George B. Walbridge worked in the wholesale grocery trade in Buffalo, N.Y., before 1835, operating alone or in the firm Walbridge & Harvey for over a decade. In about 1847 he began to diversify the scope of his enterprises, entering into partnership with his nephew, Wells D. Walbridge, to form a forwarding, shipping, and commercial mercantile firm, George B. Walbridge & Co.
For at least four years, Walbridge & Co. operated steamers (including the Albany , Diamond , and Fashion ) and propeller ships (including the Buffalo , Saginaw , Pocahontas , and Troy ) connecting the rail termini at Cleveland, Ashtabula, and Dunkirk, Ohio and Erie, Pa. with Buffalo, establishing a vital link for the transportation of freight between rail and shipping systems. The flush days of the firm, however, were quite brief. George Walbridge died in 1852 or 1853, and although Wells attempted to maintain the business for another two years, by 1856, he had accepted a position with the American Transport Company.
The Walbridge papers consists of 17 letters from Wells D. Walbridge to his uncle and partner, George B. Walbridge, written between November, 1851, and August, 1852, plus one letter from a business associate, Andrew Parker. During these several months, George Walbridge was resident in Savannah, Ga., and Jacksonville, Fla., suffering to some degree from ill health. The letters concern the routine, but fairly diverse business interests of the Walbridges, and include commentary on the commercial climate in Buffalo, and the various rail and steam lines which connected the city with markets to the east and west.
While few in number, the letters in the Walbridge Papers are useful for providing a taste of the business climate of the early 1850s, and particularly for the importance that rail and shipping held for one another. Both Walbridges emerge as aggressive, speculative businessmen who kept an attentive eye on their extended finances and on the somewhat fickle winds of the business world.