When Charles Turner Hills, of Muskegon, Michigan, passed away December 3, 1902, at the ripe age of eighty-one years, there departed a pioneer who left behind him material evidences of his energy, thrift and benevolence, the memory of a career worthy of emulation by posterity and a personal and business reputation that still lives and will continue to survive for many years. His name is so inseparably linked with the history of the white pine industry of Muskegon and of Michigan that the annals of the growth of that city and state would not be complete without a recital of his career.
Charles Turner Hills was the eldest of five children. He was born November 14, 1821, at Bennington, Vermont, where he obtained his early education in the public schools. At the age of thirteen he began his active career, going to Troy, New York, to take the position of clerk in a dry goods store. His father moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in January, 1838, and he followed in April of the same year. In the new state, which had but recently been admitted to the Union, his family experienced the trying hardships of an existence in its almost unbroken wilderness. Turner Hills, the father, died in 1842, and his mantle naturally fell upon the eldest son.
Looking for larger opportunities, Charles Turner Hills left home May 25, 1852, in company with a younger brother, and journeyed to Muskegon, reaching there after a two days’ trip through leagues of unbroken timber. Although Muskegon at that time was nothing but a village, the young man recognized its great possibilities and the opportunities it afforded for making a fortune, to one who possessed the ability and— what was perhaps more necessary—the perseverance. With his brother he built a shanty on the banks of Black creek, four miles from the town, and there his connection with the lumber industry began with the shaving of shingles by hand. After two months of this work, he and his brother took up their habitation on the Muskegon river, four miles south of Sand Creek, and continued to work together until 1853, when Mr. Hills went to Muskegon and his brother returned to the family home in Kent county.
Mr. Hills’ first business position in Muskegon was that of clerk for the lumber firm of Ryerson & Morris. His employment by this concern at that time did not seem a matter of any moment, but it was one of the most important steps in his career, for he was identified with the interests of this firm during the remainder of his active business life. His salary the first year was $350; the second year $450 with board. In 1859 he took charge of the firm’s books and became more closely identified with the concern’s interests. In 1865, when Mr. Ryerson bought out the interest of Mr. Morris in the saw mill, Mr. Hills was taken into partnership. The new firm, known as Ryerson, Hills & Co., was composed of Martin Ryerson, Charles T. Hills, H. H. Getty and Ezra Stevens. All of these, with the exception of Mr. Getty, are now deceased. Ryerson, Hills & Co. became one of the most important lumber firms on the Muskegon river. As Mr. Ryerson had moved to Chicago in 1851, the immediate management of the business devolved almost entirely upon Mr. Hills and Mr. Getty. Martin A. Ryerson became a member of the firm January 1, 1881, succeeding his father, Martin Ryerson, who had retired from active service and who died September 6, 1887.
Ryerson, Hills & Co. did a tremendous business in Michigan white pine. They made large investments on the Muskegon river. The manufacture of lumber and its marketing rendered them a large profit, which was augmented by the increase in the value of the lands. The output of the firm averaged 50,000,000 feet of white pine every year. It owned two saw mills and operated its own fleet of lumber-carrying vessels.
Although Ryerson, Hills & Co. was one of the most prominent of Muskegon’s lumber manufacturing concerns, only one member of the firm continued to make Muskegon his home during the latter years of its operation and after it had ceased business. Mr. Hills invested money in local enterprises and closely identified himself with the material growth of the city. He was one of the prominent and potent factors in the upbuilding of Muskegon’s present industrial greatness, which has succeeded her renown as a lumber producing point. In the latter years of his life he enjoyed some of the ease which he had so well earned by early hardship and untiring energy.
In the organization and in the administration of the affairs of the Muskegon Booming Company, Mr. Hills was one of the chief figures. He was the company’s first president, and held that office at various periods for many terms. He possessed an expert knowledge of log running. He knew not only how to conduct the affairs of a great booming company, but also was familiar with the best methods employed in the woods and on the river.
