The C.D. Schermerhorn Family
The Schermerhorns were an old and prolific family in America. There is a town with the same name just north of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Jacob Schermerhorn and four of his brothers reportedly came to America in the 1600s and helped to found New Amsterdam, which became New York City.
The Schermerhorns didn’t let the grass grow under their feet. Different branches of the family settled up and down the Atlantic seaboard, and several migrated west, with some of those helping to settle Michigan Territory. They moved into new areas, enlarging their families as they went. The branch of the family that came to Hillsdale County was headed by John W. Schermerhorn (1800-1889) and Sarah Smith Schermerhorn (1802-1893). True to the family tradition, Sarah didn’t let the rigors and demands of living on the frontier keep her from adding to the population with regularity. Seven children survived to adulthood, the first born when Sarah was 20 years old and the last when she was 44.
(The correct pronunciation of the family’s name … and when there began to be two pronunciations … is unclear. People who’ve lived in Reading for years pronounce it “Skim” erhorn, while those who don’t know the family follow the more phonetic guess of “Sure” merhorn.)
By 1870 John and Sarah had moved to a farm in Ransom Township, where John continued to farm. A son, William S. (1824-1911), in 1867 moved to the nearby town of Reading, which had a significant lumbering industry. William was a “machinist” and set up a foundry and planing mill.
John and Sarah also moved to Reading, where John again farmed, probably with the help of his son Algenon, who was next to last in the birth order. The last child in the family, Charles Darwin (1846-1913), helped his father too and also worked as a clerk.
In 1877 William S. and Charles Darwin (known as C.D.) formed the partnership of Schermerhorn Brothers and bought the Colby Wringer and Washing Machine Company in Reading. After only a few months the partnership was dissolved, and C.D. renamed the factory the Acme Chair Company. The Colby Company had a minor sideline making folding chairs. C.D. successfully transformed it into the main product of the Acme Chair Company and created a profitable business that sold to every part of the United States.
In 1870 C.D. had married Fanny E. Roberts (1851-1911). Eventually they had four children, two of whom reached maturity, George D. (1886-1954) and Elizabeth (1874-1965). C.D. and Fanny bought a brick house on the south side of Reading in 1885 and both became pillars of the community, campaigning for years to make sobriety the norm. C.D. belonged to the Prohibition Party and Fanny was active in the W.C.T.U. (Women’s Christian Temperance Union).
Actually, Fanny had more on her mind for making the world a better place than just eliminating intoxicating spirits. Under her leadership the W.C.T.U. meetings also included presentations entitled “Marriage as a Reformation for Young Men” and “Should Women Have a Voice in Government.”
C.D.’s willingness to take a business risk with his chair factory became a willingness to take a personal risk when he bought one of the first automobiles in the village, a Winton. On the more conservative side, he was a village trustee, then village president for two years, as well as a director of the local bank. Along with his admirable civic mindedness, C.D. also developed an interesting hobby. He bought run-down farms just outside Reading, cleared them of all useful timber and hired tenants to work them. Often he had two or three of these enterprises going at the same time.
John and Sarah were the first Schermerhorn’s to live in the beautiful turreted mansion on South Main Street (this is an inference unsupported by research). Their unmarried daughter, Lizzy, was the last of the family to make it her home. After her death it became a funeral home and remains one today.
C.D. and Fanny Schermerhorn’s son, George, married Hazel W. Fenton (1888-1964). They never had children, but both led productive and contributory lives in their beloved town of Reading. George, to please Hazel, briefly toyed with politics. Being a Democrat, however, was a handicap and he never was successful.
George’s sister, Elizabeth, known as Lizzy, never married. She was a teacher for many years and spent the last years of her life in the Schermerhorn home with a companion.
If you would like to read about the Acme Chair Company, CLICK HERE.
JoAnne P. Miller