Documenting history as well as my experiences with repairing and restoring vintage guitars.

Home Top Ad

Alvin B. Clark c.1906 About Alvin Billings Clark was born on June 8th, 1822 to Elizabeth and Newton Clark in the small town of West Turin in...

Alvin B. Clark - Richmond, Indiana

Alvin B. Clark c.1906


Alvin Billings Clark was born on June 8th, 1822 to Elizabeth and Newton Clark in the small town of West Turin in New York. A town whose population is roughly the same today as it was when Clark was born. As a farming family, Alvin grew up around tools and a self-sustaining way of life. He showed a particular knack for mending tools and farm implements inspired by the positive comments that he would receive from his, usually critical, father. One of his earliest interests was in the work of Italian musicians and the craftsmen behind their instruments. The Clarks supported Alvin's desire to tinker and build but forbade him from playing the violin believing it to be a tool of the Devil.

His first violin was made around 1846 using wood sourced from the family farm. It was nicknamed "Old Dutchman" by a Methodist minister who would frequent Alvin's shop. In the 1850s, Alvin and his first wife (Julia Ellen Church) separated and he left his young son. 

By Alvin's own account, he had moved to Richmond, Indiana in 1859 or 1860 but Civil War Draft Registration Records show him residing in Canton, Iowa in 1863. Either way, he had settled in Richmond and began renting a storefront on Main Street. He erected a single sign "A. B. Clark. Violin Maker, Construction and Repairing" which was the only advertising he ever participated in.

In Richmond, he was married to Mary Jane Peebles and they had a daughter born in 1867. The art of violin building by itself wasn't enough to support Alvin and his family so he likely would've sold sheet music and supplies out of his shop. The repair work was said to provide enough to support the family although it did slow the building of his instruments. Alvin could build a violin in a month if he focused solely on the instrument and it would sell for no less than one-hundred dollars.

By 1870, he was working as a music dealer and in the 1880 census listed his occupation as a music merchant. The earliest city directory I was able to find was from 1883 and described Alvin as a violin maker and repairer of musical instruments whose shop was at 413 or 412 Main Street and he lived at 206 N 11th Street. In the mid 1890s, he moved to 310 N 9th Street and his shop was relocated on Main Street.

Around 1902, Alvin and Mary moved into 426 Main Street. In 1905, the address was listed as 430 Main. Sadly, Mary died in 1905 and Alvin left the hustle of Main Street for a home on South 5th Street where he continued his work in house number fourteen.

Alvin was featured in two different newspapers in 1906 after news broke that his very first violin, The Old Dutchman was brought to him for repair. Both intervies in the Palladium-Item and The Indianapolis Star were incredible resources on his life. At the time of writing, he had estimated that he had built over one-hundred violins and that he still was unable to play the instrument. 

The Palladium-Item had also written on Alvin that year when a Mrs George Chrisman found a violin with the name "Stradivarius" written inside and convinced the owner to let her take it to the city for evaluation. Alvin deduced that the instrument could not have been made more than 50 years ago and was a German copy.

Alvin died on September 7th, 1911 in Reid Memorial Hospital after contracting pneumonia. Sadly, he passed days before a benefit concert was set to be held as an appreciation of Alvin's life and work. He was transported to Minos Falls, New York to the home of his brother Austin for burial. The newspaper notes that some believed the concert should still been held and that his possessions should be donated to Earlham College. It doesn't appear that this was done and the committee had opted to cancel the concert instead.

The Guitar

The Richmond Item 
May 4th, 1883

The Richmond Item
May 19th, 1883

The Richmond Item
April 7th, 1883

The Richmond Item
August 31st, 1883


Alvin was also an inventor looking to improve their modern world and also amass a fortune which almost certainly would allow him to build the instruments he desired
The Richmond Item
February 22nd, 1889
  • 60,833- January 1867 - A magnetic tool to flip sheet music
  • 74,502 - February 1868 - Washing machine
  • 80,600- August 1868 - A post driver attached to a wagon
  • 120,493 - October 1871 - Improved tack for fastening curtains on carriages
  • 267,151 - November 1882 - A device for planting corn with efficiency
  • 301,676 - July 1884 - Roller skates with elastic tires and with a set of swivel wheels positioned between the front and rear wheels
  • 302,984 - August 1884 - A self-closing hinge for gates
  • 305,793 - September 1884 - A tensioned piece of metal used to secure the bolts holding railroads together
  • 411,374 - September 1889 - Harmonica holder
  • 579,042 - March 1897 - A bicycle



No comments: