Ferry Family (Dexter Ferry) papers, 1758-1989 (majority within 1855-1959)
Using These Materials
- The collection is open for research.
- Ferry family.
- A pioneer Detroit, Michigan family, established the Ferry Seed Company and other business enterprises, active in civic and cultural affairs. Papers document the family and its business, cultural, political and philanthropic activities.
23.5 linear feet (in 25 boxes)
7 oversize volumes
- Call Number:
- 90118 Aa 2 AC
- Finding aid prepared by: Matthew T. Schaefer, 1988, 1989
- Scope and Content:
The Ferry family papers document the rise to prominence of this family who first gained their fortune as seed merchants. The papers also reveal the workings of other Detroit businesses, the development of the Detroit Institute of Arts, turn-of-the-century Michigan politics, and the suburban development of Grosse Pointe. The papers span the years 1758 to 1989 with the bulk of the materials covering 1855 to 1959. The collection consists of: account books, ledgers, journals, and business reports; blue prints, deeds, titles, abstracts, and mortgages; correspondence (business and personal); appointment books, diaries, scrapbooks, and clippings; receipts and tax returns, photographs, and printed miscellanea. It is important to note that the Michigan Historical Collections does not house all extant Ferry materials. The donor, Dexter M. Ferry, III, retains possession of several early account books, ledgers, and journals related to D.M. Ferry & Co.; he also kept some family correspondence and virtually all photographs.
The Ferry family papers arrived at the Michigan Historical Collections in an order based on when the donor reviewed the materials. In the course of reprocessing, this order was altered, and an arrangement assigning primacy to the generation of Ferry who created the document was followed. This reprocessing has resulted in three series: Historical and Background, materials predating Dexter M. Ferry; Dexter M. Ferry; and Dexter M. Ferry, Jr. The few problems presented by overlap between generations are duly noted in the contents list. Within these generational series the materials are arrayed in business, personal, philanthropic, and political subseries. Given the natures of the family and the family business, the researcher should note that murkiness exists between subseries divisions. In general these dividing principles work well. They preserve Dexter M. Ferry, III's original order at the folder level while facilitating access by independent researchers.
The strengths of the Ferry collection are myriad. The family correspondence provide unique insight into a family which grew wealthy but remained close-knit. Especially interesting are the long runs of correspondence between Dexter M. Ferry and his mother, Lucy Ferry Crippen, and Dexter M. Ferry, Jr. and his mother, Addie Miller Ferry. The former run reveals much about the fluid society of late nineteenth-century Detroit, and the latter reflects the pressures of more rigidly defined social strictures. The correspondence between Ferry, Jr. and his sisters, Blanche Ferry Hooker and Queene Ferry Coonley, are illuminating on the handling of the family business in the changing economic climates of the twentieth century.
Some facets of the development of the Detroit business community are well documented as the family invested heavily in local real estate and business. The strengths of the present collection revolve around the Dexter M. Ferry, Jr. materials relating to business and finance in Detroit from 1920 to 1950, particularly the banking community's reaction to the crisis of the Depression. The links between automobile touring, the good roads movement, and the development of ancillary industries to support the burgeoning automotive industry are fairly well documented by Dexter M. Ferry, Jr.'s papers. Young Ferry's close association with the development of the Detroit Institute of Arts is extremely well documented and these papers provide a case study of twentieth century patronage.
A somewhat refracted view of Michigan politics at the turn of the twentieth century is provided through the scrapbooks and clippings on Dexter Ferry's failed campaign in 1900 for governor of the state. The papers are stronger in their documentation of Dexter Ferry, Jr.'s political involvement with the local governance of Grosse Pointe. Here the details of community control are thoroughly covered by correspondence, reports, and minutes.
- Biographical / Historical:
The Ferry family has long been prominent in the Detroit community; the Ferrys have carved large niches in the local business, philanthropic, and political arenas. The first of the family to arrive on the Detroit scene was Dexter Mason Ferry (1833-1907), who came in 1854 to be employed by the S. Dow Elwood & Co. booksellers. Ferry supplemented his income by working nights for the firm of M.T. Gardner and Company, Seedsmen. Trading on his knowledge of agriculture, sales, and bookkeeping, Ferry quickly rose to the position of partner in the newly named Gardner, Church, and Ferry Seed Co. Increased demand, lower transportation costs to prairie farmers, and sales on the commission system led to the rapid growth of the firm. Ferry eventually gained controlling interest in the concern and formed D.M. Ferry & Co. in 1879; this firm prospered and dominated the national market into the twentieth century. The seed company formed the core of Ferry's business empire and served as a springboard from which he launched other entrepreneurial ventures.
In many ways, Ferry was the quintessential nineteenth- century capitalist, turning an innovative idea and a regional monopoly to his advantage in gaining the edge in the national market. He built on this edge by diversifying, using the seed firm's profits to finance his ventures in other enterprises. He bought real estate in and around Detroit, including the site and building occupied by the Newcomb-Endicott Co. (now part of the J.L. Hudson block) and the Ferry seed farm in Greenfield. As a man of position and means, Ferry was tapped to serve as president of the First National Bank of Detroit, the Union Trust Company, the American Harrow Company, the National Pin Company, the Standard Accident Insurance Company, and the Michigan Fire and Marine Insurance Company. The positions reflected the esteem Ferry enjoyed among his peers in Detroit.
