ONE: Growing Up in Niles, Michigan, and the Long Road to the Dodge Brothers’ Machine Shop in Detroit
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ONE Growing Up in Niles, Michigan, and the Long Road to the Dodge Brothers’ Machine Shop in Detroit Together the two Dodge brothers spent their boyhood surrounded by the simplicity of Niles, Mich. They ran barefoot through the woods together and fished side by side with bamboo poles in the St. Joseph River. Detroit News, 15 January 1920 Two fiercely independent but inseparable redheaded brothers—John Francis Dodge and Horace Elgin Dodge—grew up in the small town of Niles on the St. Joseph River in Berrien County, which is in the extreme southwest corner of Michigan. The Dodge brothers spent most of their adult lives working as skilled machinistsandmanufacturedcompleteautomobilesforonlyabriefsixyearsbefore theirdeathsin1920.Theyemulatedtheirfather,DanielRuggDodge(1819–1897), and two uncles who had earned their living as machinists. John and Horace Dodge were the seventh generation of Dodges in America, pioneer Yankees who left New England in the middle of the nineteenth century for the economic opportunities afforded by the Midwest. John and Horace Dodge spent their childhood and youth in Niles and attended public schools there until the family moved to Battle Creek in 1882. The brothers showed independence and initiative, a willingness to work hard, and mechanical abilities from an early age. More important, John and Horace Dodge became close friends and partners in most endeavors and continued this relationship until death separated them more than fifty years later. 1 010 c1 (1-28) 11/11/10 3:36 PM Page 1 The Dodge Family in Niles The appendix to this book outlines the history of the Dodge family in America, which began in 1629. Constructing more than a bare-bones history of the Dodge family in Niles is problematic because of the paucity of detailed records. The published accounts of Dodge family life in Niles, particularly the childhoods of John and Horace Dodge, are anecdotal at best and quite unreliable. For example, Caroline Latham and DavidAgresta have Ezekiel Dodge (John and Horace Dodge’s grandfather) spending much of his life working as a skilled machinist in Salem, Massachusetts, and then moving to Niles in the early 1830s. Ezekiel, however, first appears in Niles in the U.S. Census of 1860 and had probably just arrived there.1 The 1850 federal census shows Daniel Rugg Dodge (age thirty), future father of John and Horace Dodge, living in Newbury, New Hampshire, with his father, Ezekiel Dodge, and thirty-five-year-old Lorinda Dodge, presumably his wife. The census records no children of Daniel and Lorinda Dodge. When Daniel appears in the next census, he is living in Niles with his father and two children, Charles F. Dodge (age five) and Laura Belle Dodge (age three). Lorinda Dodge died sometime between 1857 and 1860. At the 1870 census, Daniel (age fifty-one), identified as a machinist, was married to Maria Dodge (age thirty-five), born in Indiana. She was the former Maria Duval (Duvall) Casto, shown in the 1860 census as the twenty-five-year-old daughter of William and Indie Duvall Casto, both born in Pennsylvania. The 1860 census identifies Maria Duval Casto, born in Indiana, as a “seamstress.” Daniel Rugg Dodge’s second marriage yielded three children— Della Ione (born in 1863), John Francis (25 October 1864), and Horace Elgin (28 May 1868). Daniel Rugg Dodge’s family in 1870 included five children—Charles (sixteen), Laura (fourteen), Della (seven), John (five), and Horace (two). The 1880 census for Niles shows Daniel Rugg Dodge married to Maria Dodge, with only three children living with them—Della, John, and Horace.2 Daniel Dodge, along with his brothers Caleb and Edwin, earned their living in Niles as machinists. Although Niles was about twenty miles from Lake Michigan, its location on the navigable St. Joseph River enabled it to become a thriving commercial and industrial town by the 1850s. Berrien County’s population, a mere 325 in 1830, leaped to 5,011 in 1840, with 1,420 in Niles alone. By 1860, county population reached 22,378 and Niles had 2,699 residents. During the 1860s, the population of Niles increased 55 percent to 4,197, but then growth slowed in the next decade, with population increasing only 10 percent to reach 4,630 in 1880. According to the published Dodge family histories, Daniel and Caleb were business partners operating a machine shop on the St. Joseph River in Niles in the 1860s Chapter One 2 010 c1 (1-28) 11/11/10 3:36 PM Page 2 and 1870s, with Edwin working there periodically...


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