The Willams Brothers Box Factory

Artisan and Small Business Studios

In June 1903, three brothers from Elkhart, Indiana – John, Frank and Fred Williams – took over a floundering box manufacturing business in St. Joseph, Michigan. In 1905, a fourth Williams brother, David, moved this family here from Indianapolis to join the firm. Sadly, John, the driving force behind the enterprise died unexpectedly in May 1908. However, the remaining Williams brothers pressed on, and in January 1909, the St. Joseph Daily Press announced their plans to build a new factory.

Early Artisans at the Williams Bros. Box Factory
History of the Williams Bros. Box Factory berrien artist guild history

As the painted sign on the side of 1101 Broad Street confirms, Williams Bros. produced “fancy” boxes – rigid boxes for packaging purposes, never corrugated boxes, folding cartons, or even hat boxes. The firm’s customers included Marshall Fields, Florsheim Shoe, and Avon, and it produced packaging for a broad range of goods, including apparel, cosmetics, candy, broad games, and even fishing equipment.

In 1926, Fred and David bought Frank’s interest in the business, and their partnership continued until 1947, when David and his sons, Edwin and John, bought Fred’s interest. Edwin and John took over the company upon David’s death in 1950, and ran the business until selling it in 1966, after more than six decades of family ownership.

History of the Williams Bros. Box Factory
Examples of Retail Boxes Created at the Box Factory
History of the Williams Bros. Box Factory fancy boxes
Fancy boxes made at the Box Factory

In 1995, after lying vacant for several years, this former factory business was acquired by the Berrien Artist Guild, a non-profit arts organization formed in 1962. From that point forward it was repurposed into The Box Factory for the Arts.

The Box Factory for the Arts calls the main factory building home, while the adjacent warehouse building was turned into residential condos.

Touring the building today will allow you to see original features including the large boiler that heated the building, provided steam to operate machines, and cooked the glue needed for the boxes. You can see the boiler on the first floor at the Riverwalk Gallery entrance. Visiting the third floor Skyview Gallery, you may notice the “skylight.” This “skylight” was used as a common way to cool industrial buildings.

box factory willams bro history
The original boiler for the factory
The third floor skylight used to once cool the factory

Scenes of the people at work in the former Williams Brothers Box Factory