This biography of Sidney Stevens was extracted from volume IV of the History of Utah by Orson F. Whitney and published in 1904
Synonymous with business enterprise and honorable dealing, is the name of Sidney Stevens; an Englishman by birth, but a settler in Utah as early as 1863. He came from Somersetshire, where he was born at the town of Nunney, near Bath, June 18, 1838. His parents were James and Hannah Martin Stevens; the father a fairly well-to-do leather merchant, owner of a property known as Castle Green, adjoining Nunney Castle, on which he had a shoe factory, a residence and a number of tenant cottages. Sidney was educated at the Turner Institute, in his native town, a school of high repute in the county of Somerset.
There were two factions in this school, one composed of young men residents of Nunney, and the other of young men of the neighboring town of Wanstrow. The latter were looked upon by the resident youths as interlopers and rivals. Between the factions a feud sprang up, and one day, during the absence of the chief professor, who had left the school in charge of his assistant, the Nunney students determined to make an assault upon the Wanstrowites, who were the weaker party. The attack was to be made just as they were leaving their boarding house, at the close of the school week, to return to their own town to spend Saturday and Sunday with their parents. As they issued forth they were immediately surrounded. A fierce fight was imminent, when Sidney Stevens, mounting the iron fence of the boarding house and addressing the Nunney boys, appealed to their sense of honor and love of fair play, urging that if they conquered the weaker party it would bring no credit to them for courage, and would disgrace the school and cause the ring-leaders to be expelled. This sensible speech had the desired effect, and a peaceable adjustment of differences followed.
Young Stevens left school when about fifteen, in order to assist his father. At the solicitation of his Wanstrow schoolmates and their parents, who greatly admired the stand he had taken at the time of the pending melee, he embarked in business at that town as a manufacturer of boots and shoes, also as a dealer in grain. His business, fostered by such friendly patronage, grew rapidly, and he was soon able to employ quite a number of hands.
One of his workmen was a young Latter-day Saint, against whom prejudice ran so high that his fellow employees, incited by one of their number, combined against him and demanded his discharge, telling their employer that either they or the Mormon must leave the place. Mr. Stevens, indignant at this display of bigotry and malice, replied in equally plain terms. He told the men that they had no right to interfere with the young Mormon or his religion, nor he with theirs; that if they wanted to leave his employ that was their privilege, but he would not discharge any man on account of his religious faith. Again his firmness and common sense triumphed. The men, ashamed of their narrowness, yielded the point, and the trouble ended. Subsequently his Mormon employee, being about to immigrate to Utah, informed Mr. Stevens of the fact and gave him the usual month’s notice. The latter, valuing the youth for his excellent conduct and faithful service, tried to induce him to remain, offering to increase his wages and make him his foreman. “Not if you would treble my wages,” was the zealous reply, and seizing the opportunity afforded by his employer’s expressed interest and surprise, the young disciple explained the doctrines and bore testimony to him of the truth of Mormonism. He also left with him some of Orson Pratt’s tracts on the first principles of the Gospel. These tracts were perused very carefully, and they, with other Mormon works, led to the conversion of Sidney Stevens.
He was baptized a Latter-day Saint on the 21st of December, 1861. For a while, in consequence of the step he had taken, some of his patrons forsook him, but he gained others in their stead, and finally those who had left came back to him, and he continued to be respected for his honesty and manliness, notwithstanding his espousal of the unpopular religion. His business duties took him to the markets of Frome, Bath, Bristol, London, Dover, Liverpool and other cities. By the authorities of the Bristol conference, with which Wanstrow was connected, he was appointed to preach through the towns and villages of that part. Being a man of means, he assisted many to immigrate to Utah. Desirous himself of emigrating, in the fall of 1862 he advertised his business for sale, and sold it in the following February. He then made preparations to embark for America.
The date of sailing was May 23, 1863; his ship the “Antarctic,” bound for New York. The day before his departure from Liverpool he married in that city Miss Mae J. Thick, a young lady from Hallwell in Dorsetshire, who accompanied him on his voyage and in Utah, became the mother of his twelve children. At New York the young couple remained for a time, but about the 17th of July they left for St. Joseph, Missouri, where Mr. Stevens purchased a stock of sugar, tea, coffee and other merchandise, and went with it on a steamboat up the Missouri river to Omaha, where he joined an independent company to cross the plains. Subsequently, however, he accepted an offer from Captain Daniel McArthur to travel with a company of Latter-day Saints which he was conducting to Utah. He mentions among his associates on the overland journey William De La Mar, John Needham, George Staneforth and Feramorz Little, and says of the last-named: “I shall always think of Brother Little with kind remembrance. We became acquainted seemingly on sight. He gave me much valuable advice, and assisted me in purchasing cattle, wagons and other equipage necessary to the journey across the plains.
Mr. Stevens reached Salt Lake City about the 8th of October. After selling and otherwise disposing of some of the goods and outfits that he had brought with him, he moved, in the latter part of December, to Kaysville, where he made other sales and engaged in farming. In March, 1865, he moved to Ogden, but only lived there until May, and then settled at North Ogden, upon a place that he had purchased.
