The Tragic End to Albert Stickley’s Life

Here’s one from our backlogs, a little history for you on the “irascible” Stickley brother.

Each of the Stickley brothers – Albert, Charles, Leopold and John – remain slightly obscured by the shadow of their larger-than-life older brother Gustav. Each, however, has a story every bit as interesting, even if not as well known.

In 1891, at the age of 28, Albert Stickley (pictured) took the family business name and 20-year-old brother John to Grand Rapids to form the Stickley Brothers Company. Through his astute business practices, his knack for hiring talented designers, his innovative ideas (he installed a restaurant in his showroom seven years before Gustav!) and what an observer described as his “irascibility,” Albert amassed a sizeable fortune as a furniture manufacturer.

(That “irascibility” may have prompted John to soon run back to New York, where he later formed the L. & J.G. Stickley Company with Leopold.)

But as he was nearing retirement, tragedy struck. After having already suffered through the death of his five-year-old son, Albert, Jr., Stickley watched his 20-year-old daughter Margaret die of pneumonia. Two years later his factory caught fire, trapping one of his employees inside, where he burned to death. Then, in 1924 his wife of 37 years, Jane Worden, suddenly died.

Albert did remarry, but left Grand Rapids and retreated to his sprawling eight-bedroom lodge he had built near his lumber mill on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. But before he had barely begun to enjoy his hard-earned retirement, Albert was stricken with a heart attack and died at age 65.

Not long afterwards, his beloved lodge burned to the ground.

Albert’s death, however, proved complicated. Florence, a daughter from his first marriage, and Emlyn, his second wife, each produced a will signed by Albert granting them the bulk of Albert’s sizeable estate. After months of wrangling, the two women settled out of court, agreeing that Albert’s second will would stand. The amount which Florence received from Emlyn was not revealed, but the disbursements Albert had included in his last will were made public.

When Albert died he had three living brothers, two of whom, Charles and Gustav, had seen their savings wiped out as their factories closed. Leopold, like Albert, had amassed a sizeable fortune. They also had four sisters: Louise, Mary, Emma and Christine. According to researcher Richard Weiderman, Albert left each of his four sisters $25,000 – the equivalent today of approximately $325,000.

Albert gave Isaac Johnson, his personal servant, $5,000, which would be $65,000 today.

To his brothers…… well, it appears Albert left them nothing.

“Irascible” to the bitter end?

In their settlement, his daughter and his second wife did also agree to spend $5,000 ($65,000) on a fitting monument over Albert’s grave.

Sadly, it was never ordered, and to this day Albert Stickley has no monument.

Except his furniture.

– Bruce Johnson

Note: Many thanks to Don Marek and Richard Weiderman who published their research in the preface to their 1993 reprint of “The 1912 Quaint Furniture Catalog,” distributed by The Parchment Press.