Alpena, Michigan, family; correspondence, letterpress books, financial papers, and other material largely relating to the family's business enterprises in lumbering, sugar manufacturing, ferry and excursion lines, mining, and banking; contain record of business affairs in Alpena, Michigan, and other areas of northern Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, Missouri, Oregon, and Mississippi; family members represented in the collection include Frank W. Gilchrist and two of his sons, Frank R. and Ralph Gilchrist, also members of a related Fletcher and Potter families.
The Gilchrist Family Papers, which date from 1867 to 1945, reflect the business life of four generations of a prominent Alpena, Michigan family. The lives of four generations of Gilchrists are documented by the collection, but the bulk pertains primarily to Frank W. Gilchrist and his son, Ralph. Included in the collection is an assortment of correspondence, financial statements, inventories, reports, and cost estimates, pertaining to the lumbering, sugar beet, shipping, and mining industries.
The collection contains a considerable amount of material pertaining to Michigan business history, especially in the areas of lumbering, shipping, cement, and mining industries. Among the papers are financial statements, profit and loss records, invoices, lists of timber prices, salary records, blueprints of milling operations, and correspondence. They provide a documentary record of a family-owned business, which, when faced with declining lumber sales in northern Michigan, attempted to diversify its holdings in the real estate, mining, shipping, and sugar beet industries. Some of these endeavors proved successful for the Gilchrists; others did not. The papers record both the family's successes and failures.
Particularly useful for this study are the correspondence and financial statements of Frank W. Gilchrist and the early papers of his son, Ralph. The collection includes records of the Huron Sugar Company, the Alpena Portland Cement Company, and the Gilchrist Transportation Company, all of which failed to produce sufficient profit for the Gilchrists. The lumber and land companies were more successful.
The collection also serves to document the manner in which Ralph Gilchrist, Frank's son, carried the family industries into the 1920s and 1930s, managing to survive the effects of the Great Depression. The collection contains year by year, and in some cases month by month, financial statements, showing Gilchrist assets before, during. and after the stock market crash of October, 1929. The records of Gilchrist & Company Limited, the Detroit Trust Company; and Commonwealth Securities Incorporated are especially valuable for this study.
The Gilchrist Papers are not particularly useful for social history or for information on the family's private life. The collection does contain a travel diary of William H. Potter, dated 1883, in which a journey from Alpena to Detroit is described, but the bulk of the material reflects only the Gilchrists' official business functions. Correspondence usually relates information on stock acquisition, land purchases, lumber sales, and estate liquidation. The Potter papers are perhaps more personal in nature, containing some correspondence between the elder Albert Gilchrist and his daughter Ella, but these letters are few.
The researcher interested in Michigan business history, however, will find the collection useful for the above-named industries. Moreover, the collection also provides evidence for changes that took place from the 19th to 20th centuries within the office itself and the manner in which business was conducted. To some extent the papers reflect how the family reacted to early forms of office automation, as for example complaints that secretaries make too many typographical errors and that it is often easier to write letters by hand.
The collection remains in excellent condition, for the most part, although the letterpress books from the 19th century are faded and nearly illegible.