Written in longhand by Henry Riddle I, probably about 1900. The original typist is unknown. The original hand-written letter and the typed version were found in the scrapbooks of Mary Fitz-Gerald Riddle.
The History of Merts and Riddle
by Henry Riddle I.
About April 1853 Charles Merts and H. W. Riddle commenced to learn Coach Building in Pittsburgh in one of the best shops. It was almost impossible then to buy tools. Charles Merts was the expert tool maker and had the best tools of any body maker in Pittsburgh. He also made me some fine tools that I wish I had today.
Mr. Merts, being the older of the two, when he finished his trade came to Ravenna and went to work for the firm of N. D. Clark & Co., two brothers from Connecticut who commenced business in 1831, and did a successful business until about 1861.
Henry Riddle in 1860.
War was then threatening all over the United States. When Merts left Pittsburgh for Ravenna, I left Pittsburgh for Cincinnati, St. Louis, Nashville, Louisville, etc. N. D. Clark wrote to me at Cincinnati to come and go in with Merts and buy him out. After considerable correspondence, I came to Ravenna. I wanted to go in business in Cincinnati as we could get greater prices in the large cities. So Merts and I agreed that he should stay at home and build the carriages and I could go to the cities and sell them, which contract, was faithfully carried out. I sold in Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh and in fact all the cities within 400 miles. N. D. Clark & Co. offered us their entire plant including all materials, real estate and etc. for $42,000.00.
In August 1872 Mr. Merts had some friends come to visit him from Pittsburgh and took them all out to Sandy Lake to spend the day. About the middle of the afternoon the shop got on fire and all burned to the ground without saving anything. It was a frightful sight. The only way we could get word to Merts at the lake was to send a team after them. There was no telephone in use then. There was not one drop of water that could be got and it all burned until there was nothing more to burn. We got Merts and his friends in home about dark and then such a crying there was in Merts' yard. I tried to pacify them by telling them all we wanted was good health, and we would soon recover. We had the finest lot of lumber we ever had. All seasoned, all burned. Mr. Bradley of Bradley & Smith of Chicago came here the day before the fire and looked all over our lumber and for years talked about our great loss of lumber. But the future looked dark. No bank account and nothing finished to sell.
Next morning brought over from Warren, Warren Packard and S. W. Park. They said they came to have us come to Warren as we had hardly anything left here and they knew they could raise a bonus of $5,000.00. They urged hard. They said it was the men they wanted and they would have no trouble in raising the amount if we would sign an agreement to come to Warren. Before they left we told them we could not accept it as that would take all our pleasure of making the $5,000.00.
But we were blue; no money and stock all burned.
It so happened that both Banks had held a meeting and passed resolutions to let us have all the money we needed to build up. We had a great many offers from the people around the County, but they all wanted 8% and they must have double security; the names of Merts & Riddle would not do. We finally raised what we thought would be plenty of money. We bought 8,000 bricks and went to work with a might and main and got finished by December 1st.
We got Judge Robinson to help us figure up, which was on a cold Saturday night down to zero. We got the figures made after midnight. Judge Robinson, in surprise, walked around the office several times and said, "Henry, you can never pay this debt in the world. You are now in debt $55,000.00 and have much more."
"I don't know," I said, "Uncle George just give us health. We will show you how we can knock off these notes." It was certainly a dark future. The 1st of December is a dark future for all carriage makers etc. even if they have capital to work with. Warner Read of Rootstown came up and said he had $4,000.00 we could have at 8%, but he must have double security. A number of people around the county made us similar offers, but we were determined to get the money on our own names and finally did but had to pay 8%.
On Christmas Night 1886 Gast Bros., who had a meat market where Munsey's Shop now is (about same location where Bar 10 is at present time) got on fire about daylight and burned for me seven buildings clear from Walter Lyons to Louis Schweitzers. These buildings would have made good houses. This compelled me to build Block No. 1 several years before I intended. However, new-comers to Ravenna will see that I have had my double share of fires.
No pen can describe the lumber we had burned. We had it piled high all around the alley ways and in the street. We had it in Lawrence Coleman's yard. We had it stacked full of 4-inch ash of the first quality that could grow and all seasoned. We had all thicknesses of hickory, poplar, cherry, walnut and basswood. All burned.