The Internet can be a wonderful thing. Recently, I have been spending many hours to research and locate descendants of previous owners of the Hackett Automobile Company building. You may know by now that I am the guy spearheading the creation of the Hackett Auto Museum located at 615 Hupp Avenue in Jackson.
It will be a community space in the form of a car museum, public event venue and state of the art storage facility for collector cars. Our mission and vision is to preserve, protect and promote Jackson’s early automotive heritage. Essentially creating a permanent home for Jackson made automobiles.
Researching the building’s history has not been an easy task considering the building has been the home to some fourteen businesses dating back to 1886.Because Jackson’s early robust industrial business of the early twentieth century disappeared so long ago, researching and connecting with descendents has proven to be quite the undertaking. However, through genealogy websites, the extensive help of Mr. Camile Thorrez, the Internet and hours of research at the State of Michigan Library archives, I have been able to connect with four family members of the building’s early owners.
Probably the most remarkable of the four was when I received a late night telephone call from Dr. Robert Tygh several months ago. But first I need to share a little background that, in my mind, proves there really is such a thing as divine intervention.
Dr. Tygh’s nephew was working his shift at the airport in Los Angeles this past winter. During his lunch break a fellow co-worker at LAX was reading a copy of the Hemming’s Motor News. The co-worker was reading a story about a new car museum being built in Jackson, Michigan and that one of the original owners was a guy named Charles Lewis. He looked up and said “Hey! Your last name is Lewis, I wonder if you are related.”
As luck would have it, turns out he is the great-grandson of Jackson’s onetime largest employer, Charles Lewis. So he reached out to me and shared what little family information he was aware of and then asked if he could give my telephone number to his uncle, who was better versed in the family genealogy. So one night this past spring, I received a call from Dr. Robert Tygh who is the surviving great-grandson of Charles Lewis, the founder of the Lewis Spring and Axle Company.
Jackson history books tell us that Mr. Lewis was the man who bought out the previous business of S. Heyser & Son then built many of the five or so buildings that once stood at the corner of Park Place and Park Street in Jackson. Now called Hupp Avenue. Today, there is still nearly 15,000 square feet of those buildings left standing. This is where Mr. Lewis built his fortune by capitalizing on springs and axles need for the production of horse drawn buggies and wagons. Albeit, at the end of what was to be the age of America’s Horse drawn vehicles. While manufacturing springs and axles for buggies, wagons, bicycles and then eventually automobiles, Mr. Lewis was Jackson’s largest employer for nearly a decade.
Now retired, Dr. Tygh shared a wealth of information with me in a long telephone conversation one evening. A boy who grew up in Jackson, and then received his degree from the college of veterinary science at Michigan State University, Dr. Tygh, who did not know his great-grandfather, did relate many stories of his parents and grand parents. Chief among them that his grandfather, Charles Lewis, Jr., did not really have the interest or business savvy of the elder Mr. Lewis and subsequently split up or lost the family business with one section of it eventually being absorbed by Tecumseh Engine sometime midway through the twentieth century. He remembered that his grandfather loved to play the piano and was a fine gentleman. Just not cut from the same cloth as his father and therefore lacked business acumen and interest.However, Dr. Tygh has some fond memories of Jackson as a child even though he moved away to pursue veterinary science and then settling in the southern United States. Chief among them: shopping at Hinkley Donuts and visiting the factories his great grand father built.
Perhaps his most vivid memory of his great-grandfather Lewis is from the day his family paid their last respects to his maternal grandfather, George Tygh, when at the age of five he was witness to the entombment of his grandfather’s casket in the Lewis family’s large mausoleum in Jackson’s Woodland cemetery. Dr. Tygh quipped, “Going into that mausoleum was pretty scary to a five year old boy” and he vividly remembers granddad’s casket being slid into a large drawer. He also distinctly recalls his father explaining that the other occupant of the mausoleum was the young boys great-grandfather, Charles Lewis.
Even though the Lewis family mausoleum still stands, there isn’t much left of the Lewis Spring and Axle Company other then the building being rehabilitated into the Hackett Auto Museum, along with about one thousand square feet of the building next-door that served as office space for those early industrial giants as they passed through the community. Aside from the Hackett building itself and the former Jackson Car factory, now called the Commercial Exchange building, Dr Tygh has little in the way of mementos from Jackson. Among them, he still retains a small wind up toy car that belonged to his father (possibly a rendition of the Jackson made “Hollier” automobile of which his great-grandfather was a founding board member and investor). He also has a small trophy cup that was passed down through the family with the inscription “5 Mile Open – August 7, 1905 – Cars Under $1,500 – Won by Jackson Motor Company - Jackson, Michigan.
Today, Dr. Tygh enjoys his retirement and is looking forward to attending the ribbon cutting of the Hackett Auto Museum in 2019.
As my research continues into the past of the Hackett Automobile Company and the physical site of its location, I am convinced more historical gems will rise to the surface so that I can do my part by giving back to the community and helping to educate area citizens about Jackson’s grand automotive past.
This is a picture of the 1886 Sanborn fire map. It shows the location of the future Hackett Auto Museum at the corner of Waterloo Avenue and Park Street on this particular map. The street names were changed sometime during the 1930s. The large pink building on the corner of Waterloo and park was the home to Lewis spring and axle. Then became the home and factory for the standard electric on mobile. And then it became the original plant where the first “Jaxon” steam cars was created. Eventually it was purchased by Benjamin Briscoe for making the ARGO car and then Horace Hackett to produce the HACKETT.
Written by Ted O'Dell
Founder & Executive Director