What is the connection with the Wurzburg and Powers families?
Hint: It has to do with Powers’ Opera House, Regent Theatre and music…
The Powers’ and Wurzburg families were life-long friends. About the time of the Civil War William T. Powers builds a brick Italianate with cupola just west of his factories on the west side canal on the southwest corner of Summer Avenue and Allen Street. Sometime after William T. Powers moves his family into the upper floors of the opera house on Pearl Street circa 1874, Frederick W. Wurzburg family moves into the house on Summer and Allen.
Frederick Adolphus (F. A.) Wurzburg, son of Frederick William (F. W.) Wurzburg who opened the first store in 1872, was music director at Powers’ Opera House for 9 years during the 1880s. Then a William M. Wurzburg is music director and conducts the Regent Theatre Orchestra in the 1920s. William M. Wurzburg’s daughter, Irene, will share the big screen in September 1915 with him and cast of Grand Rapidians as they perform in Blissvelt Romance, the first local film shot in Grand Rapids August 1915. But it does not end there, Donald Belknap Wurzburg, Frederick A.’s son, will marry actress, Helen Wallace of New York, who has joined William H. Wright’s, Wright Players at Powers’ Theatre in the 1932–33 season.
My Life in Stitches — Sentimental Stitches
by Gay Bomers
July 20th is always a difficult day for me and this year I decided to make it a “positive day”. Time seems to go by so quickly and I feel bad I haven’t found time to set up the camera and work on more videos for you so I thought I’d put hands to keyboard to share some history. Parts of this were included in a workshop I presented a few years ago where we worked on the most popular of the F. A. Wurzburg kit quilts.
The story of the F. A. Wurzburg Company is really about 4 very special people, their connection to each other, their unusual dedication to quilting, the community and their roles in this unique story. Some of the things I talk about have nothing to do with quilting and the needlework collection but many things will. I hope through both avenues of information you’ll gain some insight into each of these people and their tremendous contributions to quilting history.
Some of what you hear will surprise you as you find out things you always believed to be true are just a little bit different than you thought. Hopefully you won’t be disappointed and instead be inspired and intrigued by what your learn. It’s not my intention to lesson the studies of other historians interested in art needlework, kit quilts and quilting. It’s just that I’ve had the privilege of growing up and working with someone who was part of it all, loved it dearly, protected it’s heritage and lovingly shared it with me.
I’ll begin with Jane Belknap Wurzburg, the talented lady who designed all of the quilt kits and needlework items. She was born in September 1871 in Grand Rapids, Michigan to Capt. Charles E. Belknap and his wife Chloe.
Her father was a famous early resident of Grand Rapids and a much celebrated officer serving with General Sherman during the Civil War. He was a founder of the Grand Rapids Fire Department, member of the Board of Education, Alderman from the city’s Seventh Ward, Mayor of Grand Rapids in 1884, Member of the United States Congress from 1889-1892, Boy Scout commissioner 1922-1929. He died January 16, 1929 and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery. A memorial stands in his honor in Baldwin Park located at the intersection of Lake Drive and Fulton Street. It’s inscription reads — “This memorial, originally inspired by the Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls, has been erected by friends who admired Captain Belknap’s patriotic public services, his winsome friendliness and simplicity, and the practical Christianity of his Exemplary life.”
These characteristics he most decidedly instilled in his daughter Jane as you’ll later find out but very little is known of her childhood.
The Belknap home where Jane grew up was part of the Heritage Hill Walking Tour and is located at 455 Madison SE.
Jane was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan and attended school here. Being from a prominent family it shouldn’t be a surprise that she would meet and eventually marry an equally prominent young gentleman, Frederick Adolphus Wurzburg on Oct 1 1890 at the age of 19.
Frederick A. Wurzburg, better known as F. A. or “Pa” was one of 16 children. He was born in New York City, Nov. 27, 1865, the son of Frederick W. and Augusta Wurzburg. F. A. came to Grand Rapids in 1872 with his family and in October of that year his father established the dry goods store that became Wurzburg’s Department Store.
Frederick A. went to school in Grand Rapids, attended Grand Rapids Business College and the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He was a concert violinist from 1882 to 1884 and was musical director at the Powers Theater in Grand Rapids for 9 years. He had a great deal of musical talent as a composer and director of stage plays. He was accomplished at playing the violin, saxophone and piano. It was said of him that as a cultured musician he was ready to use his music in whatever way seemed most to the benefit of the community. He directed his own boys orchestra of almost a dozen young men who were proud being in “Pa Wurzburg’s Orchestra”. The group played extensively in concerts here & broadcast from here and Chicago. For many years, my father, Garrett Raterink was the band’s soloist and his sister Adriana was the pianist for the group.