As with many nineteenth century capitalists, Ferry felt an obligation to share a measure of the bounty he enjoyed with society in the form of charity. His noblesse oblige manifested itself in gifts to churches, Olivet College, the University of Michigan, Grace Hospital, and an Art Loan Exhibit that some contend was a lineal forebear of the Detroit Museum of Art, which in time became the Detroit Institute of Art. Ferry also ran true to the patterns of his peers in his staunch affiliation with the Republican party. He served as chairman of the Republican State Central Committee from 1896 to 1898 and was delegate-at-large from Michigan at the Republican National Convention in 1904. In 1900, Ferry answered his party's call and ran for governor; he lost in a heated three-cornered race.
By the time of Dexter Mason Ferry's death in 1907, he had firmly established his family's status among the Detroit elite. His surviving children, Dexter, Jr., Blanche, and Queene, were left to preserve this status and to serve as trustees to the Ferry fortune. Young Ferry served as administrator of the estate and succeeded his father as president of D.M. Ferry & Co. Dexter Ferry, Jr. oversaw the continued growth of the firm through its 1930 merger with the C.C. Morse Co. of San Francisco, a move which secured the continued dominance of the market by the firm. Ferry retired as president of Ferry-Morse in 1941, but continued to serve as chairman of the board until his death in 1959. Ferry, Jr. also filled his father's shoes as president of the Standard Accident Life Insurance Company, the First National Bank of Detroit, the National Pin Company, and American Harrow. He further diversified the Ferry portfolio by serving on the board of the Detroit Trust Company, owning the Crosstown Garage, and investing in the Packard Motor Car Company. This breadth enabled the Ferry family to weather the Great Depression.
In addition to inheriting a measure of his father's business acumen, Ferry, Jr. retained a sense of noblesse oblige. Young Ferry's philanthropic interest was more toward the beaux arts as he was a primary benefactor of the Detroit Institute of Art. He served as president of the Detroit Museum of Art from 1913 to 1917 and headed its Founders Society from 1920 to 1948. Education was highly esteemed by Ferry, Jr.; Lawrenceville prep school, Olivet and Vassar Colleges, and especially the University of Michigan benefited from his generosity. Aside from the arts and education, Ferry's philanthropy reached national and local organizations: the YMCA, the Red Cross, Grace Hospital, the Franklin Settlement, and worthy causes in Grosse Pointe.
Like his father, young Ferry was a lifelong Republican. He was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1901 and served until 1904, working primarily to protect the interests of the University of Michigan. This political experience served him well as a member of the State Board of Education from 1906 to 1912, especially during his tenure as its president after 1908. In 1920, shortly after moving to the village of Grosse Pointe, Ferry was appointed council-man. Ferry was then elected to succeed himself; his involvement in local politics continued until the 1950s. Ferry, Jr. died in December 1959 having achieved a prominence on a par with his father.
The mantle of responsibility for maintaining the family name and honor fell to the third generation of Ferrys in Detroit. The children of Dexter Mason Ferry, Jr.- Dexter, III, W. Hawkins, Edith, and Jeanette- have remained actively involved on the local business and philanthropic scenes.
- Acquisition Information:
- The collection (Donor No. 7555 ) was donated by Dexter Ferry, III, in the summer of 1988. Additional materials were donated in the spring of 1989 and in 1995.
The Ferry Family Papers are organized in three series, each with several sub-series:
- Series I: HISTORICAL AND BACKGROUND, 1758-1989
- Biographies, 1896-1957 (Box 1)
- Genealogy, 1891-1980 (Box 1)
- Histories, 1984-1989 (Box 1)
- Materials on Ferry-Mason families, 1758-1886 (Boxes 1-2)
- Series II: DEXTER MASON FERRY PAPERS, 1849-1910
- Business Interests, 1854-1910 (Boxes 2-4, and 3 oversize volumes)
- Business Investments, 1880-1910 (Box 4)
- Business Property, 1849-1910 (Boxes 4 and 1 oversize volume)
- Personal, 1849-1911 (Boxes 25)
- Philanthropies, 1882-1902 (Box 5)
- Political, 1892-1903 (Boxes 5 and 1 oversize volume)
- Series III: DEXTER MASON FERRY, JR., PAPERS, 1881-1963
- Business, 1881-1963 (Boxes 6-10)
- Personal, 1884-1960 (Boxes 10-18 and 2 oversize volumes)
- Philanthropies, 1890-1959 (Boxes 18-20)
- Political, 1899-1959 (Boxes 20-21)
- Series IV: Photographs (boxes 21-23)
- Series V: Memorabilia and later family materials (box 24)
- Series I: HISTORICAL AND BACKGROUND, 1758-1989
Click on terms below to find any related finding aids on this site.
Elections -- Michigan -- 1900.
Philanthropists -- Michigan -- Detroit.
Real property -- Michigan -- Detroit.
Seed industry and trade -- Michigan -- Detroit.
Military art and science.
Seed industry and trade -- Michigan -- Detroit.
Detroit Institute of Arts.
Ferry-Morse Seed Company.
Michigan. Legislature. House of Representatives.
National Pin Company.
Republican Party (Mich.)
University of Michigan -- Students -- Social life and customs -- 1891-1900.
Godfrey Block (Detroit, Mich.)
Ferry, Dexter Mason, 1833-1907.
Ferry, Dexter Mason, 1872-1959.
Hooker, Blanche Ferry.
Detroit (Mich.) -- Commerce.
Ferry Field (University of Michigan)
Grosse Pointe (Mich.) -- Politics and government.
New York (State)
Detroit (Mich.) -- Streets.
Using These Materials
The collection is open for research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Donor(s) have transferred any applicable copyright to the Regents of the University of Michigan but the collection may contain third-party materials for which copyright was not transferred. Patrons are responsible for determining the appropriate use or reuse of materials.
- PREFERRED CITATION:
item, folder title, box no., Ferry Family Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan