Marshall County
ILGenWeb

GRIEVES, John

John GRIEVES, senior member of the firm of John Grieves & Sons, woolen manufacturers of Lacon, has been identified with the business interests of the city for thirty years. He is a the pioneer in the manufacture of woolen goods in this section of the country.

The woolen industry in Lacon was the outgrowth of an article in the Chicago Tribune about the close of the war from the pen of Spencer Ellsworth, which attracted the attention of Samuel SAQUE and John GRIEVES> Correspondence between these gentlemen and Mr. ELLSWORTH led to a meeting of a few of the representative citizens of Lacon and the appointment of William F. FISHER and Mr. ELLSWORTH a committee to confer with SAQUE and GRIEVES with reference to the establishment of a manufactory at this point for the production of woolen goods. A favorable report being made, a company was organized with a capital of one hundred thousand dollars, which was later increased to one hundred and twenty-three thousand. The first board of directors were Archibald RIDDELL, John GRIEVES, William F. FISHER, Spencer ELLSWORTH, Dr. THOMAS, Alonzo ROBERTS and P. STEVENS.

The company, known as the Lacon Woolen Manufacturing company, after being duly incorporated, commenced operations, having elected John GRIEVES as superintendent. It was in January, 1866, when Mr. GRIEVES first came to Lacon to engage in the work. The mill, erected at a cost of eighty-four thousand dollars, was built under the supervision of Mr. GRIEVES, and all the machinery bought by him.

There were many difficulties to be overcome in the establishment of such an enterprise in the west, and it required boldness in any one to come in competition with the old and well established houses of the east. The company was fortunate in the selection of Mr. GRIEVES as superintendent and general manager. A thorough master of his trade, and with good business instinct and tact, he took hold of the enterprise with a determination to make it win.

The erection and equipment of the mill with necessary machinery exhausted the capital of the company, leaving it without a dollar with which to purchase necessary supplies. Nothing daunted, Mr. GRIEVES went to Chicago, and stating his case to dealers, secured the dyes and other material needed, and work was commenced. The first output of the mill was fancy cassimeres. A fine fabric was made, comparing favorably with those of any eastern mill. The product was put with the commission houses of Chicago, but with ill success. Mr. GREIVES then went to that city, and with samples of cloth visited the trade, and after many disappointments succeeded in selling the goods.

After a trial Mr. GRIEVES and the directors of the company were convinced that a change would have to be made in the manufacture of goods, as such prices for cassimeres and flannels could not be obtained as could justify the making. It was then agreed to engage in the manufacture of shawls, being the first mill in the west to engage in that line. For five years Mr. GRIEVES continued in charge of the mill, when he resigned his position and removed to Peoria, where he also engaged in woolen manufacture.

During the succeeding five years the Lacon woolen mill made no progress, and Mr. GRIEVES was persuaded to return and occupy his old position as superintendent and manager. From 1876 until 1894 he filled those positions, and during that time dividends on the stock were made and paid, save for the years 1892 and 1893. In the spring of 1894 the directors of the mill took charge, and until November of that year were engaged in cleaning out all stock on hand. In the spring of 1895 the mill was rented to John Grieves & Sons, who are still operating it with success, turning out about seventy-five thousand dollars worth of products annually. Employment is given about seventy-five hands.

In 1883 Grieves, Halsey & Company erected the Ettrick mill at Lacon at a cost of thirty-four thousand dollars. It first engaged in the manufacture of hosiery yarn and continued in that line until it became unprofitable in consequence of the low prices prevailing. The looms were then changed and the manufacture of shawls was commenced, and later another change was made to dress goods. John W. GRIEVES, the son of our subject, succeeded Mr. HALSEY, and the present firm was started, that of John Grieves & Son. This mill, which is run night and day, also gives employment to about seventy persons, and the combined pay roll is about four thousand five hundred dollars per month. The products of these mills are mainly disposed of in Chicago, though selling in all the principal cities.

Our subject was born in Selkirk, Scotland, November 8, 1826, and there grew to manhood. At the age of ten years he entered a woolen mill in his native city, learning the trade in all its departments, and remaining there until after attaining his majority.  In 1848 he came to America and secured a position as a weaver of shawls at Lawrence, Massachusetts, being thoroughly conversant with that line of business. After two years he took charge of a weaver’s room in the mill near Boston, remained two and a half years, then went to New Edinburg, Canada, and became superintendent of a cassimere mill.

Returning to Massachusetts, he was in charge of a weaver’s room at Andover for three years, and again went to Canada for one year. He next went to North Andover, Massachusetts, then to Utica, New York, as boss weaver. From Utica he went to the mill of James Roy & Co., West Troy, New York, having charge of the shawl mill of that firm. From Troy he came to Lacon in 1866. John GRIEVES and Isabel HEART were united in marriage, April 17, 1848. Their two sons, John W. and George H., are associated with their father in the business. John is a designer and makes all the patterns used by the firm. George H. is superintendent of the Ettrick mill. Each of the firm understands the business thoroughly, and the product of their mills always gives the best satisfaction.

