One of my memories of the cross-country vacation trip I took with my parents in the summer of 1949 is of going to Bloomington, Indiana, where my mother's uncles, Fred and Austin Seward, took me to visit a grimy old brick building on Eighth Street, near the railroad tracks, and just a few blocks from Fred's home at 615 N. Washington Street. This was the legendary Seward foundry, which already had been an integral part of Bloomington life for more than a century. They gave me some wooden patterns which had been used in making tools back in the days when Seward & Co. had been in full operation as a foundry.
The following article appeared in the Bloomington Tribune, January 15, 1967:
FOUR GENERATIONS OF SEWARDS HAVE SERVED CITY SINCE 1821
By Linda Holt
Four generations of the Seward family have lived through four wars and taken the Bible at its word: "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares." And they did.
The Seward Company, now located on 408 W. 8th St., has been roundin' the Bloomington square since 1821, three years after the city was founded, one year after Indiana University was founded and only five years after Indiana became a state.
There are many old businesses. But only one, Seward and Company, has the proud distinction of being the oldest business in Indiana run by the same family in the same name.
These four generations were able to adapt to change -- from blacksmith, to foundry, to machine shop, to industrial and plumbing supplies.
Austin Seward had no inkling of future change or the impact of the Industrial Revolution when he set up his shop and home on the southwest corner of Seventh and Walnut Streets.
He came from Virginia to work at what he knew best -- the blacksmith trade. A better "smithy" than most, he was soon the only producer and supplier for miles around of anything made of iron or steel: sickles, scythes, axes and all tools needed by the pioneers.
The first teacher at Indiana University, Baynard R. Hall, described Austin fictitiously as Volcanus Allheart and his craft:
Mr. Allheart's skill was great also in rifle-making, and also naturally enough in rifle-shooting ... None [rifles] have sights that will permit the drawing of a bead so smooth and round...
Our artist made first of all the separate parts and pieces, and then combined them into a gun. He made, and often with his own hand, the barrel -- the stock -- the lock -- the bullet moulds, complete; the brass, gold, or silver mountings, the graving, the everything.
That's how it all got started -- a great need for a great talent. Austin left his work and his talent to his son, Williamson B., and later to his grandson, William H. (Billy).
Horsepower was added, manpower too. Demands grew and the Sewards grew with them: thrashing machines, boilers, wagons, steam engines, anything ordered.
Guns were still made -- this time for the Civil War. Cast in 1862, was a six pound bronze cannon. Persons all through the county donated several hundred pounds for the Sewards to cast. The cannon was used in a battle in Henderson, Ky. The Union Army also used nearly 50 tons of iron bomb shells, solid shot and other cannons furnished by the company.
Peace again -- time for muffin pans, grave markers, fences and boot jacks. The chilled plow was a hot item in those years, and toward the turn of the century, machinery for the new limestone industry.
Paul Seward, grandson of the founder, made most of the patterns for over 60 years. Patterns, made to order, were hand carved from wood, usually poplar. Then, the mold was made in sand. Clay from the old Garrison Brick Yard was used to line the cupola as Fred Seward, great-grandson of the founder, remembers.
Fred took the business in 1909. He has not forgotten neighboring shops and fellow businessmen. He can paint an accurate picture of Bloomington at the turn of the century. There was the chair factory, whose co-owner, Sam Dodds, later became founder and first president of Monroe County State Bank. The Lime Kiln, south of Second Street, Fred misunderstood as "lion kill" as a small boy.
There was Sam Gilmore, a blacksmith who made "sturdy" wagons, all by hand. And there were others -- spokes, mittens, cigars, washing machines, and veterinary medicines (that humans could use too) -- all made here. And all made Bloomington thrive, but not all thrived in Bloomington. Seward and Co. had expanded to keep tuned to the time and were in full operation with the foundry and machine shop.
The tune of the time soon struck that sour note of war -- World War I -- heard by Fred and his brother, W. Austin, as the Civil War note had been heard by their father and grandfather. Fred turned production to wartime materials, while Austin served in France with Battery F.
He made it home with his life in 1919, and with a big job as partner with Fred in the company. This time the days of plowshares were numbered -- first, the depression -- then, back to swords again with World War II. They closed the foundry in 1938. Rather than specialize in any single war enterprise, the Sewards helped other local industries convert to and maintain their particular phases of the war effort.
In 1940, they helped in the building and operation of Crane Naval Ammunition Depot, serving contractors and ordnance shops. Crane is yet one of the company's biggest customers.
After the war, the machine, blacksmith and welding shop was still active, but the business was gaining prominence as being the distributor of nationally known industrial supplies, tools and equipment.
"To temper the stock to the demands of the society", W. Austin Seward claims the biggest asset to the perpetuation of the firm. In 1956, this meant the closing of the machine shop by him and his brother, Fred.
"The tool room of the community", W. Austin describes the business today. It acts solely as a wholesale supplier of industrial and plumbing tools. Customers depending on the Sewards as each of us would have done 50 years ago, are concerns such as RCA, Hotpoint, Indiana University and Sarkes Tarzian. Today, the company gets its stock from over 400 factories, distributing the right product at the right time to all local industry.
Along with business, Williamson B. Seward, son of the founder, served several terms as member of the State Board of Agriculture and was one of the commissioners in charge of building the state capital in Indianapolis.
