Posted on Leave a comment

A Short Trip Through 1911 New York City and Nappanee

We recently stumbled upon this very interesting video shot in parts of New York City in 1911. A 1911 film would be interesting on its own merit, just because it is now 106 years old, but I wanted to relate life in Nappanee to the film. The first thing I noticed as I watched this film was the huge number of people. People are everywhere, walking along, riding in cars on buses and trolleys, horse-drawn Hanson cabs. Everyone was on the move, going somewhere. The second thing I noticed was the buildings, tall buildings, close together.

Nappanee at the turn of the century

In 1911 Nappanee there were 12 automobiles putt-putting in and around Nappanee. Did the people living in Nappanee then even know about what was happening in other big U. S. cities?  Were they isolated from the rest of the country, did they feel isolated? Maybe a little, but there were opportunities to learn what was happening in the rest on the United States.

One reason people didn’t feel isolated from the rest country was the closeness to Chicago, where several newspapers were published every day. Anyone in Nappanee had access to the big city by train. I know, someone is now thinking that Chicago was not New York in 1911 but the news from New York City could quickly reach Chicago and then to all the small towns in the surrounding area, where newspapers were shipped.

Magazines were another method for knowing what was going on in the world. Mass publications had started, picture magazines, then news magazines were available to the citizens of Nappanee and delivered by the U. S. Mail or purchased at a Store. All of the magazines had advertisements for the latest items.

The first public radio broadcast was on Jan. 13, 1910. 1911 was the infancy of radio. Radio in the countryside didn’t really catch on till the 1930s-40s. So, I think it is safe to assume that Little old Nappanee did not learn about New York City from the radio in 1911.

What was Coppes, Zook & Mutschler Co. doing in 1911?

. . . They were producing a rather large line of furniture, along with kitchen cabinets, and operating the sawmill and flour mill. In another year, Mr. Dan Zook would die and the partnership would have a friendly breakup. Albert and Charles Mutschler would go back to the plant South of the tracks and continue making furniture and later concentrate on custom Kitchens. Dan Zook’s son Harold would continue with the Coppes Bros, but they would begin concentrating on producing the Dutch Kitchen Cabinets that made them famous. In approximately 1927 Coppes Bros. & Zook opened a sales office in New York City with a small staff with the intention of developing the kitchen market in NYC.

Posted on Leave a comment

A Day in the Business Life of the Coppes Brothers Company

Welcome to another Bill’s History Corner. Sorry, no picture this week. I was beginning to think I was running out of new interesting things to write about, then I thought of the company ledgers that we have in the Coppes Commons collections. At random, I chose one old ledger and then one page that had several entries for one day. My idea is to discuss the entries for that one day. See if I can make sense of what I read and explain it to you. I need to make a disclaimer here, some of the names are difficult to read. I’ll use ??? when unsure.

The page I picked was June 30th, 1886 – summertime with lots of activity. There are 13 different transactions listed for that day.  The three Coppes Brothers, Frank, John & Sam were working together to run the company in 1886. They had recently built the 1884 box factory on East Market St. They were also operating the sawmill with retail and wholesale divisions and beginning to build the Flour Mill on South Main, certainly a busy time.

First transaction —  L. M. Best – by cull lumber – 3.00

L.M. Best paid $3.00 for Cull lumber. Cull lumber is lumber with defects like cracks, warps, etc. – lumber not good for very much. What L. M. Best planned to do with the  ”cull” Lumber is anyone’s guess. It should be noted that in the winter the sawmill sold firewood (side slabs, cutoffs, etc.) by the “load” for one dollar a load.

2nd transaction —  B. Uline – By resawing 955 ft. Ash @ $3.00. –   2.86

This is most likely Barney Uline, who at this time was operating the Uline Butter Tub factory, later to become Nappanee Lumber and Mfg. Co.  A line of children’s furniture, card tables & chairs was a later product of this company. Still later they produced wooden farm silos. The “@ $3.00” is the listed price for resawing 1000 ft. of lumber.  Mr. Uline only had 955 ft. resawed so the price was 2.86.

3rd transaction — Muzzy Starch Co.

