This letter was written by William Reuben Nims (1829-1903), one of several sons born to Dr. Reuben Nims (1794-1869) and Sophia Whiton (1799-1890). From this letter, we learn that William worked as a clerk in the general store kept by John L. Woods in Lexington, Michigan. Woods built the store in 1849 and took Nims as a partner in 1858. William Nims remained with the enterprise until 1880 when he sold his interest to Rudoph Papst. According to county records, the mercantile business with which Nims was affiliated provided everything from from dry goods, hardware and school books to animal feed and lumber to the community’s residents. Nims is known to have purchased a farm where he pursued an interest in the raising of thoroughbred cattle and horses.
William Nims played an important role in the in the growth of Lexington and the political development of Michigan. He served as a state senator representing the twenty-sixth district from 1865-1866, as as the village postmaster at Lexington in 1898.
William married first Susanne B. Greene before 1860 but she died before 1870. He married second 24 year-old Catherine Helena Schell (1848-1937) in July 1872 when he was 43 years old. Two years later, William had a large, heavily ornamented, two-story, red brick, Italianate home built on Huron Avenue in Lexington. The home was placed on the List of Historic Properties and is now a B&B.
June 26th 1853
R. Nims, Esq. Dear Sir,
You will have to excuse me for not writing to you before because in the first place I have not much time to write letters except Sundays and then I ought not to stay at home from church you know, and the rest of the day I am too lazy to do it, which is the principal reason for not writing. I received yours and Sophia’s letter after a while. I also received one from Eli this morning. The boat did not get here till about five this morning with the mail. The time for it is six in the evening but the captain is one of the greatest cowards in the world. The big waves of Lake Huron frighten him. It is still upon the river if the wind does blow but troubles the lake, though I have not seen waves large enough to prevent my going out in a log canoe if I wanted to very bad, and they will not come any further than Port Huron which makes it very inconvenient for men that depend upon the boat for doing their business.
You want I should give you an account of the country &c., which is something I am unable to do for several reasons. The first is it is not much of a country (nothing but shingles and boards) and another is I have not seen half of what there is. But, this to commence. No, I done that at the top of the page. But to proceed. I say that this place is a small village consisting of a number of small houses of different kinds — dwelling houses, stores, hotels, barns, pig pens, & whiskey stores. The store that I am in is the largest and best built building in the place. It is 40 feet wide and 80 long, 2 stories high. The business of the store amount to $25,000 a year. It has one clerk besides myself. There is six other stores in the place that are doing a very good business — about $10,000 a year. You will see by that we have a little business in the woods. It is lumber that does it. There is one steam mill in the village running three upright saws, shingle saws, and lath saws. The owners will clear from the mill alone this year over $25,000.
[My employer,] Mr. [John L.] Woods owns a mill and if it does as well for the rest of the year as it has so far, he will clear $10,000 from that. He runs but one saw and the shingle, lath, & siding saws. There is seven steam mills within 8 miles of here, and they are all doing a good business. And business of all kinds is lively and prosperous. The poor state of Michigan is bound to be one of the richest of the western states, possessing an immense quantity of pine lumber which will last for years. All of the northern part is covered with pine, with ridges of hard wood running through it in various directions. The soil is one of the richest kind — clay and loam. It is rather hard to clear and work it, but when done it produces one of the best of crops. The farmers are buying up the land that has been cut over for the timber and clearing it off as fast as possible. But if it is not cleared till I do it, you probably will not see much of the riches of Michigan. It looks to me like work, and I have no disposition to try that if I can possibly get rid of it. There is not farmers enough nor land enough cleared to raise one half of what is consumed here that is raised on farms. It seems a little odd to be selling farmers butter, cheese, pork, beef, dried apples, potatoes, & corn, &c., and they all bring a good price (the figures beneath tell the prices).
This place is about 25 miles above Port Huron and 100 above Detroit — some more than I supposed till I traveled it, but the distance is not much. The people go to Detroit as much as they go to Burlington from Richmond [Vermont]. Finally, this is rather a free and easy kind of place. The people buy as many again goods as they do in Vermont. It is nothing to sell a man from 25 to 50 dollars worth of goods at a time and for the same business that a man in Vermont would not get over 15 to 25 for, and still they are all doing well. It is a good place to make money but I should prefer to live in some other place to enjoy it.
The inhabitants are the most of them from Canada (that is the working men; the business men are Yankees), and they are the sons and grandsons of the old Tories that left the state after the war. They are sick of that place and are now crawling back into the land of freedom. They all come back Democrats. Why it is I cannot say. Just ask Deacon Bishop to explain it for me as I would really like to know — whether it is more congenial to their minds or perhaps it is through ignorance as they can scarcely any of them read or write. I was very agreeably disappointed in the result of the election last Monday in the Maine [Liquor] Law. ¹ This town gave 136 majority for it (we have but 8 whiskey shops in the place). The way it was done is this. The businesses got the men drunk and the Temperance men got them to vote right whether they knew it or not. The Whig party as a party were in favor of the law; the opposition came from the other side, and it has been very strongly opposed. But the Temperance men have not been idle. They have had mass meetings and meeting of masses in every county in the state, and lectures in every school house. And by the returns so far received, it has gone very strong for the law and it will be put in force.
I think I shall have to stop writing before long as I have written over most a whole sheet and it is against the creed to write more than that, but I am some like a clock — keep a going till I run down or break some joint — but my machine runs very easy at present and I will use up the steam in clearing off this letter by saying that I would like to have you write as soon as convenient. As this is a kind of a family letter, you may all of you answer it if you are a mind to.
Frank, ² I would like to see that face of yours. You said you would send my love to all the family and if I have any inquiring friends, please give them my respects with a penny. I want you to send to the New York Weekly Times the amount of a year’s subscription and have them send the paper to me. Write plain so they will not make any mistake. I would send it from here myself but I do not know the address or the amount of money to send. And it would not be safe quite as from Richmond [Vermont]. Please inform me how much it is and I will pay it sometime as I intend, if I live and have my health, to visit Richmond once more in the course of 8 or ten years.
Your son, — William
How is Virginnia?
¹ In 1853, Michigan passed a prohibitory liquor law which was ratified by 2/3 of the electorate. However, in 1854, the law was declared unconstitutional. The next year the state legislature passed a revised liquor law. The Michigan constitution of 1850 forbade the existing practice of granting licenses to sell intoxicating liquors, and in 1853, the Maine law was enacted, prohibiting the manufacture and sale of all intoxicating liquors in the state. Enforcement was difficult, however, particularly in Grand Rapids, then a rowdy lumberjack town, where the law was “violated openly and defiantly.”
² A reference to William’s brother, Frances (“Frank”) G. Nims.