Theron A. Flower
As an example of the results of well-applied industry, directed by sound business judgment, we present to our readers a brief sketch of the life of the Honorable Theron Andrew Flower, at the present writing one of the leading merchants of the city of Pontiac. In an experience of forty years in mercantile life he has yet to effect his first compromise with creditors, his first draft is yet to be protested, and the first summons is yet to be issued from any court against him on a draft of his own contracting. His whole business life has been one steady general success. The several crises of 1842, '47, '57, and '73 passed over his head leaving him unscathed, and without a blemish on his mercantile reputation.
Mr. Flower was born in the township of Cornwall, Addison county, State of Vermont, October 17, 1814. His father, Andrew Flower, was a native of Massachusetts, and his mother, Mary Hogle, was born in the township of Shoreham, and same county and State as her son. When the boy was four years old his parents removed to St. Lawrence county, New York, where they remained two years, and then removed to Ohio, on or near the State line between that State and Pennsylvania, where they resided until Theron was twelve years of age, when, on account of the ill health of the father, the family returned to the county of Monroe, State of New York, thence to Saratoga county, and thence to Albany county, in the same State, from which place the family removed to Michigan in 1835, the son preceding his father in May of that year, arriving in Detroit on the 22d day of that month, entirely destitute of funds, save a solitary sixpence. Mr. Flower was educated in his boyhood at the common schools of the districts where he successively resided; and at the age of nineteen years took up the study of surveying, without a teacher, and mastered the science sufficiently to enable him to practice it as occasion offered.
On his arrival in Detroit he engaged with Mr. John Farmer, who was then at work on his map of Michigan, and worked upon that map portions of two years, employing his time in teaching during the winters of 1835-36 and 1836-37. In the spring of 1837 he engaged as clerk with E. Clock, of Birmingham, Oakland County, in a general store, and continued there two and a half years, and then went to Cleveland, Ohio, in the service of Mr. Clock, in 1840, and in the fall of that year bought out his employer's stock and traded thereon during the winter of 1840-41. He sold out the same in the spring following; and in the fall of 1841 bought a new stock of general merchandise, and opened a trade at Chagrin Falls, in Cuyahoga county, Ohio, where he remained during the winter of 1841-42.
In the spring of 1842, Mr. Flower returned to Birmingham, Oakland County, and engaged in trade in that place till 1849. In 1845 he bought a half interest in the Birmingham flouring-mills, and the farm attached thereto, and operated the same for nine years. In the fall of 1849 he sold his stock of merchandise, and in 1850 bought the right of manufacture and sale, for a few counties in Michigan, of Rogers' spring steel cultivator teeth, and began their introduction. In the fall of 1850 he was elected register of deeds for Oakland County, and in January, 1851, took up his residence in Pontiac. He continued the sale of the cultivator teeth during the term of his office, and at the termination of the same bought the right for the balance of the State of Michigan and the northern half of Indiana, and made the sale of the implements his chief business until 1859, building up an extensive trade by his own individual efforts, doing his own canvassing and collecting, and managing the business generally himself.
As an evidence of Mr. Flower's practical shrewdness and forethought, the following account of his business in the panic of 1857 is given. In August, when the revulsion first occurred, and the banks began to suspend, Mr. Flower had notes outstanding to his manufacturers in Pittsburgh to the amount of ten thousand dollars, falling due October and November 1 of that year. He was out on a collecting tour when the notice of the bank suspensions reached him, and the news fell like a thunderclap from a clear sky upon him. He cogitated anxiously over the subject for some hours, pacing the floor of his room, endeavoring to devise some method whereby to collect funds to meet his notes, and finally, after much tribulation and mental disquietude, resolved to take his bills, if he could collect them at all, in uncurrent funds at par, and suffer the discount, whatever it might be, pay his debts, and keep his contract, and trust to the future to make things even. With him to resolve was to act, and the next morning he called upon a customer with a bright and smiling face, covering and well concealing an anxious heart, to test his experiment. It worked to a charm; the debtor was only too anxious to liquidate the claim against him with the best he had got in the shape of currency. Mr. Flower selected from the various bank-notes laid before him such as he thought would suffer the least discount in Pittsburgh, receipted his bill, and bade his customer good-morning, both debtor and creditor being well satisfied with the mutual exchange made.
A small portion, however, only of the money received was eastern money, which, though current at a small discount in the more immediate localities of its issue, was almost worthless in the west, and the question was, how to exchange the western money, which was equally valueless away from its place or locality of issue, for eastern funds. But, undaunted, the collector pursued his appointed course, and collected several bills promptly and without delay. The next morning after the first day's experiment, he drove up behind the wagon of one of the numerous emigrants then making their way to the western States and Territories, when a happy thought flashed through his mind, and he acted upon it with the most happy results. Accosting the emigrant with a pleasant "good-morning," he inquired whither he was bound, and receiving the anticipated information, inquired further touching the kind of funds the emigrant had in his possession. This seemed to strike the traveler "all in a heap," and he confessed lugubriously he had nothing but eastern funds, and it was with the greatest difficulty he had paid his hotel charges that morning with it. Mr. Flower immediately proposed an exchange, dollar for dollar, western for eastern currency, and the proposition was joyfully accepted, and an exchange then and there made, to the again mutual satisfaction of both parties to the transaction.
