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A Look at the Coppes Grist Mill

Welcome to another in the series of Bill’s History Corner, where I try to explain or highlight an aspect of history as related to the old factory. Coppes Commons has had several different names, depending who the owners were at the time. Except at the very beginning of the company, the Coppes name was always the first name to appear. Such as the Coppes Bros. & Zook, or Coppes, Zook & Mutschler Co.

During the 1880’s, the three Coppes Brothers; Frank, John, and Samuel, were working together. This is also the time of possibly the most important developments in the company. The three brothers had been operating the sawmill along with wholesale and retail lumber sales. To this already full schedule, they added manufacturing building components, such as window sash & frames, doors and frames, and other building components. The shipping box portion of the company was expanded into a new brick building in 1883. They had such a large business they had two extra-large railroad cars built expressly for the transportation of the lightweight wooden boxes.

In 1887 the company built and began operating the Grist Mill on South Main Street. The town of Nappanee had tried for a couple of years to have a Grist Mill built in Nappanee. There was a need for this kind of business in Nappanee. Farmers were raising wheat locally but didn’t have a good steady market to sell their product. Before the Grist Mill was built farmers would most likely sell their wheat through middlemen who would come to town and offer to purchase what was for sale, usually at a lower price than what was being offered in the cities. Either sell to the wheat buying middle man or haul your wheat to Elkhart or South Bend. Neither choice was great.

The pictures I want to highlight today are of the Coppes Bros. & Zook grist Mill 1897, ten years after it was begun. The first picture is of the loading dock with Coppes Bros, & Zook employees (this loading dock is still the one you can see today along S. Main). Several of the men obviously work closely with the finished flour as their clothing is more white than dark colored. I also see two hand carts, several full bags which could incoming wheat or other animal feeds such as “CHOP FEED” or “BRAN,” which was sold to local farmers. These bags are not likely milled flour, because as far as I know, the finished milled flour was bagged in 5, 10, and 24 ½ -pound paper bags. When the milled flour was sold in large quantities it was priced by the “BARREL”, which was 196 pounds.

I wonder if the man to the right in the clean suit is one of the Coppes Brothers? And how did he keep his suite so clean?  Notice the youngster on the right, is that his bike on the other end of the dock? Where have we seen youngsters with Bicycles in other Coppes pictures?

The 2nd photo I want to highlight is also of the Coppes Bros, & Zook Grist Mill. This picture which was likely shot on the same day as the Employees picture (has the same date). It is looking South at the mill from ground level with the railroad tracks in the foreground.

Some of the details I want to point out are that this is a four-story building with a cupola on the roof. There is a rail car beside the building for loading ground flour and shipping to distance customers. The power to drive the machinery comes from the boilers and steam engine in the low “engine house” to the rear, under the smoke stack. One side note is the fuel that was burned was mostly wood cut offs and scrap wood from the Coppes Bros. & Zook saw mill. I can imagine that it would take 2 men working full time to feed the lumber fuel into the boilers. A lot of hands-on labor in this business. You can see the small train track guard shack behind the crossed arms train crossing sign. You can’t see it this picture, but the first house South of the mill was built by the Coppes Bros. Zook for the dwelling of the “master miller” Mr. George Nold.

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Early Sawmill Workers Photo

Welcome to Bill’s History Corner, where I try to show some of the more interesting photos that we have in the Coppes Commons collections then try to explain as much as I can about the picture. Some of that explanation may be a guess on my part. If you have a different version, I want to hear your story.

These 36 men in this photo are identified as “COPPES FACTORY EMPLOYEES.” Someone wrote that on the bottom of the photo with a ballpoint pen, and on the back side is a taped-on card with six of the men identified. Those names are “2nd row from back, 5thfrom left: Benjamin Miller, end: Harvey Kraft.  Second row 4th from left: Sam Defreeze, 6th: Rufus Shank, 7th: Mr. Bleile, 9th: Chas Norris.   Can you identify any more of these men?

What can we determine from studying this photo? The first thing I notice is that these men are mostly dressed for outside cold working conditions. Everyone in the front row is holding his hat and several are wearing gloves. Most have their coats buttoned up to their necks and several of the men have a bulky sweater showing around the collar. I can almost guarantee you that every one of these men are wearing “long Johns” under all of that. There is a wide range of ages of men. The youngest may be in his early 20s, while the oldest appears past retirement age. Could men afford to retire during this era?

