Jesse Spalding is a descendant of one of the oldest American families. The environment of the New England fathers was calculated to bring out and develop all that was sturdy and vigorous in both mind and body, and their descendants continue to manifest the traits of character which enable them to survive the hardships which they were compelled to endure, and which rendered prosperity possible in the face of the most forbidding conditions.
The town and family of Spalding are known to have existed in Lincolnshire, England, in the twelfth century. Between 1630 and 1633, Edward Spalding left that town and settled in Braintree, in the then infant colony of Massachusetts. From him the line of descent is traced through Joseph, Nathaniel, Joseph, Joseph and John to Jesse.
The Spalding family first settled in southern Connecticut, early in the seventeenth century. Its members shared in the work of subduing the wilderness, as well as defending their homes from the aboriginal savages. Some of them achieved distinction in the heroic defense of Fort Groton, Connecticut. Many served in "King Philips War," and fifty-two were active in the Revolution, of whom nine participated in the battle of Bunker Hill, where one fell from his dying horse.
Joseph Spalding, grandfather of Jesse, was born in Plainfield, Connecticut. He was an officer of the Revolutionary army, and removed to Pennsylvania in 1780, settling on land near Athens, Bradford County, on the upper waters of the Susquehanna River. This land was claimed by both Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and Mr. Spalding was obliged to pay tribute to both commonwealths before he could secure a clear title. This was a great hardship, but he went to work with characteristic energy, and shortly thereafter, despite all discouragements, became a prosperous farmer and leading citizen of the community.
John, father of Jesse Spalding, was active and influential in Bradford County affairs, and at one time occupied the office of Sheriff, winning universal approbation by the intrepid and vigorous manner in which he discharged his official (and often perilous) duties in a new and somewhat lawless community. His wife, Elizabeth, was a daughter of Dr. Amos Prentiss, a distinguished physician of Groton, Connecticut, and a representative of a prominent Colonial family.
Jesse Spalding was born at Athens, Pennsylvania, April 15, 1833. While assisting his father in farm work, he found time to acquire such education as the common schools and the academy of his native town afforded. On attaining his majority he engaged in lumbering on the north branch of the Susquehanna, and became a woodsman and raftsman. At the age of twenty-three he began to deal in lumber on his own account, and was successful. His product was rafted to Middletown, Columbia and Port Deposit, and marketed in Washington, Alexandria, Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia, and other points.
Foreseeing the rapid growth of the young city of Chicago, he removed hither in 1857, and soon after bought a sawmill at Menekaunee, at the mouth of the Menominee River, in Wisconsin, where he commenced the manufacture of lumber. This mill was burned in 1870, rebuilt and burned in 1871, rebuilt in 1872, and is now finely equipped with gang, band and circular saws and modern machinery, being thoroughly complete in all its appointments. For a time business was conducted by the firm of Wells & Spalding, the firm name later becoming Spalding & Porter, and subsequently Spalding, Houghteling & Johnson. In 1871, the concern was incorporated as the Menominee River Lumber Company, and in 1892 Mr. Spalding purchased the interest of his partners, and has since been the sole owner. Shortly after he bought out the New York Lumber Company at Menekaunee, he secured a milling property at the mouth of Cedar River, about thirty miles above the city of Menominee, and in 1882 he organized the Spalding Lumber Company, of which he became President, being at the same time its active manager. His purchases of timber-lands in Wisconsin and Michigan to supply the mills of these companies with logs have aggregated two hundred and sixty-five thousand acres. Besides its value for timber, this land has proven rich in iron ore, and three mines are now successfully operated on the property. The output of the mills at Cedar River is shipped in boats owned by the Spalding Lumber Company direct to Chicago, whence it is distributed from the Chicago yards to the western and southwestern markets in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri. Lumber has also been shipped recently, in large quantities, direct from the mills at Menekaunee to Detroit, Buffalo, Rochester, Albany and Boston. The companies of which Mr. Spalding is the head are among the largest of their kind, and annually produce from sixty to seventy-five millions of feet of lumber.
Although he cannot be said to have been a pioneer in the lumber business of Chicago, few men have been more closely identified with its growth than Mr. Spalding. In fact, his name is indissolubly linked with the political, social and business interests of the city and the Northwest.
Mr. Spalding is amply fitted by nature and training for the manipulation of large interests, and his success is in no small degree due to the fact that he does not despise small things. All the minutiŠ of his extensive interests are familiar to him, and his practical experience enables him to give attention to the smallest details. His investments in banking and other financial concerns are made with the same judicious care, and are equally successful with his other undertakings. He is a director in many large corporations of the city, and his advice is frequently sought in the conduct of many important enterprises. It is not strange that his fellow-citizen should discover in him a capable man of affairs; and when the city was destroyed by fire in 1871, he was sought out as one who would be useful in adjusting public business to existing conditions, and in raising Chicago from its ashes and reviving business activity. He was three years in the City Council, and while Chairman of the Finance Committee, he, by judicious management, aided in the restoration of the citys financial credit, materially furthering the establishment of good municipal government. In 1861, when the Nation was threatened with destruction, Mr. Spalding was among its most active defenders. He was requested by the Adjutant-General of the State of Illinois to build and equip barracks for the Government soldiers (afterward known as "Camp Douglas"), besides which he built barracks the following year on the North Side for returning soldiers. He furnished all the material for these structures, receiving in payment the State Auditors warrants, there being no funds in the Treasury to be applied to this purpose.
Mr. Spalding has been an active worker in the interests of the Republican party from its inception, because he believed the weal of the Nation depended upon the success of the principles maintained by that party. He was a personal friend of Grant, Arthur and Conkling, as well as other now prominent National leaders, and gave counsel in many grave exigencies. He presided at the unveiling of the Grant monument in Lincoln Park. In 1881 he was appointed by President Arthur Collector of the Port of Chicago, and filled that office in a manner most acceptable to the Government and the people of the city. With him a public office is a trust, to be executed with the same faithful care which one bestows on his own private affairs; and when he was appointed Director of the Union Pacific Railroad on behalf of the Government by President Harrison, he made a personal investigation of the property in his own painstaking way, submitting the report to the Secretary of the Interior. This report, which gave a careful review of the resources of the country traversed by the line, and its future prospects, was ordered printed by Congress, and commanded careful attention from financiers and those concerned in the relations of the Pacific roads to the Government. It was also embraced in the annual report of the Board of Directors of the Union Pacific Railway Company.
Mr. Spalding was associated with William B. Ogden and others in the project for cutting a canal from Sturgeon Bay to Green Bay, by which the danger of navigating "Deaths Door" (as the entrance to Green Bay is known) could be avoided, as well as saving a distance of about one hundred and fifty miles on each round trip between Chicago and Green Bay ports. This was completed in 1882 by the Sturgeon Bay & Lake Michigan Ship Canal and Harbor Company, of which Mr. Ogden was the first President, succeeded on his death by Mr. Spalding. During the first year of its operations, 745,128 tons of freight passed through the canal, and in 1892 the business amounted to 875,533 tons. In 1891 4,500 vessels (trips) passed through, and the next year the number was 5,312. Congress having passed an act to purchase the canal and make it free to all navigators, it was turned over to the United States Government in 1893.