages/Notes

Edwin Lewis Gillette

Fitzhugh, Daniel H. Fraser, James
People Referenced
Fitzhugh, Daniel H.
Fraser, James
Gillette, Delphine M. (dau.)
Gillette, Edwin F. (son)
Gillette, Edwin L. (subject)
Gillette, Jeremiah (father)
Gillette, Jonathan (ancestor)
Gillette, Nathan (ancestor)
Hoyt, Elizabeth (mother)
Jenks, Wm. S.
King, James C.
Perley, Jospehine M. (wife)
Putnam, Huldah
Putnam, Israel Gen.
Sturgis, Wm.
Subjects Referenced
Bay City, MI
Bay Co., MI
Chicago, IL
Dorchester, MA
East Saginaw, MI
Fernwood, IL
Harford building
Harford Deposit Co.
Hawley building
Kawkawlin, MI
Kawkawlin River, MI
Lower Saginaw, MI
N.K. Fairbank Co.
Penn Yan, NY
Portsmouth, Bay, MI
Postal Telegraphy Co.
Rock Island RR
Saginaw River, MI
Saginaw Valley, MI
Seth McLean mill
Unitarian Church
Yates Co., NY
Windsor, CT
WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.