Buck family furniture company history

Copied from The State Journal – Lansing, Michigan – Saturday, March 16, 1929

Three Generations Have Carried on Business History of Michigan Furniture Store, From Log Shop Started in 1848, to Present Establishment

From a small cabinet making shop started Oct. 8, 1848, to the present large furniture store which several days ago voluntarily petitioned the courts for liquidation is briefly the beginning and the end of the M. J. and B. M. Buck company, Michigan’s oldest furniture dealers.

Daniel W. Buck, the founder, was a native of New York state, born in East Lansing, Tompkins county, April 21, 1828. He was a son of Daniel Buck and a grandfather of the Rev. Daniel Buck, who served as an American soldier in the Revolutionary war. Daniel Buck, the father, was born in New York state, and became a substantial citizen of East Lansing, and was a deacon in the Baptist church there.

That old New York state community has an interesting relationship with the present capital city of Michigan and that was due chiefly to members of the Buck family. Levi Buck, a elder brother of Daniel W., early in the decade of the forties came out to Michigan in company with a number of other pioneers from Tompkins county, including an uncle, Joseph North. Their chief reason for coming to this wilderness was to test some wonderful stories that had been spread over Tompkins county by a party of hunters, who had fabricated a glowing account of a city which had been founded by them at the junction of Grand and Cedar rivers, the site of the present Lansing city.

This party of hunters in the strength of their representations (or rather misrepresentations) succeeded in selling some lots of their supposed city to citizens of East Lansing. The substance of their stories and the city itself were however, a product of vivid imagination, largely prompted by mercenary motives, and the entire location which they described was little more than a swamp.

Two Come On

A little later those who had been inducted to buy lots at East Lansing organized a party to go out and take possession and they reached Detroit before they had learned the real truth about the swindle. So discouraged were they that some of the party turned back but Levi Buck and his uncle Joseph North, determined to make the best of a bad bargain, and accordingly came out to the location of the town that had been pictured to them, and there took up tracts of government land. It was Levi Buck and Joseph North who afterwards really established the site of the town of Lansing, which they named in honor of their old home village in New York state.

In 1847 Daniel W. Buck, a young man not yet 20 years of age, whose experience had come from a quiet life in Tompkins county with an education in the local schools, set out for Michigan to visit his brother at Lansing and incidentally to procure employment. After a short stay he found that he was “broke” so then and there he decided to remain with the young community. Having served an apprenticeship in the cabinet maker’s trade at Ithaca, N.Y., he engaged in business at his trade. Thus the founding of the M. J. and B. M. Buck company located in Lansing for over 80 years.

His first shop was a hunter’s cabin, 8 by 12 feet, 5 feet high and constructed of logs without windows. In those cramped quarters he fitted up a bench and began work on his first piece of furniture Oct. 8, 1948. The first article made in the primitive shop was a table with folding leaves and was sold for $4.

This table was made of red cherry wood. The tree that supplied the material for it once spread its branches over the bank of a “gully” at the intersection of what is now the northwest corner of Michigan and Washington avenues.

Build Log Shop

After the old cabin had been his headquarters for about six weeks, Mr. Buck’s brother built a log and board shop at what is now the northeast corner of Michigan and Washington avenues. Daniel W. Buck had acquired the land there and later sold the lot for $300. The same corner today is regarded as the the most valuable piece of real estate in Lansing, located as it is in the very heart of the business section. Somewhat later he acquired the lot on Washington avenue where the Beck clothing store now stands but sold that for a $20 gold piece.

Six months from the humble beginning of his work as a cabinet maker he was employing a force of 10 men in his furniture factory, and from year to year his business increased until there was from 40 to 60 employees under his general direction. In 1856-? a large factory was erected on the northwest corner of Washington avenue and Ionia street, the site of the present store building. For many years the factory continued to produce all kinds of furniture, much of it hand-made and with a reputation for durability and finish such as only the highest priced goods of the present day could equal. The first bureau manufactured in Mr. Buck’s shop was sold for a load of potatoes, an equivalent of $12. The output of the factory was sold through his own retail shop.

There were no ledgers in those days and Mr. Buck kept what he called memorandum, not on a “memo pad” but on the wall paper that covered part of some of the walls of his store. From the wall he would transfer his ??????? into a day book.

In those early days the advertising columns of the papers were of much greater interest than the news column for the reason that the conception of the news. In the pioneer days was vastly different from that of the present. The merchant announcing his wares and his bargains provided the real news of the day. Mr. Buck was one of the very first merchants to realize the advantage of advertising which was done mostly by the distribution of handbills. But even as early as his day, wood “cuts” were used for display, although it was rare indeed to see a two column “ad.”

In 1880-?, largely due to the invasion of machine and corporation methods of manufacture, Mr. Buck discontinued the manufacturing end and devoted his time entirely to selling furniture at retail. For 54 years he was in the business on one site and at the time of his death, March 30, 1908, was the oldest business man in point of active experience in Lansing, his aggregate of service comprising 61 years.

Other Interests

While his career as manufacturing and merchant was sufficient to give him distinction among Lansing’s citizens. It by no means included all his activities in the community.

To him is due the credit for the erection of the Buck opera house, which was dedicated in March 1873, and opened the following May by Edwin Booth, and for many years was the home of theatrical and musical entertainment in the city. Mr. Buck and his son, Mayton J., conducted this opera house until 1891.

In politics a Democrat, Mr. Buck took an active part in the affairs of his party. He was a member of the board of alderman during the early 70’s and in 1874 was elected mayor of the city, followed by re-election in 1875. He was again elected to the office of mayor in 1886.

He saw Lansing grow from a primitive village of less than 200 inhabitants to a city of 65,000 and it that growth his own business enterprise was a conspicuous factor. From a cabinet maker with a log cabin shop, located practically in the woods, his business had been developed to a furniture factory employing over half a hundred workmen and after his retirement from manufacturing he continued as of the city’s foremost merchants throughout his long and eventful career in Lansing.

He erected the present store building in 1875 and shortly afterward took in his two sons, Mayton J. and Bailey M. Buck who continued to operate the business successfully after the death of their father. In 1914-? the present building was remodeled and numerous developments have since been made.

Since the deaths of Bailey Buck in 1920 and Mayton Buck the following year the business has remained in the same family and has continued under the manager-ship of B. Russell Buck, son of Bailey Buck.

D. W. Buck was also the founder of the first undertaking establishment in the city which he conducted in connection with his furniture store. This part of the business however will be continued under the same directorship as formerly.

Transcription of Photo Caption:
Here is shown left to right, Daniel W. Buck, founder of the present M. J. and B. M. Buck company, Mayton J. Buck and Bailey M. Buck, his two sons who succeeded him in the business and B. Russel Buck, son of Bailey M. Buck, who is the present head of the institution. The three generations in the operation of the local store, have given Lansing the honor of being the home of the oldest furniture establishment in the state. This long record is about to end, the company having decided to close out its furniture line. In the changes made on Lansing’s “main street” by time, few have been of greater historical interest than this one.


original article

original article


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