Thursday, April 12, 2018

Nissen Wagon Dealers in Caswell County, North Carolina

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The Nissen Wagon Works of John Philip Nissen, located in Forsyth County, North Carolina, was one of the largest wagon makers in the south during the nineteenth century. By 1850 Nissen was producing 65 wagons annually, far more than his competitors. The good years that followed found Nissen tripling the amount of capital invested in his business as he purchased steam-powered and horse-powered machinery to double his production capacity.

John Philip Nissen managed the business until after the Civil War, when two of his sons, George E. and William M., began to operate the firm under the name George E. Nissen Wagon Works. At the peak of production, this company produced about ten thousand wagons a year. John Israel Nissen, another son of J. P. Nissen, also established a wagon factory, which he later sold to his brother, Christian Francis (Frank).

The separate Nissen wagon factories were consolidated in 1910 and continued to operate under the Nissen name until 1925 when it was sold for nearly $1 million.

Source: Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. [Online at NCPedia].

Caswell County had at least two Nissen Wagon dealers: Daniel E. Wilkinson (1851-1931), who sold the wagons from his store in the Ridgeville Community of Caswell County; and Thomas Moore Allen (1859-1926), who lived in Semora.

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This prominent country store in the Ridgeville Community of Caswell County (southeast corner), North Carolina, was owned and operated by Daniel E. Wilkinson (1851-1931). In addition to the usual wares expected in a country store, Wilkinson also operated a pharmacy (filling prescriptions under a doctor's supervision) and was an agent for the the Geo. E. Nissen Wagon Company of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In one year Wilkinson sold over one-hundred wagons.

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The Caswell News, 25 November 1887. Note that Wilkinson did business with the two sons of J. P. Nissen, who operated under the name George E. Nissen Wagon Works.

Daniel E. Wilkinson, known as "Dan," came from Orange County to Ridgeville, (Pea Ridge at that time), Caswell County, N.C. to clerk in a store "The Grange." He later owned the store and other businesses. People came from great distances to shop at the village of Ridgeville. The businesses consisted of a general store which housed a post office, drug store, piece goods, shoes, groceries, and other items. There was also a gas station, a men's clothing store, millinery . . ., farm equipment including the Geo. E. Nissen Wagon, blacksmith shop, saw mill and grist mill. Mr. Wilkinson went to New York periodically to buy merchandise. Dr. Bedford E. Love from Roxboro roomed over the millinery, taking his meals with the Wilkinsons and working with S. C. [Samuel Claire] Wilkinson dispensing drugs to receive credit towards his education. Dr. Harvey Robinson practiced medicine in the community and his prescriptions were filled at Ridgeville Drug Store.

Mr. Wilkinson was postmaster of Ridgeville Post Office for fifty-one years having served eight years as assistant postmaster of Pea Ridge Post Office and Ridgeville Post Office. "Uncle Sam" expressed the opinion that in actual tenure of service Mr. Wilkinson has a record which stands out uniquely in the Postal Service of the United States. He was the oldest postmaster in the U.S. at the time of his death both in point of service and age. His son, Samuel Clair Wilkinson, was sworn in as postmaster at the death of Daniel E. Wilkinson in 1931. He [Samuel Clair Wilkinson] served until his death in 1948, with his daughter, Elizabeth M. Wilkinson, serving as assistant post mistress during his illness and until the post office was closed in 1948. S. C. [Samuel Claire] Wilkinson also owned and operated the store after his father's death.

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Thomas Moore Allen apparently did business with Christian Francis (Frank) Nissen, at least in 1901. This is before the Nissen relatives consolidated their respective wagon works in 1910.

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Here is the rear of the above check, showing the endorsement by C. F. Nissen (and the documentary stamp). Set forth below is a 19 April 1899 letter from C. F. Nissen to Thomas M. Allen. Note the image of C. F. Nissen as part of the letterhead.

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 Office of C. F. Nissen,
Manufacturer Of
The Celebrated J. I. Nissen
Round and Square Hound Wagon.

Salem, N.C. 4/19/1899

Mr. Thos. M. Allen
Semora, N.C.

Sir -

Yours favor of 14th to hand -

Mr. W. E. Adams has never written me in regard to agency for my Wagons. As I wrote you in the outset I do not limit any certain amount of territory to my agents - but try not to crowd them to [sic] near together. And if it would conflict with your trade to place an agency at Alton Va - And if I find that you are working the trade sufficient in and around Alton I will not place an agency there - of course.

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I am like you and every other man. I am in business for the money there is in it, and want the territory worked.

Trust that you will be able to work up a good trade -

Yours & C

C. F. Nissen

PS How far is Alton Va from your place -

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