Extracted March 2011 by Norma Hass from The Biographical Record of Bureau, Marshall and Putnam Counties, Illinois, 1896.

The history of industrial and commercial progress in Lacon would be incomplete without mention of John GRIEVES, who for many years figured as one of the most prominent representatives of the business life of that city. His intense and well directed activity constituted the basis of a success which he justly merited and he belonged to that class of representative American men who, while promoting individual prosperity, also contribute to the general welfare. His keen discernment enabled him to readily recognize an opportunity and his energy prompted him to take advantage of it and thus as the years passed his business outlook constantly broadened and his labors increased, bringing with them the reward of unfaltering and honorable activity.

Mr. GRIEVES was a native of Scotland, born in Selkirk on the 9th of November, 1826. He passed away in Lacon, July 3, 1904, at the advanced age of seventy-eight years and thus was ended a long life of usefulness and activity, which proved a source of benefit to many with whom he came in contact. At the age of ten years he entered a woolen mill in his native city and learned the trade in all its departments, remaining in that employ for more than a decade. He had attained his majority when in 1848 he crossed the Atlantic to the new world, hoping to enjoy better business opportunities in this country, for he had heard favorable reports concerning commercial and industrial conditions here and the opportunities that were offered. Accordingly he made his way to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where he secured a position as a weaver of shawls, having become thoroughly conversant with that line of business in his native country. After two years he was given charge of a weaver's room in a mill near Boston, where he remained for two and a half years, and then went to New Edinburgh, where he became superintendent of a cassimere mill. Returning to Massachusetts, he was then in charge of a weaver's room at Andover for three years and later spent another year in Canada. He was subsequently in North Andover, Massachusetts, and in Utica, New York, as boss weaver. Leaving that city, he resumed the management of the shawl mill of the firm of James Roy & Company at Troy, New York. He continued in that position until 1866, when he came to Lacon and from that time until his death was closely associated with the manufacturing interests of the city and was thereby a prominent promoter of its commercial prosperity and upbuilding. In fact, he was the pioneer in the manufacture of woolen goods in this section of the country. A contemporary biographer has given the following account of the establishment of the business: "The woolen industry in Lacon with the outgrowth of an article in the Chicago Tribune about the close of the war from the pen of Spencer Ellsworth, which attracted the attention of Samuel SAQUE and John GRIEVES. Correspondence between these gentlemen and Mr. ELLSWORTH led to a meeting of a few of the representative citizens of Lacon and the appointment of William F. FISHER and Mr. ELLSWORTH a committee to confer with SAQUE and GRIEVES with reference to the establishment of a manufactory at this point for the production of woolen goods. A favorable report being made, a company was organized with a capital of one hundred thousand dollars, which was later increased to one hundred and twenty-three thousand. The first board of directors were Archibald RIDDELL, John GRIEVES, William F. FISHER, Spencer ELLSWORTH, Dr. THOMAS, Alonzo ROBERTS and P. STEVENS. The company, known as the Lacon Woolen Manufacturing Company, after being duly incorporated, commenced operations, having elected John GRIEVES as superintendent. It was in January, 1866, when Mr. GRIEVES first came to Lacon to engage in the work. The mill, erected at a cost of eighty-four thousand dollars, was built under the supervision of Mr. GRIEVES, and all the machinery bought by him. There were many difficulties to be overcome in the establishment of such an enterprise in the west, and it required boldness in any one to come in competition with the old and well established houses of the east. The company was fortunate in the selection of Mr. GRIEVES as superintendent and general manager. A thorough master of his trade, and with good business instinct and tact, he took hold of the enterprise with a determination to make it win. The erection and equipment of the mill with necessary machinery exhausted the capital of the company, leaving it without a dollar with which to purchase necessary supplies. Nothing daunted, Mr. GRIEVES went to Chicago, and, stating his case to dealers, secured the dyes and other material needed, and work was commenced. The first output of the mill was fancy cassimeres. A fine fabric was made, comparing favorably with those of any eastern mill. The product was put with the commission houses of Chicago, but with ill success. Mr. GRIEVES then went to that city, and with samples of cloth visited the trade and after many disappointments succeeded in selling the goods. After a trial Mr. GRIEVES and the directors of the company were convinced that a change would have to be made in the manufacture of the goods, as- such prices for cassimeres and flannels could not be obtained as could justify the making. It was then agreed to engage in the manufacture of shawls, being the first mill in the vest to engage in that line. For five years Mr. GRIEVES continued in charge of the mill, when he resigned his position and removed to Beloit, Wisconsin, where he rented and operated a mill for a year, then to Peoria, where he also engaged in woolen manufacture. During the succeeding five years the Lacon woolen mill made no progress, and Mr. GRIEVES was persuaded to return and occupy his old position as superintendent and manager. From 1876 until 1894 he filled those positions and during that time dividends on the stock were made and paid, save for the years 1892 and 1893. In the spring of 1894 the directors of the mill took charge and employed John HANLEY as superintendent for a year, when the firm went into liquidation, and until November of that year they were engaged in cleaning out all stock on hand. In the spring of 1895 the mill was rented to John Grieves & Sons, who are still operating it with success, turning out about one hundred and fifty thousand dollars' worth of products annually. Employment is given about seventy-five hands. In 1883 Grieves, Halsey & Company erected the Ettrick mill at Lacon at a cost of thirty-four thousand dollars. It first engaged in the manufacture of hosiery yarn and continued in that line until it became unprofitable in consequence of the low prices prevailing. The looms were then changed and the manufacture of shawls was commenced, and later another change was made to dress goods. John W. GRIEVES, the son of our subject, succeeded Mr. HALSEY, and the present firm was started, that of John Grieves & Sons. This mill, which is run night and day, also gives employment to about seventy persons, and the combined pay roll is about four thousand five hundred dollars per month. The products of these mills are mainly disposed of in Chicago, though selling in all of the principal cities." The above was written in 1896. The business continued to grow and expand until 1901, when the plant was destroyed by fire. Previous to this, however, Mr. GRIEVES had resigned in 1893 as manager of the mill, but after a year he returned to the business and in connection with his two sons purchased the plant, which they operated successfully under the firm style of John Grieves & Sons until the fire. A year later business was resumed in a new plant, which was erected after plans approved by Mr. GRIEVES, the building being specially designed for the purpose used. The product is high grade woolens and men's wear and Melton thibets. John GRIEVES continued an active factor in the business until his demise, and his sons, George H. and John W., now remain sole proprietors.

