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.
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.