Only one of the men is plain dressed, indicating Amish or Mennonite. There are several mustaches and a few unshaved faces in the group, but only the one beard. As for an estimate of the time period I’m going with 1890. Here is the reasoning for my guesswork: I think the building that these men are posed beside is the recently-built second sawmill.  At the time, it was located behind the Coppes Factory South of Lincoln St. Notice that the wood siding is still clean and not weathered, no weeds or grass on the new site. Work on constructing this sawmill was started in 1888. Most other Coppes Bros. & Zook buildings were brick. I think these men are the crews that worked in and around the sawmill. The other large group of Coppes workmen at that time were the men in the Box factory.  This was all inside work, so I think they would be dressed differently. I think this group of men worked in the sawmill where sawdust was flying. They probably also moved logs to the mill and stacked the lumber after it was cut so it could air dry – hard work for everyone. Another possibility is a couple teamsters in the group, but I don’t see anyone dressed differently. What do you think?

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A Coppes Family Photo circa 1915

Hello, Today for Bill’s History Corner we are looking at a porch scene with the family and guests of Frank Coppes posed for a group picture. I’m imagining a casual Sunday dinner with guests, likely something the Coppes families did often. I’m putting a date of about 1914-16 for this photo, and I’m basing that guess on the only child in the picture. Young Virgina (daughter of Harold & Edith) was born April 13, 1911. In 1917 a second daughter was born to this couple, and because the 2nd child is not in the picture, this photo likely was before 1917. Also, Claude Coppes has a lady friend with him, meaning he was not married at the time of this picture. Claude married Harriett Star on May 14, 1918.

You know me, I’m curious about everything. So, I’m wondering how there just happened to be someone with a camera in the vicinity able to take this picture and provide a print to the family. Or, did Frank hire a photographer to be there with a camera setup? Wonder what day to day life was like for the children of the most famous family in Nappanee?

If I’m correct about the date of this picture, Frank & Kate would have been 58 & 57 years old, Harold was 30, and Claude was 26. Under the direction of the president of the company, Frank Coppes, the business at the Coppes Bros. & (Harold) Zook Company was beginning to explode. The partnership with the Mutschler Brothers had dissolved approx. 2-3 years earlier and the Coppes Bros. & Zook Co. was setting up the company to manufacture kitchen cabinets exclusively. The sawmill and flour mill continued to operate as it did before the partnership.

This interesting photo like so many others was shared by the historical collection at the Nappanee Center.

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The Evolution of Nappanee’s Main Street

I don’t know about you, but I love old pictures. I guess that is the reason you see so many in the history Corner. I keep thinking of the old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Today I have four pictures for you to look at. Maybe you will see some detail I missed. We have already looked at pictures of the East side of South Main Street. Today I am showing the West side of South Main. South Main has always been the heart of the retail center of Nappanee. I’m not going to even try to name all the different stores and businesses that were located on South Main. The pictures I have to show you span approximately 50 years. Starting with a picture from the Book “THEY CALLED IT NAPPANEE, A HISTORY 1884-1974.” This is a great book put out to celebrate Nappanee’s centennial. I know that I have learned a lot reading this book.


The first picture has the title, Nappanee, 1878. 1878 is just a couple of years after the town was platted. This picture has the camera pointing north looking at the buildings on the west side of Main Street and the intersection of what is now Market and Main Streets. Porter’s Saloon is the large building on the northwest corner. Notice the outside stairway leading to the “Auditorium”.  This building has had many different businesses located inside. Hardware stores, (someday I want to do a study about Nappanee’s various hardware stores) this saloon, a public school, and a place for stage shows. Along South Mai,n the first building next to the intersection was originally the shoe and broom shop of Dan Metzler. In this picture you can make out the “DRUG STORE” sign under the covered walkway. This drug store was the business of a Mr. Lake who moved his store inventory from Locke to Nappanee. Dan Metzler was one of the three neighbors that platted the town on Dec. 12, 1874. His “Broom shop” was the first shop/store in the area that would become Nappanee.

Next to the broom shop is an empty lot. I will be talking about this location later. The next building appears to be empty but would make a very nice general store for someone. Notice the buggies in the street and the five little girls and one boy standing on the boardwalk, keeping perfectly still to have their images recorded in this historic photo.

