In 1852, the wagon and freight car firm of Sherman, Haskell, Aldridge & Company was founded in Michigan City, Indiana on the shores of Lake Michigan. The founders of the company were Dr. Mason C. Sherman, Frederick Haskell (1810-1890), and Hiram Aldridge, Haskell's brother-in-law. The three reportedly had moved to Michigan City from Ogdensburg, New York. Sherman left the firm in 1855 and sold his interest to John Barker (1818-1878). Barker, a merchant and grain broker, had originally come from Andover, Massachusetts to Michigan City in 1835. The firm's name was changed to Haskell, Barker & Aldridge. In addition to rail cars the firm produced Woodbury corn shelling threshing machines and J.J. Mann reapers. Upon Aldrige's retirment in 1858 the firm became known simply as Haskell & Barker. In 1871 the firm was incorporated as the Haskell & Barker Car Company. Haskell became president, Barker treasurer, and Nathaniel P. Rogers secretary. Rogers had joined the firm in 1864 as an accountant. John Barker retired in 1869, and his son John H. Barker joined the firm. Haskell retired in 1883, and John H. Barker became president with Rogers as secretary and treasurer. John H. Barker and Rogers ran the company until Rogers' death in 1906.
Haskell & Barker initially manufactured passenger and wood-structure freight rail cars. By the late 1850s they had ceased manufacture of passenger cars and devoted themselves strictly to freight cars. The American Civil War brought a surge in business because of government contracts. This increase in business not only grew the company but made it one of the largest employers in Indiana and one of the wealthiest.
The company at one time produced 15,000 cars a year and in 1907 was the largest factory complex in Indiana, covering fifty-one acres along Eighth and Wabash Streets. In 1907 there were 990,000 feet of factory space. The south yards consisted of 1,308,344 square feet on 109 acres. In 1913, Haskell & Barker suffered a massive fire at the south yards. In 1916 it became know as Haskell & Barker, Inc. After 1922 it was a subsidiary of the Pullman Car Company and in 1934 became known as the Haskell & Barker Shops of Pullman-Standard. It returned to manufacturing passenger cars briefly during World War II.
The factory is said to have been the birthplace of the modern assembly line, an innovation often credited to Henry Ford. The factory also produced the PS-1, the first standardized box car on American railroads. As the company entered the late 20th century, production shifted to other locations and the company announced the closing of the facility in December of 1970. At that time the workforce numbered seventy with over 1,000 workers having been laid off. The physical plant suffered a massive fire in July 1973 which totally destroyed the entire complex. Only two buildings survived, the original Haskell & Barker office built in 1914 and the machine shop next door. A warehouse on the north side of the complex also escaped the fire but was later razed.
The site of the Haskell & Barker factory site was made into an outlet shopping mall named Lighthouse Place, with the Pullman Cafe in the surviving Pullman buildings. The shopping center, renamed Prime Outlets by 2007, was at the time Michigan City's biggest attraction with over 3 million visitors.
Frederick Haskell was born in East Windsor, Connecticut in 1810, the son of Eli B. Haskell (1778-1861) and Sophia Bissell (1785-1816). He married Caroline E. Aldridge (1822-1900) on November 11, 1852 in Chazy, Clinton County, New York. Haskell was a dry goods merchant, as well as a miller and textile manufacturer before moving to Michigan City and becoming involved with Haskell & Barker. He and Caroline adopted a son, Frederick Tudor Haskell (1854-1935). Haskell retired in 1883 and sold his interests in the company. He died on May 6, 1890 in Chicago, Illinois and was buried in Odgensburg Cemetery, Ogdensburg, New York. His estate was valued at $1,635,000 and was left to his wife, various relations, and his adopted son.
John Barker married Cordelia Collamer (1818-1894) and the couple had at least two children, Anna and a son, John Henry Barker (1844-1910). John H. joined the company in 1869 upon the retirement of his father. John H. had been successfully engaged in the wholesale grocery business in Chicago and later in Springfield, Illinois prior to his return to Michigan City. John H. became the General Manger of the company, and in 1883 he became President. By 1910 he was worth an estimated fifty to sixty million dollars. The company became prosperous enough that John H. built a substantial mansion on Washington Street in Michigan City in 1905. This mansion was later listed on the National Register of Historic Places. John Barker was also president of the Harbor Company and played an instrumental role in many improvements in Michigan City, including erecting a bandstand in Washington Park. John H. was married twice. His first marriage was to Jennie M. Brooks (1843-1891). They had three children, who all died before the age of five. He married his second wife, Katherine Fitzgerald (circa 1858-1910) in 1893. They had one daughter, Catherine (1896-1970) who later married Charles V. Hickox. Both John H. and his wife died in 1910, and they were buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Michigan City.
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