Plum Street Series

Vernon C. Fry

Vernon Charles Fry was born on August 29, 1865 at Selkirk, Haldimand County, Ontario to John Fry and Caroline Overholt. His siblings were Frank Dewitt Fry (born July 15, 1868) and twin sisters Lillie and Minnie (born September 17, 1870). In the 1871 Canadian census, the Fry family was living in Rainham Township, Haldimand County, Ontario. Caroline and John, who was a medical doctor, were aged 34. Vernon was 5, Frank was 3, and the twins were 6 months old. Caroline’s father, Aaron Overholt, was living there, too. In 1881, they were living in the same place and their religion was listed as Disciples of Christ. Vernon’s mother Caroline died on March 11, 1891. In the 1891 census, John and the children were still living in Rainham. Vernon was 24 and a dry goods clerk, while Frank was 22 and a student. Lillie, a schoolteacher, and Minnie were 20.

Sometime between 1891 and 1895, Vernon moved to Detroit. He married Frances Anna Louise “Birdie” Colby on June 5, 1896 in Toronto. Their son Stanley was born in Detroit on October 30, 1896. Their next son Colby was born June 28, 1900. Sadly, Birdie died of pneumonia on May 6, 1901. They were living at 121 Bethune Avenue at the time. Her funeral took place at Plum Street Church of Christ.

Vernon Fry - Ford Investor Photo
From the Detroit Free Press, 6/16/1963 issue
(60th anniversary of Ford Motor Co.)

In June 1903, Vernon invested in Ford Motor Company along with other Plum Street church members Alexander Malcomson and John S. Gray, among others. Some sources say he was Malcomson’s cousin, which I haven’t been able to confirm. He bought 50 shares for $5000. According to a May 25, 1953 LIFE magazine article by Sidney Olson, he “paid $3,000 in cash after a struggle of many months with Malcomson and many a jouncing ride in Henry’s car, and pledged another $2,000, which he later paid out of dividends.” He paid the $3000 on June 26, 1903, $1000 in December 1903, and another $1000 in January 1904. After Malcomson was bought out in 1906, Vernon sold his stock to Ford on September 1, 1907 for $25,000. Woodall and Bennett also sold out at that time. If he would’ve waited 12 years, he could have made millions.

Vernon married again on July 15, 1903 in Detroit to Helen Lawson Gourlay, the daughter of Alfred and Laura Gourlay (more about the Gourlay Brothers in another post).

The newspaper account of their wedding sounds impressive:

“The wedding of Miss Helen Gourlay, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A.L. Gourlay, to Mr. Vernon C. Fry, took place at her home, 647 Second Avenue [now 3745 2nd Ave.], Wednesday afternoon at three o’clock, Rev. Arthur Jackson of the Church of Christ, performing the ceremony. Miss Walton, of Cleveland, was maid of honor, the groom being assisted by Mr. Charles Gourlay, brother of the bride. The bride was gowned in Brussels net over white taffeta, elaborately trimmed with cluny, her only jewels being a diamond necklace, the gift of the groom. A shower bouquet of stephenatis and bridal roses completed a beautiful costume. Miss Walton wore a dove-colored mousseline de soie over pink, trimmed with pointe l’ire lace, and carried a shower bouquet of Madame cusen roses. A reception followed for upwards of 100 guests. The color scheme of the decorating was confined to pink and white, roses and carnations being most in evidence among the hanging vines. In the dining room the table was covered with a white lace spread and decorated with spirea, ferns and la France roses… . The young couple left for an extended trip to Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Boston, by steamer, and thence to New York where they will be extensively entertained. The trip will last about 5 or 6 weeks. The gifts were numerous and costly, many from abroad. Krolik & Co., with whom Mr. Fry is is associated, sent a magnificent bowl and standard of cut glass. Miss Gourlay is a musician of rare merit, having received a foreign education, is a member of the Tuesday Musicale and other musical societies in the city.”

Detroit Free Press, July 19, 1903
vernon_fry
Vernon and Helen, photo from Vernon’s 1925 passport application at Ancestry.com

Their daughter Grace Ethelwyn Fry was born on April 21, 1904 in Detroit. Their next child Margaret Jean Fry was born November 13, 1905. Their third child, John, was born February 1, 1908.

