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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

Nelson, Matter Firm Passes Into History

The Nelson, Matter Furniture Company has made its last shipment and as a going concern has passed into history. The company was the city’s oldest industry, dating back sixty-eight years, and its history makes one of the most important chapters in the story of Grand Rapids as a furniture center.

The business was founded in 1849 by Deacon William Haldane, who began the manufacture of furniture in a small way to supply the household needs of the pioneers, using waterpower. Succeeding years brought changes in ownership and control of the enterprise. In 1854 it was Haldane & Winchester, in 1855 Winchester Bros., in 1857 C.C. Comstock, in 1863 Comstock, Nelson & Co., in 1870 Nelson, Matter & Co., and in 1893 the Nelson, Matter Furniture Company.

Through all the years the company was foremost in the great industry of which it was a part, a leader in the furniture art of the country, and a most important factor in making Grand Rapids what it is in the furniture world.


In the days of the Winchester Bros. the first furniture factory was built at the foot of Lyon Street. In 1868, in the days of Comstock, Nelson & Co., the Monroe Avenue buildings were erected for retail showroom and warehouse purposes. In 1878 Nelson, Matter & Co. built the four-story factory building. In 1887 Nelson, Matter & Co., then incorporated, built the seven-story warehouse, the city’s first skyscraper. Three years ago the factory and warehouse property was sold to the Michigan Railway Company for interurban terminal purposes.

The company built a splendid new modern factory on Seventh Street at the Grand Rapids and Indiana railway crossing with the view to continuing the business, but upon the completion of the building the continued ill health of President Willard Barnhart and the unwillingness of others to undertake the heavy responsibilities of continuing the business determined the company to go into liquidation.

The new factory was leased to the Hayes-Ionia Company for the manufacture of automobile bodies, and for several months the affairs of the old company have been in process of closing out. The last shipment has now been made and with a spotless record of honorable dealing the company closes its long and useful career.


With the passing of the old company Major James MacBride, active in its affairs for nearly forty years, retired from active business life. He and his wife will leave for California to reside.

MacBride has been a resident of Grand Rapids since 1878. His old comrade, James Darragh, prevailed upon him to come here to acquire an interest in Nelson, Matter & Co., then a partnership. When the firm incorporated in 1887 he was made secretary of the company and he continued as secretary to the end.

Excerpted from, Grand Rapids Press, September 14, 1917, page 12


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