When I found a little booklet titled “Presented with the Compliments of B.F. Avery & Sons…” in a box of oversized Smyth County Chancery Court papers, my first thought was how to, if possible, reunite it with the court case of which it was originally part. The booklet was part notebook, calendar, and company catalog, a common advertising tool. When I opened the front cover, I saw on its reverse side a picture of a log building with the caption, “B.F. Avery’s First Plow Factory, at Clarksville, Mecklenburgh (sic) Co., Va.” Then I wondered how I missed the connection between B.F. Avery and Clarksville. Was Clarksville really the starting point for one of America’s most famous farm implement companies? The temptation to chase down stories that may be unrelated to the work at hand, or go down a rabbit trail, is a great danger in the archivist’s line of work.
After a little digging – on my own time – I found that the answer is yes and no. When Benjamin Franklin Avery (born 1801) set sail from New York City in 1825 on a boat headed for Virginia, he left behind his legal career and prominent family in upstate New York, according to Luther D. Thomas’s 2003 book B.F. Avery and Sons: Pioneer Plow Makers. His plan was to start a manufacturing operation to make plows. … read more »