Mr. Hills was an enthusiastic member of the Masonic fraternity. He was Eminent Commander of his Commandery fifteen times. He was a thirty-third degree Mason and a charter member of Muskegon Chapter No. 47, Royal Arch, Muskegon Commandery No. 22, Knights Templar, and Dewitt Clinton Consistory. He held many offices in the Masonic bodies. He was two years District Deputy Grand Master. His Masonic history would fill a page. Its crowning event was the presentation by Mr. Hills to the Muskegon Masonic societies of a magnificent Masonic Temple. No building of its kind in the United States surpasses it in the artistic strength of its exterior or the beauty and utility of its interior arrangement. Mr. Hills spent $42,000 in erecting the building and $8,000 more was expended in furnishing it. It was completed in June, 1900, and dedicated September 12, of the same year, the event being marked by one of the greatest Masonic gatherings in the history of Michigan. Masons, distinguished both in the order and in public life, journeyed to Muskegon from all over the country, and the entire Michigan Grand Lodge attended. Mr. Hills lived to see the temple completed and to have evidence of its appreciation by the Masonic bodies which used it. He died December 3, 1902. The funeral services over the deceased lumberman were among the most impressive in the history of the state and were conducted under the auspices of its most eminent Masonic officers.
- Petitioned Muskegon Lodge No. 140, F.& A.M., March 2, 1863.
- Initiated March 20, 1863; passed April 9, 1863; raised April 20, 1863; dimitted January 1, 1866 (in order to form Lodge #182).
- Petitioned Grand Rapids Chapter R.A.M., #7, November 23, 1863.
- Elected December 21, 1863. Advanced, elected, presided and exalted March 3, 1864.
- Petitioned De Molai Commandery, Knights Templar, #5, stationed at Grand Rapids, October 26, 1866. Elected, dubbed, and created October 26, 1866; dimitted November 6, 1868.
- Received the degree of Royal and Select Master in Tyre Council #10, Grand Rapids, December 18, 1873.
- Received the grades of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite to the 14th grade in Grand Rapids, April 24th, 1868, and the grades from the 14th to the 32d in Detroit, May 13, 1868.
- Received the 33d and last degree in Portland, Mained, August 19, 1875.
- Charter member of Lovell Moore Lodge #182, F. & A.M.
- Charter member of Muskegon Chapter #47, R.A.M.
- Charter member of Muskegon Commandery #22, Knight Templar.
- Charter member of DeWitt Clinton Consistory.
- Received the degrees of the Royal Order of Scotland in Milwaukee, September 18, 1878.
- Elected Senior Warden of Muskegon Lodge #140, F. & A.M., December 21st, 1863 (same year as his initiation).
- Elected Worshipful Master of Muskegon Lodge #140, F. & A.M., December 12, 1864 (Third master of the lodge).
- Elected Worshipful Master of Lovell Moore Lodge #182, F. & A.M., January 18, 1866.
Elected Treasurer of Lovell Moore Lodge #182, F. & A.M., December 19, 1866, and re-elected December 11, 1872, and May 27, 1874.
- Elected Scribe in Muskegon Chapter #47, R.A.M., February 9, 1867, and installed by the Grand High Priest February 14, 1867. Re-elected Scribe December 5, 1867.
- Elected High Priest December 24, 1868.
- Elected Treasurer December 1, 1870 and re-elected 1871, 1872, 1873, 1874, 1875, 1876, 1877, 1878, 1879, 1880, and 1881.
- Elected district Deputy Grand Master June 1873, and re-elected 1874.
- Elected Deputy Grand Commander of the Grand Commandery of Michigan, June 1874.
- Elected Eminent Commander of Muskegon Commandery #22, K.T., June 16, 1868, and re-elected in 1869, 1870, 1871, 1872, 1873, 1874, 1875, 1876, 1877, 1878, 1879, 1880, 1881.
- Elected Generalissimo April 1, 1884.
- Elected Eminent Commander for the 15th time in the Spring of 1886.
- Received the degrees of the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles the Mystic Shrine in Detroit, April 24, 1882.
- Charter member of Saladin Temple A.A.O.N.M.S.
- Appointed High Priest and Prophet of Saladin Temple, April 22, 1886.
- Elected High Priest and Prophet of Saladin Temple, December 15, 1887.
- Donated Temple to Masonic Bodies of Muskegon, September 12, 1900.