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Early Sawmill Labor Force

This week we are looking at a picture titled Coppes “Employees, Nappanee.” There isn’t a date printed on or associated with this photo. But just look at those smiling faces, someone must have just said a joke or else they are so cold they want to get the picture over with as soon as possible.


I think these 36 men represent the Coppes Bros. & Zook sawmill crew and the company’s teamsters. Around 1899, there were as many as 13-15 teamsters bringing wagon loads of logs to the mill in Nappanee. The Coppes Teamsters worked almost like what we would call “independent contractors” today. Each man oversaw the maintenance of the wagon or sled they used and the care of the horses in their charge. And by care, I mean feeding and watering morning and night and brushing and bedding down each horse each night. They also took care of things like having horseshoes replaced when they are lost or worn down. The company stable was the brick building to the east of Coppes Commons next to the parking lots. This is where the horses were housed, cared for and looked after.


The building that these men are in front of has the shiplap siding that was used on the sawmill buildings. I think this building is the 2nd sawmill building that was located behind the Coppes Commons buildings, south of Lincoln St. The log storage yard for this sawmill was where the parking lots are now located. That’s my reasoning for this group of men being the sawmill workers.

During times when there was an abundance of logs, the sawmill was operated 24 hours a day. Other times it cut back the schedule as needed. When the sawmill was working will, I would think a single log may take approx. 10-15 minutes to be cut into boards. 


Realistically there needed to be three crews working in and around the sawmill. One crew would be operating the mill itself, controlling the machinery and setting the carriage for each new cut. Another crew would be charged with bringing logs to the staging area where they can easily be rolled onto the carriage. This crew would need to keep up with the saw operators. In a 10-hour work shift, this crew may need to drag/haul/ push/pull as many as 40-50 or more logs from the storage yards, all the while being careful not to have a log roll over them. The third crew is the men that remove the cut boards and stack them in the yards for air drying. No forklifts for this crew, every green and heavy board was moved by hand. 


Notice how some of the men are dressed. Some with gloves, some with wide-brimmed hats (keeps the sawdust off their heads) and heavy shoes. Almost all have their shirts buttoned up to their necks if not their coat also. Was it the cold or were they just trying to keep the sawdust out? Whatever, it was hard tiring work, but this was also the business that the Coppes family of companies was built upon. For that we sayTHANK YOU and extend our gratitude to all former employees of the Coppes family of companies.

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Pay Day at the “Green House”

Today we are looking at a picture of workmen lined up to receive their pay packet in front of the Green (painted green) office building at the Coppes, Zook & Mutschler Co. Nappanee, IN. As you can see, the photo has “PAY DAY, C.Z.M. Co. Nap.” Written on the lower right corner.

Pay Day

The office building was constructed in 1898, several years before the partnership started. This picture got me thinking about other photos we may have of the office building. At the end of this history corner you will find other pictures of the Coppes Bros. & Zook office. Enjoy.

Two things about the photo help date it. First the “C.Z.M. Co.” which stands for Coppes, Zook & Mutschler Co.: the partnership between John & Frank Coppes, Dan Zook and his son Harold Zook and Albert and Charles Mutschler that lasted roughly from 1903 through 1913. On Nov. 15, 1912, Dan Zook died and the C, Z & M Co. partnership split up, with Albert and Charles returning to the buildings that were originally the Nappanee Furniture Company (now Mutschler complex). Harold Zook continued to be associated with the Coppes Bros. with the new 1913 name becoming Coppes Bros. & Zook, the same name as before the partnership but now with Harold instead of this father Dan Zook as the associate. Most likely the partnership split was as friendly as it could be. These men were related to each other, and they knew they would be running into each other often in the small town of Nappanee. Also, they were smart men and knew that a good business relationship would be good for both companies.
Charles Mutschler was married to John & Frank’s niece Della. Della was Samuel Coppes’ daughter. Harold Zook was the stepson of Elizabeth Yarian. the daughter of John & Frank’s older sister Eliza & husband Benjamin Yarian. After the death of Daniel Zook’s first wife, Elizabeth became the 2nd wife of Dan Zook in Nov. 1885.

You should pay particular notice to all the trees and other plantings in the picture. The C, Z & M Co. was responsible for the beautification of Market Street. The company hired landscape architects (1908-09) to design the plantings in front of the factory and the majority of the street. The three principal members of the company had houses along East Market St. so it was for their benefit the most.

The other important item in this photo that helps date when the picture was taken is the large building behind the closest brick building. The first building in the photo is the 1884 “Coppes Bros. Planning Mill & Box Factory”. The rear building in the photo is the building that was constructed to provide workspace to build the furniture line that was promoted by the new partnership (bedroom sets, dressers. Commodes, etc.). The modern showroom, the stables & wagon garages, and the infill building between buildings A & B was not constructed at this time. This rear building was named “Building B” and was constructed in 1902-03. With all those factors in mind, I would date this “pay-day” picture 1913-15. I like the style of dress then, where everyone seems to need to wear a hat of some kind.

Here are five other pictures of the office building for you to compare.

Green House one

Office Green House

Green House Office for Coppes

Coppes office

early office photo