1905 bio. (Added Nov., 2008)
History of Bay County, Michigan - Augustus H. Gansser
HON. SPENCER O. FISHER.
In the practical days upon which we have fallen, thus early in the 20th century, the men who make possible the rapid development of great industries, the promotion of vast enterprises and the successful carrying out of what once would have been deemed but the visions of an over-heated brain, attract and hold our attention and excite our admiration. We feel more than a passing interest in these men of mental strength and persevering activity, of far-seeing judgment and broadened view. A prominent factor in the remarkable growth of West Bay City, Michigan, has been the personal effort of Hon. Spencer O. Fisher, whose life has been incorporated, more or less, with almost everything of a public nature here, for the past third of a century. His life history is more interesting than that of many of his contemporaries in that it show the accomplishment of great undertakings and the honorable and successful career of a business man, capitalist, statesman and public benefactor.
Spencer O. Fisher was born at Camden, Hillsdale County, Michigan, on February 3, 1843, and is a son of Benjamin and Rosette J. (Sutton) Fisher.
James Fisher, the paternal grandfather, was born in New Jersey in 1781, and died July 11, 1838, aged 57 years. His wife Charity was also born in New Jersey, in the same village as her husband, in 1773 and died June 9, 1838. James Fisher followed the trade of shoemaker in his earlier years, but after his marriage he removed to Wayne County, New York, where he bought a farm. His subsequent life was passed there.
Robert Blaine Sutton, the maternal grandfather, was a native of New York and he resided for many years at Lyons, Wayne County. He was born in 1787 and died at Hillsdale, Michigan, March 2, 1876. By trade he was a cooper and at Lyons he owned a large cooper shop, doing such a great business that it is recorded that the worked 17 and 18 hours a day, age four or five meals and manufactured by hand heavy casks for wine. Only a man of strong constitution could have followed such a life and that he possessed this was shown during the War of 1812, in which he took part. He suffered from bayonet woulds in the legs and was later shot in the chest. After lying neglected on the battle-field for more than 24 hours, he was taken off supposedly dead, but his strength rallied and he lived through many subsequent years of usefulness. He was a man of excellent business judgment and of industrious, frugal life. He early invested his means in government lands in Michigan and moved to the State in 1866. In the following year he entered into a lumbering business with Benjamin Fisher, the father of our subject.
Benjamin Fisher was born March 22, 1811, in Wayne County, New York, and died June 5, 1882. His attendance at school was covered by 12 days, but he had ambition and an active mind and he succeeded in educating himself. At the age of 17 years he left the home farm and accompanied Robert Blaine Sutton to Michigan and subsequently married his daughter. The trip was made by boat from Buffalo to Monroe, and the rest of the way by following an Indian trail through the woods to Camden township, Hillsdale County, on the tract where Michigan corners with Indiana and Ohio. There he built the log house in which our subject was born, the comfortable, picturesque little cabin to which Mr. Fisher's thoughts often return with tender recollections, sweetened by memories of venerable grandparents, honored and beloved father and mother and other kindred. Benjamin Fisher cleared about 15 acres of land and set out a beautiful grove of locust trees which were nourished by the rich soil and grew luxuriously, throwing their grateful shade over the happy little pioneer home. When all was prepared, Mr. Fisher sent back to New York, married and brought his bride to the backwoods cabin. He later became one of the largest farmers and most important men of that locality, taking part in public matters and serving a number of years as township supervisor. When the village of Hillsdale was incorporated as a city, he was elected the first alderman from the Third Ward, and through his whole life he continued a wise counselor to his family and community. Like other men of success, he possessed a strong personality, great courage and keen business perceptions.
Benjamin Fisher was twice married, first to Rosette J. Sutton, and second to Adeliza Leach. The five children born to the first union were: Spencer O., of this record; James K.; Mary, deceased, formerly wife of C. E. Underhill, of Deerfield, Michigan; Benjamin B., of Chicago; and Rosette J., wife of George W. Thompson, of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The mother of this family died in 1856, aged 36 years. She was possessed of all those qualities which make the memories of her children dear and lasting. Her religious belief made her a devoted member of the Methodist Church. The one daughter of Mr. Fisher's second marriage, Sarah Leach Fisher, resides at Hillsdale, Michigan.
