For several generations, the furniture company owned by the Showers family was one of Bloomington's principal industries. This page presents just a few of the many news items which mention the company down through the years, as well as a number of other miscellaneous stories about the Showers family...
The following advertisements from early Bloomington newspapers give an idea of the scope of the predecessor Showers & Hendrix business:
SHOWERS AND HENDRIX are still on hand on the north side of the public square next door to Sheek's law office with a large stock of furniture and chairs. Breakfast and dining tables and a new line of extension tables which we are selling very low. Rocking chairs and bedsteads of all kinds from 75 cents to $4.50. Bureaus as low as $8. We make coffins on short notice. Bloomington, Indiana, August 9, 1862.
An old firm in a new location.
SHOWERS & HENDRIX have purchased and fitted up a new wareroom on the south side of the public square and in it have placed the largest stock of furniture ever before seen in Bloomington. We have an immense quantity of bedsteads, bureaus and chairs, both common and first class, and will sell to our customs at lower figures than ever. Much of this furniture has been made in our own factory, and we will warrant every article sold to be just as represented.
Coffins always on hand, ready made, and will be trimmed and furnished to our customers at one third less money than has been heretofore charged in Bloomington.
Don't forget the place; in the new block south side of the public square.
SHOWERS & HENDRIX
[Bloomington Progress, 26 May 1869, page 1.]
The earliest news item to come to our attention was on page 3 of the Bloomington Hawkeye, 17 Feb 1881:
Shower Bros. have concluded to carry their new buildings up four stories instead of three as heretofore contemplated.
An obviously erroneous news item in a newspaper in the next county prompted this sarcastic response on the front page of the Bloomington Telephone, 10 Feb 1883:
"It is reported that the Showers Bros of Bloomington cleared $22,000 last year making bed-steads. Now we shouldn't be surprised if Showers Bros would like to sell out, for it is generally the case when men begin to boast of how much their business is worth they are anxious to trade." - Bedford Star.
The Showers boys are not after that class of men, Mr. Star. Their business speaks for its self, and as to trading, they have had abundant offers, but they will be found going on in their prosperity and building up of themselves and the city.
The story of the fire which destroyed the Showers Bros. factory appeared in the Bloomington Republican Progress, 13 Aug 1884 edition, page 2:
STILL OUT OF LUCK
Disastrous Daylight Fire
A Loss of $60,000 with $20,000 Insurance
It was just 4:15 PM Saturday, and in Showers Bros. Bedstead Factory the whirr of machinery and the escape of steam from the heavy boilers could alone be heard. In the office, William and (Charles) Hull Showers and James Hendrix were beginning the work of paying employees. Money was piled up in rows on the table, and as each man was handed the amount due him, it carried with it visions of contentment and plenty at each laborer's home. Suddenly the cry of fire was heard, and the money was hastily swept into convenient baskets, the books were taken from the safe, and the men who were in the office rushed to the west side or ell of the building only to find that long tongues of flame were reaching out in every portion of the upper story.
The main building is of brick with an iron roof, but a two-story ell stands on the west side and joins the brick. The fire was first discovered in the attic of this building directly over the heads of men then at work, and it spread so rapidly and burned so fiercely that those men had no time to gather up their tools. It could only have caught by sparks falling to the shingle roof below.
An alarm brought the fire department and an immense crowd of people to the factory when everything possible, under the circumstances, was done to save the building, but it seemed to be filled with flame, and in less time than is required to tell it, the entire structure was consumed with all of its valuable and costly machinery.
The engines, aided by citizens who worked like heroes, saved the surrounding houses which several times caught fire. The brick walls fell in on the boilers, and for a while quite a panic was created by the suggestion that an explosion was possible, but the safety valves were opened by the falling brick, and a disaster of this nature was thus averted.
Several years ago the Showers Bros. established their principal lumber yard a square away from the factory so that but a small amount, comparatively, of the lumber was destroyed.
The total insurance carried by the firm was $30,600 divided as follows...Of this it will be seen that there is just $20,000 placed on the building and contents.
The agency of Rogers & Woolley carried policies as follows...
Showers Bros. have built up their business within the past ten years, beginning on nothing. Last January an invoice showed that the factory building, machinery, lumber and manufactured goods were worth $90,000, upon which they did not owe one cent. Each member of the firm - William, James and Hull Showers - own good residences, and no three men in southern Indiana could be more prosperous than the Showers Brothers. There has been a lull in business during the month of July, but within the past ten days favorable contracts had been made and some very heavy orders had been secured.
The capacity of the factory was from 800 to 1,000 beds per week. Some 2,500 finished bedsteads were in the factory, ready for shipment, when the fire occurred and, of course, were burned.
James Showers had been confined to his house during the week with a carbuncle on one of his knees but was brought down in a buggy on Saturday evening to see the ruins of the factory he had had so much to do with building up.
The Showers Bros. could take possession of the McCalla Factory and go on manufacturing bedsteads without interruption. It is on the railroad, too, and would save the expense or hauling, which must be very great.
