The Gazette’s page 1 headline on Jan. 2, 1917, said: “New Year Gift to Cedar Rapids.”
The “gift” was that Holland Furnace Co. of Holland, Mich., had agreed to build a branch factory in Cedar Rapids and have it open by May 1.
The company had opened 55 branches in six states since it incorporated in 1906. That first year, Holland Furnace sold 500 furnaces. By 1916, it had sold 12,000.
Company officials were so impressed with Cedar Rapids they agreed to build a larger plant — of brick, steel and tile — than they’d initially planned.
The Cedar Rapids Commercial Club, the forerunner of the Chamber of Commerce, agreed to provide Holland with 7 acres on 17th Street and F Avenue NE, land that belonged to the Pawnee Land and Improvement Co. It also agreed to finance the building.
W.J. Kelsey, general agent for the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway, came to Cedar Rapids on Feb. 13, 1917, to start building tracks to the new factory.
Construction began immediately of a 160-by-400-foot, one-story building at a cost of $36,000.
By October 1919, Holland expanded, building a 150-by-75-foot addition at 12th Avenue and 11th Street that was north and west of the original building. It was planned to be two stories, but construction materials were difficult to obtain so soon after World War I. The addition was to increase production from 40 to 100 furnaces a day.
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Work on a second story finally started in October 1923. The addition, which included a gymnasium, new offices and a recreation hall, doubled the plant’s capacity and employment.
It was the second industrial gym in Cedar Rapids, with the first one at Quaker Oats. The industrial league basketball teams played at both gyms in the 1920s.
By 1926, production was increasing at the Cedar Rapids plant, the one in Holland, Mich.., and at a new factory in Bethlehem, Pa.
The Cedar Rapids plant closed in December 1930 during the Great Depression, then reopened with a full crew for three days a week in January 1931 before returning to a full production schedule.
MAYOR SUES, LOSES
In March 1932, Cedar Rapids Mayor Charles D. Huston sued Cedar Rapids manufacturers, seeking to increase their property tax assessments beyond what the State Board of Assessment and Review had agreed upon. Although Huston’s suit did not specifically mention Holland Furnace, the corporation’s executives took exception and immediately closed its Cedar Rapids factory.
A committee of local businessmen, headed by Three Minute Oats General Manager John C. Reid, attempted to intervene, but failed.
Reid told The Gazette that in 1929, the state board had reevaluated the value of Cedar Rapids’ manufacturing plants.
“A substantial (assessment) increase was made at that time by and with the consent and cooperation of the manufacturers themselves,” Reid said. “A new valuation was made under the law in 1931 and the valuations then fixed by the state board are the valuations now in effect.”
He then related the repercussions he felt Huston’s actions could have.
“It is hard to convince men of industry in other states, who maintain factories in Cedar Rapids, that there is nothing for them to worry about when a Cedar Rapids mayor makes two consecutive campaigns with the investments of those manufacturers as his one and only target and issue,” he said.
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The loss of the factory resulted in Mayor Huston decisively losing his re-election bid to William H. Stepanek, 10,122 to 7,180.
With the Holland factory shuttered, Eddy Paper Corp. and Kieckhefer Container Co. leased space in the building at 1714 F Ave. NE in November 1935.
Eddy Paper, headquartered in Chicago, had 14 plants around the country. The one in Cedar Rapids built wood shipping containers for poultry and fresh meat.
Holland Furnace retained a small part of the building for distribution, sales and service until December 1938, when it moved into rented space on First Avenue West.
Eddy Paper moved to a new plant at 950 Shaver Rd. NE in April 1949. (Eddy Paper and partner company, Kieckhafer, merged with Weyerhaeuser in 1957.)
The Holland plant, “100,000 square feet of it under roof,” according to The Gazette, was sold to Iowa Manufacturing, 916 16th St. NE, in June 1948. Industrialist Howard Hall started Iowa Manufacturing in 1923 to make rock crushing and paving equipment.
Iowa Manufacturing agreed to a merger with Raytheon Co. in December 1971, a deal that was completed the following year. The company was renamed Cedarapids Inc., which was then sold to Terex Corp. of Westport, Conn., in 1999. Terex Cedarapids closed in 2010.
At some point, the old Holland/Eddy Paper plant was razed.