                                By 200/1 – @14c  — $28.00   

                                By 370/2 –  @ “     — $51.80

                                By 300/3 –  @ “    —   $52.00

                                By  340/5 – @12c —   $40.80

                                By  500/6 – @ “     — $60.00

                                By  1200 /4 – @6c  — $72.00

By 100   Lenates?? @10c – $10.00             Total  = $341.60         

Muzzy Starch Company was one of the Elkhart companies that Coppes Bros. regularly shipped wooden boxes to from their new brick box factory on East Market St. What the first line means is that Coppes made 200 of the No 1 size boxes (1 lb. size??) at a cost of 14 cents each for a total cost of $28.00 for that size box. Each line is a different size of box. These would have been shipped by horse and wagon in 1886. Can’t read the word in the bottom line but maybe it is “Centers,” which would make more sense.

4th transaction — L. Babcock  by 150 lb  Chop.         $1.50

Chop (I think) is horse feed. Why the Coppes Bros. were in the business of selling horse feed is likely because they purchased chop in large quantities for the number of horses that Coppes kept as both workhorses and personal teams (my estimate is 20 – 30 horses at any one time in the Coppes stables). They may have had a surplus of feed or felt they could make some money by selling chop at a higher price than they paid when buying in large quantities. Or possibility they let friends have some chop at cost because they were good guys.

5th transaction — G + G + G + G   leo  ????   

                                7000 ft 3” = 24 ft sheeting

                                423 ft 3” = 20 ft       ‘ ‘                   @ 20.00 —- 7423 ft     =    $148.40

                                Less freight

                                B  &  G   # 2742

This one is more of a puzzle. I think that LEO is a freight train station west of Nappanee. The business was selling 3-inch-thick lumber that could be put down and used as strong solid SHEETING. Either in 24 foot or 20-foot lengths. The price was $20.00 per 1000 feet for a total price of $148.40. There was no freight cost because the train company provided a train car for transportation. That train car number was 2742.

You may be wondering how lumber is sold. Not by the piece, not by the length, not by the width, but a combination of these dimensions. The standard unit of sale for lumber is called BOARD FEET. One board foot of lumber is equal to a piece that has 144 cubic inches of material, no matter what the shape of the board. It could be long and thin or short and thick, as long as it contained 144 Sq. In. of wood it is equal to one BOARD FOOT.

The formula for finding board feet in one piece of solid lumber is (Bd Ft = T(in) X W(in) X  L(ft)  )

6th transaction. —  Jonathan Yoder   by Oak logs  2174 ft. @ 7??   =   $15.21

I think I got this one. The company purchased Oak logs from Mr. Yoder amounting to $15.21

7th transaction. —  Frank Walker    by 7450 Clear Shingles  @ $ 2.90     =    $21. 60

This one is easy. Mr. Walker purchased shingles that were priced at $2.90 per 1000 for a total cost of $21.60. Clear shingles was a product that the company was reselling. The Coppes Bros. purchased train car loads of shingles at a bulk price and then sold them at a retail price. This is Business 101.

8th transaction. —  O. E. Fales      by 10,000  10” Clear Shingles  @ 2.50  2.40       =$25.00   $24.00

Why Mr. Fales was offered a lower price than Mr. Walker and then finally paid a still lower price for the shingles that he purchased is a mystery. Possibly this lot of shingles was in poor condition or maybe there was such a thing as “friends and family pricing.”

9th transaction. —  B. Uline   by sawing 1200 ft.   Ash, Reed, @ $3.00   =  $3.60

This is the 2nd time today Mr. Uline sent lumber to the sawmill to have sawing done. Business must be good at the butter tub factory. I would like to know more about what the company was cutting. Were they sawing Ash logs that Mr. Uline had or cutting lumber into smaller more useable sizes? As for the word that looks like “Reed” maybe this is a mistake on my part and they were writing, Ash Red???. Anyhow the price was the same as earlier in the day, $3.00 per 1000 ft.

10th transaction. —   Bowser house      By 702 ft Cull Oak s1s   @ $12.00

The Bowser House was a Hotel in Early Nappanee. Possibly the “Cull Oak” was planned to be used as a wooden fence around a stable or back yard. The letters “s1s” is a lumberman’s term meaning the lumber was surfaced smooth on one surface. There are any number of reasons oak lumber could be classified as “Cull” lumber after it was sawed. Could be a bad or uneven color, have cracks, or twists, all of these defects are impossible to see while the lumber is still a log.

