1895 Hon. James Dempsey


Portrait And Biographical Record Of Northern Michigan
Containing Portraits And Biographical Sketches Of Prominent
And Representative Citizens
Record Publishing Co., 1895

No resident of Northern Michigan has been more closely identified with its history than the subject of this sketch, who has been an eye-witness of its material growth and an important factor in the development of its lumbering and commercial interests. He is one of the pioneers of Manistee, to which place he came August 24, 1854. During the more than forty years that have since elapsed, he has gained for himself the reputation of an upright man, a shrewd financier, efficient public officer and successful lumberman.

The Manistee Lumber Company, of which Mr. Dempsey is president, was organized in 1882, the other stockholders being Messrs. Cartier and William Wente. This is one of the most successful enterprises ever projected in the county. The mill owned by the company has all of the modern improved machinery, and has a capacity of one hundred thousand feet of lumber per day. The firm also owns a logging railroad, fourteen miles in length, located in Kalkaska County, and has considerable property in pine lands along the Manistee River, from which their mill is supplied with logs. They also have a one-third interest in the State Lumber Company of manistee, whose plant is situated on Manistee Lake, within the corporate limits of the city.

The life record of one whose history is so closely interwoven with that of the community will be of interest to our readers. Mr. Dempsey was born near the town of Roscommon, County Roscommon, Ireland, April 10, 1832. His father, Lawrence, a farmer by occupation, brought his family to America in 1847, settling in Luzerne County, Pa., near the present site of the city of Scranton. There his death occurred in 1857, at the age of fifty-nine years. His first wife, the mother of our subject, bore the maiden name of Mary Ward. Four children were born of this union, of who James is the second son, his two sisters being younger.

After accompanying his parents to this country, Mr. Dempsey went to live with an uncle at what was then known as Hyde Park (now a part of Scranton). Two years were spent with his uncle's home, and the four ensuing years in the home of Judge Nathaniel B. Eldred, in Bethany, Wayne Co., Pa. From there he came to Manistee in 1854, reaching the place on the 24th of August. The following winter he went into the woods and began logging for the Canfield Bros. The winter of 1855-56 was also spent in their employ, as foreman of one of their lumber camps. The succeeding eight winters were similarly spent, the summer seasons being devoted to the task of delivering logs to the mill of Canfield Bros.

In 1869 Mr. Dempsey formed a partnership with A.E. Cartier, now of Ludington, and engaged in assorting and driving logs on the Manistee River. Meanwhile, from 1869 until 1871, he was in charge of one of the Canfield lumber camps during the winter. In 1873, associated with Mr. Cartier, he purchased what was known as the Green & Milmo mill property, situated at the north end of Manistee Lake, and there engaged in the manufacture of lumber. In 1882 a joint company was organized under the name of the Manistee Lumber Company, of which, as above stated, Mr. Dempsey is President.

In partnership with the late John Brown, of Big Rapids, Mr. Dempsey, in 1880, commenced the erection of a mill on the east shore of Manistee Lake. Mr. Brown died before the completion of the building, and his interest was purchased by Mr. Dempsey, together with E.B. Simpson, of Milwaukee. The mill was conducted under the firm name of Dempsey, Simpson & Co. until 1887, when it was destroyed by fire, and was not rebuilt.

The property interests of Mr. Dempsey include the ownership of about ten thousand acres of pine lands situated on Pearl River, in Hancock Co., Miss. In 1880 he started the Dempsey Tug Line, of which he was the proprietor until the property was sold, in 1887. In addition to his large and important business interests, he has been closely connected with local affairs, and is numbered among the most progressive citizens of his community. In 1867 he was appointed Postmaster at Manistee, being the second Postmaster of the place, in which capacity he served until the close of Buchanan's administration. At that time there was only one weekly mail, and the office was kept wherever the Postmaster happened to be. In 1886 he again received the appointment of Postmaster. During the thirty years that had passed since he first held the position, many changes had been made in the conduct of the office. The introduction of railways had facilitated the transportation of mail matter, and the duties of the place were much more onerous.

The fellow-citizens of Mr. Dempsey, appreciating his splendid executive ability and versatile talents, elected him to the highest office within their gift, that of Mayor. He served for one term, during which time many needed reforms in the municipality were projected, and the prosperity of the place greatly enhanced. Though urged to accept the position for a second term, he preferred to concentrate his attention upon his business interests, and declined the honor. His ambition has been not in the direction of political preferment, but in the line of business, and the prosperity that has come to him is truly merited.

June 30, 1861, Mr. Dempsey was united in marriage with Miss Mary, daughter of Michael Mullen of Racine Co., Wis. They are the parents of eleven children, namely: Thomas L, who was born April 29, 1862; Mary Helen, August 21, 1868; Emily Margaret, May 30, 1865; James Ward, February 14, 1867; Henrietta, August 20, 1868; Cecilie Rose, May 1, 1870; Estella Josephine, July 17, 1872; Louis C., May 28, 1874; John Joseph, March 2, 1876; Frank Michael, July 14, 1878; and Neale, August 10, 1880. Walter M., who was born December 7, 1883, died September 20, 1886. The eldest daughter, Mary H., was married October 24, 1888, to John M. Clancy, of Racine, Wis.

In religious connections Mr. Dempsey and his family are identified with the Roman Catholic Church. Politically he is a Democrat. When he came to Manistee, lumbering was almost the only industry of the people, yet their knowledge of the business was of the slightest; but though inexperienced, they were resolute, determined and persevering, and to most of them a measure of success was granted. Few, however, were as successful as mr. Dempsey. So thoroughly has he acquainted himself with the lumber business in all its details, that he has no superior as a judge of the intrinsic value of standing timber. It may be said of him with truth that while many owe their prosperity to his timely suggestions and aid, he is indebted for his success not to any extraneous assistance nor to "luck," but to the possession and the exercise of energy, perseverance, industry and honesty.

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1895 Portrait And Biographical Record
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