His son, William H., served as leader of the city's board for many years, was a city council member and was well-known for his service in offices of the Knights of Pythias, the Odd Fellows, Elks and Masonic lodges.
Present co-owner Fred is a charter member of the Rotary Club and was president in 1941. A 50-year "I" Man, he was given the Zora G. Clevenger award in 1966, for his contribution to athletics at I.U. Proud of some 27 track medals he displays, he claims he still holds the Bloomington High School track record for running the 100 yard dash in 9.8 seconds.
Co-owner W. Austin was the president of the Kiwanis Club in 1941. He was also state president of the Rainbow Division of veterans after World War I. In 1945, he was chairman of the drive for the first addition to Bloomington Hospital.
Now, 147 years after the birth of a business, fourth and fifth generation Sewards await the sesquicentennial of the city next year, knowing their family has been and still is an integral part of Bloomington's growth and success.
The following articles are from Bloomington newspapers from 1971 or 1972:
SEWARD CO. IS HONORED
In September, 1821, only three years after the City of Bloomington was chartered as a town, Austin Seward moved his family here from Richmond, Ky., and opened a blacksmith's shop on North Walnut Street.
This was the beginning of Seward & Co. which was recognized at Wednesday's annual Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce meeting for its 150 years of growth and development in the community.
W. Austin Seward, president of the company and great grandson of the founder, was presented with a plaque emblematic of this significant year in the company's rich history.
Seward & Company adapted to the changes and needs of the Bloomington community and grew with it until now the firm is widely known distributor of industrial, plumbing and contractor's supplies.
It was pointed out at Wednesday's dinner that the involvement of Seward & Company with Bloomington hasn't been a one-sided affair that it has been willing to give as well as take.
Not only has the company been a good and active corporate citizen but its officers and directors have been significantly involved in civic affairs over the years.
Seward & Company is located at 408 W. Eighth Street, the same location it has occupied since 1907.1
Later this year, however, the firm will be moving to new and expanded quarters on West Third Street.
The fifth and sixth generations of the founding family of Seward & Company have moved into top management positions in the firm. Wayne Warden, Jr. is executive vice-president and Fred S. Dunn is assistant general manager.
Other directors of the firm are Mrs. Fred A. Seward, Mrs. W. Austin Seward, Mrs. George W. Dunn, Miss Doris M. Seward and Mrs. Wayne Warden, Jr.
SEWARD & CO. HONORED
Seward & Co. of Bloomington has escaped the notoriety its position of prominence really deserves.
Few people in Bloomington are aware of the firm's existence nor have any knowledge of the type of business it's involved in.
Yet, Seward & Co. has the distinction of being the oldest business in Indiana run by the same family and using the same name.
It was only three years after Bloomington was incorporated that Austin Seward, great grandfather of the company's current president, opened a blacksmith shop that grew into Seward & Co.
Fittingly, on this 150th anniversary of the founding of Seward & Co., the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce singled the firm out for special recognition at the annual dinner Wednesday night.
Seward & Co., it was emphasized throughout Wednesday's dinner, has adapted to the changes and needs of the community to result in its unparalleled record of continuous service.
The Herald-Telephone joins the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce and the Bloomington community in saluting Seward & Co.
I visited Seward & Co. again in 1972, at its brand new Third Street location, while passing through Bloomington. The atmosphere of the old "foundry" was somehow missing. This family business, which thrived through several wars and depressions, didn't survive the economic downturn of the early 1980's and finaly closed its doors in 1983 after 162 years of existence. Fred Seward's history of Seward & Co. appears on a separate page.
Even though Seward & Co. and its foundry are gone, they have left their mark on Bloomington. There is still a fish weathervane atop the Monroe County Courthouse as testimony to Austin Seward's craftsmanship.
There may still be guns in rifle racks or collections around Indiana which were manufactured at the Seward foundry. The following article, with a hand-written date of "1935" was among the clippings in my grandmother's scrapbook:
96-Year-Old Rifle Shown in Store
A muzzle loading rifle belonging to Fred Seward, which was manufactured by his great grandfather, Austin Seward, about 1840 is on display at the Bloomington Hardware store in connection with Pioneer days being held today and Saturday. Mr. Seward came to Bloomington in 1821 and was the founder of Seward & Company.
The definite date the gun was manufactured cannot be ascertained exactly but the owner estimates it was about 1840. The stock of the gun is stamped "Harper's Ferry 1819." A great many guns were made at the foundry before they quit manufacturing them about 65 years ago.
Mr. Seward purchased the gun recently from the estate of the late John Schmidt, who lived in the northeast part of Monroe county. It had been used continuously until about three years ago and was in great demand at shooting matches because of its accuracy. The barrel is about 48 inches long and is very heavy. The moulded bullets used in it are about the same size as a .45 calibre shell. Indication of its long service is known by the way the wooden parts of the gun are worn.
Seward Foundry Will Be Moved
Seward & Company, owners of the foundry on North Walnut street, have bought the lots where the machine shops of Edwin R. Fletcher now stand at Eighth and Morton streets, and will move their foundry to that location.
The site on Walnut street now occupied by the foundry will in all probability be sold for a business location or church site. The Sewards realized that the site is now too valuable for foundry purposes, have decided to move their plant to another location, and will place the lots on the market. They have received three or four offers and will consider them all carefully before disposing of this property. The foundry was located in its present location when Bloomington was a village, and the business has been successfully carried on ever since by the Seward boys. -- [Bloomington] World.