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Harry Holmes (1833-1889)
Bay City construction contractor, built many of city's early structures.

1896 biography. - Added Oct., 2005.

Pioneer Society of Michigan (Vol.VXVI, 1896)

Bay County Memorial Report
by Judge Andrew C. Maxwell, of Bay City



Harry Holmes, deceased, was a prominent contractor and builder of Bay City, and was born in Fordham, Cambridgeshire, England, March 17, 1833. He there learned the trade of a mason and, at the age of eighteen, came to America with three of his brothers, who were also mechanics. They worked at different places in the State of New York, journeying from there to Ontario. In Ontario they worked at different places, putting up the first brick buildings in Hamilton, Paris, Brantford and vicinity.

In 1857, the subject of this sketch came to Michigan, settling first in Port Huron. Seven years later he came to Bay City, where he began to work at his trade, in which he continued until his death, at which time he was engaged in building the fine new Michigan Central station in Bay City.

He first worked as foreman for a large contracting firm which had made several contracts in Bay City, erecting the Campbell House and other large brick blocks. This firm soon failed, giving up their contracts, which Mr. Holmes took and completed most satisfactorily to the owners.

From that time he became a prominent contractor, building most of the first brick business blocks and also the first brick church in Bay City.

Mr. Holmes served as alderman of the second ward of Bay City for twelve years and was a very influential member.

In educational matters he was especially interested, being most active in establishing the present school system.

After Mr. Holmes retired from the Board of Alderman he was often sought by them for his advice in matters pertaining to the city's interest, his counsel always being highly valued.

He served as chairman of the board of building inspectors for several years, beginning at its organization.

In politics he chose to cast his vote with the Democracy.

Mr. Holmes was very fond of playing chess and stood as one of the best players in the United States. During the international chess tournament between the United States and Great Britain he played four games in which he took the laurels. His games were published and commented upon throughout the states, and the universal conclusion was that they could not be improved upon.

Mr. Holmes was a trustee in the Methodist Episcopal church, of which his family were members.

On December 1, 1853, at Brantford, Ontario, Mr. Holmes was united in the bonds of marriage to Emeline Day, a native of Ontario and a daughter of John Day, a native of the same place.

There were born to this couple nine children as follows: Adeline, who died January 23, 1893, after a life of rare usefulness; James H., who died at Port Huron when four years old; Susan A., principal of the Dolsen school of Bay City for several years, now engaged in the box manufacturing business in New York state with her brother-in-law, E. C. Hargrave; Victoria, who married E. C. Hargrave, of Bay City; Emma, now Mrs. M. E. Courtright, of Bay City; John H., State representative for the first district of Bay County, at present engaged at Washington, D. C., as superintendent of construction of the new postoffice building at that place; Lydia D., in charge of the ninth grade department in the Bay City high school; Wendell D., in the contracting business with John H., and Julia Frances, who died January 23, 1893.

The death of Mr. Holmes occurred on the 28th of August, 1889, at his home in Bay City.

Mr. Holmes was a hearty, cheerful man, perfect master of his own business as master builder, and very attentive to his business during the building season. In the pursuit of his occupation he acquired a fair competency.

He dearly loved the game of chess and during the winter, when there was nothing doing in the building line, he, with Father Schutges, played often at that very scientific game. A series of games was played by them every winter, against clubs all over the country by telegraph and very often Messrs. Holmes and Schutges were victorious.

In these contests Mr. Holmes was a better player than Father Schutges, but there was no jealousy between them, and although Father Schutges was a Catholic priest, and Mr. Holmes an ardent protestant, they were as intimate as any two brothers, and had the highest regard for each other.

In playing chess by telegraph with distant clubs they would often discuss the next move to be made for hours together, and would play one or tow games to determine what it was best to do. Mr. Homes achieved a great distinction as a chess player.


Mr. Holmes held the office alderman in the second ward of Bay City for several years. While he occasionally took a "nipper" himself he hardly ever visited saloons and was in for an honest enforcement of the liquor laws.

One spring he wanted to be reelected alderman, but had given some offense to the saloon keepers. Mr. Holmes attended the caucus with a vast number of friends and supporters. He had his tickets all printed and bound in little bundles. The chairman of the caucus was strongly in favor of Mr. Holmes.