11th transaction. —   Chas. Teal     By Screen Moulding               40

I’m guessing on this one too.  I think “Screen Moulding” is the small strip of wood nailed around the edges of screen on screen doors or windows. The spelling of the word moulding is an older used style, today the word is spelled Molding. Wonder how much you could get for $.40?

12 transaction. —  Jacob Weygand    By Matching 829 ft. Beech @ $6.00

There is not a final cost recorded for this transaction, that may mean this is just the order to make the Matching 829 feet of beech. It will take some time to fill this order. I think that “Matching” in this instance means making a Tongue and groove wood joint on each piece of this lumber so it could be used as flooring or possible a grain bin where you do not want any cracks between the wood.

13th transaction. —   B. J. miller & Co.        By s2s     88 ft Bass     @ $3.00

Again, this transaction may be the order from B. J. Miller & Co.  The “s2s” is another lumberman’s term meaning smoothing 2 surfaces smooth. Bass lumber is a very soft wood often used for hand carving. Wonder what they were going to make?

I was looking ahead a few days to see if I was correct about the last two transactions being ordered today for pickup in the future. I did not find any other transaction for these two accounts in the next 10 days. So, it is unclear what they did.

I did find an entry in this book that I have got to tell you about. It does not seem like the Coppes Bros. were drawing a regular paycheck. There are several examples where each of the 3 brothers withdrew cash from the business like it was their own bank account. Often listed as by cash, either for personal items or business items, or nothing noted. On July 2nd, 1886 this is the entry,  S.D. Coppes – by cash – Per Della & Lille (2 of Sam’s Daughters) – .08    Do you mean to tell me that Sam Coppes, the man that would soon purchase the Farmers and Traders Bank & also build the Coppes Hotel, did not have 8 cents to give to his daughters?

There is so much fantastic information in these ledgers that we have to make them available to the public. That is our plan, to purchase a scanner and upload the pages to the web for you to look at. When we do that is still up in the air, but stay tuned, as they say.

Posted on 1 Comment

A look back at the Onion Festival Parade

Welcome to another Bill’s History Corner. I wish we could go back in time. If we could, one of the places I’d want to go to is the Nappanee Onion Festival. This picture was taken at one of the Onion festivals from 1908 to 1913. I don’t know which one of the Festivals this picture comes from, as there were several onion Festivals during this time period. Perhaps a study of the Nappanee News would give an indication of the exact date of this Parade.

Onion Festival

       The subject of this photo is the “C.Z.M. PARADE, NAPPANEE IND.” or the Coppes, Zook, & Mutschler log wagon Parade. I can see 7-8 wagons with full loads of logs being paraded through the mass of people. Each wagon has one man sitting on the top log driving the horses, while other men are riding. Another picture we have in the collection (may be the same festival) has parade wagons loaded with furniture made at the Coppes, Zook & Mutschler factories. Hope you can get a good look at this photo because there is a huge amount of detail going on in this picture.

       As usual, I have lots of questions and a few observations. My first question is how in the world did they load those big logs onto the wagons? This was an age before machines like the skid steer. It would have been a massive amount of work to construct ramps and roll each log on the wagon by hand. It seems that the standard dress for the men was coat and tie plus a hat. While women wore white, some with hats, some not. Wonder what time of the year this was. After the summer harvest?

You can see the upper floor of the Coppes Hotel over the top of the middle wagon. Near the intersection, where our post office is now, is the ramp of a Dare Devil that made a flying leap while sitting in a small padded box with wheels. Amusingly, the leap was successful every time. American flags and bunting adorn the building and wires. Wonder what the camera person was standing on and what kind of camera was used to get such a good clear picture. I also wonder if any of the people in the front rows had their toes crushed under the wagon wheels. If you were there then, where would you be standing? I think that I would want to be looking out of one of the 2nd-floor windows of the Coppes Hotel.

Side Note with a Request for Help: 

We are looking for information on former 1950s Coppes employee  Earnest Masterson. Apparently Earnest supplemented his income by building electric guitars. Any help would be welcomed. Just email Thank you!