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Charles Mears
Charles Mears c 1856.jpg
Charles Mears, c. 1856
Born March 16, 1814
Died 1895
Resting place Michigan
Nationality American
Occupation businessman, entrepreneur
Known for developing western Michigan
Parent(s) Nathan Mears & Lucy Mears
Relatives Thomas Mears, grandfather

Charles Mears was a Michigan lumber businessman, a Chicago, Illinois capitalist, and a developer of the western part of Michigan. Mears State Park in Pentwater is named after him.

Early life

Mears was the son of Nathan Mears and his wife Lucy. Mears had an older brother, Edwin. His next brother, Nathan, was younger than him, with his sister, Lucy Ann, younger yet and the youngest sibling was Elbert (also known as "Albert"). His grandfather was Thomas Mears, a minuteman in the American Revolutionary War. Mears was born in North Billerica, Massachusetts on March 16, 1814. His mother's family had the Scottish name of Levistone; which was anglicized to "Livingston." Mears's father was, from 1821 to 1828, one of the town’s fathers. He built and operated a sawmill, owned several farms, and kept a store.

In 1795, ground was broken at Billerica Mills for the Middlesex Canal. Opened in 1802, it was the first canal in the United States. Mears’s father owned one of the locks on the canal. Mears and his brothers became familiar with canals, canal locks, control of water power for dams, and mill machinery because of their father’s operations on the Concord River.

Mears and his siblings were not allowed to follow their own desires, which was the New England custom of the time. Mears used to look forward to "Training Day" because then he could get "a card of gingerbread." He was ambitious, revealing his early entrepreneurial trends. He was known to have said he was willing to "run a mile for a nickel."

Unfortunately, Mears and his siblings were left orphans very early in their lives by the death of their mother in 1827 and of their father a year later. Guardians were then appointed to take care of them. They were sent to the academies of that day to finish their education. Mears went to country schools to learn his basic schooling and then went to trade school in Lowell, Massachusetts to learn the cabinet trade.


One account has Mears in the lumber and provision trade in Massachusetts in 1835 and 1836. By then Mears and his brothers, like most of the young men of New England, were looking toward “the West” for new life adventures. In 1836 Mears's sister married and the brothers no longer felt obligated to stay in Massachusetts. They studied the “Farmer's map of Michigan” and decided to move to the newly opened western territory of Michigan. Mears and his brothers went to Paw Paw, Michigan, because of the Paw Paw River and its navigational capabilities to Lake Michigan.

They decided to start a general merchandise business in Paw Paw which they called E. & C. Mears & Co. In the fall of 1836 they bought a large and general stock of goods which they shipped from Detroit. The steamer carrying this first set of goods was routed through the Straits of Mackinac and then down south on the western coast of Michigan to St. Joseph and eventually to Paw Paw. However their first stock shipment was broken into at Mackinac and much of it stolen. They took a stand and eventually prospered in Paw Paw in spite of the hardships. In 1837 their youngest brother Albert came to join them from the East.

The business Mears and his brothers did consisted of buying and selling anything which the few white settlers and the many Indians might wish to purchase or dispose of. Game was plentiful and a large business was done in furs. The firm may have also speculated in land and village lots, since the records of the county recorder indicate that they did acquire title to land which they later sold.

Mears soon became restless having heard of locations farther north along the Lake Michigan shoreline better suited for general business and lumbering. He was anxious to reach this virgin territory in order to obtain some of this valuable pine timber in advance of the speculators already coming in large numbers. An exploring expedition was decided upon by Mears and his older brother. A small craft was built for the purpose of navigating the rivers going north and Lake Michigan. The sixteen-year-old Albert was also eager to go. They added to the party two other men called Charles Herrick and Benjamin True or Trew. It was on or about May 8, 1837 when they left Paw Paw and went as far north as Manistee. Going into 1838 they scouted out many areas with lumber mills along the Lake Michigan western shoreline. They came back down south and settled initially in an area now called Whitehall, Michigan.

In the next 25 years, Mears would purchase about 40.000 acres (0.16187 km2) of land in Michigan, construct and operate 15 mills, and build five harbors along the western coast of Michigan for the transport of his lumber. Mears was known as the "Christopher Columbus of the West Coast."

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