A collection of bicentennial biographies from Chautauqua County, N.Y. featuring Dr. Charles Welch (Westfield), William Carpenter (Dunkirk), Milton Fletcher (Jamestown), Jean Webster (Fredona) and The Howard Brothers (Fredonia). Originally broadcast on local radio stations May 30 – June 3, 2011.
No. 101 – Dr. Charles Welch
Dr. Charles Welchwas the son of Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch, a physician and dentist who worked in Vineland, New Jersey during the mid 19th century. In addition to his medical practice, the elder Welch also served as the communion steward for the local Methodist church.
Based on a desire to serve grape juice during communion, the father and son began to experiment with concord grape juice in 1869, using the pasteurization techniques developed by Louis Pasteur just four years earlier. They soon perfected a process for preserving grape juice and began marketing it with the label Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine. The product was developed with churches in mind and at the time neither envisioned it could be used as a beverage for the general public.
In 1873, Charles Welch bought the business from his father. Afterward, he first came to Westfield to take advantage of the large concentration of Concord grapes that were growing throughout the region. The next 20 years, Welch spent his time perfecting a pasteurization process for Concord grape juice. By 1893 he was satisfied with his product and it was introduced to a wide audience at the World’s Fair in Chicago and it quickly became a popular drink across the nation.
In 1897 Charles Welch built the world’s first large grape juice plant in Westfield. He also changed the name of the product to Welch’s Grape Juice. Westfield quickly became known as “The Grape Juice Capital of the World.”
No. 102 – William Carpenter
William Lewis Carpenter was born January 13, 1844 in Dunkirk. He was the only son of three children to William Carpenter and Mamie Frances Bristol. During the Civil War he served as a Midshipman in the U.S. Navy from 1861-1864. Wanting to see more action, he resigned from the Navy and joined the Army. Thus began his long career with the U.S. Army.
During the Civil War, Carpenter served at the Siege of Petersburg, Va. and with the Army of the Potomac. Following the war, he was appointed as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army on April 5, 1867. He wrote several geological articles for the Army and was encouraged to continue his scientific research on the frontier. Between 1872 and 1874 Carpenter issued a series of reports involving various minerals, including gold, in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
In 1875, Lt. Carpenter became part of the 1875 Newton-Jenney Party, which was a scientific expedition sponsored by the United States Geological Survey to map the Black Hills. His reports led the way for more mining operations to come into the Black Hills Territory. This escalated tension between Native Americans and the mining groups, culminating with the Great Sioux War of 1876. Carpenter was a participant in the Battle of the Rosebud, in which 1,200 cavalrymen under General George Crook were attacked by about 1,500 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors under Chief Crazy Horse.
In 1877, Carpenter made his final report on the “Geology and Natural History of the Big Horn Mountains.” The report was well received by the scientific community. As a result, Carpenter was elected a “Fellow” of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Later in his career, Carpenter worked in Nebraska as an enumerator in the 1880 U.S. federal census. His later duties included scientific collections and observations in that area. He was promoted to Captain in 1887.
Carpenter spent his final years at the Madison Barracks in Jefferson County, N.Y. He died from Bright’s disease on July 10, 1898.
No. 103 – Milton Fletcher
Milton J. Fletcher was born in Chenango County, New York on October 5, 1862. He was the son of Joseph and Susan Sherwood Fletcher. In 1888 Fletcher graduated from Syracuse University with the teaching degree. During his period at the University, he taught one year in the rural schools.
After graduation, Fletcher began his career as a teacher, serving as principal of Dryden high School for six years and also principal at Unadilla for five years. In the fall of 1899 he came to Jamestown as principal of the high school and held the post for twenty years. During that time he also taught American History and Government. One of his most notable students was Robert H. Jackson. In 1919 he became superintendent of the entire city system.
During his tenure as Superintendent, the first guidance department was established. Fletcher was also responsible for the establishment of the Junior high school system in Jamestown, along with the building of three Junior high school buildings. He also served in a number of civic groups, including serving as president of the Centennial Commission of 1927.
After his retirement in 1932, Fletcher began working on a book entitled “Lincoln’s Democracy” – designed for use as a supplementary reading course for high school students of American history. Failing health delayed the preparation of the book and it was not until a few months prior to his death in 1952 that it was completed. However, no company was willing to undertake the publishing of the book. As a result, a memorial fund was established by Fletcher’s former students, teachers and admirers who wished to see his work preserved. The book was published and copies can be found in the libraries at Jamestown Community College and SUNY Fredonia, as well as at his alma matter of Syracuse University.