James Jackson, the painter, is a daring fireman. He climbed on tottering walls and clung to points where few men would care to risk their lives. Charley Batterton and one of the Beatty boys were not far behind Jackson in daring.
Bert McGee had left his left hand and arm, and his neck, terribly roasted and will be unfit for duty for some time.
After the regular detail business of the Blaine & Logan Club1 had been disposed of last Saturday night at the courthouse, Joseph G. McPheeters, Jr., offered a resolution of sympathy for Showers Bros. The resolution was adopted, and William F. Browning then asked the privilege of speaking on the resolution giving it a strong, hearty endorsement and suggesting that a meeting be held on Monday night in the court room to discuss and determine the best means of encouraging Showers Bros. to rebuild. John E. Borland said he would express his sympathy by donating $10. Dr. McPheeters then spoke in favor of taking some steps to induce the Showers Bros. to rebuild at once, and the meeting, on motion, adjourned till Monday night to consider the best mode of procedure.
The payroll included over 100 names.
The members of the firm are hard working, energetic men, and the sympathies of the entire community are with them.
The meeting Monday night determined to make an effort to have the "round house" ground donated to Showers Bros. for a factory as the railroad company has not complied with its agreed contract.
No time was wasted in rebuilding the Showers factory. The following article appeared in the Republican Progress for 15 Oct 1884, on page 2:
Opening of the Showers Bros. New Factory
It was just two weeks ago last Thursday at 4 o'clock, that the whistle on Showers Bros. Bedstead Factory sounded an alarm that brought the people to the grounds in the eastern portion of town only to find the establishment wrapped in flames. On last Thursday at 4 o'clock the machinery in the new factory on the Graham lots, one square west of College Avenue, was put in motion for the first time, and the occasion was seized upon by the many warm friends of the Showers Brothers as the proper one to show their gratification over the fact that these energetic men were again on their feet, better prepared in every respect to meet the requirements of their rapidly growing business.
The Riley Dramatic Band headed a procession of citizens that marched over to the grounds at 3:30 PM... The machinery building was then crowded with people curious to see the whirring machines. Everything moved like clockwork, showing that the Showers brothers are complete masters of the situation, let them be placed where they may...
The brick layers finished the last of the three buildings on Saturday evening, and everything will be in running order this week. Providence seems to have smiled upon this enterprise as the weather, usually rough at this season of the year and unfit for outdoor work, has been phenomenally fine, thus enabling the builders to push to completion the work begun only some four weeks ago.
Among all of our acquaintances, the Progress does not know of three men more deserving of their good fortune than the Showers Brothers. They are not drones but active workers in the hive, and with sleeves rolled up they lead in every department of work that is done in the factory. Mr. James Showers, the eldest of the brothers, is a skillful machinist and has no superior in this department, while William and Hull give special attention to the general details of the business in sales, shipment, etc.
The Showers factory continued to expand, according to this item from the Republican Progress of 11 August 1899:
Showers Bros. will add a saw milling department to their furniture works and put in their own electric light plant within a few weeks. Contract for the necessary machinery was closed yesterday.
In the 14 Apr 1905 Telephone, page 4:
One of the largest real estate trades ever made in Bloomington is now being closed. Otto May has sold his property on North Walnut Street, corner of 7th, of four lots to W. N. Showers, W. E. Showers and William A. Rice. The purchase price is said to be $20,000. The property embraces the Clay Beard livery stable, the business room occupied by the Foster & Griffin harness store, and the residence property, corner of 7th and Walnut streets, now occupied by Dr. W. N. Culmer [?]. Just what the new purchasers will do in the way of improvement is not definitely known, only that a number of store rooms will be made. The new proprietors have had an option on the property for some time.
John Bright and Mrs. Richard Bright have bought the W. N. Showers property, once owned by John W. Buskirk, East 7th Street, for $3,300. As part of the consideration, Mr. Showers takes a house and lot on the corner of 10th and Grant streets for $1,500.
The Telephone, 5 Aug 1910, reported on the progress of the Showers factory's relocation on page 3:
It is moving day almost every day up at the Showers factory. As soon as a department is completed, the transfer is made and the other work goes on as usual. The motors were tested out yesterday and proved all that was expected. By the end of another month it is expected to get most of the work completed.
The whistle for the new Showers plant is one of the largest made; it measures 12 inches diameter and 42 inches long and on a still day can be heard for ten miles.
The Telephone mentioned 22 Aug 1910, on page 4, an article on the Showers Co. in another paper. Can anybody locate this issue of the Indianapolis Star?
The Indianapolis Star of today publishes an excellent write-up on the Showers Bros. Company business and especially the life work of William N. Showers. It is the work of Louis Ludlow and makes a very interesting and attractive story of which every resident of Bloomington must be justly proud. It is certainly most complimentary to Mr. Showers.
