Historic Manistee, The Victorian Port City
It is a popular misconception that Nineteenth Century lumbermen believed the timber would last forever. In reality the exact opposite was true; every lumberman in Manistee could readily tell you the amount of timber he owned and the year it would end at the then current rate of production. As the construction lumber industry approached its conclusion in the late 1880's, local businessmen began to initiate industries which could continue after the lumbering era ended.
They first turned to another resource, the millions of acres of hardwoods which stood in the way of local farmers who had on occasion burned the timber to clear their land. It was thought that if furniture factories could be started, an industry would evolve utilizing this cheap and renewable resource.
The first firm started was the Manistee Manufacturing Company of 1888 with stock owned by numerous Manistee residents. They purchased a former planing mill on Washington Street and commenced production. As production increased the plant steadily expanded until it occupied over an acre of ground in 1905; they specialized in maple furniture and their bird's eye maple pieces are especially sought after today. The firm continued production for over eight decades.
Also in 1888 a Filestown Furniture factory was started by local entrepreneurs and quickly had over
a hundred employees manufacturing furniture. Just a year after the plant opened it caught fire, quickly burning to the ground and it was never rebuilt. Another local venture suffered a similar fate. The East Shore Furniture Factory was established in 1890 with a plant on the river just below the Manistee Manufacturing Company. Although this plant occasionally reached a high level of production its owners had difficulty understanding the furniture industry and the inevitable fire destroyed the plant in 1900.
Another plant, the Arcadia Furniture Company, was started in 1907 by the Starke family at Arcadia and continued in production for nearly five decades. Today, hardwood furniture is frequently handcrafted in the area from the still abundant hardwood timber.
[Photo caption reads] The Manistee Manufacturing Co. as viewed through the open bridge draw in 1905
For more on the history of Manistee, visit the Museum at 425 River Street.