Biography of Charles Henry Davis

Charles Henry Davis, born in 1848 in North Andover, Massachusetts to a family of nine, worked hard on his family farm before taking business courses and eventually moved West to seek his fortune. He arrived in Saginaw City in 1869, entered the lumber business, and gained employment with Ammi W. Wright, a prominent lumberman. Starting as a lumber piler, Davis quickly rose through the ranks, displaying notable business acumen. He became integral in Wright’s expansive lumber and later mining operations, contributing to ventures in Michigan, Minnesota, and even timber purchases on the Pacific Coast. After an illustrious career in business, he also co-founded the Wright-Blodgett Company in Louisiana. Married with two children, Davis epitomized the self-made man, attaining success through diligence and integrity. His later years were spent enjoying a mix of domestic bliss and travel, exemplifying a gentleman of the old school.

Charles H. Davis, the first of that remarkable group of men who owe much of their success in life to Ammi W. Wright, was born in North Andover, Massachusetts, on August 25, 1848. His parents were Edmund Davis, a native of Stratham, New Hampshire, and Sarah Folsom, of Gilmanton, in the same State. His father was born in the first year of the nineteenth century, while his mother was born in 1805. Sharing the hardships and joys of farm life in those early days with her husband, they reared a family of nine children, four daughters, and five sons, of which Charles H. is the youngest. Edmund Davis died in 1866 and was buried in his native town, while Mrs. Davis lived to enjoy the fruition of many years well spent, passing from this life at the advanced age of eighty-five at the home of her daughter Mrs. Reuben Kimball in Saginaw, and was also interred at North Andover.

The boyhood days of Charles H. Davis were spent on this farm, which was situated about two miles from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. While attending to the minor duties which naturally fell to a small lad on the farm, he went to the district school. At ten years of age, he entered the grammar school, where he continued for about four years, and then advanced to Portsmouth High School, receiving instruction for a like period until the close of the course. During these years at the High School, among his schoolmates was Willis T. Knowlton, with whom he is now associated in business, whose parents lived close by, forming a friendship and mutual confidence that continued through life.

In the winter of 1864, he supplemented the knowledge he had gained with a full course at Eastman Business College in Poughkeepsie, New York, acquiring the theory and rudimentary practice of business. He then returned to the farm for four years, engaged with his brothers in market gardening. The green produce and fruits they grew found a ready market at Portsmouth, and to some extent in the resort colony at Rye Beach.

While making a modest start in active business life, his youthful imagination was kindled by glowing accounts of the opportunities arising in the West. He formed the ambitious plan of seeking his fortune on the western frontier upon reaching adulthood. Hearing of the undeveloped wealth of the Michigan forests and the productive valley of the Saginaw, and being fond of the “great outdoors” and woodland life, he resolved to locate in the Wolverine State. Accordingly, in the fall of 1869, he arrived in Saginaw City as an entire stranger. In a few days, he was offered a job scaling logs by Newell Barnard, but as he was unfamiliar with this work, he was obliged to decline it. Meanwhile, he had been impressed by the great lumbering operations of Ammi W. Wright, in association with James H. Pearson of Chicago, and determined to secure employment with him, if possible.

One day, he mustered his courage and approached the big lumberman to ask for a job, resolved to begin at the bottom and master every detail of the business. Mr. Wright quietly sized up the sturdy figure of the young man and, evidently liking his appearance and confident manner, offered him work piling lumber in the yard at twenty dollars a month and his board, remarking in his usual brusque yet kindly tone, “that his clothes were pretty good for this rough occupation.”

But when the young man appeared the next morning in his farm work clothes and began shoving lumber with strong arm and resolute will, his employer observed that he was evidently not of that class of youths, of which he had some experience, who sought the easy, soft jobs in business. He thereupon concluded that the young fellow was well worth watching. That he found him not wanting in the elements that make for a successful career is evident from the fact that, three months later, he one day called him into the office, which still stands at the corner of Niagara and Throop Streets, to give him other and advanced employment. After questioning him about his knowledge of accounting, he offered him the position of bookkeeper for the firm, which was about to be vacated by the promotion of Smith Palmer to the cashiership of the First National Bank of Saginaw, recently organized by Mr. Wright.

To his new work, Mr. Davis applied his characteristic energy, native ability, and thoroughness in handling details and soon became invaluable to his employers, having the faculty of doing the right thing at the right time. A year and a half later, he was placed in charge of the affairs of Seymour Coleman, who operated the Pearson mill on the west bank of the river, a short distance north of the Wright property. In this position, he was equally successful in meeting the full expectations of Mr. Wright and his associates.

It is quite apparent that these episodes in the life of Mr. Davis were the rising tide in his affairs, which, as later events showed, were taken at the flood and led to fortune.

