Saturday, February 12, 2011

William Clark Chapman

Most of us who live in Rochester admire the stately Chapman House as we travel down Walnut Street, and the Chapman name is visible elsewhere in our community - in the names of subdivisions, the name of a former lake, and even in the name of a recently-opened restaurant. So who was William C. Chapman, whose home still stands at 311 Walnut?

William Clark Chapman was born in Proctorsville, Vermont on March 1, 1866. He was the third of four children and the youngest son of Clark Howard Chapman and Ellen M. Sherwin. William Chapman's father was a prominent man in Windsor County, Vermont; he was an attorney, delegate to a state constitutional convention, and Register of the Probate Court. The family variously lived in Ludlow, Cavendish, and Proctorsville, Vermont, all neighboring towns within Windsor County, until 1882, when Clark H. Chapman decided to move his family to Detroit.

Young William was sixteen years old when his family came to Michigan. His older brother and only living sibling, Charles Sherwin Chapman, was eighteen. William attended a business college and then took a position as bookkeeper for Detroit lumber and real estate magnate William C. Yawkey. He also spent three years learning the lumber business in Wisconsin before returning to Detroit. In 1891, Yawkey and William's brother, Charles S. Chapman, organized the Western Knitting Mills in Detroit and brought William on board as secretary-treasurer of the company. WKM moved to Rochester in 1896, building a state-of-the-art factory on Water Street at the foot of Fourth, and establishing itself as the community's primary employer for a generation. Both Charles and William Chapman built impressive homes in the village of Rochester.

Chapman married Ada Josephine Barney in his old home of Ludlow, Vermont in 1890, and the couple had one son, Carroll Barney Chapman. Though William and Ada Chapman made their home in Rochester for almost all of their married life together, they remained in close touch with their family and friends in Vermont and made frequent visits to their childhood home.

Charles Chapman died in 1912, but William continued with Western Knitting Mills until the company closed about 1927. He also owned and developed many parcels of real estate in Rochester, and was involved in a variety of community organizations. When William Clark Chapman died, at the age of 80, on May 20, 1946, his remains were sent back to Ludlow, Vermont for burial with other members of the Chapman and Barney families.

This portrait of William Clark Chapman is from the collection of Rod and Susan Wilson.

1 comment:

  1. I just heard that the Chapman House is going to be meticulously restored both inside and out! Better yet, word on the street is that the new owners intend on making the building and grounds accessible to the public- YES! I've been waiting for years for someone to "swoop in" and restore one of our city's greatest jewels. It's been looking a little worse for wear in recent years and I'm excited to see it shine once again.