The Sinclair Family


Caroline Soutter Sinclair, the estate's first owner, built the mansion between 1884 and 1886 as a home for her six children.

Initially called the "Sinclair Mansion" or "Fairhome," the estate symbolized the development of Cedar Rapids as an industrial center.

Newlyweds Thomas McElderry (T.M.) Sinclair and Caroline moved to Cedar Rapids in 1871. T.M. ran Sinclair & Company, which became the fourth largest meatpacking facility in the world. During an inspection of the plant in 1881, Thomas fell into an open elevator shaft and died shortly after.

In 1884, a widow with six children, Caroline began construction of a three story, 21-room mansion on ten acres of land. Located two miles from downtown, the home provided the benefits of country living for her children and placed the family home near her brother's estate.

Read more about the Sinclair family

A newspaper reporter wrote of not only the home, but the Sinclair family in glowing terms:

"The building is a grand one, an ornament and source of pride to the city, but none too worthy for the noble family that will soon occupy it."

Although the mansion provided her with a sophisticated and comfortable home, Caroline purchased a second home in 1887 in Philadelphia. The family spent the school year there to provide her children access to an East Coast education.

Although she only lived in Cedar Rapids part of the year, Caroline remained dedicated to the city by continuing the strong philanthropic work begun by her husband. In his memory, Caroline and the family built the Sinclair Memorial Church and a chapel on Coe College's campus. She provided generous financial support to numerous causes, including the YMCA, First Presbyterian Church, and foreign missions.

In 1905, the Sinclair children were grown and Caroline decided to move closer to town. She tried to find a charitable use for the house; however, plans to sell the mansion for use as an orphanage fell through.

In 1906, Caroline traded homes with George and Irene Douglas, the second family of Brucemore, and moved into their home on Second Avenue (now Grant Wood Chapel). She lived there until her death in 1917.

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Sinclair & Co.

The industrial history of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is linked to the city's close proximity to the river and railway, which made the transportation of goods and supplies more efficient.

In November of 1871, Thomas McElderry (T.M.) Sinclair expanded a successful family meatpacking business by opening his own plant in Cedar Rapids, capitalizing on the city's resources. Within a few years, T. M. Sinclair & Co. became the largest meatpacking plant in Iowa and the fourth largest in the world.

Read more about Sinclair & Co.

In 1832, T.M.'s father and uncle, John and Thomas Sinclair, organized a meat processing company in Belfast, Ireland. The J. & T. Sinclair Company processed pork for bacon and ham to be sent to England. The family opened a branch in Liverpool, England, where John's son, T.M., learned the family trade.

In 1862, T.M. and his cousin, John, opened an American branch of the company in New York before looking to the west to establish production closer to the source of the product. David Blakely, an employee of Sinclair & Co. moved to Cedar Rapids and suggested the city as a location for their new plant.

Railroads, which connected Cedar Rapids to Chicago in 1859, helped secure the venture's success. Trains shipped Sinclair & Co.'s products east and brought new residents to Cedar Rapids. By 1870, the population had more than tripled - from 1,830 to 5,940 people. In four years, approximately 400 people worked at Sinclair & Co., making it one of the largest employers in the region.

The first Sinclair & Co. plant in Cedar Rapids was in the heart of downtown on First Street Southeast in what had been the Higgins Icehouse. By 1872, the company purchased 16 acres of land along the Cedar River, just outside of the city limits. To maximize efficiency, the Northwestern Railroad agreed to lay tracks directly to the plant.

Sinclair & Co. became the second plant in the country to harvest river ice for ice refrigeration, which prevented meat from spoiling during warm temperatures. Meatpacking became a year-round business thanks in part to the plant's proximity to the Cedar River.

Sinclair & Co. processed an average of 3,000 hogs per day during the winter and 1,000 per day during the summer. Despite the bad smell and waste created by the plant, many praised the benefits of this industry:

"We doubt if even our citizens really appreciate the extent of this mammoth institution which is silently but surely making Cedar Rapids the pork market of Central Iowa.... The other day we took a look through the institution, witnessing the killing of hogs at the rate of one thousand a day.... Go through the cellars of this establishment and drive all thoughts of famine, for years to come, from your head.... Do we all, and especially the farmers, appreciate the immense benefit of such an institution? We can scarcely estimate the amount to which this one institution contributes to our prosperity." (The Times, December 4, 1873)

On March 24, 1881, T.M. died after falling into an elevator shaft while he was inspecting the plant. His brother-in-law, Charles Soutter, having worked in the New York packing house, assumed control of the company until 1889. Charles expanded Sinclair & Co., increasing employment and hog slaughter.

By 1913, competition from Danish sources of bacon and ham in the British market weakened the Sinclair & Co. business and the Chicago firm Schwarzchild and Sulzberger purchased the company. In January of 1930, the Sinclair family withdrew from the business and total operations were assumed by Wilson & Co., the successor to Schwarzchild and Sulzberger.

The Midwest meat market came to be dominated by Wilson & Co., Hormel, and Oscar Meyer. Wilson & Co. operated the plant in Cedar Rapids until July 2, 1984 when it was purchased by Farmstead Foods and operated by Cedar Rapids Meats, Inc.

The Cedar Rapids plant closed March 8, 1990, and six days later, Farmstead Foods filed for bankruptcy. After severe flooding in 2008, the City of Cedar Rapids initiated demolition of the buildings on the site.

For more information about the Sinclair & Co. manufacturing history and site, see the Iowa Site Inventory Form (80 pages, 8MB).

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