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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Lore

A S Baird & Son Contractors

Alexander S Baird moved to Sumner in June 1864. He was a native of Wabash County where his family had migrated from Indiana in the early 1820s. He married Jane C Laws, daughter of Lewis and Silvey Laws on March 13,1866.  They had a son Oscar B and a daughter Emma who never married.

Alexander Baird became a carpenter and builder.  Over time, he entered related activities, such as house mover, with equipment that included jacks, rollers, and horses for mobile power.  He established a concrete plant to construct well curbs, well circles, and concrete blocks. When Oscar was grown, he entered the business known as A S Baird & Son. In 1892, Oscar married Florence H Hitchcock of a farm family near Bridgeport, Illinois.  They had four children Mabel, Gail, Hugh, and Irene.

The Bairds settled on E Locust Street in Sumner where they built houses for both families, side by side.  The daughter Emma lived across the street and the “Concrete Shed” was just behind her house.  This family by tradition were active members of the Christian Church of Sumner.  One of their biggest jobs was the construction of a new building for the church which is still standing in 2024.  They made the concrete blocks for the building and erected the structure.  It was dedicated on July 24, 1910.

During the “Oil Boom” in the early 1900s Alex purchased a farm south of Sunner as speculation for an oil well hoping to strike it rich.  However, as it turned out the nearest well came in about 2 ½ miles away.  In later years the farm became the home of Alex’s grandson Gail, where he lived for many years.  Jane Baird died December 17  1909 and Alex in 1913.

Initially Oscar Baird worked cooperatively with Bert Vail of Olney; the firm known as Baird & Vail Builders.  Their joint efforts included among other buildings, the new Sumner School (c. 1917) The men built a new house on the farm using some materials from the old Sumner School.  Later they stuccoed this house as an experiment.

The business his father had started became O B Baird & Sons when Oscar’s two sons, Gail and Hugh joined the firm.

Oscar became more of a planner and estimator with an office in downtown Sumner upstairs and next to the Jones Drug store while the sons continued to run the concrete company.  They were granted a contract to build the first gravel road to Bridgeport using horse drawn wagons and graders.  They built numerous houses and commercial building in Lawrence County and the surrounding vicinity including the Odd Fellows Hall, Sumner, St Francisville grade school, a major addition to the Lawrenceville High school, and First Christian Church Lawrenceville.

During this period in the mid-1920s there was a major housing boom in Orlando Florida, and the Baird Company decided to go there and make a fortune. In the fall of 1925, they drove there with all the family including the wives and eight children, and the truck. construction equipment and some workers.  A daughter Mabel Humphrey was living near Kissimmee.  The company built three residential houses, using the stucco technique they had tested in Lawrence County, on two Spanish bungalows. The first house sold, but the boom went bust. They drove home in the spring with little to show for their enterprise.

The company made a quick recovery with a successful bid on the big new gymnasium at Bridgeport High School.  This was completed in the fall of 1927. Meanwhile son Gail had convinced his father to establish a hardware store in Robinson.  A daughter Irene, who married George Gubbleman from Sumner ran a shoe store nearby.  The company built a new movie theater in Robinson during this time.  Meanwhile in Sumner Oscar Baird was elected mayor. He promoted the first paved street in Sumner, which was the main Street or Christy Avenue. 

All went well until the onset of the Great Depression. The store in Robinson and the construction company went bankrupt. The Gail Baird family settled on the old farm south of Sumner.

While working on the George Baldwin home in Bridgeport, Illinois Oscar was stricken with paralysis.  He was taken to his home in Sumner and was unable to rally and gradually grew weaker.  More than two years before, he had suffered a light stroke but made an almost complete recovery and was able to resume his work as a contractor. Oscar Baird’s death occurred just a day before his 64th birthday (DOD May 11, 1934) and five days since he had had a stroke. He had never regained consciousness.


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