Biography of Farnam Chickering Stone

Farnam Chickering Stone, born into a Puritan lineage on November 17, 1836, in Vermont, demonstrated inherent business acumen from a young age, venturing from selling root beer to clerking in a drug store. Relocating to Saginaw City in 1867, Stone quickly became significant in regional commerce, partnering with Ammi W. Wright and co-founding several enterprises, notably Wells, Stone & Company, which diversified from grocery to lumber trading. Involved in numerous companies and directorships, Stone’s ventures notably contributed to Northern Michigan’s commercial history. Despite eschewing political office, Stone was civically engaged, supporting education and infrastructure in Saginaw. He donated generously to charity, advocating for Saginaw’s prosperity without seeking publicity. Stone was a steadfast Presbyterian and his death on December 5, 1893, led to a city-wide cessation of activities in his honor.

Farnam Chickering Stone, for many years associated with Ammi W. Wright in some of the most important business enterprises of the Saginaw Valley, was born in Waterbury, Vermont, on November 17, 1836. His ancestors were of old Puritan stock that contributed so largely to the settling of the country, and his great-grandfather, Major Uriah Stone, an enterprising man of impulsive nature and positive convictions, cleared a large farm near Piermont on the Connecticut River around 1763. His son, Uriah Jr., the seventh of a family of twelve children, married and reared eight children, of which Lyman was the fifth. Upon reaching manhood, Lyman married Anne Foster, by whom he became the father of three sons, of which Farnam C. was the youngest, and also three daughters.

Early in youth, soon after acquiring such education as was afforded by the district schools, Farnam evinced an ability for business, one of his first ventures being the sale of root beer, well known in New England. He gathered the roots and herbs, his mother brewed the concoction, and he sold it, using the proceeds to defray the expenses of an older brother in school at a neighboring academy. Home-made candy also, at one time, was a source of some revenue. His first position in business was a clerkship in a drug store, and in 1854 he went to Hardwick, a nearby town, where he remained for two years, returning to his native place to take a partnership in a general store.

In September 1867, he sold his interest in this business, came to Saginaw City, and entered the employ of Northrup, Wells & Company, engaged in the lumbermen’s supply business. Soon after, when the company was reorganized, Mr. Stone became a member, and the name was changed to Wells, Stone & Company, with Ammi W. Wright as a leading spirit in the enterprise. Their special business was that of wholesale grocers, to which was added the trading in pine lands, logs, and lumber, but in 1888 the Wells-Stone Mercantile Company was formed to take over the grocery and lumbermen’s supply interests. Later, a branch house was established at Duluth, Minnesota, which, along with the parent concern, grew to be of great magnitude.

His interests in this company acted as a nucleus for other partnerships and corporations, including Stone, Nester & Company, Thomas Nester & Company, A. W. Wright & Company, with Willis T. Knowlton and others, the Swan River Logging Company, Wright, Davis & Company, with Charles H. Davis and Gilbert M. Stark. The record of these various companies, with all their ramifications, would encompass much of the commercial history of Northern Michigan and the Northwest. In addition to these extensive interests, he was a director of many corporations, vice-president of the Michigan Salt Association, and in the late eighties, he was associated with A. W. Wright, W. R. Burt, W. C. McClure, and others in building the Cincinnati, Saginaw & Mackinaw Railroad, which is now a part of the Grand Trunk System.

The firm of Wells, Stone & Company, together with Albert M. Marshall who left Saginaw for Duluth, formed the Marshall-Wells Hardware Company, of Duluth, and in twenty-two years has become one of the largest wholesale hardware houses in this country. Mr. Wright, as surviving partner of the former company, with A. L. Ordean and F. A. Patrick, of Duluth, in 1896 organized the Stone-Ordean-Wells Company, and united two other corporations engaged in the wholesale grocery business. Since that time, this company has grown to be one of the largest of its kind in the Northwest.

Although positions of honor had no charm for him, Mr. Stone always took an active interest in state politics, and was a member of the Republican State Committee for some years prior to his death. In 1890, when the twin cities of Saginaw were united in one corporate body, he accepted cheerfully an appointment as a member of the Board of Public Works, and personal business was never made an excuse for shirking his duty when the city required his services, which were often arduous and always rendered without thought of commendation or reward. His public spirit was also manifested in his acceptance of a position on the board of the Union School District, on which he served for five years on the building committee. The Stone School, in the north end of the city, was erected during his tenure of office, and is a monument, for generations to come, to his labors and active interest in the cause of education.

On October 23, 1860, Mr. Stone married Miss Cornelia Pearson, a sister of James H. Pearson who was well known in Saginaw as an early business associate of Mr. Wright. One son, Edwin Pearson Stone, was born to them, and still lives in Saginaw engaged in lumbering. Mrs. Stone died in 1873, after which he married Miss Harriott F. Chadwick, on September 22, 1874. From this marriage, there was one son, George Chickering Stone, who now lives in Duluth and is connected with a number of large business enterprises; a daughter, Mary Cornelia, who died in infancy; and Kittie Louise, who is now Mrs. George Grant, Jr., and resides in the family home at 403 North Michigan Avenue, on the site of the old Webster House, the first pretentious hotel in Saginaw City. Mrs. Stone died on December 7, 1908, mourned by many true friends.

In the community in which he lived for so many years, Mr. Stone was a potent business and social factor, and in a business as well as in a social sense, he was a unique personality. In his broad and comprehensive mind, charity, kindness, generosity, and amiability were happily combined, and in every enterprise that had for its aim the prosperity and well-being of Saginaw, in every project calculated to ameliorate the conditions of his fellow-men, he was among the foremost advocates. In every relation of life, his course was characterized by an unswerving devotion to duty, and the probity and industry which were among the most prominent traits of his character are patterns for emulation. He was a friend of the humblest honest man with whom he was brought in contact, the helper of young men who aspired to positions of responsibility, and the benefactor of the unfortunate. Without political ambition, he furnished the sinews of war for the success of the principles he believed were true, and his large gifts to churches, colleges, and other good objects which commended themselves to his judgment were without ostentation or parade, without boasting or self-gratulation, but rather as if prompted by the simple sense of duty as he saw it.

His religious affiliations were with the Presbyterian body, and he was a faithful member of the First Presbyterian Church during his entire residence in this city of more than twenty-six years. After a brief illness, on December 5, 1893, his useful and well-spent life was closed. Surrounded by his family and closest friends, he peacefully passed away, leaving a whole city to mourn his loss. So well was he beloved and honored that, on the day of his burial in Oakwood, the public schools, the courts, and business houses of his home city were closed as a last tribute of respect which the living owe the dead.


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

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