His first real business venture in Utah was made during the same year, when he purchased some iron and steel in the East and had it freighted in wagons across the plains. He employed local mechanics to convert this material into plows and harrows, using native maple for the beams and other timber parts. These implements he sold, taking payment in grain, hides and produce. He built a tannery and converted the hides into leather; the produce he shipped to Montana. The following year he imported plow-bottoms, wagons and sugar-cane mills, which he sold for flour, leather and other produce, shipping the same to Montana and receiving gold-dust in payment. During the year 1867 he continued in the same line of business, adding to his tannery, built in 1866, a small shoe shop and harness factory. In the fall of 1867 he began the erection of a two-story building, said to be the first burnt brick store in Utah. He continued to import farm implements in a small way, and also to manufacture harness, boots and shoes. He increased the capacity of his business, and found markets in Northern Utah, Idaho and Montana. He continued the same on a larger scale in 1868 and 1869, the latter year bringing his eastern purchases by rail to the terminus of the Union Pacific, and thence by wagons to North Ogden. He still exchanged Utah products for Idaho and Montana gold-dust.
In the year 1870 there was a change of methods, owing to the advent of the railroad. Competition sprang up, business increased, and a ready market for grain, dried fruit and other produce was found in the East. The demand in Idaho and Montana continued, and times were much improved, the circulating medium being mostly money. In 1871 Mr. Stevens paid cash for farm produce and found ready markets both East and West. In 1872 the dried fruit industry increased and became quite remunerative. The sale of it and other products brought much money into the country, thus enabling the farmers to develop the resources. By means of their patronage Mr. Stevens built up a fine mercantile business, which, with his tannery, shoe and harness factory, gave employment to many hands. After a run of seven years the tannery was discontinued, as it was found impossible for home-made leathers to compete any longer with the imported article.
The year 1874 witnessed the removal of the implement business to Ogden. It was set up on what is now Twenty-fourth street, at the corner of Washington avenue, the other establishments being continued at North Ogden. In 1876 Mr. Stevens moved his machinery and implement business into larger quarters, on what is now Twenty-fifth street, opening in connection therewith a lumber yard, in order to dispose of the product of several saw mills, which he had sold, but whose purchasers had been unable to cash their lumber. This branch of industry developed into a successful building material department. The continuous increase of the machinery, implement and vehicle trade throughout Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada, necessitated in 1877 many agents, and later led to the building of branch stores and warehouses at various points, for greater convenience in distribution, in 1878 Mr. Stevens purchased the site of his first business location on Washington avenue, where he built, near the corner of Twenty-fourth street, a brick block of three stories, the erection of which at that time was considered by many a piece of extreme folly, it being believed that no three-story structure, put up at the current cost of building, could be made to pay. The venture, however, proved a success, encouraging others to build in like manner.
In the year 1888 he purchased another piece of land on Washington avenue (between Twenty-fifth and Twenty-sixth streets) and having built another three-story block, with commodious warehouses at the rear, in 1889 he moved from Twenty-fifth street to his present establishment, which at the time of its erection was probably the largest and most convenient carriage repository and implement house in the West. By careful personal selection of goods, having a constant eye to their adaptability to the climate and needs of this region, he built up a first-class business, commanding the best of trade, and while on his trips East, purchasing vehicles, implements and machinery, he found a market each year for thousands of car-loads of grain and produce, which he shipped out of Utah.
Rapid had been the rise to prominence and prosperity of this rustling and enterprising business man; but he had worked hard for his deserved success, and was destined moreover to have his full share of calamity. A fire at North Ogden on July 4, 1885,— caused by the careless dropping of a lighted match into the midst of some cotton batting in the upper part of Mr. Stevens’ store—utterly ruined the structure, and necessitated its being re-built. When this was done, there was added above the store a fine commodious entertainment hall. Later years were also calamitous for Mr. Stevens, who suffered severely from fires, costing him in the aggregate over one hundred thousand dollars. The first of these broke out on the evening of September 11, 1893, in some cornice works adjoining his place of business, and being fanned into his warehouses in the rear, inflicted a loss of twenty thousand dollars to his stock and buildings. The fire department, coming quickly to the rescue, saved the carriage repository and three-fourths of the stock. His next fire was on July 8, 1894, and was one of several that broke out simultaneously in some of the largest business blocks of Ogden, during the railroad strike and Industrial Army troubles. Among the buildings fired were the Grand Opera House, the Boyle Furniture Company and the Stevens warehouses and repository. His total loss in buildings and their contents was upwards of a hundred thousand dollars, only thirteen thousand of it covered by insurance. It was said by some that the fires were started by the strikers, but Mr. Stevens, in the light of later developments, came to the conclusion that the strikers were not the guilty parties. “I believe,” says he, “that it was a time selected by bad men to burn up the best buildings in the city. I was somewhat discouraged, but the many letters of sympathy received, promising continuance of patronage, led me to rebuild, and in one year I succeeded in replacing the warehouses, repository and stock as before. Notwithstanding the depressed times in which the disaster occurred, I maintained an unquestioned credit with manufacturers of my line of goods, and can say that no just obligation was ever presented and not paid.” Mr. Stevens is still in business at this writing, and enjoys as ever the respect, esteem and confidence of the community which has witnessed with pride and satisfaction his well merited success.