Valley City Manufacturing
The following is from promotional material distributed by Valley City Manufacturing during Doors Open.
Valley City Architectural Furniture
The Building at 64 Hatt Street
The building into which John Pennington and Edgar Baker moved their furniture business in 1890 was already an old structure, having been built in 1846. It was not the original building on the site.
A young, Scottish engineer who had recently immigrated to Canada constructed the first building on the property in 1836. John Gartshore, at the age of 26, founded the Gartshore Foundry in partnership with a Dundas businessman named John Bell Ewart. Gartshore's choice of partner was astute since Ewart owned the water rights for the Spencer Creek and consequently controlled the only available source of power, the running water of the creek.
Operating a foundry at that time was no easy matter. One of the buildings located on the property, which is currently the staff parking lot across the creek, was swept away during a spring flood and on October 6, 1846, the entire building on Hatt Street was destroyed by fire.
Since the Company employed 110 people at the time, the possibility that the plant might not re-open was calamitous. Fortunately, both partners quickly decided to rebuild and the cornerstone, which we see in the stone center section of the existing building, must have been incorporated as the building progressed in late 1846.
In the middle of the 1800's, Dundas was the foundry and machine tool capital of what was then known as Canada West. Gartshore operated one of the most famous and innovative establishments of the time, producing machines for grain mills, marine engines for the rapidly developing steamship industry and pumps for waterworks, an example of which is still installed at the Hamilton Waterworks.
Some of the people who trained at the Gartshore Foundry included Robert McKeclmie and John Bertram who went on to build the John Bertram Company and John Inglis, the founder of the Inglis Washing Machine Company. Gartshore's second son, who trained at the foundry, established with John McClary, the McClary Washing Machine Company in London.
After Gartshore's departure in the mid 1860's, the Company was operated by a group of local businessmen either as the Thomas Wilson Company or the Dundas Foundry; depending on which source you consult. By the late 1880's, the business had floundered. There were several attempts to revive it, lastly by the Cocheran Machine Company from who Pennington and Baker purchased the building in 1890 It was virtually vacant at the time.
The Early Years
In the early 1880's, Alexander Graham Bell, had just invented a device which would come to be known as the telephone. Two Hamilton entrepreneurs, John D. Pennington and Edgar Baker, recognized the potential in this new device, and in 1884, began to manufacture the wooden boxes into which Bell mounted the parts. The new business was located at 81 James Street South, in central Hamilton.
In the same year, the two partners launched their second product line, desks for students, for the rapidly growing school system. These desks incorporated some special design features, which quickly became the standard throughout most of Canada and the United States. Products for the educational markets ultimately became one of the two most durable for the Company.
The business grew sufficiently between 1886 and 1890 that additional space was again required. Pennington and Baker occupied 64 Hatt Street, as of April of that year.
The Period 1890 To 1929
What little information is available about the business for the ten years following the move to Dundas suggests dramatic changes. The school desks and office furniture are gone, replaced by church pews and furniture. The significant changes in the Company's product line, barely a dozen years after its formation, likely arose from a disagreement between the partners over what products to manufacture. The Company had ceased to be Pennington and Baker and had become the Valley City Seating Company.
Depression and War
After 35 years in the business, John D. Pennington (hose to retire in 1929. His retirement coincided, perhaps fortunately, with the beginning of the Great Depression, which followed the economic boom that had lasted most of the 20’s. Pennington turned the Company over to his two sons at the beginning of the worst ten years of economic depression in history. By 1937, there was virtually no construction going on. The original Valley City Seating Company Limited went bankrupt in 1937.
During this period, J.M. Pigott, who headed Pigott Construction Company, was determined that valuable suppliers to the industry should not disappear. Pigott Construction became ?nancially supportive of several local firms, including Valley City to which he awarded a large contract for the new St. Thomas Mental Hospital. He also loaned Valley City the funds to ?nance manufacturing.
Under New Management
None of this was very successful and by 1941, J.M. Pigott took over the business. Mr. Pigott persuaded Nelson Crockford, age 28 at that time, to take on the management of Valley City, which according to Mr. Pigott had a great future. It is doubtful whether a more seasoned individual would have accepted the job.
In March 1941, Valley City had very few orders, 25 employees and absolutely no hope of surviving except for the Second World War, which was becoming disastrous by 1941. At that time, Otis Fenson Elevator Company of Hamilton was producing the Bofors Anti—aircraft Gun and needed wooden cases made, with shaped sockets for each part and tool, so each could be located in the dark. Valley City had equipment standing idle and thus became an essential supplier to the war.
In 1950, Pigott Construction sold Valley City to Nelson Crockford. With the war over, new products had to be found. The school, university and hospital furniture markets, fueled by the post war "baby boomers" provided the greatest growth opportunity. In the five years from 1959 to 1964 we doubled our factory size with additions of the east wing, the new office and the new shipping wing. Our total staff grew to over 200 in 1968.
New Markets and New Management - again
The school and university markets, on which Valley City had prospered for 20 years, went into serious decline in the 70's and the Company had to diversify again. New casegoods lines for dormitories and hotels were launched. Innovative new laboratory products, such as the McMaster Sub Servo system were developed. Supplying custom woodwork to health care facilities provided significant volume. In 1978, N. R. Crockford retired, to be succeeded as General Manager by his son, Bob.
It became apparent that the next opportunity for the Company lay south of the border. Health care projects in Boston and Pittsburgh provided the first opportunity, but in the early 80's, our effort shifted to laboratory furniture. The microbiology research revelation was just gathering momentum and Valley City seized an early, and it turns out, durable lead in providing "high quality solutions" to those quickly evolving research laboratories.
In the past twenty years, Valley City has solidified its position atop the laboratory furniture industry. Our client list is a "who's who" of medical research institutions including such Universities as Yale, Harvard, Cornell and Princeton. Laboratory furniture represents 80% of our business today with specialty seating and selected architectural woodwork for courthouses and libraries providing the balance. Currently, more than 90% of our work is sold to our American clients.