On the 17th of April, 1841, Mr. GRIEVES was united in marriage to Miss Isabelle HART, and unto them were born two daughters: Elizabeth, now the wife of I. R. LUEDKE; and Mary Jane, who died at the age of eighteen years. After the death of his wife, Mr. GRIEVES married her sister, Miss Elizabeth HART, who died in March, 1881, leaving two sons and four daughters: Isabelle, Jessie, Olive, Christine, John W. and George H., the former being sales manager and buyer, while George H. became superintendent of the Ettrick mill. The wife and mother passed away in March, 1881, and Mr. GRIEVES survived for more than two decades, passing away on the 3d of July, 1904. During his residence in Lacon he served as a member of the school board and was ever interested in all matters relating to the general welfare and to the substantial upbuilding of the city. In his political views he was a republican and in religious faith was a Baptist. His was a life of activity crowned with a justly merited and gratifying measure of success which was by no means the result of fortunate circumstances. His prosperity came to him through energy, labor and perseverance directed by an evenly balanced mind and by honorable business principles. From early life it was his plan to spend less than his income and he made the most of his opportunities. In manner he was quiet and straightforward and all who knew him respected him. Truly such a life is worthy having lived and such lives deserve permanent record on the pages of their country's history that others, seeing their good works, may be stimulated to follow in their footsteps.

George H. GRIEVES, the senior partner of the present firm, was born in Ottawa, Canada, March 22, 1856, was educated in the public schools, and received his business training under his father, becoming familiar with the business in principle and detail. He was married in 1879 to Miss Amelia MILLER, of Lacon, and unto them have been born six children: Roy, who at the age of twenty-four years is now connected with the business; Olive, a graduate of the Lacon high school; Harry, who is connected with the Standard Oil Company at Whiting, Indiana; Millard, in the mill with his father; Lowell, a graduate of the Lacon schools; and Wallace, who is still a student.

John W. GRIEVES, the younger son, was born May 18, 1862, and supplemented his public-school education by practical training received in his fathers mill. He was married in 1886 to Miss Blanche BLACKSTONE, of Lacon, and they have two sons, John P. and Blake B., aged, respectively, seventeen and twelve years. The former is now in the mill and the latter in school.

Both George H. and John W. GRIEVES are members of Lacon camp, No. 96, M. W. A., while the former is a member of the Masonic lodge at Lacon and both give their political allegiance to the republican party. Both were well equipped in early life for the conduct of a business which has devolved solely upon them since the death of the father. They are men of enterprise who keep in touch with the trend of modern thought and action in the business world and they are now controlling an important industrial concern with large output, which finds a ready sale on the market.

Extracted July 2011 by Norma Hass from Past and Present of Marshall and Putnam Counties Illinois, 1907.


Visit Our Neighbors
Bureau Putnam
Stark La Salle
Peoria Woodford
Search the Archives