Spring Valley history full of enterprising minds
I have often said I learn something new every day. How true - this email just came to the Tribune from Kirby Johnson, area resident, and here's what he has to say. "The picture of the (Conley) camera factory published in last week's paper was mis-identified as "located on North Broadway." The building still exists and is located at 12 4th St. S.W. in Rochester. It was the home of the Masque Youth Theatre and School for seven years and I extensively rehabbed it to be a performance space. We knew it was a camera factory in an earlier incarnation and you can still see its similarity to the photo that was published."
Thanks, Kirby, that was a revelation to me and good to know for the historical society records.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013 3:31 AM
One of the many "success stories" of Spring Valley entrepreneurs would be that of Kerry Conley and his brother, Fred. The brothers operated a jewelry store in a fine brick edifice on North Broadway in the late 1800s. They sold not only the usual stock of jewelry and watches, but a line of cameras they invented and put together in their back room. After producing what appeared to be a very efficient magazine camera model, they acquired a patent, and, from then on, succeeded in their various ventures.
These are items from the Sears Roebuck catalog of 1908: a photo of the Conley Camera factory as it appeared on North Broadway in Rochester; the Conley brothers' guarantee; and the “silent shutter” invented by Charlie Henderson of Spring Valley.
First located in the brick building mentioned above, the Conleys eventually gave up the jewelry business and in 1897, opened a camera factory on the main floor of Andersen's opera house on Section Avenue. Yes, Hans Andersen of Andersen Windows fame, began his career here in Spring Valley; two of his most noted structures are the Methodist-Episcopal Church, 1876, and the opera house, 1885.
The camera factory employed as many as 20 workmen, a highly regarded business in those days. The Conleys' boyhood friend and schoolmate, Richard Sears, went on to found one of the world's largest catalog companies, situated in Chicago. Sears saw the potential of the camera business, and as many as 13 pages in the 1908 catalog feature Conley cameras.
An additional success story of Spring Valley inventors is that of another camera factory employee, Charlie Henderson. He invented the "silent shutter," an accessory to the camera equipment also available in the catalog. A gifted tool and die maker, Henderson had his own tales of success, being the inventor of bag tiers and the desk stapler, the operator of the staple factory here in town, and more.
To make a long story shorter, Richard Sears became "partner" and convinced the Conleys to move their camera factory to Rochester in 1903. It happened that Sears' competitor in the camera business was Eastman Kodak of Rochester, N.Y., and having "Rochester" on the Conley camera label was a stroke of genius. It is reported that Spring Valley businessmen made every effort to keep the factory in town, but to no avail. Eight train carloads were needed to move all the tools and parts to Rochester, and 16 employees also moved there, among them two other Conley brothers, Charles and Lloyd. The factory soon expanded in large quarters on North Broadway, and employed as many as 200. In 1940, Sears sold the interests to Glen Waters; it became Waters-Conley, today it is Waters Instruments.
Both Kerry and Fred Conley became involved in Rochester endeavors. Kerry served as president of the city council, 1906-08, and represented Olmsted County as a Republican state legislator, 1909-13. He was an ardent Baptist and a loyal member of the Masonic Lodge. He became involved in the construction of what became known as the Arthur Hotel at 301 Second Avenue S.W. Kerry's son, Walter, a prominent architect in Chicago, designed the seven-story hotel, named after Arthur Gooding, a Rochester financier who joined the project. In 1981, Rochester Post Bulletin reporter Harold Severson told the Arthur Hotel story when he interviewed general manager William Smalley, who had been "the" mainstay for 38 years. The Arthur Hotel had many owners through the years, but was finally acquired by the Mayo Foundation and demolished in 1981.
Kerry Conley married Sadie Dodge, and her parents were among the casualties in the 1894 tornado. He died in 1924 at age 58 while playing volleyball at the YMCA. His brother Fred owned and operated the Northern Hotel in Rochester. He died in 1927 while he and his family were living in Oregon. Fred had married Geneva Lawrence, and in 1900 they had a baby girl, Thelma, who had a most interesting life story. Her maternal grandparents were Martin and Huldah Lawrence, formerly of Frankford Township, Mower County. Martin operated a harness shop in town until his retirement, and they lived on South Washington. Thelma remembered the C.F. Kumm family living across the street (present Amunrud home on the corner of Washington and Main), and that Royal and Electa Wilder also lived in the neighborhood. Thelma celebrated her 100th birthday March 30, 2000, in California. She presented her grandmother's wedding dress, c. 1857, to the historical society. Huldah Lawrence's dress may be seen in the parlor at the Washburn-Zittleman Historic Home today, still in remarkably good condition and one of the oldest pieces in the collection.
Spring Valley has indeed produced some noted talents - the Conley family, Henderson, Sears, Andersen, and many more, who went on to fame and fortune. However, we can be very proud of all the other Spring Valley residents who have lived honorable lives, conducting business, farming, doing their thing, while being faithful neighbors and citizens of a productive and caring community. Pat yourself on the back, smile, and say "Yes, I'm worthwhile!"
We invite readers to visit the Washburn/Zittleman House, Ag Building, History Hall, and Methodist Church Museum to hear stories of our early pioneers. Buildings are open weekends through September and October.