Mr. Flower "shadowed" the trail of the emigrants for the next six weeks or more, making them the medium of exchange, expressing his eastern money at once to his Pittsburgh creditors, and making his collections with most pleasing ease. The results of the season's collections showed the sagacity of the plan, for at the close of the same Mr. Flower had the satisfaction of having in his pocket his promises to pay, alongside of which lay three or four thousand dollars of surplus funds of various grades of value, but which he succeeded in exchanging in the course of his business with the loss of but one dollar and a half. He had also retained a valuable contract, and passed a most trying ordeal unscathed, and established a most enviable business reputation. His trade in the cultivator teeth increased during his continuance in it to mammoth proportions, the demand for them in his territory running as high as forty-four thousand per annum, and he surrendered the business only on the expiration of the patent covering the same.
In February, 1859, Mr. Flower entered into partnership in the produce commission business in Detroit with Jacob Hendrickson, which continued two years, and was closed up without profit, owing to the disturbance in monetary matters occasioned by the breaking out of the Rebellion.
In February, 1861, Mr. Flower returned to Pontiac, and began trading in the hardware and agricultural implements line, wherein he is still actively engaged at this writing. In 1871 he associated with himself in this business his son-in-law, Charles B. Pittman, and the business is now conducted under the firm and style of Flower & Pittman.
In 1866 he became interested with other parties in the purchase of a large tract of pine lands in Montcalm county, Michigan, and has since then to the present time been engaged in the business of furnishing logs to various mills owned by other parties. In 1868 he associated with him in the lumber trade his son-in-law, Hon. John D. Norton, at present cashier of the First National bank of Pontiac, the partnership still continuing. Mr. Flower was also one of the principal founders of the First and Second National banks of Pontiac, and was the second president of each institution for a time.
In the spring of 1873 he, with three other parties, purchased thirty-eight thousand acres of valuable pine lands in Mississippi, which they still own. In March, 1877, he bought a valuable ranch of eighteen thousand acres in Lower California, situated just south of the United States boundary line, in one of the charming valleys of that region, opening out upon the beach of the Pacific, well-watered, and productive.
Besides these lands, Mr. Flower has been the owner, in time past, of several good farms in Oakland County, but has disposed of them, and is now the owner of one-half of Clinton Hall block, which he erected in 1866, an elegant family mansion on the west bank of the Clinton, on Pike street, in which he resides, and other business and residence property in the city of Pontiac.
In political sentiments Mr. Flower has ever been in sympathy with the Democratic party. In 1844 he received the appointment of postmaster of Birmingham from President Tyler, held the same through President Polk's administration, and resigned in 1849, on his disposal of the mercantile business in Birmingham. He was elected mayor of the city of Pontiac for the year 1863, and again for the years 1875 and 1876.
In the Masonic history of Michigan Mr. Flower has borne a conspicuous part. He was for many years the Eminent Commander of Pontiac commandery, No. 2, Knights Templar, being first elected to the position in 1852. In 1868 he was elected Deputy Grand Commander of the grand commandery of Michigan, and was a delegate from that body to the triennial conclave of the grand encampment of the United States, at St. Louis, and in 1869, was elected Grand Commander of the grand commandery of the State. He has also been T. I. Master of Pontiac council, No. 3, of R. and S. M.
On the 6th day of January, 1846, Mr. Flower was united in marriage to Miss Sylvia Carter Morris, a native of Bloomfield, Oakland County, Michigan, where she was born October 17, 1825. She is the daughter of William Morris, a native of Massachusetts. Five children have blessed the fireside of Mr. and Mrs. Flower with their gladness and songs, three of whom are yet surviving: Elizabeth Conkein, now Mrs. John D. Norton, whose comfortable and cozy dwelling is just opposite the homestead of her father; Mary Louise, now Mrs. Charles B. Pittman, but still a member, with her husband, of the household of her childhood; and Theron Morris Flower, also at home with his parents.
The family are attendants on the worship at Zion (Episcopal) church of Pontiac, the daughters being communicants.
During the forty-two years Mr. Flower has been a resident of Oakland County he has never been ill enough to confine him to his bed a single day, and he is now enjoying his otiums cum dignitate in the possession of a well-earned competency, honored and esteemed by his fellow-citizens of all classes.
Source: History of Oakland County, Michigan by Durant, Samuel W. Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & co., 1877.