Elmer E. McCray had major impact
By TERRY HOUSHOLDER
KENDALLVILLE - No other individual
in the early decades of the 20th century had a greater impact on the growth of Kendall-ville
than did industrialist Elmer E. McCray.
Founder of the McCray Refrigerator Co. in 1890, his firm grew
into the largest employer of the city. And the name became synonymous
with efficient food-saving and health-protecting services in
homes, stores and institutions around the nation. For decades
the company was the largest manufacturer of commercial refrigeration
The company was sold to Litton Industries in 1966. In June
1973, Litton announced plans to close the firm, which still had
250 employees. It finally shut its doors in early 1974.
Born in 1860 in Ohio, McCray came to Kendallville with his
parents in 1867, when the city was in its infancy. He joined
his father, Hiram, in the produce business in Kendallville as
a young man. They traveled about the area in horse-drawn wagons,
gathering up butter and eggs. They stored them in basements to
keep them from spoiling.
Realizing the need to cut down the tremendous loss from food
spoilage and to protect the public as well, McCray and his father
built a cold storage room and in 1882 received a patent for their
Seeing a demand for coolers, 30-year-old Elmer McCray (whose
father had died two years earlier) founded a new company, McCray
Refrigerator and Cold Storage Co. (later shortened to McCray
Refrigerator Co.), with $500 in capital he had saved.
The first modest McCray plant was located on West Mitchell
Street, on property now occupied by Peoples Federal Savings Bank.
The new company took off like gangbusters. Within two years
the business was expanded at the site on West Wayne Street. Within
a few years the plant consisted of 12 buildings with 65,000 square
feet of floor space, with 200 employees.
McCray's keen business foresight kept the firm growing. In
the early 1900s he had already established distribution centers
for his products throughout the South, in such cities as Atlanta,
Ga.; Birmingham, Ala.; Columbia, S.C.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Jacksonville,
and Pensacola, Fla.
McCray was a natural salesman and built the company's prestige
through an excellent product and timely delivery.
As time went on he established offices and salesrooms in all
the principal cities of the country.
Employment grew steadily in the early decades of the 20th
century. In those days the company sustained one-third of the
families in the community.
While building up his industry, McCray never lost sight of
the needs of his employees and community.
He was a beloved figure among his workers and in the community.
His loyalty and devotion to his associates and employees was
evidenced in the many ways in which he provided for their welfare.
In 1923, he established a pension plan for the retirement of
his veteran employees, the first in the city. As a recognition
of faithful and continuous service for his workforce, he organized
a Twenty Year Service Club. At the time of his death on Dec.
30, 1937, at the age of 77, there were 72 members of the club.
McCray was civic minded and assisted many local philanthropic
endeavors during his lifetime. He was president of Lakeside Hospital,
Kendallville, an institution that was made possible by his generosity.
He personally donated half the cost of the building, the forerunner
to the present McCray Memorial Hospital, which was later named
in his honor.
He helped develop the Kendallville park system and was president
and owner of the Kendallville Country Club, now the Elks Country
McCray also took great interest in the 4-H Clubs in Noble
County and donated generously to build the original 4-H buildings
at the Noble County Fairgrounds in Kendallville.
He helped countless individuals in the community, especially
those seeking to further their education.
The regard the community had for McCray was evident at his
funeral, held at his elaborate home at 703 E. Mitchell St., built
McCray, 77, died in Atlanta at the home of his only daughter,
Sarah Candler, wife of Dr. Robert Candler, an heir to the Coca-Cola
fortune. His death from a heart attack was unexpected, although
he had been ill for a year.
His body was brought back to Kendallville by train and hundreds
of his friends, employees and business associates paid respects
to him and his widow, Lena, at his home.
On the day of his funeral, Sunday, Jan. 2, 1938, 300 employees
walked from the McCray factory to the home. Trustees and employees
of Lakeside Hospital did likewise in a body.
Members from the Kendallville Police Department and the Indiana
State Police formed a guard of honor for the burial procession
at Lake View Cemetery, north of the city.
McCray left a legacy of service to those who followed in his
footsteps. His impact on the community is felt long after his