Mary Smith, Historic St. Marys
Last Thursday, the first seminar in the St. Marys Museum’s 2012-13 series presented the history of industries that were important in this community a century ago. The cement company and C. Richardson & Co. were described but equal emphasis went to David Maxwell & Sons, an industry established on James Street South in 1888.
David Maxwell, the founder of this firm, came to Canada from Scotland as a young married man in the late 1850s. He had been trained as a foundryman and got work in this trade in Paris, Ontario. By the time of the 1881 census, he owned his own foundry and had a family with adult sons who worked with him.
When David Maxwell opened a large, new factory in St. Marys a few years later, his company had already built a reputation as the manufacturer of agricultural implements. Maxwell’s also produced smaller household items such as churns, washing machines and lawn mowers. About 70 years later, the company phased out operations and closed and the large stone factory complex was demolished in 1987.
However, the Maxwell name lives on in association with its products, thanks to the strong interest of many collectors of antique farm equipment. The Museum’s Curator/Archives Assistant Amy Cubberley estimates that a request for information about some Maxwell item is received at least once a month year-round by mail, email or personal visit.
The Museum has some good examples of Maxwell implements, machines and appliances in the collection, including half a dozen push lawn mowers like the one shown in this week’s photograph. Apparently many more have survived through the years. Museum staff have come to believe that there are very few old sheds in the St. Marys area that do not have a Maxwell lawn mower tucked into some dark corner waiting to be discovered.
Milton Reesor took this charming photograph about 1904 showing a little boy trying to push his family’s lawn mower. Reesor took care to set up the picture so that the name David Maxwell & Sons, cast into the wheel of the lawn mower, was visible. In his photo album, it is labelled: “One of the many satisfied users of the Maxwell lawn mower.”
For more information about Maxwell’s or other early local industries, contact the St. Marys Museum, 519-284¬-3556 or firstname.lastname@example.org.