The caucus was so arranged as to keep the crowd outside, and let them vote through a window. The hat was held outside and the ballots were received in it and when all had voted it was withdrawn and the votes counted.

There was over 1,500 votes in the hat, and when 700 votes had been counted for Mr. Holmes the chairman remarked: "There are more votes here than there are legal voters in this ward. This vote is fraudulent and we will have to take another ballot."

"No, you don't sir; no you don't", shouted Mr. Holmes, "the vote is fair, the vote is perfectly fair," and some of his friends moved at once that the ballot be declared honest and fair and a formal vote. The motion was put, and it was carried.

With great hurrah and shouting, and congratulation by the friends of Mr. Holmes, the counting went on. When the vote was announced, Holmes had 777 and Ben Shepard had 778.

Mr. Holmes was dumbfounded. After a little exciting talk he allowed the nomination of Shepard to stand. Everyone laughed at the fraud both parties had perpetrated, and it was afterwards learned that Jack Casey, a prize fighter, who was a friend of Shepard, had put two handfulls of ballots for Shepard into the hat. Mr. Holmes would have been nominated the next ballot but he had cut off his right to complain, by the motion declaring the ballot taken, fair and formal. So he could not "kick" as the saying is. A few days afterwards Jack Casey met him and said, "We had a splendid caucus, didn't we?" Mr. Holmes replied, "I've nothing to say about the caucus, but I can lick you."

Mr. Holmes was a kind hearted neighbor and most valuable citizen and leaves many warm friends to mourn his early death.

Additional Notes.

    1880 - Census: Bay City, Mich.
    Holmes, Harry, b. 1833 England
    Emeline, wife
    Children: Adeline, Susie, Victoria, Emma, John, Daisy, Wendall, Francis.

    1890 - Descendants of Cornet Joseph Parsons, Vol. 2, 1920.
    Maree N. Belshaw, b. July 26, 1890; m. July 26, 1911; Harry M. Courtright of Portland, Ore.; son of M. L. and Emma (Holmes) Courtright of Bay city, Mich. Children: (1) Harry M. Courtright, Jr., b. Aug 11, 1912. (2) Maree Elizabeth Courtright, b. Apr. 21, 1914.

    1891 - Michigan Marriages: Bay City, Mich.
    Date: Sep. 26, 1891
    Groom: John H. Holmes, b. 1864 Canada, parents: Harry Holmes & Emeline Day.
    Bride: Lucia L. Eastwood, b. 1865 Minnesota, parents: Joseph Eastwood & Julia L. Dodge.

    1893 - Michigan Deaths: Bay City, Mich.
    Date: Jan. 23, 1893. Julia Holmes, single, b. 1875 Ontario, teacher, parents Harry Harry & Emeline Holmes.

Related Note & Pages

Related Pages:
Eastwood. Joseph (f-inlaw)
Holmes, John H. (son)
Holmes, Lydia D. (dau.)
People Referenced
Belshaw, Maree N.
Casey, Jack
Courtright, Maree E.
Courtright, Harry M.
Courtright, Harry M. Jr.
Courtright, M.E.
Day, Emeline (wife)
Day, John
Dodge, Julia L.
Eastwood, Joseph
Hargrave, E.C.
Holmes, Adeline (dau.)
Holmes, Emma (dau.)
Holmes, John H. (son)
Holmes, Julia F. (dau.)
Holmes, Francis (dau.)
Holmes, Lydia D.(dau.)
Holmes, Harry (subject)
Holmes, Susan (dau.)
Holmes, Victoria (dau.)
Holmes, Wendell D. (son)
Maxwell, Andrew C. (Judge)
Parsons, Cornet J.
Shepard, Ben
Schutges, (Rev.)
Subjects Referenced
1st Dist., Bay County
Bay City high school
Bay City, MI
Box manufacturing
Brantford, Ont., Canada
Campbell House
Chairman, Bd. of Inspectors
Church trustee
Dolsen school
Fordham, Cambridgeshire, Eng.
Methodist Episcopal Church
Michigan Central RR Station
New York
Ontario, Canada
Port Huron, MI
Portland, OR
Price fighter
State Representative, MI
Washington, D.C.
WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.