William H. Jones (1814-1903) lived in several cities during his remarkable life, but he was born in Buckland, CT., is
buried in Buckland Cemetery, and Manchester can claim him as a native son. Fortunately for local historians, he wrote a
memoir of his life, which makes for fascinating reading.
The Manchester Herald published a synopsis of the autobiography in 1912, with the subheads: "Manuscript Written by Famous Local Inventor Comes to Light" and "Pioneer Silk Manufacturer." It was the late Mark Sutcliffe (1963-2007), long-time member of the Manchester Historical Society, who tracked down and transcribed this memoir, which is now available on the Historical Society's web site.
Note: To read Mr. Jones's memoir, click on W.H. Jones memoir, which is in the "Vintage Reprints" section of this web site. Special thanks to Carol Sutcliffe of Manchester for providing a copy of the Jones memoir.
W.H. Jones was the grandson of Aaron Buckland, for whom the Buckland section of Manchester was named. Mr. Jones says
that Aaron Buckland "...was one of the largest land holders and farmers in Connecticut ... He owned a woolen factory in the
southern part of his estate, where the Hilliard & Co.'s factory now stands."
Regarding the great day in 1823 when Manchester became a separate town, "I remember when the town of Manchester was set off from East Hartford, and that Grandfather at that time gave a great entertainment in front of his brick tavern [the tavern no longer exists], having a long table set in the shade of the maples; and a large cannon, owned in the place and kept for use on all great occasions, was fired during the whole time. I well remember when the main stage route between New York and Boston was through Manchester at a time that there were no railroads, and all the stages stopped and changed horses there; every stage was drawn by four horses. The hotel was of brick that grandfather made expressly for it. A great many people traveling by stage or otherwise put up there for the night."
W.H. Jones learned his letters starting at age three from the "school marm" at the small school in Buckland. In 1826,
he went to "the stone school on Market Street in Hartford. It was the principal school in the city at that time. Mr. Olney,
the author of Olney's Geography, was principal and he was my teacher. I lived with my uncle, E.W. Bull, druggist....and did
chores for my board. Evenings I tended the ale pump in the rear room of the store near the soda-fountain. It was well
patronized, a drink just coming into use. I slept in the rear room of the store on a turn-up bed with Theodore Metcalf,
one of the clerks...I afterward attended school for a short time, a select school kept by George Griswold, a lawyer, a half
mile south of Buckland, the place where I lived."
Jones apprenticed in the J.B. Pitkin department store in Tolland, CT., and learned the trade of joiner and carpenter with Seth Foster of Bristol, CT., where he "served about four years as an apprentice. As soon as my time was up I took a contract off Mr. Foster's hands to finish a house that he had commenced on, it being agreeable to the party that the house was being built for...I staid and finished the house before going home to Manchester."
"In 1835, I hired a room with water power in South Windsor to make window sash, blinds, doors, and cigar boxes. It was about three miles from home. I invented and made my own machines..." In 1836, he contracted to build a two-story schoolhouse in Manchester, and "to build all the seats and desks....When all was completed, I was told by all three of the building committee that I had built it better than the contract." In 1837 at the age of only 23, he himself served on a committee to remodel the Center Congregational Church.
"I gave up building in about three years, there being so much competition that none of the builders were getting rich."
In the annals of Manchester history, Jones is most famous for his silk mill. He describes his beginnings in the silk
business – he started out in the former cotton factory of Richard L. Jones, a little south of Buckland:
"About 1840, there was a great excitement in regard to the culture of the Morus Multicaulis Mulberry trees for raising silk. The trees were selling for very great prices. I thought I would see if there was any money it. I built a hot-house 60 feet long and through the winter had upwards of 25,000 trees growing from cuttings, one bud to a cutting; had trees from two feet to three feet high. As there was no sale for them in the spring, I set out a lot of them for leaves to feed worms. I converted the hot-house into a cocoonery by putting up shelves to feed worms on, and made it a success...In 1844, I bought a water privilege at North Manchester and about nine acres of land on both sides of the street. I laid out a great deal of expense on the land and buildings, also on the water privilege to make use of it. I invented a Rubber Belt water wheel which had never been used before...."
Jones made silk for 15 years, and felt at that time that "the business was overdone." He converted to making yarn and knit goods out of cotton and wool. He invented knitting machines, "which would knit faster than any machines ever known. A stocking machine would knit twenty-five dozen pair in ten hours and my shirt machine six thousand stitches a second."
From that time, Jones sometimes prospered, but many calamities beset him. "In 1860, by the War of the Rebellion, I lost
all my property saving nothing. In the settling of my estate, I was allowed $400." He moved to New York (he relocated
between Manchester and New York several times), and went into business selling hoop-skirts on Eighth Avenue. He was lured
back to Manchester by his brother, and eventually got back on his feet financially, with contracts to supply hundreds of
thousands of knitted socks and shirts to the U.S. government for the army during the Civil War.
Jones's mills were hard hit, as was the entire town, by the disastrous flood of 1869, which washed out dams along all the rivers. Then came the Panic of 1873, an economic depression in Europe and the United States that lasted until 1879. Jones's business suffered and, after paying taxes, insurance, repairs and a mortgage, he managed "to make just enough to pay my living expenses by making tooth-picks, wood splints for ornamental work, cigar lighters, strawberry baskets and cigar boxes."
Jones also dealt in pianos and organs, renting and selling on installment, which required more capital than he had. He also worked at one time for the New England Paper Barrel Company in Boston. Jones died on May 17, 1903.
Jones's house, built about 1840, was located in the North End, near the current site of the intersection of Oakland and
North Main streets. I had the good fortune to meet two former residents of the house, Cecilia and Frances, who lived there
as youngsters. Their father, Stanley Wandych (1891-1953) and mother, Caroline (1893-1987) were born in Poland, came to the
U.S., and were married in 1913 in Massachusetts. They eventually came to Manchester, where they had friends and relatives
who worked at Cheney Mills.
By the time the Wandych family bought the Jones house in 1940, it had been vacant for several years and was in poor condition. But the family made improvements to the house, and I remember it from my childhood as an intriguing and romantic place near the playground of Robertson School.
Members of the Wandych family lived in the Jones house from 1940 to 1977, when the nearby car sales company bought it and tore it down.
The beautiful house at 60 Oakland Street, along with many others in that section of town, is gone. But, with
interesting memoirs, photographs, and drawings, we can remember past times. From W.H. Jones's story, we can perhaps be
inspired to persevere after financial and weather disasters. We could also make an effort, even a 2011 New Year's
resolution, to write our own memoirs, and to preserve diaries and photos of our ancestors.
The Manchester Historical Society is interested in unearthing more first-person accounts of our town and its people. If you have any which you'd like to share, please call: (860) 647-9983 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan Barlow is a member of the board of directors of the Manchester Historical Society.