Saturday, 16 November 2013


We will have to go back a matter of sixty years to find the time that the Angels of Mercy came to Hamilton and made their home in this city. But let us briefly tell how they happened to make Hamilton their home. Away back early in the sixties, three Americans, H. L. Higby, James Rockewell, and A. L. Woodruff came over from the State of New York for the purpose of starting a felt hat factory, there being nothing of that kind in Canada in those days. The situation of Hamilton made it a desirable place for manufacturing industries, being located at the head of navigation and the Great Western railway opening up western Canada  and the great west of the neighboring republic. Hamilton rejoiced because the American capitalists selected it as the home of such an important industry. The site selected for the factory was at the north end of Wellington street, formerly occupied by the Sawyer’s, manufacturers of agricultural implements. The new industry was considered to be one of the most important in Canada. It gave employment to not fewer than 150 persons, male and female, paying an average of $3 a day, who were constantly employed in the manufacture of felt hats, and the success which attended the enterprise promised much for the future. It was only a year previous to the establishment of the Hamilton factory that felt hats had to be imported from New York or Europe to supply the Canadian market. The new industry turned out from thirty-five to forty hats everyday of superior quality, for which a home market was readily found. The firm used 100,000 skins of the finest wool, 500 cords of wood, 600 tons of coal, and 300 barrels of alcohol each year. The value of the hats manufactured in a year amounted to about $150,000, which at that early date of Hamilton industries was considered to be a great and prosperous enterprise. The temporary embarrassments under which Hamilton labored after passing through the great commercial and industrial panic of 1857 was enough to disheartened any people, but Hamilton had in those days a class of men of business enterprise. Had they not built the first important line of railway in Canada, from the Niagara to the Detroit rivers, a few years previous, 220 miles; Hamilton to Toronto, 37 miles; Harrisburg to Guelph, 28 miles; Komoka to Sarnia, 81 miles; making in all 345 miles? The total amount of capital raised and spent in the construction of the railways was $25,195, 727, and the Great Western began paying dividends in less than five years after it was opened for traffic. Now the government, after paying millions of dollars of the public money in paying running expenses, are discussing the question of buying up the old road.
There came with the firm of A. I. Woodruff and Company, as a Bookkeeper and financial manager, a bright, young business fellow from Utica, New York, George Harvey Bisby. In time, the company added to its business of felt hats making, the buying of wool. And here is where William Dubert Long came into the life and enterprise of Hamilton. Mr. Long was a native of the state of Missouri, being born in Farmington, in November, 1846, which brings him up to the ripe age of seventy-nine years – and he is not what might be called an old man yet, for his business faculties are as bright as when he landed in Hamilton in the month of July, 1862, with only $12 of cash capital to begin a home in a strange country. A bit of Mr. Long’s history may not be out of place in connection with this story. His father owned a laundry in Farmington, Missouri, in which Mr. Long worked during his boyhood years. Not having a liking for that business, he secured employment as a steamboat hand on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and like Mark Twain became a river pilot in time. Early in the beginning of the American civil war, he quit the river and came to Hamilton where he secured employment with the firm of A. L. Woodruff and company at the munificent salary of $18 a month, out of which he paid $17 a month for his board. When he left St. Louis, he had about $135, with which to pay traveling expenses, and by the time he got employment, his cash capital was seriously diminished till it got down to around $15. He brought a letter of introduction to A. Murray, which he never presented. He began as a clerk in a store, receiving his board, but no wages, where he remained till the opening came in the hat factory. Being brought up on a Missouri stock farm, Mr. Long was an expert in sheep and wool, and when the Woodruff company started purchasing wool, Mr. Long was substantially put in charge of that department. During the American civil war, Mr. Long was made an agent of the United States government for the purchase of horses for the cavalry and artillery service; and here knowledge gained in his youth on the Missouri farm was brought into play to its fullest extent, as every man who had an old plug of a horse tried to palm it off on the government, but the farm lad was too expert a judge of horses to permit of the grafters getting in their work.