Children of Vernon C. Fry

STANLEY EVAN FRY – born Oct. 30, 1896 in Detroit to Vernon and his first wife Birdie. In 1918, he was employed by the Detroit Twist Drill Company. He joined the army later in 1918. He married Agnes Gringle in Springfield, Ohio on Oct. 31, 1925. They had a son, Stanley, Jr., on Jan. 18, 1929. Sadly, he lived only 3 days. Agnes filed for divorce on Apr. 29, 1930. It was granted on Mar. 30, 1931. Stanley married Gladys Brazil Chambers on Nov. 9, 1950 in Ohio. He died Jan. 14, 1971.
COLBY BARKLEY FRY – born Jun. 28, 1900 in Detroit to Vernon and Birdie. In 1918-20, he farmed in Wayne and Macomb Counties. He married Beulah M. Martin on Aug. 15, 1936 in Detroit. In 1940, they lived at 19817 Roselawn. Colby was employed by an armored car company, and Beulah was a secretary. They had a daughter Madalyn in 1945. Colby died Mar. 16, 1983 in Harrison, Macomb County, Michigan.
GRACE ETHELWYN FRY – born Apr. 21, 1904 in Detroit to Vernon and his 2nd wife Helen. She married Alexander D. Dickie on Jan. 2, 1932 in Birmingham, Michigan. They lived in London, Ontario, where Alexander was a salesman at a rubber company. He died Aug. 27, 1947 of coronary thrombosis. Grace died in Florida on Dec. 3, 2001 at the age of 97.
MARGARET JEAN FRY – born Nov. 13, 1905 to Vernon and Helen. She graduated from National Park College in Washington, D.C. Margaret married Charles Momberg (1907-1991) on Feb. 8, 1930 in Lucas Co., Ohio. They had 2 sons (George Charles, born 1930, and John Vernon, 1938-2019). In 1940, they lived at 20110 Santa Rosa. After Charles’ death, she moved to Jacksonville, Florida. Margaret died Sept. 7, 2011 at the age of 105.
JOHN G. FRY – born Feb. 1, 1908 to Vernon and Helen. On Jan. 10, 1931, he died of a skull fracture and internal injuries due to a car accident. The Detroit Free Press said he “was found crushed to death beside his overturned automobile in a ditch on Northwestern highway Saturday morning… . The body was discovered at 2:30 a.m. by a passing motorist. The car…was more than 75 feet from the body. It had gone into a ditch and rolled over several times. It is believed Fry fell asleep at the wheel while returning from Detroit” to his home on W. Maple Rd. in Bloomfield Hills. He was buried in Woodmere Cemetery.

In the April 1910 U.S. census, Vernon and family lived at 94 Hazelwood Avenue (now would be 604 Hazelwood). Vernon was 44, Helen was 37, Stanley was 13, Colby was 9, Grace was 5, Margaret was 4, and John was 2. A servant named Pauline Kuhnile, aged 22, also lived there. Vernon’s occupation was listed as a manufacturer in the automobile industry. Later in 1910, Vernon, “representing a syndicate of gentlemen,” purchased the plant and materials of the Detroit Dearborn Auto Company for $14,800. The plan was to move the equipment to Detroit “and that a new car may be manufactured” (Detroit Free Press, Dec. 18, 1910).

In 1916, Vernon and his real estate partner began selling properties in the new Sherwood Forest subdivision at Woodward and the “newly paved” Seven Mile Road, which their advertisement announced was “destined to be the Grosse Pointe of the North Woodward section.” (Detroit Free Press, Dec. 9, 1916). In 1918, Fry donated the land at Hamilton and Tuxedo for a new Plum Street Church of Christ building. In 1920, he was part of “The Citizens’ Committee on Street Railway Service” – against the mayor’s proposal. In 1922, Fry supported the extension of Livernois Avenue to the site of the future zoo at Woodward Avenue and 10-mile road.

“Ferndale [Church of Christ] began around the fall of 1923. They dedicated a building on Paxton and Academy in 1925. It was a wooden building in Ferndale built by Vernon Fry of Hamilton [Church of Christ] out of reclaimed lumber. He had all this stuff torn down and had it laying around so built a church building. He was a builder and real estate man. At one time he owned practically the entire area around Livernois and Six Mile… .”

Harmon Black, interviewed by Vernon Boyd on Nov. 14, 1986 (from Rochester Univ.’s MI Churches of Christ collection – http://dalnetarchive.org/handle/11061/2437)

The society pages of the Detroit Free Press were full of the travels of the upper crust, including the Fry’s – especially during the cold winter months. In April 1924, Vernon and Helen returned home after a six-week-long trip to Florida, Cuba, and Panama. In late January 1925, they and their daughter Grace left for Florida, with some time spent in Cuba and Jamaica, returning at the beginning of April. In the summer of 1925, Vernon and Helen took their daughters to Europe. In 1926, they again spent January – April in Florida. In 1927, they went to Seattle for a real estate convention, then traveled to Alaska, Banff, Lake Louise, and the Canadian Rockies. During the summers, the family spent time at their summer home called Woodcliff Lodge at Menesetung Park in Goderich, Ontario.

In 1930, Dearborn Church of Christ bought lots at the corner of Chase and Gould roads and a building paid for by Vernon Fry was put there.

Hamilton Blvd. (Plum Street) Church of Christ preachers and officers.
Photo taken October 24, 1936. Vernon Fry is circled.
(from Rochester University – http://dalnetarchive.org/handle/11061/2479)

Vernon Fry died at Victoria Hospital in London, Ontario on September 6, 1948 at the age of 83 from osteogenic sarcoma which began in his right pelvis bone. Helen died December 17, 1960 in Florida where she was living with her daughter Grace.

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