Our subject's early childhood was spent in the little log house mentioned and then the father moved into the village of Hillsdale for a time. Later the father's large lumbering operation took him to various parts of the State and into Canada, Mr. Fisher recalls on account, partly of the very unique manner in which the teacher rewarded good scholarship. He had a necklace made of silver pieces, from a dollar to a five-cent piece, and it was the proud privilege of the pupil who stood at the head of his class to wear this decoration. In recalling these old incidents of his school-boy life, Mr. Fisher insensibly shows the deep feelings which, under the calm exterior of a hardened business man, might not always be suspected.
In 1856 his parents returned to Michigan and he completed his public-school course at the Hillsdale High School and subsequently spent parts of two years at Hillsdale College, of which his father was one of the founders, and parts of two years at Albion College. He then entered the employ of his father and grandfather Sutton and for about five years was engaged in shipping hardwood lumber for them. After he had reached his majority, he decided to embark in merchandising, and to that end entered the employ of Hall & Marvin at a salary of $240 a year; but from the start he displayed so much energy and business ability that, without demand from him, the firm paid him $600. After working for them about a year and a half, he entered into partnership with Chauncy W. Ferris under the firm name of S. O. Fisher & Company. This continued until 1868, during which period Mr. Fisher had complete charge of the business. He was now 28 years old, at an age when many young men of our day are but looking about for an entrance into business. This alert young merchant was already a good financier and had acquired sufficient knowledge of business probabilities and possibilities in his section to make him feel confident that he could carry out a contract he signed that fall, for the building of a railroad between Hillsdale and Ypsilanti, an extent of 30 miles. This road was built according to contract, including bridges, fences and all things pertaining to a finished railway. Through the unqualified success of this undertaking, Mr. Fisher not only secured a large amount of capital, but he also proved the quality of his business ability. In 1871, Mr. Fisher entered into parntership with his father under the firm name of B. & S. O. Fisher, and came to Wenona (now West Bay City). The firm purchased a one-fourth interest in the timber in Williams township and took the contract to cut the timber off the entire tract of 4,000 acres. At the close of the first year's work, the junior member of the firm brought the senior's interest and continued to conduct the business by himself for several years. As his other interests increase, he found it desirable to have a partner, and on July 15, 1877, he formed a new partnership with Alfred Mosher under the firm name of Mosher & Fisher. Subsequently, Mr. Fisher disposed of his interest. In the meantime he had founded the village of Fisherville, which continues to be a lumber point.
In 1889, Mr. Fisher became interested in another large enterprise, this being the promotion and building of the electric street railway in West Bay City. He was the main owner of the road and when he later acquired a controlling interest in the horse-car systems in Bay City, he consolidated the two companies under the name of Bay City & West Bay City Street Car Company. Another instance of business enterprise was the purchase, with Benjamin Burbridge, of large tracts of land at Sebawaing. The company put down the first shaft and mine the first coal in this part of the State. Being the pioneer company in the field, it had to face conditions which took away profits, but it was the means of discovering to the residents of this section of the State the fact that great veins of coal awaited the capitalists who, since then, have mine to the extent of immense fortunes. Mr. Fisher's activities have continued in almost every developing way. He was one of the first to promote, foster and encourage different business enterprises which, with his clear foresight, he could see would contribute to the general welfare, and one of these was the founding of The Lumberman's State Bank, of West Bay City. This bank succeeded the private bank of H. H. Norrington, in which Mr. Fisher was interested. He was the first president of the new organization and remained its head continuously for 25 years. He was also the promoter and organizer and also president of the Home Light Company of Wenona, which was later consolidated with the company in Bay City and bears the name of the Bay County Electric Light Company.
During its first year of existence, Mr. Fisher was vice-president of the Michigan Sugar Company, but closed out his interest in 1899 and in one day organized the West Bay City Sugar Company, of which he became president. At present he is president and manager of the Michigan Land & Lumber Company and of the Morgan Lumber Company, owners of standing pine timber in the Georgian Bay district of Ontario. His public spirit and devotion to the interests of West Bay City has been shown all through his business career in Bay County. During the period when he was manager of the street railway company, he spent thousands of dollars of his own fortune in the development of that beautiful and popular summer resort, -- Wenona Beach, which has proved a successful financial enterprise, whose advantages to the city in every way cannot be over-estimated.
