HENRY W. HINSDALE

Source: Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois with Portraits 3rd ed. revised and extended (Chicago: Calumet Book & Engraving Co., 1895), pp. 93-94

HENRY WALBRIDGE HINSDALE was for many years prominently identified with the commercial interests of Chicago, and has contributed largely to the material prosperity and moral growth of Cook County.  He is a son of Hiram and Roxalana (Walbridge) Hinsdale, and was born at Bennington, Vermont, on the 26th of August, 1826.

The Hinsdale family is of Welsh origin.   Hiram Hinsdale was born at Middletown, Connecticut, and removed while a young man to Vermont.  He was educated at Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, with a view to entering upon the practice of law.  This project was, however, abandoned, and in 1833 he went to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where his death occurred in 1871, at the age of eighty-four years.  His wife passed away at the same place several years earlier.  She was born at Norwich, Connecticut.  Her father, Gustavus Walbridge, was of Scotch lineage.  He was in the naval service of the United States during the War of the Revolution, and had the misfortune to be captured and taken to Havana, where he nearly starved upon a prison ship.

Mr. and Mrs. Hiram Hinsdale were the parents of two sons and six daughters.  Geraldine, the eldest, is the wife of Sylvester Combes, of Grand Rapids, Michigan; Althea, Mrs. Lewis Dean, is now deceased, as is also Mary Ann, whose married name was Calkins; Almira, Mrs. George F. Jones, resides in Colorado; Ellen, Mrs. Frank Shattuck, lives at Plymouth, Michigan; one daughter died in infancy; and the sons were Henry W. and Sanford C., the latter being an attorney at Denver, Colorado.

Henry W. Hinsdale left home at the age of nineteen years, and started on board a lumber schooner for Milwaukee.  On arriving at Chicago, being without money to pay his passage to Milwaukee, he concluded to remain at this point.  After spending several days in a fruitless search for employment, he was offered a temporary position in the wholesale grocery store of J. H. Dunham, at the corner of Dearborn and South Water Streets, at a salary of $4 a week.  This proposition he eagerly accepted, and with such zeal and energy did he apply himself to his new duties, that in a short time he was offered a permanent position and soon became an indispensable adjunct of the establishment, with which he was connected for thirteen years.  After spending five years as a clerk, he became a partner in the concern, which then became J. H. Dunham & Co.  Five years later he became the head of the firm then known as Hinsdale & Babcock.  He subsequently built at the corner of South Water and River Streets, when the firm became Hinsdale, Sibley & Endicott, and carried on the same line of business until the spring of 1867, when, owing to failing health, he sold out, but retained an interest in the business until the great fire of 1871, which totally destroyed it, sweeping away his investment of $100,000, beside other property belonging to Mr. Hinsdale.  He was at that time owner of several business blocks in different parts of the city, and his total loss by this disaster amounted to nearly $500,000.  He never fully recovered from this embarrassment, though he partially retrieved his fortune and always maintained his credit without blemish.  Such was the confidence reposed in his integrity and business capacity, that two of his business correspondents in New York City immediately wired him to draw upon them for $50,000 each, an offer which he afterward accepted in part.

During his connection with the grocery trade, Mr. Hinsdale was brought in contact with commercial men throughout the Western States, and spent much of his time in winter driving by team to inland towns to make collections and keep up trade relations.  Banks at that time were rare in the interior, making these trips necessary.  The scarcity and fluctuating value of currency in those days often made it expedient for him to pay his bills in eastern cities by shipments of produce which he secured from his customers.  He saw the grocery trade increase from humble beginnings to a leading place among the commercial interests of Chicago.  When he first came to Chicago the firm obtained supplies of sugar from St. Louis, whence the goods were shipped as far as Peru by steamboat and hauled the balance of the way by teams.   The first freight boat which passed through the Illinois & Michigan Canal brought a cargo of sugar to J. H. Dunham & Co.   Mr. Hinsdale was always distinguished for his sagacity and business foresight, and for twelve years before the Civil War he spent his winters in New Orleans, where he negotiated the purchase of large amounts of sugars and syrups.  Immediately after the capture of New Orleans by Commodore Farragut, he sent his partner thither to secure a consignment of goods for the New York market.  The first shipment made from that port consisted of three cargoes for his firm, which cleared $75,000 by the transaction.

In 1871, about one month previous to the great fire, he removed to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and opened a loan office, handling investments for eastern capitalists.  This enterprise he continued until 1880, when he returned to Chicago, taking up his residence at Evanston, which has since been his home.  Since that date he has been interested in several important enterprises.  Previous to the formation of the great sugar trust he acted as agent for three of the leading refineries of the United States, his previous experience and knowledge of this line of goods proving of much advantage to himself and his employers.  Since January, 1893, he has been manager of the Chamber of Commerce Safety Vaults.

In 1852 Mr. Hinsdale was married to Eliza Chatfield, daughter of Judge John Chatfield, of Batavia, New York.  Of their six children, two died in infancy, and another, named Dudley, died at the age of fourteen years.  The names of the survivors are Henry Kerr; Charlotte, widow of Alvin Mosely; and Benjamin, all residing in Evanston.  The sons are employed by Chicago business houses.  All the members of the family are communicants of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church of Evanston, which the parents helped to organize.  Mr. Hinsdale was formerly a Warden of Grace Church, Chicago, toward the building of which house of worship he was a liberal contributor.

He was one of the early members of the Chicago Board of Trade, and one of the first subscribers to the stock of the Elgin Watch Company.  He rode on the first railroad train running out of Chicago, which consisted of flatcars, arranged with temporary seats for an excursion as far as the Desplaines River, over the Chicago & Galena Union Railroad.  In 1866 he made an overland trip to California for his health, returning by way of the Isthmus.  The journey from Kearney, Nebraska, which was then the terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad, was made by stage coach to Sacramento, consuming thirty days.  His long and active career in business and social relations has drawn to him a wide circle of acquaintances and friends, whose esteem and good-will he has ever merited and retained.

                                -- Submitted on 11/29/99 by Sherri Hessick ( shessick@flash.net )