Before we start the tale, have you given a thought to February’s holiday? Surely your Valentine would love some Holler Roast. We will gift wrap, tuck in a card, and ship directly to the one you love.
My own valentine, Chuck, celebrates his birthday every February. That’s why this month’s Coffee Tale tells a story of coffee roasting in the U.S. as it relates – rather loosely – to his family. As you’ll see, the tale travels most of the way across the U.S.
Victor Coffee Company
Boston’s Victor Coffee Company, established about 1790, is reputed to be the oldest coffee roasting company in the U.S. The family-owned enterprise began in Boston, growing steadily until family member Crawford Ruggles Ferguson sold it to S&D Coffee in 2000. That acquisition made S&D the second largest domestic food service coffee roaster, according to a press release. Chuck’s father was connected with Victor Coffee.
In the 1940s, Adelbert Lyman Johnson – Chuck’s dad – became a yacht captain. He commanded the 54-foot cabin cruiser “Trim Fore,” which at the time belonged to Victor Coffee Company’s president Stanley Ruggles Ferguson. During summer months Capt. Johnson piloted the Trim Fore along the northeast U.S. coast. Through the winter he took it to Florida.
The “Trim Fore” was designed by Eldridge McInnis and built by James Graves in Marblehead, Massachusetts in 1941.
Both Stanley W. Ferguson (father) and Crawford Ruggles Ferguson (son) were avid sailors. In addition to the cabin cruiser, Stanley commissioned a sailing catboat – in a specially built boathouse erected on his Pocasset estate. The “Trim Again” was begun in 1957 and launched in 1959. It still exists: 24 feet of sailing perfection built “without regard to cost,” reports a Catboat Association article. It can be chartered today.
Victor Family Ties
It takes heart and grit to keep a business alive for nearly 200 years. The extended Ferguson family exhibits both. Closely related by birth or marriage, the Crawfords, the Ruggles, and the Fergusons appear time and again in reports both of coffee roasting and U.S. history.
Crawford and Ruggles
Ancestor Elizur Ruggles was the first white settler and built the very first house in the township of Milford, Michigan, having “traveled west” from the U.S. coast to what was, early in the 19th century, wilderness. He and John Crawford were in residence when Milford was platted in 1836. Elizur and Stanley Ruggles built the area’s first sawmill in 1832. In 1839, they sold it to Stephen and John L. Armstrong, millers until about 1853. The mill then was sold, along with its important allied water power. It was destroyed in 1856 in a remarkable community uprising. From the township’s newspaper, we learn:
“This dam business will be here partially explained. The citizens of this town […] had long suffered severe sickness from the spread of so much stagnant water over so large a surface. There was one period […] in 1847 [when] there were hardly well ones enough to take care of the sick. [N]aught could be seen on the streets except now and then a pale, sickly-looking shadow inquiring for the doctor. […]
Finally, in 1856, […] matters came to a climax. [Then mill owner] Hughes being absent in Ohio on business, one bright spring morning the farmers from up the river, with their teams, “gathered at the river,” or rather at the dam, and before night not a log was left upon another.
Mrs. Hughes […] took the names of the depredators, which were given freely. She told them they would hear from her husband. They told her they distinctly understood the consequences, but it made no difference. The dam was leveled, and to-day Milford is as healthy as any town of its size.”
Records in Massachusetts, Nebraska, and Utah reveal another remarkable character, Isaac David Ferguson. He may have been born on the banks of the Platte River in Nebraska while his parents traveled the emigrant trail. A robust man, he was already a recognized guide for emigrant trains by his 20th birthday.
This Coffee Tale is little more than a bow to Victor Coffee’s nearly 200 years of coffee roasting. It travels from the Eastern seaboard to Utah on the route of our country’s hardy pioneers. It’s our opinion that both factors are worthy: a pioneering spirit and persevering devotion to business. And, by the way, enjoy the new harvest of Monsooned Malibar coffee beans, February’s Coffee of the Month.