Mr. Fisher's activities have been in no way limited to a business career. He has won deserved reputation not only in his State but in the halls of Congress and has not hesitated to raise his voice in the interests of his constituents as well as to defend the great principles of his party. Politically, he is a Democrat. When he move from Hillsdale to Wenona he had served two years in the former village as alderman and his influence was immediately felt in his new home. It was mainly through his efforts that a consolidation of the villages of Salzburg, Wenona and Banks was effected. The leaders from each of the villages sought to give the new municipality the name of their village, but the “Grand Old Man of Greater Bay City,” realizing that the two distinct communities on opposite banks of the Saginaw River, were in reality but one city, named the new city “West Bay City,” and for weeks contended against the opposing factions until the name he had chose was adopted. That was in 1877, and in every session of the Legislature from that time he agitated the consolidation of the two cities. He was instrumental in having passed by the Legislature the first bill to unite Bay City, West Bay City and Essexville, the same to take effect in 1891. The bill was signed by the Governor on June 21, 1887. This act provided for the appointment of a committee of three from each city to fix the equalization of debts and taxes and to adjust other matters of importance to the united cities. In case of disagreement, Hon. Spencer O. Fisher was name as abriter, with power to decide any controversy. The opposition, however, managed to manipulate a special election which gave an adverse vote on the matter of consolidation, and so the subject was dropped for a time. When the new movement for consolidation was started in 1903, Mr. Fisher again led the consolidationists. He was looking after his lumber interests in the Georgian Bay region in January, 1905, when the bill to repeal the consolidation act was railroaded through the Legislature. When he learned that the realization of one of his fondest hopes was in danger of being set back for another twenty years, he hurried back home, rallied enough prominent business men to make sure the consolidation still had many loyal supporters, and called for an open meeting in the parlors of the Fraser House. The “antis” pretended to laugh at Mr. Fisher's efforts; but when on a few hours notice hundreds of representative men and leading citizens went on record as still favoring the 1903 agreement, they found that all the movement required was a powerful and earnest leader. Governor Fred M. Warner was wired to hold up the repeal act, which he did, although not of Mr. Fisher's political faith. Mr. Fisher was spokesman for a committee that went to Lansing to arrange for a public hearing before the Governor. Public meetings were held in the two cities, and such a sentiment was created, as indicated by the stream of letters and telegrams with which the Governor was deluged, that the Governor vetoed the repeal act. During all those days and hours when so much trembled in the balance, Mr. Fisher was the soul of the consolidation movement. He gave the energy and vitality to the movement that carried it to victory when all seemed lost; and in the celebrations which followed, the lion's share of the credit was accorded to the “Father of Greater Bay City.”
In 1887, Mr. Fisher was a candidate for the honor of being the first mayor of West Bay City. He was defeated by only two votes. He was subsequently elected alderman for the Third Ward and served several terms to the benefit of the city. Later he was elected mayor and during his administration of the office, the city increased in prosperity along every line. In 1884 he was sent as a district delegate to the National Democratic Convention at Chicago, and in the same year he was elected by his district as a member of the 49th Congress, and was returned to the 50th Congress by a majority of 2,000 votes. At Washington he became closely identified with measures which provided for the general welfare and, with characteristic energy, worked for the improving of his own district. His success is seen in the establishment of the United States District and Circuit courts and in the large appropriations for the Government Building at Bay City. In affairs of general interest he was not silent, and he gave assistance in bring about the forfeiture to the government of unearned land grants in favor of homestead settlers; in obtaining needed appropriations for the the improvement of rivers and harbors and in the establishment and maintenance of lighthouses.
In 1894 Mr. Fisher was the Democratic candidate for Governor of Michigan, and although his defeat in the Republican stronghold was a forgone conclusion, the large vote he received was a flattering testimonial of the high esteem in which he is held throughout the State.
For 21 years Mr. Fisher served as a member of the School Board of West Bay City. He was appointed president of the Sage Library Board by its founder, Henry W. Sage, and has served in that capacity and as trustee since the library was established. For many years he has been a trustee of the Westminister Presbyterian Church and gave freely and liberally to the erection of the new church edifice. His charities have always been large and he has been a benefactor on many occasions when the fact never became public.
On June 26, 1867, Mr. Fisher was married to Katherine H. Crane, who is a daughter of D. P. Crane, of Hillsdale, Michigan, and they have three daughters, vis.; Grace, wife of Floyd A Goodwin, of Bay City; Nellie Josephine, wife of Edwin M. Eddy, of San Francisco; and Kate, who lives at home. A portrait of Mr. Fisher accompanies this sketch.
1924 political bio.