Picture number two is also of South Main but from a different direction. You’ll notice that now the cameras is located in the intersection and is pointing more to the south and we can see all the buildings in the first half block. Again, we have a number of people, men or boys this time, lined up for their 15 minutes of fame in front of the building that has a “Restaurant – BAKERY” sign out front. Too bad they didn’t tell the photographer their names. Any guesses as to the word following MOUNTAIN ________? Could it have been “Tonic,” As in Mountain Tonic – For Sale here – sample bottle free. I’m thinking that we will never know, unless the newspaper had started by the time this picture was taken and the store did some advertising. The Nappanee Weekly News was first published on March 27, 1879, so maybe there is a chance we could find out.

The empty lot that I mentioned in picture one is now the FARMERS & TRADERS BANK. This is the first version of the building, not what we know today. In approximately 1917 a new stone front with columns was added. This bank is the one that Samuel Coppes purchased in March, 1891 after he left the Coppes Brothers partnership company. Samuel purchased the bank from Mr. Daniel Bechtel and Son. I don’t think I have ever thought of it before this, but what do you actually purchase when you purchase a bank? Does the purchaser get the building & solid contents, along with the bank’s name and reputation? What about the customers’ accounts, and the safe deposit boxes?

What is your guess as to the time of the year that this picture was shot? About the only indicators I can see are the clothing being worn and the condition of the dirt in the street. What do you see?

Picture number three is a postcard with the title “SOUTH MAIN STREET, NAPPANEE, IND.” A whole lot of construction has taken place on South Main Street. This is after 1917, because of the new bank front, but also notice the new brick building on the corner. Most everyone knows this building as JOHNSON’S DRUG STORE.

An item in the Dec. 23, 1908, Nappanee Weekly News has this title, “FIRST TO OCCUPY NEW BUILDINGS. COPPES PHARMACY OPENS DECEMBER 31. AN EXTRA FIND OUTFIT.” It seems that John Coppes built this building with the intention that his son Marvin would operate it in a positive manner. Marvin Coppes had recently graduated from Purdue with a business degree. The newspaper goes on to describe the building’s fine interior woodwork and fixtures being manufactured by the workmen at Coppes, Zook & Mutschler. Also, the door with “side panels and fancy lamps shades” were mfg. by the Geo. L. lamb factory.

Beyond the bank building in what were four separate buildings, there is now one brick exterior covering the fronts of all of them. Beyond the alley is the Hartman’s store. Please notice that at this late date there were still railings to tether horses and not automobile parking spaces.

Here is another picture (color) postcard of the same South Main St., likely from the 1940s by the shape of the cars. Not much has changed with the buildings. The greatest change is because of the automobiles. New sidewalks with car parking and street lights to make it convenient for customers to get into the stores and buy something.

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S. Main St. Nappanee at the Turn of the Century

For this week’s History Corner, we are looking at three early pictures of the east side of South Main Street. The first photo was copied from a postcard and is dated 1915. The street had been paved with brick just five years earlier in 1909-10. Both sides of the first block between Market St. and Lincoln St. were filled with businesses. There were two banks, Hartman’s department store, and drug stores, etc. The block was full of buildings, several having second floor offices above the 1st floor business. At the Southeast corner of Lincoln St. and S. Main was the Nappanee Carriage Company building, an imposing three-story brick building with the city water tower and power station behind. On farther south is a grain mill and the railroad tracks.

The long building shadows that show up on the street tells me this picture was taken late in the afternoon when there was very little traffic on the street. I only see one horse and wagon with a load of what looks like grain. Also, notice the window awnings on most of the east side buildings. It appears that there are trees with leaves in the background, so this may have been during the summer or early fall months. Do you see the thing that looks like a gas pump? Well, that is what it is.

The next photograph doesn’t look like the same street – so many buggies, wagons, sledges, hardly a parking place left. It looks really cold with ice on the streets and people in heavy coats. Were the people in town for Christmas shopping or was this a typical busy Winter Saturday? Wouldn’t it have been great if someone had written the date on this picture?!

