Hon. George W. Gardner
A business man who has been identified with the commercial life of the Great Lakes for a long period, and who was more concerned, probably, than any one else in the building up of the grain trade of Cleveland, is Hon. George W. Gardner, the vice-president of the Cleveland & Buffalo Transit Co., and president of the Saegertown Mineral Springs Company.
Mr. Gardner was born in Pittsfield, Mass., in 1834, his parents removing to Cleveland three years later. He commenced sailing at the age of nine years, running away from home to make his first trip in a little schooner engaged in the flour trade between Cleveland and Buffalo. His father was a furniture dealer, a member of the firm of Gardner & Vincent, one of the two oldest firms at that time in the city. Both the young man's parents died in 1861, and he was thrown upon his own resources. Beginning in 1848, and for five years he sailed on the steamers, Ogontz, Alleghany and DeWitt Clinton, and then in the vessels of the line that later became the Northern Transportation Company. He was head clerk of the line, and was in the habit of going from one boat to another at the ports where the vessels met, to straighten the boat's books. He spent some time on the passenger steamer DeWitt Clinton, which sailed between Toledo and Buffalo. This was a first-class passenger steamer in those days and could make a speed of eight miles an hour. Passengers were carried on the upper decks, and a frequent cargo on the lower deck was a consignment of live hogs. He then entered the bank of Wick, Otis & Brownell, and remained in their employ five years. During this time he kept up his interest in lake shipping, purchasing a half- interest in the first two tugs that plied the Cuyahoga river, one of these being the stern-wheel canal boat Niagara, and the other the vessel built expressly for tugging purposes, called the Dan P. Rhodes.
Mr. Gardner was captain of the first boat club in the city, the members of which afterward became prominent business men. A mile and a half rowing race on the Cuyahoga river was held between this club and the Sandusky boat club, in 1856, which aroused an intense interest, ten thousand people witnessing the race, which was won by the Cleveland crew.
At the expiration of his term of service in the bank, Mr. Gardner went into the grain and produce business on the river, becoming a member of the firm of Otis, Brownell & Co. This firm did a large business until 1859 when Mr. Gardner, in company with J.D. Rockefeller and Maurice B. Clark, organized the firm of Clark, Gardner & Co., which, during its existence, did the largest business in grain in the city. In 1861 Mr. Gardner entered the firm of Thatcher, Burt & McNairy, and built the Union elevator, the largest elevator in Cleveland. This firm became known as Thatcher, Gardner, Burt & Co., Gardner, Burt & Oviatt, Gardner, Burt & Harkness, Gardner, Burt & Clark, Gardner, Clark & York and Gardner & Clark, and for about thirty years, altogether, did a business of about ten million bushels of grain per year, making Cleveland one of the important grain markets on the lakes. Mr. Gardner has been all over the country purchasing and selling grain, at one time buying a cargo of barley in San Francisco and chartering the clipper ship Young America, which sailed around Cape Horn to New York in four months and there the barley was transferred to cars and shipped to Cleveland by rail. Mr. Gardner purchased and shipped the first cargo of wheat sent from Duluth. He has been largely interested in lake vessels at different times, owning a considerable fleet of commercial and pleasure crafts. Mr. Gardner helped to organize the Cleveland and Buffalo Transit line of side-wheel steamers, including the new steamers City of Buffalo and the City of Erie, the largest, finest and fastest side-wheel steamers on the inland seas in the world, which venture has proven a great success.
He was one of the early members of the Cleveland yacht club, holding the office as commodore in that society for many years, and in 1894 was elected honorary commodore for life, a unique honor. He purchased the yacht Wasp, in Chicago a number of years ago, this being at the time the largest sloop yacht on the lakes, which later was transformed into a schooner yacht, and proved a very fast boat. He brought the first fin keel to Cleveland, naming her the Mott B., after M.A. Bradley, a prominent vessel owner, this being a pleasure yacht only twenty-five feet long over all, but a very stanch craft, having once weathered a sixty-four-mile gale for several hours in the open lake. He was also one of the party who brought the big schooner yacht Priscilla from New York to Cleveland, via the St. Lawrence, in 1895, which was built to be a defender of the American cup. He also brought the sloop yacht Rowena from Long Island Sound to Cleveland, via the gulf, in 1861, this yacht being at that time the finest, largest and fastest on the lakes.
In 1857 he was married to Miss Rosaline L. Oviatt, daughter of Gen. O.M. Oviatt, one of the earliest pork packers in Cleveland. Their children are Ellen, now Mrs. C.R. Gilmore, of Columbus; G. Harry, who is president of the Iron Trade Review Company, and secretary and treasurer of the Cleveland Printing & Publishing Co.; Burt, who lives in Chicago, and is western editor of the Iron Trade Review; James, who is secretary of the Saegertown Mineral Springs Company, Saegertown, Penn; Anna, now Mrs. H.T. Schladermundt, of New York City; Kirtland, who recently made a trip to Cape Horn from New York on board a sailing yacht; and Ethel.
Mr. Gardner is one of the best known men in Cleveland, having been mayor of the city two terms, 1885-86 and 1889-90, and has filled other municipal, State and individual corporation offices of trust, serving his city as a member of its council for about ten years, the last three of which he was its president, and it was during his public career that he was the trusted president of the board of trade.
He owned the steamyacht Rosaline, in 1876, and for several years she was the handsomest and fastest vessel on the lakes, of her class, making a record of a little more than sixteen miles an hour in a race of twenty-four miles off Cleveland, beating the yacht Myrtle, of Detroit. This vessel has made a number of long cruises, one of 3,500 miles. The Rosaline is a steel hull, only eighty-five feet long and ten feet beam, with a draft of five feet six inches. She is now owned in Chicago. Mr. Gardner has taken a great deal of interest in canoeing, having been first commodore of the Cleveland Canoe Association, and first commodore of the Western Canoe Association. He once made a cruise of 1,500 miles from Cincinnati to New Orleans in a canoe fourteen feet long and twenty-eight inches deep, which drew three inches when light and six inches when loaded. He jumped the falls at Louisville in this craft, this being the first time this feat was accomplished in a boat of this size. He has also made other long cruises in a canoe through lakes George, Champlain, and Richelieu and St. Lawrence rivers, and from Cleveland to Port Huron and other places. He was the first commodore of the Inter-Lake Yachting Association, which was formed a few years ago, and is now a life member of the Cleveland Yacht Club.
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This version of Volume II is based, with permission, on the work of the great volunteers at the Marine Captains Biographies site. To them goes the credit for reorganizing the content into some coherent order. The biographies in the original volume are in essentially random order.
Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.