With a population of just over 2,200 people Jonesville, Michigan is little more than a wide spot in the road on US 12. The scenic road is old. Before the arrival of Europeans it was the Sauk Trail. Then it was a road for pioneering immigrants looking to carve a life from the Michigan wilderness. Then it was a stagecoach road that connected the village of Detroit with Chicago. Jonesville is old. It was established in 1828. One of the towns founding residents was Benaiah Jones who settled with his family on the Saint Joseph River. Throughout the 19th century, and into the early 20th century, it remained a small, progressive agricultural village. It was here that the first “Free School” opened in Michigan and was the first school district with a defined curriculum. Vestiges from those times abound today.
The streets of Jonesville are lined with historic homes including a Victorian mansion, once owned by Ebenezer Grosvenor, Lieutenant Governor of the State of Michigan. Grosvenor was a member of the state building commission that oversaw the construction of the Capitol in Lansing. His stunning home has been meticulously maintained and is now a museum. Here is a bit of trivia. The Andrew Mack Brush Company and Jonesville Lumber are family-owned business that opened in the 1890’s. Powers Clothing is another family owned business in business for more than a century. This store is also the oldest Carhart clothing retailer in the United States.
By 1910 astute businessmen in Jonesville and communities throughout the Midwest were turning their attentions toward the manufacture of automobiles. Counted among these men was Jacob Deal, owner of the Deal Buggy Company that was established in 1865, and his son George. In 1905 George motorized a buggy, and built a few for local customers. In 1908 the Deal Motor Vehicle Company was organized. It was a short lived endeavor. George died late in the year, and the company closed its door in 1911.
The story of Jonesville and its brief attempt to become a center of automobile manufacturing was a common one during the first decades of the 20th century. Adrian in Michigan had ten manufacturers. Hillsdale also in Michigan had five. Port Huron had four. Holland had two.
With a population of more than 30,000 people, Jackson was not exactly a village in 1910. Still it was to small to be classified a city. And yet during this period Jackson was a leading manufacturer of automobiles, ancillary components, and products associated with the auto industry. David Buick launched his automotive career in Jackson. Between 1902 and 1930 more than twenty different manufacturers produced cars including the Reeves, Jackson (and Jaxon steam powered car), CarterCar, Argo, Briscoe, Hackett, and Standard Electric. Hinckley-Myers became of the largest manufacturers of specialty tools and garage equipment in the nation. Then there was Sparton.
Sparks-Withington was another company that operated in Jackson, and that is largely forgotten today. The well established company began manufacturing automotive components in 1909, specifically radiator cooling fan assemblies. By 1912 the required a larger facility and so a new factory was constructed on North Street in 1912. The first in a long list of innovations introduced by the company was the electric car horn introduced in 1911. The horn was adopted by the Hudson Automobile Company as standard equipment and within two years more than 30 other companies followed. Sparks-Withington named its products Sparton – derived from a combination of the Sparks and Withington names.
After WWI, Sparks-Withington used its expertise in electronics to branch out into another fledgling industry – radio, and in 1926 introduced the first push button and “electric eye” tuning radio. In 1926, the growing radio department moved into leased space in the old Jackson Automobile Co. factory on Horton Street and E. Michigan Ave., now known as the Commercial Exchange Building. In 1927, Sparks-Withington again needed more space, so it bought the former Brisco and Earl auto factory at what is now 2400 E. Ganson St. In 1939, Sparks-Withington again took a chance on a new product when it began field-testing TV receivers.
I share all of this as a preamble to a new chapter in the Jim Hinckley and Jim Hinckley’s America story. Last year I was privileged to speak about the early auto industry at a fund raiser for the Hackett Auto Museum in Jackson. I have been asked to return this year and in October will be speaking on Jackson’s rich automotive history at another fund raiser for the museum. And there are now discussions about me serving on an advisory committee for the museum, and to working on a variety of projects associated with harnessing the towns automotive history as a catalyst for tourism development.
Full circle. As noted on previous occasions my family has a long association with Jackson and its automotive heritage. I lived in Jackson for a few years and left for Arizona after graduating from Vandercook Lake High School and Jackson Area Career Center. Now here I am returning, sort of. I can’t imagine trading my beloved desert southwest for Michigan winters.
Life is full of twists and turns. I have to admit, when I set out on the road to Arizona and a new life so long ago, I never imagined that that road would one day take me back to Michigan.