Photograph number three is labeled ONION DAY NAPPANEE. This is also South Main Street, south of Lincoln Street. See the train cars in the distance? For those of you that don’t remember, early Nappanee agriculture involved growing lots and lots of vegetables. The Nappanee Produce Co. is the building on the left side of the picture. Seems the soil around Nappanee was great for growing vegetables. To help celebrate the prosperity that Nappanee was experiencing, Nappanee held a festival/carnival that was called ONION DAYS. Onion days happened for several years, approx. from 1909 to 1913. We do not know which year this picture was taken. Look at the people. Ladies and young girls are decked out in white dresses, and most of the men are in shirt sleeves, some with coats. Wonder which Month of the year it was? Looks like we could say a “good time was had by all.”

Next week we will look at the West side of S. Main.

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1906 Nappanee Hardware Store Statement

Welcome to Bill’s History Corner.  For me, this is one of the more interesting invoices that we have in the Coppes paper collection. I love hardware stores, and this is from the HOWENSTEIN – BURBACK CO., successors. to HOWENSTEIN, BURBACK & RUSHER, dealers in HARDWARE, STOVES, SASH AND DOORS, PAINTS AND OILS, PLUMING, HEATING, ROOFING AND SPOUTING. This was a full-service store, located in downtown Nappanee in the same building that later housed the Martin Hardware store. This invoice covers the month of Dec. 1906. It looks like the store kept a running tab for the C, Z & M Co. business, then sent a “statement of account” at the end of the month. The actual paper invoice runs 17 inches long and fills two pages. We are only showing 25 % of the paper invoice this time.

The items on the list are typical hardware items such 10 bolts @ .20 C. – 6-2in screws @ .02 – 1 tin pail @ .15 – 1 hand saw handle @ .10 – 8 doz. Cup hooks @ .27 – scoop shovel @ .80. What is difficult to see and understand is the column on the right side. The company charged each item into the correct business accounts. HBR charged some items to the sawmill, others to fact “B”, some to “Grist Mill.” The personal items purchased by Frank, John, or Albert were charged to their accounts. The total amount of purchases this month was $49.29 paid for by the company and then split into the right accounts.

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A 1907 Purchase of Drawing Instruments

Welcome to this week’s Bill’s History Corner. I think it is interesting when we find information of the personal nature about the principal members of the Coppes, Zook or Mutschler Families. We literally have thousands of old business receipts from the company in the first part of the 20th century (1903-1920). Don’t know how it could have happened, but several boxes of receipts were misplaced or lost until we discovered them while digging in the factory’s junk. What a find, and are we grateful, obviously. Most of the business receipts were destroyed or we would have found other hordes of receipts. Stay tuned. Who knows what we will find.

The business receipt I want to talk about today is an item that was purchased for H. (Harold) Coppes while he was in college in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Likely the class he was taking was a drafting or engineering class. Harold must have needed some drawing tools for the work in the class, so they/he ordered a set of drawing instruments (No. 625) from the Keuffel & Esser Co., Chicago, ILL. This was a very large company that imported or manufactured a wide range of tools like drawing instruments. The set of instruments that were ordered was priced at $37.00 but there was a 20 % discount given. Likely that discount is the reason the drawing set was ordered through the company rather than just H. Coppes, as an individual. So, Harold saved $7.40 in the transaction by purchasing a top of the line drawing set.  Below is a scan of the Nov. 7, 1907 receipt.

Did he need such a high-end drawing set to do the work in the class, or could he have been just as well off with a less expensive set? We will never know the answer to that question. What we do know is that later in 1916 Harold was the motivation behind a patent application for a flour bin used in a Coppes Napanee kitchenet. How many of the skills that Harold Coppes demonstrated later in his life did he learn by using that drawing set  purchased in 1907? I have scanned a page from a K & E catalog showing a Number 625 drawing set (below).  We could speculate all day about things like this- makes history interesting.


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Nappanee Silos

Hello every one. Welcome to another of Bill’s History Corners. Today we are going to go off script a little, well maybe not that much. We will see how this turns out. As you have realized, we are interested in almost anything related to Nappanee. The businesses, the industries, the retail stores, and the people that made up the great town of Nappanee.

One such industry in Nappanee that we are following was the Nappanee Lumber& Manufacturing Company. Locally called “Uline” because the owner and founder were Barney Uline and family. Mr. Uline was an early member of Nappanee. He had a general store in the town of Locke and moved everything to Nappanee. Later in Nov. of 1884, he traded his dry goods stock to Mr. Geo. Freese, Sr. for Mr. Freese’s BUTTER TUB FACTORY. Apparently, an even trade. Mr. Uline continued the mfg. of butter tubs, while Mr. Freese sold off the stock of dry goods and then devoted his time to the creamery business.

