During the early twentieth century, the Bentley family name became synonymous with downtown Toledo development and construction throughout the city. One estimate stated that A. Bentley and Sons built three-fourths of the prominent buildings in Toledo.
Anderton Bentley, a native of Bradford England, founded the family construction company. He originally settled in Adrian, Michigan with his wife, the former Elizabeth Robson. The firm gained a reputation throughout the Midwest as a result of Andertons spirit of progressiveness, knowledge of the contracting trade, and managerial abilities. When he died in New York state on September 26, 1916, aged 72 years old, his sons James and Thomas became heir to one of Toledos foremost businesses. [Toledo Biography Scrapbook (Bea-Berd), Local History Collection, Toledo/Lucas County Public Library.]
The couple had three children; Ethel, James, and Thomas. Ethel was born in England in 1868 and while an infant she came to the US with her mother who was ill during the entire six week crossing. Her father followed in the fall of the same year. The Bentley's moved to Toledo in 1872 and Anderton entered the commercial life of the city as a builder and contractor.
Ethel graduated from Old Toledo Central High School in 1887 and became a teacher. She joined the Baptist church and was active in church work. Ethal later traveled for the Baptist mission to India, China, Burma, Japan, and other countries of the far East and was one of the first women to cross the Himalayas.
Thomas Bentley was born in Toledo on November 23, 1873. He married Katherine Lewis on November 30, 1898, in Defiance, Ohio. The couple had two sons, Anderton Lewis and James. Thomas Bentley had served as an apprentice plumber for three years under John A. Waite but abandoned that trade in 1894 and entered his fathers contracting business. When he became president in 1907, his brother James served as vice president. Thomas became active in other business ventures which included directorships in the Richardson Company--an investment banking firm, Toledo Steel Products Company, Second Mortgage Company of Toledo, and Commonwealth Building Company--owners and builders of the Secor Hotel.
Thomas Bentley also participated in Toledo politics. He generally reflected staunch Republican leanings when the ballot addressed national issues. But in local elections, he reserved the vote for the candidate he thought best qualified for the position. Thomas Bentley joined the top echelon of social and business circles in Toledo. He served as director of the Associate General Contractors of America and trustee of the Toledo Chamber of Commerce. He held memberships in the Elks Lodge, the Inverness Club, the Toledo Country Club, and was a 32nd degree Mason.
Among his many accomplishments, Thomas Bentley could claim the honor of being Toledos first street car conductor. He worked for the Toledo Consolidated Railway for $3.50 per week leading horses from Dorr Street car barns on the corner of Detroit Avenue to waiting street cars. He gained a reputation as an expert in the management of horses during these years. Thomas Bentley died on February 1, 1942 and is buried in the family plot at Woodlawn Cemetery.[Toledo Biography Scrapbook (Bea-Berd).]
After Thomas's death, James Bentley became president of the A. Bentley and Sons Company. [Toledo Biography Scrapbook (Bea-Berd).]
Born on November 1, 1871 in Lenawee County, Michigan, James moved with his parents to Toledo where he attended Central High School before joining his father's business in 1892. In addition to being president of A. Bentley and Sons, James served as vice-president of the Richardson Company and as a director of numerous other companies including Fifty Associates and the Commerce-Guardian Trust and Savings Bank, forerunner of First National Bank, of which he was president for many years. [John M. Killits, ed., Toledo and Lucas County, Ohio 1623-1923. (Chicago and Toledo: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1923), Vol 3, pp. 180-83.]
From 1919 until 1930 James was in charge of the company office in Jacksonville, Florida, and met and worked with associates in the development of roads, railroads, and bridges. Between 1922 and 1927 James also directed construction work in Brazil, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
James Bentley married the former Elizabeth Doyle Scott, daughter of Judge John Hurov Doyle. Their home, "Innisveil" was noted as one of Toledo's more attractive residences. James belonged to many social organization. He was a 32nd degree Mason, and a member of the Zenobia Temple Shrine. He held memberships in the Elks Club, the Toledo Chamber of Commerce, the Toledo Club, the Toledo Country Club, and the Carranor Hunt and Polo Club. James Bentley died on June 19, 1955, leaving no descendents. He did have a step-daughter Isabel though who later became Mrs. Celian Rorick. [Toledo Biography Scrapbook (Bea-Berd).]
The Bentley family construction firm began business under the name A. Bentley but when James joined in 1892 it became A. Bentley and Son.Killits, p. 183. Finally, in 1907, the name changed to A. Bentley and Sons. During the years that both brothers worked for their father, Thomas looked after the company's interests in the city while James involved himself with the projects outside of Toledo.(Killits, p. 548.)
The A. Bentley and Sons Company, in many ways, was ahead of its time in technology and scope. In 1883, when Anderton Bentley began re-building the Hall Block at the corners of St. Clair and Jefferson Streets, he coined the term skyscraper." The term referred to extra tall buildings that seemed to scrape the sky because of their height. The Bentley Company also used steel and tile as construction materials. This was a relatively new material in the building business at the time.
The company's main factories sat at the intersection of 13th Street and Clover Leaf Railway. Its headquarter was located at 201 Belmont Avenue. During the company's busiest season, it employed between 4-5,000 workers in addition to shop employees. Inside the factories, machines fabricated steel rods used in concrete works, a process specially designed by the Bentley Company. Examples of this new building phenomenon and the company's skill in concrete work can be seen in the Secor Hotel at Superior and Jefferson, the Thompson Hudson Company at Summit and Adams, and the Bostwick-Braun Building at Summit and Monroe. Bentley and Sons also built the twenty-one story Second National Bank Building.
Bentley construction appeared along the eastern seaboard states as well as throughout the Midwest. In 1917, the United States government commissioned the A. Bentley Company to erect draft stations for World War I in Chillicothe, Ohio and Jackson, Florida. The Bentley Company has built the majority of office buildings and factory buildings in the Toledo area ranging from the Toledo Museum of Art, Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass, Toledo Hospital and St. Vincents, to Davis-Besse and all the buildings for Toledo Edison. The Company was liquidated in 1982. [Hilda G. Bentley, The Bentley Lewis Story (1990) in the possession of Carol Bentley, p.23-24.]
Anderton Bentley's headstone
(Photography of Woodlawn Cemetery by Josef Schneider.)