When the Woodruff company entered into the wool-buying business, they opened an office on James street north, opposite the old Mechanics’ institute, and it proved to be a practicable undertaking. At the close of the American civil war, the Woodruff company disposed of their hat factory and wool trade, and the members of the firm returned to their old home in New York. In the year of 1867, W. D. Long had a cash capital of $135 to begin with, but he had a good friend connected with one of the local banks who promised to help out the new firm. The first day they opened business, their purchases were very heavy, and when they closed business in the evening to their astonishment, they counted up a profit of not less than $500. Wool was wool in those days, and the man of experience knew how to buy. The banker, who was Mr. Long’s friend cashed the new firm’s checks as fast as they were presented, and the farmers who had wool to sell went home that night with the cash in their pockets, a thing they had not been accustomed to do, as wool in those days in Canada was sold on commission by brokers, and the farmers had to wait for the returns before getting their checks. The cash way of doing business by the new firm of wool buyers soon became known among the farmers, and the result was long lines of wagons, loaded with wool, stood in front of the warehouse waiting to be passed on and delivered. The first warehouse soon became too small, and the firm leased that part in the old stone barracks on James street, now occupied by Balfour, Smye and Co., afterward moving into larger quarters on Macnab street. About twenty years ago, the firm of Long and Bisby bought the present location on the corner of Main and John streets, formerly owned by John Stuart, who occupied it as a wholesale grocery, enlarging the building to its present proportions, and the business has continued in the same place down to the present day. Mr. Long was an expert in wool, and was an authority among the large buyers in the United States and Canada, and the result was that the bulk of the wool raised in Canada substantially passed through the house of Long & Bisby. The local firm was interested in a number of the largest woolen mills in the United States and Canada, which gave them a standing with the trade as well as adding largely to their daily income.


William Dubert Long’s ancestors originally came from Tennessee into Missouri. His great grandmother taught one of the first Sunday schools west of the Mississippi river. The family were among the early settlers of Farmington, and followed the avocation of farmers. His father added tanning to farming and brought his boys as practical tanners. W. D. Long liked farming well enough during the summer months, but when it came to spending the winter in a tannery, it was a little too much for his aesthetic tastes. Like all boys brought up in river towns, he preferred the jolly life of a salesman to even that of a tiller of the soil. For some time he traveled for a wholesale house, and would have been successful in trade but the tuneful calliope on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers were like the bugle notes to a soldier’s heart. It was back to steamboat life for him. Being a bright young fellow, he was soon advanced from a deck hand to a more respectable position till he finally became a river pilot. Missouri was not a comfortable state to live in at the beginning of the civil war, especially for men who were loyal to the old flag, and Mr. Long preferred to seek a temporary home away from the sound of the war drums and the roar of shot and shell, so he came to New York state, and finally settled in Hamilton, arriving in this city in the month of July 1862, with a cash capital of $12. Times were hard in Canada on account of the civil war, and work was scarce, but such little things did not disturb the young Missourian, and when he could not find a job with a pay envelope attachment, he took one in a store as a porter for his board. As stated above in this bit of history, Mr Long did not have to wait for a paying job, for it soon came his way in the Woodruff hat factory, at $18 a month, out of which he paid $17 a month for his board and washing, leaving him a balance of one dollar at the end of the month.
Five years from that time, Mr. Long, with a cash capital of $135, became the partner of his future father-in-law, George Harvey Bisby, in what finally became the leading wool purchasing house in Canada. History does not tell the amount of cash Mr. Bisby was able to put into the business, but it is very reasonable to suppose that it no more than equaled Mr. Long’s investment. The firm of Long & Bisby was well-mated, working in harmony with each other in all their speculations, Mr. Long being the buyer and seller and Mr. Bisby being the financial manager and bookkeeper. In time there was another tie that bound the two members of the firm closer together. Mr. Long had a dear sister living down in old Missouri, and her brother not being in the marrying line, she was finally induced to come to Hamilton and keep house for him. Mr. Bisby fell in love with the Missouri girl, and in time, she became housekeeper for husband and brother, thus uniting closer the fortune of the firm of Long & Bisby, which continued till the death of Mr. Bisby of the 11th of May, 1900.

