Seward & Company

The history below was, as it says, compiled by my mother's uncle, Fred Allen Seward (1886-1967), but updated by other family members after his death.

Brief History of Seward & Company Inc.

In September of 1821. Austin Seward,1 the founder, with his wife and two small children moved to Bloomington from Richmond, Ky., where he had been a blacksmith and edge-tool maker. He built a log home and blacksmith shop on what Is now the southwest corner of Seventh and Walnut Streets. He came to Bloomington because earlier in 1821 he had visited relatives of his wife and recognized the great need for his particular skills In this fast growing pioneer village. Austin Seward was born in Middlesex County, Virginia, in 1791,2 and moved to Richmond, Ky., when he was ten years old. At the age of 12 he was apprenticed to learn biacksmithing, then later edge-tool making. Soon his skill and reputation enabled him to command the highest wages as a journeyman.

Everything usually made of iron and steel was made by him -- adzes, augers, bits, scythes, files; guns, knives, axes, sheep shears, to name Just a few. Settlers came from great distances to buy from his shop--he was particularly known for his axes and rifles. Bayard Hall, Indiana University's first professor, devoted an entire chapter on Austin Seward's skills in his book, "The New Purchase." Dr. Andrew Wylie, first president of Indiana University, said, "Thls community can better spare any man in it, the college, every professor, than it can spare Mr. Seward. We can get other citizens and professors to take their places without any trouble, but no man can take his place." Seward's shop grew with the community, and in 1825, the shop was moved across the street -- it was a one-story brick building of four rooms; one room a gunsmith shop; one for storing materials and operating the lathe; one for the grindstone; and the fourth, the blacksmith shop with three forges. Later a second story was added.

Up to the middle 1840s, only forged articles were made. Because of the growing need for plows, Seward installed a foundry for the manufacture of all kinds of castings, the blast being supplied by horsepower. In 1854, steam power was installed, and such items as wagons, boilers, threshing machines, steam engines, ornamental gates and fences, stoves and cane mills were manufactured. Probably some time in the 1830s, Austin Seward was asked by his fellow citizens to make an ornamental weathervane for the courthouse, and he obliged by turning out a fish from sheet copper brought up from Louisville. More than once through the many years of Bloomington's history, that same fish was repaired and regilded by subsequent generations of Sewards, and it still is proudly mounted on the dome of the Monroe County Courthouse.

Austin Seward was the sole owner of the business from 1821 tll 1862. All of his seven sons worked there (some as mechanics, some were blacksmiths, others were patternmakers). In 1862, A. Seward deeded one-third interest each to two of his sons, Williamson B.3 and James, and then in 1867, he deeded his own one-third interest to son, Williamson B. This may be when the firm first became known as Seward & Company. Before, it was called A. Seward and Sons. During the Civil War, the foundry made bombshells, solid shot and cannons for the Union Army. One of the most Interesting articles ever manufactured there was a six pound cannon of bronze, the copper for it donated by the citizens of Monroe County, and Seward's did the casting free of charge.

After the Civil War, the firm turned its attention back to manufacturing and repair work, particularly for the fast-growing limestone industry, for whom they made power machines and derricks for the quarries. A. Seward took a very active part In all civic matters of early Bloomington. He is buried with his wife in the old Dunn Cemetery west of Beck Chapel on the Indiana University campus (died in 1872).

William[son] B. Seward, who became the most active in the management of the firm of all of Austin's sons, was a talented craftsman in pattern-making. He left the business to his eldest living son, William Henry Seward.4 He, too, was an excellent craftsman and machinist, as well as a proficient musician. It is an interesting sidelight regarding this Seward family that they were responsible for organizing the Bloomington Community Band, and Austin, W.B., and W.H. all were leaders of it. Four generations of Sewards played before Mrs. Andrew Wylie, wife of I.U.'s first president. The band, led by Austin Seward, met her and Dr. Wylie on their arrival in 1829; the second and third generations played on her 50th wedding anniversary, and a member of the fourth generation, Fred, played at her 100th birthday, and all played at the Inauguration of different I.U. presidents.

In 1907, the business moved to larger quarters at 408 West Eighth Street, nearer to many other local Industries. Both Williamson B. and William H. died in 1909, and the main responsibilities of management were taken by Fred A. Seward, William H.'s eldest son, early in his 24th year, after completing three years at Indiana University. William Austin Seward joined his brother, Fred, in the firm In 1919, after graduating from Indiana University in 1917 and serving in France and Germany with Bloomington's own Battery F. Partnership was established between Fred and Austin in 1934, after the death of their mother, who held part Interest.

The foundry and machine shop continued operation during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, but the main emphasis was on the wholesale distribution of nationally known industrial, contractors' and plumbing supplies. Although the foundry closed In 1938, the company was able to convert its facilities during World War II to help other local Industries convert to their various phases of war goods manufacture and repair. They started serving the contractors and ordnance shops at the Crane Naval Depot.

The firm was Incorporated as Seward & Company, Inc., as of January 1, 1959, with the following officers:

These four made up the first Board of Directors, with Fred Seward as Chairman and W. Austin Seward as Secretary. In September 1963 Wayne Warden, Jr., son-in-law of W. Austin Seward, was elected General Manager, and he became a member of the Beard of Directors In 1967. Also In 1967 Fred Seward relinquished hls.dutles as President but remained Chairman of the Board. W. Austin Seward was elected President and Treasurer; Wayne Warden, Jr., Executive Vice President and Secretary.

In 1968 Mrs. Janet S. Dunn and Dr. Doris M. Seward were elected to the Board of Directors. They are daughters of Fred and Dorothy Seward. In 1970 Fred S. Dunn (6th generatlon), son of Janet S. Dunn and grandson of Fred Seward, and Marilyn Warden, wife of Wayne Warden and daughter of W. Austin and Edith Seward, were elected to the Board of Directors.

In May 1975 another change of officers took place: W. Austin Seward, Chairman of the Board and Executive Vice President; Wayne Warden, Jr., President; Fred S. Dunn, Secretary and Treasurer. George W. Dunn (6th generation) was elected to the Board of Directors, joining the firm as Vice President in December 1975. In December 1976 Wayne Warden, Jr., was elected Chairman of the Board and Executive Vice President; George W. Dunn, President, and Fred Dunn, Secretary and Treasurer. In June 1978 Jeffrey W. Warden (6th generation), son of Wayne and Marilyn Warden, joined the firm as part of management. In 1972, Seward & Co. moved to new facilities at 1821 West Third Street.

Compiled by Fred A. Seward

PostScrlpt: "The Corporation was dissolved in 1983, but Bloomington and surrounding communities will always remember the sound business principles and civil leadership demonstrated by the six generations of this pioneer family."--Family Heritage Book.

My thanks to Peggy Shock, the wife of another Austin Seward descendant, for making this history available.

1 My great-great-great-grandfather.
2 This may be a typo. 1797 is usually given as the year of Austin Seward's birth.
3 My great-great-grandfather.
4 My great-grandfather.
This page was last updated 16 Nov 2004.