No. 104 – Jean Webster
Alice Jane Chandler Websterwas born in Fredonia on July 24, 1876. She was the eldest child of Charles and Annie Moffet Webster. Her mother was niece to Mark Twain and her father was Twain’s business manager and publisher of many of his books. Initially the business was successful and Alice was five when the family moved to New York City. However, the publishing company ran into difficulties and her father’s relationship with Twain broke down. In 1888 the family moved back to Fredonia and her father committed suicide in 1891.
At the age of 18, Alice attended the Lady Jane Grey School in Binghamton. It was at the school that Alice began to be known as Jean Webster. She graduated from the school in 1896 and returned to the Fredonia Normal School for a year in the college division. In 1897 she entered Vassar College, where she soon became interested and active in various social issues, including penal reform and women’s suffrage. While at Vassar she also began writing, contributing stories to the student paper and writing a weekly column of Vassar news for the Poughkeepsie Sunday Courier.
After graduating in 1901, Webster returned to Fredonia and began writing “When Patty Went to College.” It was published in March 1903 to good reviews. Other stories soon followed. In 1911 Webster began writing what would be her most famous work – “Daddy-Long-Legs.” It was published in October 1912 to popular and critical national acclaim. In November 1915, “Dear Enemy,” a sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs, was published, and it too proved to be a bestseller.
Jean married Glenn McKinney in September 1915 and was due to have their first child a short period of time afterward. On June 10, 1916 she gave birth to a daughter. All was well initially, but Jean soon became ill and died of childbirth fever the next morning, June 11, 1916. The daughter survived and was named “Jean” in honor of her mother.
No. 105 – The Howard brothers
The Howard Brothers were some of the most well known businessmen of Fredonia during the second half of the 19th century. Lewis, Edward, Frank and Clarence Howard were four of eight children born to Edward and Emily Howard between 1839 and 1850.
Lewis and Edward got their start in Fredonia working for the local post office. In March 1865, Lewis began buying various jewelry items from a company in New York City, including various makes of watches. In 1866, the two began selling five different grades of watches from the American Watch Co.
In February 1868, along with others, Lewis and Edward bought the corner lot at Water and East Main streets in the village and put up a three-story brick building, the Union Block. The building contained several operations, including the Howards’ Bros. bookstore and jewelry business. Lewis, who had been ill with consumption for some time, died in October 1874.
In September 1875 Edward and Clarence formed the Independent Watch Co. in Fredonia. This was followed by the Lake Shore Watch Co. and the Empire Watch Co. All three were used to resell watches that were purchased from other manufacturers. At the end of 1876, the two brothers bought the Pettit-Barker Eye Salve Co. A year later the two sold the book and jewelry store to their youngest brother, Frank.
In 1881 the Howard Brothers started their own watch making company. On March 24, 1881 the Independent Watch Company of Fredonia was incorporated. The stockholders included Mark Twain. Unfortunately, by September 1882, Twain had become suspicious that a swindle was in the works and prepared to expose the Howard brothers in the press. But the brothers prevented any public controversy by giving Twain his money back.
In 1883, the Howard Bros. established the Fredonia Watch Co. and by early 1885 they had established the company office in Chicago. By December of that year they had organized the Peoria Watch Co. in Peoria, IL, to which they transferred the Fredonia Watch Co. operation and closed the East Main Street factory. The medicine factory continued to operate in Fredonia until March 1888 when it was moved to Buffalo.
Frank Howard continued his jewelry store in the same location on East Main Street until June 1892 when he sold the business. Thus ended all ties of the Howard Brothers in Fredonia.
Ref: Douglas Sheppard – The Howard Brothers and their Fredonia Enterprises; Barbara Schmidt and Dave Thomson – Mark Twain and the Fredonia Watch Company
Bicentennial Biographies is a not-for-profit radio project designed to raise awareness and increase interest in local history. It is brought to you as a public service by the Chautauqua County Historical Society throughout 2011 to celebrate the county’s 200th birthday. To learn more, visit www.McClurgMuseum.org or contact your local historical society.
– J. Sample