On the sixth day of April, 1903, Messrs. Long and Bisby decided to share the burdens of business with younger hands. They did not need any new capital in the business, but had a desire to help a few faithful employees who had been long in their service. A limited company was organized, comprising W. D. Long, George Harvey Bisby, Horace Long, George Matheson and Benjamin Lewis. Horace Long was a younger brother. He died in Hamilton in October 1903. Benjamin Lewis also died a few years after being admitted into the firm.
The business at the present time is substantially managed by Dubert Long Wilson, George Matheson and William Hunt. Wilson and Hunt are nephews of Mr. Long and Mrs. Bisby. George Matheson came from Scotland in 1873, and shortly after his arrival in Hamilton entered the service of Long & Bisby, that being his first job in Canada. At the beginning of the late war, he was appointed by the Dominion government as official appraiser of wool when the semi-embargo was put on the wool trade between Canada and the United States, and is a director of the board of wool dealers of America.
Mr. Long is the owner of the old home farm in Farmington, Missouri and he considers it one of his most valuable assets. It was the home in which he was born, and now and then he takes pleasure in visiting the scene of his boyhood. Mr. Long and Mrs. Bisby have one brother and one sister still living at the old home in Farmington, and it is needless to say that they are generously provided for.
To the credit of Mr. Long, he is not ashamed of his original entry to Hamilton with just a modest capital. Too often do the fortunate ones forget the days of their small beginning, and when wealth comes to them later in life they cannot remember the days when a dollar bill seemed as large as a roll of wall paper. Mr. Long was only 22 years of age when he left his Missouri home to seek fortune in Canada, and he made good from the start. He was full of day’s work, and when he could not get wages on account of the hard times then prevailing in Hamilton, he worked as a humble porter for his board. Such men were not born to remain at the foot of the ladder, for in less than fifty-seven years he climbed to the top, and now in the afternoon of life he can say with heartfelt gratitude, “Soul, take thine ease.” He became a man of independent fortune in fifty-seven years. And no man can say that ever a dollar of his wealth was wrung from the unfortunate or poorly paid employee. He had the giving hand of benevolence. And in his sister, Mrs. Bisby, he had a generous help-mate in dividing with the unfortunate.
          On Several occasions, we have given in these Saturday Musings brief sketches of the origin of the mountain sanatorium, and herewith we will merely recall what has been done by a few generous souls in Hamilton to give back life and hopes to the hundreds of afflicted ones who have entered its doors who never again expected to mix with the world. The sanatorium began in a tent on the mountain side with a few persons afflicted with that terrible disease, the white plague. John McMehemy, Hamilton’s efficient relief officer, should receive all the credit for its birth. Then the wife of one of Hamilton’s leading business men – whose name would be told if she would only permit it – was inspired with the idea of building a special hospital  for those who were supposed to be incurable, and to this object, husband and wife contributed, not only the entire cost of the building, but also its furnishings and equipment. It was the inspired gift of a dear mother’s heart to the mothers of children and friends from whom all hope had gone.
          Then came the suggestion from the firm of Long & Bisby that Hamilton should have a sanatorium for the treatment of tuberculosis, and following the suggestion came prompt action by those benevolent men, purchasing a farm on the mountain brow and deeding it, free of all charges, to the Hamilton Health association. And this was not all of their initiatory giving, for many of the early shacks and more permanent buildings were paid for by them. They were consistent contributors to the sanatorium, and always liberally. Even after the death of Mr. Bisby, his good wife took up his part of giving. But the crowning gift of all was a recent one. There was great need for a comfortable home for the women nurses employed in the hospitals of the institution, and figure as low as possible, it would take $75,000 to erect a substantial building. The board of directors were at their wit’s end as to where the money was to come from. The government was not in a giving mood, and while it was agreed that the home was a necessity, not a dollar could be squeezed out of the public treasury.
          The Missouri angels of mercy came to the rescue, and when the project was explained to Mr. Long, he promptly decided in favor of it. After consulting with his sister, Mr. Long notified the board of trustees to go on with the erection of a home for the nurses, and to draw upon him for $75,000 to pay the cost. There was joy at the next meeting of the board when the story was told of the voluntary gift of such a large sum, and it was hoped that the foundation would be ready when the Prince of Wales recently visited Hamilton, that he might take part with Mr. Long and Mrs. Bisby in laying the corner stone.
          Just think of it, Hamilton people, what a blessing was the coming to this old town, nearly sixty years ago, of a Missouri boy, contributing with his kind-hearted sister and her husband more than one hundred thousand dollars for the founding of a sanatorium for the treatment of the white plague! God bless them! Their ban account is still overflowing with wealth, for well have they learned the lesson that “giving doth not impoverish.” May they live many years to enjoy the pleasure of seeing the benefits of the sanatorium in restoring thousands to health.

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