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The large brick building on South Scott Street, partially razed in 1985 to make way for a Casey's General Store, has had a long and varied history. The huge structure was patterned after one in Chicago and was erected in three stages, to house W. M. Welch Company, which manufactured school desks and school and business supplies.
A portion of this same business continued, for ten years or so as The Metropolitan Supply Company. The site was also used by the Anamosa Poultry and Egg Co.
The Peoples Gas Company was located on land purchased from the Welch Company. This land was later sold to the State of Iowa. For several years the area east of the factory was used as the high school athletic field.
This is how it all came to be. Just after the turn of the century, Anamosa city fathers were concerned about attracting new industry into the community. To that end, approximately 50 businessmen met in April 1902 and formed a Business Men's Association. Among those mentioned in the local papers were B. H. Miller, E. McBride, C. L. Niles, L. Kaufman, L. W. Tucker, W. A. Cunningham, J. Z. Lull, J. W. Conmey, and I. H. Brasted.
The opportunity presented itself early the next year, unfortunately at the expense of the town of Maquoketa which was losing a school desk factory to foreclosure.
Enter W. M. Welch of Chicago, former Anamosa resident, who owned a large printing, binding and lithography company in Chicago. He proposed a venture to Anamosa business leaders that would be of interest to all concerned. After many visits to the Chicago plant and to the school desk factory in Maquoketa by Col. Shaw, Clifford Niles, F. O. Ellison and others, a business arrangement was agreed upon whereby Welch would purchase the Maquoketa factory's wood working and foundry and move it, and a portion of his Chicago business, to Anamosa. Anamosa in turn would raise $100,000 cash. Ultimately, $64,000 was raised locally.
In March 1903, Welch purchased the Maquoketa factory, representing $15,000 worth of business and machinery, at the sheriff's sale at a bargain price of $3,5000. That same month, the W. M. Company published their Articles of Incorporation listing W. T. Shaw as president; C.L. Niles, vice president; C.S. Millard, secretary; H. Dutton, treasurer; T. W. Shapley and F.O. Ellison as counselors. Welch was named general manager. The directors, in addition to hose named, were S.A. Brown and Newton Dupris of Chicago. Dupris was Welch's brother-in-law.
The purpose of the corporation was to do publishing, lithography, printing, book making and binding, and manufacturing and selling all kinds of bank, office and school supplies, desks, tables, and other furniture and articles used in schools banks and offices. This was to be for 20 years with the right to renewal, unless sooner terminated by three-fourths of the stock issued. In regard to the stock division of profits, it was provided the capital stock was to be $200,000 divided into shares of $100,000 preferred stock and $100,000 common stock.
By July of 1903, with legalities and negotiations out of the way, excavation began. By October, 23 carpenters and masons were at work. William Foley had the contract for the masonry and carpenter work and J. A. Smith of Cedar Rapids was awarded the brick work on the 280x75-foot building. By November, the first of 14 train carloads of machinery arrived from Maquoketa. When the last shipment pulled out of that city, the factory whistle blew a long and plaintive farewell to its lost industry and $1500 weekly payroll.
In May 1904, Julius Shipkowsky of Milwaukee joined the Welch Company. He was purported to have special skills and knowledge and also to own several patents for writing desks, office desks, roll-top desks, hall trees and other commercial furniture.
An addition was needed to accommodate this new line. Shipkowsky was with the Welch Company only a few months when he named Welch as defendant in a lawsuit, asking for back wages of $100 per month. He also claimed that he was hired to be the head of the Special Furniture Department, but Welch interfered with his department and allowed inexperienced workers to damage his special machinery; and furthermore, Welch locked him out of his own office.
Welch, in his turn, charged that Shipkowsky, while on the road as a salesman for the Welch Company, undertook to use the company's time to look after his own personal business. He further answered the petition by stating the Shipkowsky made false statements concerning his ability, and that in reality he was not a skilled inventor or designer, and that he well knew he was not competent to perform the duties of superintendent. After three or four months experiment on the "interior finish" work, it was found that Shipkowsky was incompetent to handle the work, charged Welch. And in addition, Shipkowsky requested to go on the road, but later told Welch that he could do better somewhere else and voluntarily terminated his relations and quit the employ, which was done by mutual consent.
A Jury trial was held which found for the defendant, Welch Co.
Even with all of the time spent in the courts, and there was more to follow, the Welch factory was sending out orders for school desks and school supplies to many parts of the US, Canada and foreign markets. At the end of 1905, it was reportedly doing $175,000 worth of bus9jess and the company was touted as being the largest factory of its kind in the world. It employed 100 seasonal workers. Welch wanted to expand and employ 500 workers.
However, the stockholders had received no pay so on December 21, 1905, Welch was ousted by the Board of Directors. Upon losing his petition, he returned to Chicago. In June 1906, officers of the company issued $50,000 of gold bonds to borrow funds to pay debts of the company and carry on business and executed a trust deed to secure the bonds. The bonds were taken over by "a pool of Anamosa Capitalists" headed by 26-year-old George Schoonover. The bonds, payable in yearly installments, began bearing fruit in 1907. The factory continued under the faction of stockholders which had been the cause of Welch's discharge. The bonds and interest thereon, during that time, remained unpaid. The woodworking department was sold to purchasers in Oklahoma.
In February 1911, W. M. Welch regained control at a stockholders' meeting, through the voters of a majority of the shares of common stock. He elected a board of directors friendly to his interest, who passed a resolution to change the name to The American Educational Industries.
When Welch returned to Chicago after his ouster as manager and director in 1905, he incorporated his company there as the W. M. Welch Mfg. Company, which was so similar to the name of the Anamosa plant that it aroused a great deal of concern and troubles. So, while Welch supporters were preparing the ground at the stockholders' meeting, the Schoonover adherents were preparing proceedings on foreclosure on the deed of trust.
Welch held the keys to the door only to find the sheriff on the doorstep.
J. N. Ramsey took over as trustee. A temporary injunction was issued restraining the changing of the name of the Anamosa plant.
Welch's suit against Schoonover and Chamberlain was dismissed, the court finding no showing of negligence on the part of the defendants or misappropriation of funds, as alleged. Welch's appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court was denied.
On June 7, 1913, a sheriff's sale was held to satisfy the $65.079.22 judgment and interest. Costs were an additional $713.64.
The plant was bid on by trustee Ramsey. This included the real estate, all of the machinery and equipment of the Welch Co., and the printing, binding and lithographing departments, foundry machine shop, powerhouse, drying kiln, warehouse and storehouses.
Inasmuch as the action to make Welch stop using the same name as his plant in Chicago had failed, the Anamosa directors, immediately after the sheriff's sale, reorganized under the Metropolitan Supply Company.
In 1914, Anamosa citizens read in the local papers of a Chicago fire that destroyed the school supply factory of Welch, one of Anamosa's biggest competitors. The fire was first reported to be caused by spontaneous combustion or crossed electrical wires. With a windstorm in progress, it spread across Chicago causing $200,000 loss to the business section.
Meanwhile, back in Anamosa, the Metropolitan Supply Co. continued to succeed financially under the direction of Clark Beems until it was gradually wooed over to Cedar Rapids, where the company is still in business.
(This story was written in 1987. I am not sure if the company still exists or not.)