Just at the present time, as this publication is about to go to press, earnest expressions are heard in all
quarters commending the Connecticut River Bridge and Highway District commission for its wisdom and
progressiveness in directing the work of building across the Connecticut river a bridge which is creditable to
the city and towns which will bear the expense of the structure, creditable to the state, and in every way
worthy of Connecticut traditions.
In this connection, when credit is being accorded to those to whom it is due, credit in large measure is being given to the gentleman who has faithfully and efficiently served in the important position of secretary of the commission for the past thirteen years, James W. Cheney of South Manchester.
Mr. Cheney's interest in the bridge has been unabated during the years of preparation for the work and during the long period of construction. He has manifested not only the interest of a member and official of the bridge commission, but has taken particular interest because of the highly important part which the bridge must inevitably take in the future development of the thriving towns to the eastward, especially Mr. Cheney's prosperous home town, Manchester.
Mr. Cheney is one of Manchester's best known and most highly esteemed citizens. For over 50 years he has taken a leading part in the affairs of the community. He also has the distinction of being the oldest employee of Cheney Brothers, as not a worker now with the company was in the company's employ when he began. He has been engaged in the manufacture of silk with Cheney Brothers for 56 years. At present, he is a valued member of the board of directors.
Mr. Cheney was born in Manchester, February 9, 1838. He is a son of George Wells Cheney and Mary Cheney, and is one of a family of eight children, five sons and three daughters, of which Hon. John S. Cheney and himself are the sole survivors. He was educated in the public schools of Manchester, and was graduated from the Manchester academy, in the building now known as Masonic hall.
At the age of fourteen, he began work with Cheney Brothers, laying the foundation for a career with a firm which, although then only in its infancy, was destined to develop into the largest silk manufacturing plant on the hemisphere. Mr. Cheney's first important work with the firm was the organizing of the machine twist department for spooling machines. Cheney Brothers were among the first silk manufacturers in the United States to make spool silk for sewing machines, and Mr. Cheney was the first man to turn out spool silk in the manner desired. He also organized and started the silk printing department of the company in 1870, a very important part of silk manufacturing. At the commencement, the block printing system was in use, but this is now obsolete, machine printing having taken its place. Mr. Cheney had charge of this delicate and highly technical part of silk manufacture for many years.
He has always taken deep interest in public affairs. He has served on the Republican town committee in Manchester for over 35 years. During that period, there have been but few Republican state conventions at which Mr. Cheney was not a delegate. He represented the town of Manchester in the legislature during the session of 1871, and served as secretary of the committee on humane institutions. Later, he declined the nomination of the liberal Republicans for the position of senator, from what was then the second district; ex-Senator Johnson of Enfield, accepted the nomination, and was elected.
For thirteen years, Mr. Cheney has held the distinguished position of president of the Board of State Prison directors; the high position held by the Connecticut State Prison among the prisons of the country is best evidence of the success of the present administration of the directors with Warden Albert Garvin. In 1861 Mr. Cheney assisted in organizing the Hartford City Guard, and has been a member ever since, now holding the rank of major in the veteran association. He is also a member of Manchester Lodge of Masons, and has filled the office of Grand Master.
He was married in 1868, and has one son and one daughter. Mr. Cheney was recently chosen secretary of the general committee in charge of the bridge celebration. Mr. Cheney has taken great interest the past few months in the commendable movement to erect a suitable memorial in Hartford to the memory of Henry Clay Work, who was the author of "Marching Through Georgia." Mr. Work's songs were of inestimable value in cheering the Union soldiers during war times. His songs have held their popularity remarkably down through the long period since the war, and they seem destined to be classed with the "songs that shall live forever."
In view of the great good accomplished by Mr. Work's compositions, and the fact that Mr. Work is buried in Spring Grove cemetery, Hartford, it is especially fitting that a suitable memorial be erected in his memory. Mr. Cheney, as treasurer of the Henry Clay Work Monument association, has been very active in raising a sufficient sum for the memorial. Very largely through his efforts, aided by The Hartford Times, contributions amounting to over $1,300 have been secured for this most worthy object.
Mr. Cheney was a delegate from the First Congressional District of Connecticut to the Republican National Convention at St. Louis in 1896 and was a strong supporter of the nomination of William McKinley for the presidency.