I was spending a quiet afternoon at the home of an accomplished architect in Beverly Shores Saturday when phone calls started streaming into our home regarding an enormous fire that was raging in one of Plymouth's largest landmarks. The smoke could be seen in neighboring towns. This morning the hulk of a building was still smoldering, but it was indeed gone.
A later photo (c. 1915) when the building was used by the Abrasive Manufacturing Co.
Plymouth's oldest link to our industrial past was quickly engulfed in flames Saturday afternoon. The building had been recently used for storage and to most Plymouthites is no doubt known by any number of names, however, as a memoriam, I'd like to reflect on its grand beginnings.
The Indiana Novelty Manufacturing Company was organized in 1891 by several leading Plymouth businessmen. Among them were H. G. Thayer (owner of the Thayer mansion), James Gilmore, George Marble, and C. L. Morris (who owned the Morris house kitty-corner from the factory). The company manufactured wooden novelties and was particularly known for wooden bicycle rims and mud and chain guards for bicycles. The company was also the first to invent and market "the famous one-piece interlocking joint, which is excelled by none and which has made the Plymouth rim famous throughout the world." In 1898 the plant was the largest of its kind in the world and at full capacity was producing 10,000 rims PER DAY (in the 1890s!).
The company had sales houses in "every principle city" of the United States and marketed the rims to foreign countries as well. It was estimated that Indiana Novelty was producing more than half of the rims used by cycle makers in the 1890s. The firm employed over 300 hands (whether that means 150 men at 2 hands each, I don't know!) and had a company payroll of $8,000 per month. The company was unrivaled in Marshall County and much of this part of rural Indiana for its size.
The company's own dedicated fire department buildingAt a bicycle exhibition in about 1895 this was said of the company "the exhibit of the Indiana Novelty Manufacturing Company consisted of a full line of the well known Plymouth wood rims for American or English makes of tires as well as a complete line of handle bars and guards" (from Sporting Life magazine, Jan. 30). The firm was likely at its financial height when the owners sold the company to American Bicycle Company Inc., which was better known as the Bicycle Trust. The Trust was incorporated in June, 1899, and had $40 million in capital. It secured control of 44 plants nation-wide, including two others in Indianapolis (New York Times, Sept. 1, 1899).
The original two story portion of the plant (right side above) housed the company offices. The board room/manager's office had the most remarkable wood coffered ceilings I think I have ever seen. The plant was outfitted with its own fire department building in the southeast corner of the plant. As subsequent owners and manufacturers used the facility, additions were made to the north of the original building and to the south of the original manufacturing line, connecting the once stand-alone fire department building to the rest of the facility. Had the small brick fire department building still been isolated, it may have survived.
|Thayer Mansion, Plymouth|
The building, which at one time had put Plymouth on the world map, has now moved into our past. Pictures of the fire are here: http://am1050.com/2012/fire-destroys-400-pennsylvania-avenue/