VIOLIN AND AN HONEST FACE FOUNDED OLD DETROIT FIRM
IT WAS OVER 145 YEARS AGO that James M. Seely hitched up the team, piled the luggage into the wagon, and sat his wife and infant daughter into the seat beside the driver’s seat, jumped in himself, and said, “Get on there” to the horses.
That was in Rochester, NY, and young Jim Seely had his sights set toward Chicago, where he had heard that there were great opportunities in a business way. He was going to drive the team all the way.
Included in the luggage was a violin. It was Jim’s. He was pretty good with it. He earned part of his tuition through college in New York state by playing the violin for dancing. He added to these earnings by going out into the swamps every Saturday and cutting flags, which were greatly desired by the furniture factories for weaving into chair seats.
Young Seely was a thrifty young man, as well as daring. On the long trip west, he earned a tidy sum from town to town by playing his violin. The proceeds helped to feed both man and beast.
They Loved Detroit
IN THE EARLY summer of 1862, the little family arrived in Detroit. Remember, their destination had been Chicago. Detroit was just bursting into summer beauty and they fell in love with the town. They thought they’d like to stay here. So they bedded the team down in Finney’s barn and took quarters for themselves at the Finney Hotel. Then they looked around for something to do.
Jim Seely was quick to realize that his violin would never be equal to the living expenses of three humans and two horses. There had to be something else.
He and his wife walked down into lower Woodward avenue, because most of the business of the town was concentrated in the area below Jefferson. They found a private banker named David Preston. They asked him for a loan of $5000, because they wanted to set up in business. Their security was the team and the violin.
Mr. Preston let them have the money, not that he regarded the horses and the violin as any great shucks as collateral, but, as he later explained, “they had such honest faces.”
Birth of a Business
SO THAT’S HOW JAMES M. SEELY founded a perfume and extract business in old Detroit at the time of the civil war. One would suspect that people were thinking very little of extracts then, and of perfumes not at all. But the new little business prospered in spite of the times and, although it is many years since the Seelys have had anything to do with it, the name is still used on the bottles.
(Detroit News, pg. 48, May 7, 1952, by: George W. Stark)
1870 Census, Census Place: Detroit Ward 5, Wayne, Michigan; Roll: M593_712; Page: 218; Lines 18-21
James M. Seeley, age 32, Manufacturer of Perfume born New York
Evelina Seeley, age 27, Keeping House, born Canada
Jenny Seeley, age 6, born New York
Also enumerated, Wm Peabridge, 21, Clerk in Store, born New Hampshire and Mary Ford, 19, Domestic Servant born Ireland