Mr. Uline’s business soon expanded to include a line of children’s furniture. We have several examples in the large showcase in the 2nd floor Kitchen Cabinet Museum. This line of children’s furniture was extensive. It included beds, dressers, tables, high chairs. Also, other products of the Nappanee Lumber & mfg. co. were ironing boards and folding card tables & chairs.

All this is interesting, but what I really wanted to talk about today was another product manufactured by the Nappanee Lumber & Mfg. Co. and that was wooden SILOS for use on the farm. In a written history of this company, the writer described a purchase that the Nappanee Lumber & Mfg. Co. made in early 1930. Apparently, the company was able to purchase many train car loads of a large size of cut timber. So large was this purchase that the company had difficulty finding space to unload all the train cars on their lot. As I remember reading it, the deal was too good to pass up, even if the company had no idea at the time what they could manufacture from the large sizes of wood.  There should be a saying about that kind of business opportunity.

So, the Nappanee Lumber & Mfg. co. began producing wooden SILOS. The train loads of large pieces of lumber was the beginning of another product line for this company. With some careful milling, the company made Silo wooden pieces that could stack and fit together and made an airtight seal which was ideal for use on farms. We have one 24-page brochure from the Silo building company. I have scanned a couple of the more interesting pages for you to see.

I think it would be interesting to find an existing wooden Silo from the Nappanee Lumber & Mfg. Co. I have no idea what we would do with it but it would be interesting to find. I’ve noticed that there are several youtube videos showing people knocking down farm silos that are no longer safe or serve a useful purpose. Very sad. Enjoy the scans and as you drive around the countryside keep an eye toward any farm silos. Seems like they will soon disappear from the landscape.

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The Nappanee Nine Baseball Team, 1888

baseball team

What fun they must have had – playing baseball with their friends, receiving the admiration of everyone in town. Someone should do a study of the baseball teams that played for Nappanee. All we have in the Coppes collection is this one 1888 picture with names. I suppose the only reason it was in the Coppes files was the connection with Frank Coppes and Daniel Zook.  Frank was the treasurer & Daniel was Manager.

The list of names, starting in back row left is Frank Coppes, Treasurer – Harry Felty, 1st base –  Wm. Stauffer, 3d or R.F. – Geo. Freese, 2nd B – Dan Zook, Mangr.

2nd row – Ike Jacobs, C & Extra P – A??? Wilson, Sub – Warren Trywillinger, C – Anson Strohm, Sub.

Sitting, L-R   Frank Brown C – Herman Rosbrugh, P.

From what I remember from my younger days is that it should be NINE players on each team. I was usually sitting on the bench watching the better players. This list of players has two men listed as SUBS, where are the other team members? And which man has the best mustache?

I also am wondering how much financial support the Coppes Bros. & Zook Company gave to the support of the team. We have not learned as yet, but I would expect that several if not all the team had day time jobs at the Coppes Bros. & Zook factory. One baseball related entry in the early ledgers books that I remember reading is a payment of $5.00 to a visiting baseball team to pay for transportation to return home. Just one more example of the character of the men that lived in Nappanee.

History makes me smarter, heritage makes me proud. Thank you for visiting Bill’s History Corner.

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Spindle Carver Wanted in 1906

evening press receipt

Here is a Mar. 27th, 1906 receipt from the “THE EVENING NEWS CO. GRAND RAPIDS, MICH.” In which they are wanting payment [from Coppes, Zook & Mutschler Co.] for placing an advertisement in their paper. The ad. read “Wanted – A spindle carver, thoroughly competent and responsible; steady work; state experience and wages expected.       Coppes, Zork (sp) & Neutschler (sp) Co., Nappanee, Ind.

This ad. appeared six times in their paper and cost $1.32. The company wanted an experienced workman to operate a “spindle carver” machine. Was this a new machine in the C, Z & M Co. operations?  Likely, the company did not have anyone experienced with this machine and decided to look in the “furniture capital of the world” for an experienced workman that the company would then try to lure away from his job to a new town. Wonder what the rubber stamp “PLEASE DO NOT REMIT IN STAMPS.” Is about? Have enough people tried to pay their accounts with stamps (postage?) that they needed to make and use a rubber stamp.