NORTH TONAWANDA – Lumber was once the lifeblood of North Tonawanda, still known locally as the “Lumber City.” The industry spawned a number of businesses and their founders, such as Wurlitzer, Herschell and Rand, are names that are still well known in the region.
The city’s rich history will be celebrated in a number of Path Through History events on Saturday and the following weekend, June 8 and 9, with programs at the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum, 180 Thompson St., and the North Tonawanda History Museum at 54 Webster St.
The history museum also will present “Historic Treasures Tour Week,” with tours of historic homes, on June 8, and there will be a concert on the historic Wurlitzer Pipe Organ at 6 p.m. on June 9 in the Riviera Theatre on 67 Webster St.
On June 5 David Eilers, the great-great-grandson of Wurlitzer company founder Rudolph Wurlitzer, will present a showroom plaque for the Wurlitzer exhibit hall at the history museum.
Eilers has been working to preserve the family history and raise awareness of the museum’s goal to create a vintage Wurlitzer Piano and Organ Showroom. He said he is making a cross-country trip from his home on the West Coast to present a bronze plaque that once stood at the entrance of the New York City showroom.
Eilers said one of his passions is his family history. His family history blog inspired a man from Florida, Nick Arbusio, to contact him and donate the bronze plaque, created by Wurlitzer employees to honor Rudolph Wurlitzer.
“I learned through emails and phone calls that Nick was the former manager of the store and had saved the plaque before they demolished the building,” Eilers said. “He kept it for several decades and wanted it to go to a member of the Wurlitzer family. I told him I’d be honored to have it, but thought the North Tonawanda History Museum would be the ideal place for it.
“As far as I know, North Tonawanda has the only Wurlitzer showroom museum and that’s part of our family’s proud history,” Eilers continued. “I happened to connect with them when I was traveling through one day and decided to help them build that and establish the Wurlitzer name with the museum more strongly.”
He said they have been working with the museum through the Wurlitzer Foundation to create a showroom.
“Wurlitzer was the largest musical company in the world for decades, and we want to capture some of that with some of the instruments, the music, some of the sales pitches – just the whole atmosphere of the showroom,” Eilers said.
“One of the reasons they relocated from Cincinnati to North Tonawanda was because of the wood,” he said of the manufacturing plant in the city. “It was just a great place to get the wood they needed for all the instruments. They are famous for jukeboxes and organs and pianos, but beyond that they were doing a whole host of instruments and music.”
Eilers said the company continued to make the larger instruments and jukeboxes, but faded out in the 1970s as people switched to smaller instruments and no longer used jukeboxes.
“They made a wrong turn somewhere along the way,” he said.
He said as a child he received $5 in the mail every year from an uncle, Farney Wurlitzer, who managed the Wurlitzer plant in North Tonawanda. He said that inspired him to learn more about the Wurlitzer name and his family history, including the Eilers name, which was also well-known in industrial circles.
In addition to Eilers, dozens of descendants of the Rand Family also will be on hand for the historic week. Historic tours include a visit to the home of Benjamin Long Rand, who was a banker and served as the city’s mayor from 1915 to 1918.
Benjamin Long Rand and his two brothers, James H. and George F., all were bankers. James invented a new kind of supply for record keeping by bankers, which eventually became the Remington-Rand operation. The history museum has one of his original products, patented in 1893, and produced at his Rand Ledger factory on Goundry Street in 1898.
George F. Rand, the man for whom the Rand Building in Buffalo was named, began his career in banking in North Tonawanda. He served as the chief executive of Marine Trust Co. in Buffalo from 1901 until his death in 1919. George originally organized the First National Bank of Tonawanda.