In the winter of 1871-72, when about to make a prospecting trip into the woods, Mr. Wright invited Mr. Davis to accompany him, and from this date begins the successful career of the younger man. Backed by the keen judgment and money of Mr. Wright, he joined his benefactor in the purchase of a valuable tract of pine land on Bullock Creek, near the village of Midland. The timber on this tract was cut, dumped into the stream, rafted to the mill at Saginaw, and sawed into merchantable lumber for the large and increasing trade of the firm. Soon after, the firm of Wright, Wells & Company was organized, which, besides its principal, Mr. Wright, was composed of Charles W. Wells, Charles H. Davis, and Reuben Kimball. They operated on a large scale at Wright’s Lake, in Otsego County, cutting white pine timber from adjacent tracts and sawing it into stock for the general trade. For eleven years, this business was conducted with great success, and in 1883, Messrs. Wells and Kimball retired, when the firm became Wright & Davis. Some time after, the remaining interests were sold to Henry Stephens & Son, who continued the lumbering operations.

About this time, the firm began blocking timber in Minnesota, and soon, after Charles W. Wells and Farnam C. Stone were admitted into the company, and the name changed to Wright, Davis & Company. Among the valuable holdings that they acquired were about seventy thousand acres of pine land in Itasca and St. Louis Counties, upon which the late Morris Quinn had discovered traces of the existence of iron ore. Although not especially interested in the ore deposits, when the company sold the timber holdings to the Weyerhaeuser interests in 1892, they reserved the fee to about twenty thousand acres, upon which was later developed one of the largest producing mines of the famous Mesaba Range, estimated to contain more than fifty million tons of ore.

Mr. Davis was also interested in the Swan River Logging Company, formed by Mr. Wright and his associates, which took a contract from the purchasers of the lands to lumber the tract and built thirty-five miles of railroad, called the Duluth, Mississippi River and Northern, with about thirty miles of logging branches, from the banks of the Mississippi to Hibbing, Minnesota, to transport the timber and iron ore to outside connections. They then entered into a contract with the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic Railroad, which had built ore docks at Allouez Bay, near Superior, Wisconsin, whereby the railroad leased traffic rights over their line, furnished the cars and motive power to haul the ore, paying for said rights on the basis of twenty cents per ton. Over the main logging road, about one hundred million feet of logs were hauled annually for several years, besides a heavy tonnage of iron ore from the mines on the lands of Wright, Davis & Company. In 1896, the firm sold their fee to the iron ore deposits and assigned their traffic contracts to James J. Hill and his associates, and soon after closed up their operations in Minnesota. Since that date, Mr. Davis has become interested in timber purchases on the Pacific Coast, of which he has acquired large holdings.

In the year 1900, Messrs. Wright and Davis, in association with D. A. Blodgett and his son John W. Blodgett, organized the Wright-Blodgett Company, Limited, and purchased a large block of yellow pine timber lands in Louisiana. In 1905, Mr. Wright and D. A. Blodgett retired from the company, leaving Messrs. Davis and Blodgett, the Estates of Charles W. Wells, Farnam C. Stone, Willis T. Knowlton, and Gilbert M. Stark, and others to continue the large and profitable business.

On August 20, 1872, Mr. Davis married Miss Edith Frink of Hebron, Pennsylvania, and brought his bride to Saginaw where they have since made their home. Two children have been born to them, Harriet, born January 14, 1875, who is now Mrs. Frederick Weyerhaeuser, of St. Paul, Minnesota, and Charles Henry Davis, Junior, a resident of Portland, Oregon, who married Miss Anita Bwines of that city in September 1913. In 1884, Mr. Davis built the spacious and pleasant home at 515 North Michigan Avenue, which in the following years was the scene of many brilliant social functions. With its clinging vines and beautiful gardens, it is one of the most attractive residences of the West Side.

It may be said of Charles H. Davis that he is a true-hearted gentleman of the old school, whose ranks are becoming only too thin in this restless age. He is kind, generous, broadminded, and possesses a clear vision respecting public matters, in which he takes much interest. Standing well above middle height, with a ruddy face and clear eye, his every word and movement testify to his physical well-being. Though very fond of a quiet home life, he has traveled extensively in this country and in Europe, but in winter he is fain to settle in his beautiful home in Pasadena, California.

Coming to Saginaw forty-five years ago, with no capital but an indomitable will, earnest purpose, and unflinching integrity, combined with industry and an interest in the business of his employer, the latter was not slow to appreciate and to reward by advancement to more responsible and lucrative positions. Mr. Davis worked his way to a high position in the business world. He stands today as an example worthy of the emulation of all young men who seek success in life and may invariably find it in paths of diligence, economy, and perseverance in any honorable calling.


Mills, James Cooke, History of Saginaw County, Michigan; historical, commercial, biographical, Saginaw, Michigan : Seemann & Peters, 1918.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top