James Pickands Marquette entrepreneur
By HUNTER LAING
Special to the Journal
MARQUETTE –James Pickands was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1839 and then moved to Cleveland. In 1861 he enlisted in the 1st Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was injured in battle during Sherman’s March across Georgia but was able to return to service and was discharged with the rank of colonel at the end of the war. Throughout his life he was known as “Colonel James Pickands.”
Looking for opportunities in the new mining areas of the Upper Peninsula, Colonel Pickands and his older brother Henry moved to Marquette in 1867. Henry became an ironmaker; the Colonel formed a partnership with another Civil War veteran, Jay Morse, and opened a hardware store, selling mining and railroad supplies in addition to general hardware. From there, both brothers’ enterprises grew. Henry first moved to Fruitport, Michigan, where he set up a foundry, and ultimately to Chicago, where he formed a partnership with William Brown, who opened the Menominee Iron Range.
Pickands and Brown became the leading ore distributors on Lake Michigan.
Colonel Pickands remained in Marquette. In addition to his hardware store and extensive mining investments, he also had the foresight to see that ships and trains could not rely solely on wood as fuel and began bringing up coal in the holds of the otherwise-empty ore carriers. In 1870 he married Caroline Outhwaite, the daughter of one of the directors of the Cleveland Iron Mining Company. By 1873 he was well-enough established in town to bring up his parents and sisters from Cleveland. In 1876 he was elected mayor.
In 1881 Colonel Pickands began building a magnificent home on a lot running from Arch to Ridge along Cedar Street. This house, at 455 E. Ridge St., still survives as one of the highlights of the Arch and Ridge Streets Historic District. Pickands’ hardware store, built of Marquette sandstone at the bottom on Baraga Avenue, also survives, and is now the Custom House condominiums.
But in 1882, almost immediately after the family moved to the new home, Caroline Pickands died of pneumonia. Although some of the family stayed in Marquette for a while (Colonel Pickands son, Henry, married Marquette resident Jeanne Hall; one of the Colonel’s sisters and his niece both married Marquette men; and another sister had a school on Arch Street), the Colonel moved back to Cleveland and never lived in Marquette again.
Colonel Pickands personal connection with Marquette may have ended with his wife’s death, but the business connections not only survived, but flourished. In 1883, back in Cleveland, the Colonel entered into a partnership with Samuel Mather, the son of a president of the Cleveland Iron Company, and Jay Morse, his original partner in the hardware business. Beginning with a small interest in two Upper Peninsula mines and a single ship, by the 1920s the company was the second-largest producer of iron ore in the country and its Interlake Steamship Company was the second-largest fleet on the Great Lakes.
In 1952 a group of five people from Marquette attended the Duluth christening of an Interlake Steamship Company ore carrier, the Alex D. Chisholm. Next week’s article will be about the Chisholms and how the Interlake Steamship Company ore carrier came to be named after one of them.