The ABCs of Lowell History: K is for John Kopf

The Lowell Area Historical Museum is offering a weekly feature to explore local history. This week, museum staff is telling us about early resident and businessman John Kopf. To learn more about Lowell history, visit the museum website to explore its collection of local artifacts and records.

John Kopf (1828-1888) was a German cabinetmaker who immigrated to America in 1848. He married Mary Jane Lang in New York. John was 26 and Mary was 21 when they arrived in Lowell in 1854, along with the Lang family and John’s brother, Goodrich Kopf. Once here, John built a small cabinet shop. The Odawa were frequent visitors. Mrs. Coo-moo-say, wife of a local Odawa merchant, gave a red wool jacket to one of the Kopf babies.

John Kopf

Around 1856, John purchased 12 acres of land from Seth Cogswell (who had purchased it from fur trader Daniel Marsac) along with the water power from the creek. “Kopf’s Creek” flows into the Grand River from the south, slightly east of where the Flat River joins the Grand. The family moved into their new house in 1857. It still stands on the north side of Grand River Avenue. Their daughter Edith remembered “the maple, poplar and wild cherry trees around the old home, the creek where the wading was the best, the boiling springs not far from the road bridge which crosses the creek where the children from the brick school on the hill would go for drinking water, the dam where we could raise a plank and watch the water go through, the water wheel in motion, the chute where the sawdust was carried out of the factory and we could slide down into the pile of sawdust.”

John built a factory at a cost of $12,000 including machinery which became known as “Kopf Furniture Factory” and “Lowell Furniture Company” (1881-1888). The Kopf Factory began production in 1867 and grew to include 14 buildings. Windsor and cane seat chairs of cherry and walnut were the specialty. At first, Mary Jane and the older girls did all of the caning. Later, other women were hired but the caning was always done by hand. They turned out 20,000 chairs annually in the peak of their production. Other items produced were stands, drop-leaf tables, desks, bed-steads and caskets. The power source for the factory was from a dam on Kopf Creek. “The spring in the creek flows 2 cubic feet per second and never dries or freezes up. The mill pond also supplied the water for the Lowell & Hastings Railroad and the Tucker Wood Implement Factory upstream.”

Sales, both wholesale and retail, and shipping were handled in town in the three-story brick building at 212 E Main Street which Kopf built for that purpose. The basement was used to store furniture; the first floor was filled with first class furniture, a watch and clock repair, silverware and jewelry; the second floor had parlor furniture; the third floor had caskets, furniture and the painting room.

Kopf house

The Kopfs had nine children. Their firstborn, John Jr, passed away at 8 months. Mary maintained an old-fashioned garden where she grew flowers and herbs to care for the sick and honor the dead. She suffered from a nervous disorder and may have benefited from the herbs herself. The children waded in the creek to collect pretty stones to surround the individual beds in her garden. Mary was known never to refuse anyone in need and would drop everything to help others. She spent her Decoration Day placing flowers on neglected graves and had a special place in her heart for the grave of an Odawa child who died around the same time her son did. Several of Mary’s tulips were donated to John Ball Park when it was built.

Kopf factory complex

The Kopf home was known as “Kopftown” and mail arrived addressed as such. Visitors often stayed there in order to catch the early morning train which was built on the river side of their property in 1858. The Kopf’s opened their home to those in need taking in 17-month old Dora Hildreth when her parents died and Roena Bangs with her three young children.

Active in civic affairs, John Kopf was co-founder of Loan National Bank, served on the Lowell Board of Education, was a trustee for the Congregational Church when it was being built, and a member of Hooker Chapter Royal Arch Masons and the Knights Templar. John died in 1888 at the age of 60. Mary was the oldest female resident of Lowell, called the “Grand Lady of Segwun” when she died June 16, 1926, at the age of 93.

All images courtesy of Lowell Area Historical Museum.

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