For 9 years he was the proprietor of a summer resort at Ottawa Beach, the site of many Wurzburg Company Parties. During that time he also served as Postmaster there and they built their own summer residence in 1907. Many of Frederick A. wonderful attributes are mentioned in the article “Who’s Who in Grand Rapids” from the May 4, 1929 Grand Rapids Spectator. Click on the picture to enlarge it for reading.
He began work as a clerk at his father’s Wurzburg’s Dept. Store in 1881 at the age of 16 and worked there until 1891. For local Grand Rapids residents and many others you’ll be surprised to learn this is where the story’s connection to the infamous department store with it’s beautiful Christmas windows and Santa Claus parade ends. The department store and the kit quilt company were independent companies operated by different members of the same family. The department store started by F.A.’s father was eventually operated by his brothers Edmund and William while F. A. went on to other endeavors.
During World War I, F. A. served two years as Captain of the American Red Cross. He served on the board of directors for several local banks including the Grand Rapids Savings Bank and was a member of numerous organizations.
F. A. and Jane had two children. Donald Belknap Wurzburg (D.B. – both men were usually referred to by their initials in general conversation), born Nov 19, 1891 and a daughter born in 1895 who sadly lived only 10 days and died on January 1, 1896. She is buried in the Belknap Brothers plot of Greenwood Cemetery. F. A. and Jane are interred in Graceland Mausoleum. There is an empty crypt next to them probably meant for their son but he moved to California in the 1940s after selling the company to my father and is buried there.
Their son was most decidedly their pride and joy. He too was educated in Grand Rapids and received a bachelors degree from the University of Michigan. In 1917 he joined his father’s business but soon after he enlisted for service in World War 1 and was assigned to the United States Aviation Corps in which he was a First Lieutenant and highly decorated for his aviation abilities.
It was during this time that his parents became very involved in the efforts of the American Red Cross. Jane Wurzburg was instrumental in the development and operation of the Red Cross canteen at the Union Station. The cheerful reception and the bite to eat which always awaited the soldiers and sailors passing through the station made the canteen known throughout the country. The entire family was part of the war effort. Upon his return from service D. B. began working again with his parents in addition to serving as Vice president of the Citizens Industrial Bank. He married Helen Wallace and they were the parents of one child, Donald Belknap Wurzburg Jr who was born in 1934.
The Wurzburg family home where F. A., Jane and D.B. lived remains a private residence today, although the grounds and Jane’s beautiful gardens are greatly reduced in size from their original glory. The house itself looks much the same at the corner of Robinson Rd and Plymouth. Neighboring homes were occupied by the many other Wurzburg family members as well as the Blodgett’s, Bissell’s and other prominent members of the community.
Garrett Raterink was born in Grand Rapids on June 2 1911 the oldest child of John and Dora Raterink. His upbringing was that of a traditional Dutch Reformed family of that time. His father served as City Commissioner and owned a furniture store on Grand Rapids west side. Although hard work and church involvement were stressed, Garrett wasn’t afraid to test the patience of his parents with a prank or two now and then. He was spunky, independent and hard worker.
The keen ear of a music teacher discovered the rich baritone singing voice Garrett was blessed with. Through a blend of “nature and nurture”, Garrett went on to win the esteemed Atwater Kent Music Competition and later hosted his own weekly radio show during the 1940s on WLAV.
Perhaps in an effort to curb the activities of this spirited 13 year old young man, an after school job was found for him by a neighbor, Hannah Cole who worked at F. A. Wurzburg and Son. She thought Garrett would be perfect as Mr. Wurzburg’s errand boy and so the lives of F. A., Jane, D.B. and Garrett came together in 1925. Garrett was a quick study when it came to learning new things and his exceptional vocal talents would lead you to believe he and F. A. had been “cut from the same cloth”. F. A. took Garrett under his wing and together they soared in both business and music. By the time Garrett was 19 years old he had performed in nearly every church in the city and was a regular in musical productions and plays in addition to being one of Pa Wurzburg’s Boys.
You now have some background on four very special people so tomorrow when I write the next installment and start telling stories you’ll know who I’m talking about. If you ever read something and it seems like there’s a missing piece to the story, please write to me and ask. So many little things are woven into my memories and make sense to me but maybe I’ve left out a piece or two when writing and don’t realize it. I’m working on this at the cottage and don’t have all my photographs and papers with me so I’ll be putting these posts in their own section of the web site so I can add to it when I get back to Grand Rapids.
By the Way — the most popular Wurzburg kit quilt — #3555 Formal Garden. The least popular. I’ll share that next time!
Garrett Raterink (June 2, 1911 – July 20, 2001)
Follow the Link to Gay Bomers “Sentimental Stitches” Blog
more to come…