If it were desired to select from among the many who have been identified with lumber manufacture at Cadillac, Michigan, the one whose career would be most significant in connection with the rise and decline of pine manufacture in that region, the unanimous choice would probably be the man who was affectionately though respectfully known by every man, woman and child of that locality as "Uncle Jacob," not only because of the place he assumed in the trade and the magnitude of his operations, but also because of his relation to the community of which he was the almost patriarchal head.
During the seventeen years from 1876 to 1892, inclusive, the firms or companies in which Jacob Cummer and his son, Wellington W., were interested cut not far from 700,000,000 feet of white pine lumber, or over one-half of the amount which statistics credit to Cadillac during that period.
Jacob Cummer was born in 1823 at Toronto, where his father, John Henry Cummer, who was the first white child born in that place, was born in 1797. There Jacob Cummer attended school until eighteen years of age. After a short apprenticeship in his father's saw and flouring mill, he spent two years at Lockport, New York, in one of its flour mills, where he finished learning his trade of miller.
Returning to Toronto, he succeeded his father in the operation of the saw and flouring mill. In 1857 he moved to Watertown, Canada, and engaged in the saw mill and flour mill business with his brother. Shortly afterward he started a new flour mill at Delaware for its Toronto owner, and in 1860 moved from Canada to Michigan. At Newaygo he rented a saw and flouring mill. After three and a half years he went to Croton and rented a flour mill which he operated for three years. Then he engaged in buying pine timber land and logging as a side operation, the logs being sold to Beidler Bros, and Hackley & McGordon, of Muskegon.
Upon the completion of the Grand Rapids & Indiana railroad to Cedar Springs, in 1869, Mr. Cummer moved to that point and embarked still more heavily in the buying and selling of lumber. With the extension of the railroad he followed it up to Morley the ensuing year, and with his only son, Wellington W. Cummer, formed a partnership to manufacture the timber previously purchased in that vicinity.
During the next two years the Cummers purchased numerous tracts of timber, a number of which were in the vicinity of Clam Lake; and in 1876 they moved to that point, now known as Cadillac, the firm being J. Cummer & Son. A mill was purchased by Wellington W. Cummer in the winter of 1878-9 for the purpose of manufacturing the J. Cummer & Son timber. Jacob Cummer meanwhile had turned his attention very largely to timber lands, and every dollar of the earnings which could be spared from the business was invested in additional purchases.
The life of Jacob Cummer up to 1881 had been replete with hard work and many vicissitudes, but now began the period of the greatest prosperity in the lumbering industry of Michigan, an epoch which will probably never be duplicated in any other lumber producing section, and Mr. Cummer had by his foresight placed himself and his associate in a position where they were enabled to reap from it the greatest possible advantages.
The timber which there they utilized was of exceptional quality and yield, single sections being known to have produced 27,347,146 and 32,706,381 feet, mill tally, each. In the manufacture of this magnificent timber the most modern methods were used. The first band mills for sawing pine are said to have been installed in the Cummer saw mill (although that honor is claimed for two other mills), which also was the first mill to adopt the steam carriage feed with cutoffs in cylinder for sawing long or short logs with economy. Logging railroads were early adopted by the Cummers in their operations, and some of these were operated also for general freight and passenger traffic.
By 1893 white pine manufacture at Cadillac was nearly ended and other fields were sought. Investments were made in timber in Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana and Florida. In these investments the Cummers were joined by James N. Barnett and Harvey J. Hollister. In 1901 the Louisiana tract was closed out at a large profit, and the interests of the parties in the remaining holdings were divided among them in 1902, the Virginia and North Carolina property going to the Barnett and Hollister interests and the Florida holdings to the Cummers.
Operations were commenced in Florida in 1896. Upon the lands lumbered numerous phosphate deposits had been discovered and the development of these beds added a new industry to their enlarging operations. In 1897 the Cummer Lumber Company was organized in Michigan to operate the Florida holdings. Jacob Cummer was made its president and a member of its directorate; W. W. Cummer, vice president; A. G. Cummer, second vice president; W. E. Cummer, secretary and treasurer. The last two are Jacob Cummer's grandsons and virtually the managers of the business.
Soon after the commencement of operations in Florida the company found itself forced to pay too much for the transportation of logs from the forest to its mill at Jacksonville, and a railroad was deemed a desirable adjunct to its operations. Accordingly the Jacksonville & Southwestern railroad was built, with Jacob Cummer as its president and principal stockholder, and subsequently the stock was all acquired by the Cummers. Over this road, ninety miles in length, of standard gage, equipped with first class rolling stock for freight traffic, and extending well toward the Gulf, a vast quantity of the products of the forest and the phosphate mines have been transported to Jacksonville. The foresight of these people had laid the course of their road so that a short extension would make the line a valuable feeder and short cut for some great southern railroad system. This fact was not long overlooked, and soon negotiations were undertaken which resulted in the sale of the line to the Atlantic Coast system, which is now operating it. This road opened up a new and unsettled territory where experiment proved the soil to be adapted to fruit; and now it is lined with new and thriving farming and truck settlements and orchards containing hundreds of thousands of peach and pecan trees.
Jacob Cummer always believed that a thing worth doing at all is worth doing in the best possible manner. Of improvements, new ideas and possibilities in side products, none were ever too small or insignificant to demand his careful and painstaking investigation.
November 7, 1904, Jacob Cummer passed quietly and peacefully to the ranks of the waiting majority, death being the result of a gradual breaking down of his splendid physical forces by the all conquering hand of time. The end came while he was surrounded by his relatives in his home at Cadillac, Michigan. During his long and successful career he had made friends by the thousand, and the news of his decease brought sorrow to the hearts of all who had been so fortunate as to enjoy his friendship or acquaintance.