11 Oct 1910, the Telephone reported, on its front page, the generosity of Isabelle (Allen) Showers and other citizens who started Bloomington's public library:
The members of the Nineteenth Century Club, of which Mrs. J. D. Showers is president, are planning to open a free public library within the next few weeks. The county commissioners have granted the use for the purpose of the room in the courthouse formerly occupied by the city water works office. Shelving for the room was donated by W. J. Allen.2
The collection will largely consist of two classes of books, fiction and children's books. The nucleus will be formed by the 450 children's books placed about a year ago by State Sup't Aley in the University library. This has been supplemented by the books donated by various individuals. To further increase the usefulness of the collection, as well as to secure the success of the new enterprise, it is earnestly requested that every family in town possessing books of the above description should look them over and present to the new public library whatever is suitable and they may be willing to donate. Such donations may be left at Bowles drug store or at the office of Dr. Lucy Gardner. In the case of a number of books being given they will be called for by telephoning to 1293.
The library committee is composed of Mrs. J. B. Voss,2 Dr. Lucy Gardner, and Mrs. Samuel Pfrimmer. It is expected that the library will be in operation within two or three weeks. The hours will be on Saturday morning from nine until twelve.
After each federal census, the center of the United States' population is recomputed. The following appeared on the front page of the Bloomington Weekly Courier, 13 October 1911:
Population Center Was Lighted Last Night
A Large Tungsten Globe On 70 foot Pole Illuminated the Showers Plant Last NightThe electric light on the tower of the Showers factory denoting the center of population of the United States was lighted for the first time last night and could be seen in any part of the city. The iron pole on which it is mounted is 70 feet high and a 100 watt Tungsten kight is used in a globe larger that the ones on the city's cluster lights...
Showers & Co. built new factory and office buildings, as well as houses for its employees, during the next few years. The Bloomington Evening World reported on its front page, 28 Feb 1913:
Showers Company To Build 75 Houses
Completion of Addition to Factory Will Require Many More Homes to House the Employees.
With the completion of the mammoth addition to the Showers factory this spring, and the employment of about five hundred more hands, the matter of housing the additional help comes up as a problem.
It is said that the Showers Company will erect seventy five attractive bungalows on their fifteen acre addition just north of the city limits which will be rented to the employees. The houses will front on College Avenue, Madison and Morton streets and will contain from three to five rooms each. An architect will prepare the plans and the houses are to be made attractive. They are to cost $800 or more each.
As there is already a great demand for small rental houses the erection of the additional bungalows by the Showers company will relive the situation this spring.
The Daily Telephone reported 3 Mar 1913, on its front page:
THE SHOWERS DOUBLE FACTORY
Great Improvement Soon to be in Operation
Within another six weeks it is the hope of the Showers Bros. Company to have the wheels turning in the new factory building. Work of construction is progressing nicely and the first steam was turned in the heating pipes Saturday. The new plant is larger and better equipped than the present factory, and within three months it is expected that as many workmen will be employed therein. A fine Corless engine is to be a feature--one of the best in the state--and the other machinery is the very best that can be secured both as to quality and labor saving. A number of new patterns of furniture will be made, and when this new plant is completed the Showers company will turn out most kinds of house furniture that are manufactured and, in fact, the big factory expects to do more than double the amount of business that is now transacted which will also require double or more workingmen.
Two days later, Showers made the Evening World's front page once again:
Showers Factory On 12 1-2 Hour Day Run
The Showers Bros. Furniture factory yesterday started on a twelve and a half hour per day run. The men work nine hours during the day and work after supper until fifteen minutes of nine.
The Showers Company is rushed with orders and is compelled to work extra hours to take care of its rapidly increasing business.
Business men say that business conditions throughout the country are better at this time than for several months an [sic] the outlook is good for a prosperous year generally.
The Telephone for 25 July 1916 reported on page 4:
SHOWERS OFFICE BUILDING NEARLY DONE
The new Showers factory administration building on North Morton is nearly completed, and it is expected to have it ready to occupy next week.
The Showers furniture business continued to grow and prosper for several decades. The following was found among "answers to antique questions" at roaring-twenties.com:
Showers furniture was started by Charles Christopher Showers in 1850 in Bloomington, IN. He sold it to his eldest sons William and James in 1868 for $300 so he could return to life on the road as a Methodist minister. He was later killed in a train accident in 1882. Showers Furniture supplied to Montgomery Ward, Spiegel and Sears mail order; in fact, the first coach of the Hoosiers left coaching to go to work for Mr.Sears (who was managing Showers furniture at the time).
Showers Furniture's height of prosperity came in the 1920's and billed itself as "the Largest Furniture Factory in the World". Despite it being the second largest employer in Monroe County, Showers Furniture never quite recovered from the Depression and later sold its Plant No. 4 to RCA in 1940. It sold the remainder of the business to Storkline Furniture in 1956 and sold to Indiana University 3 years later.
Thanks to Jane McWilliams for this answer.
Most of the articles quoted above were made available via Rootsweb's Monroe county discussion list, thanks to the hard work of volunteers such as Randi Richardson and Angel Gebhart.