A collection of bicentennial biographies from Chautauqua County, N.Y. featuring Willard McKinstry (Fredonia), Almet & Sheldon Broadhead (Jamestown), Warren Packard (Lakewood), Robert “Ellick” Alexander Carter (Jamestown) and Thomas and Marion Skidmore (Lily Dale). Originally broadcast on local radio stations June 20 – June 24, 2011.
No. 116 – Willard McKinstry
The McKinstry family has had along history of publishing in Chautauqua County that stretched for more than 60 years. The senior Willard McKinstry was born in Chicopee, Mass. on May 9, 1815. Willard lived on the farm until his apprenticeship with a local printer got underway. He continued to work in various printing jobs through the 1930s, including working for the publishers of Webster’s Dictionary.
In November 1839 McKinstry came to Mayville, and worked a year at the Mayville Sentinel. He also spent six months at the Erie Observer. In 1842, He then purchased the Fredonia Censor and stayed on as publisher until the 1880s. He aso served as postmaster in 1863 and 1867.McKinstry was married in 1843 to Maria Durlin of Fredonia. Together they had four children, including Louis McKinstry, who became a partner in the publication of the Censor in 1867. His other son, Willard D. McKinstry, learned the printing business in the office of the Fredonia Censor. In 1872 he purchased the Dunkirk Journal, remaining there until 1884. He then moved to Watertown N.Y. to serve as news editor of the Watertown Times before eventually becoming its editor.
The elder Willard McKinstry died on January 27, 1899.
Further Reading: “Selections of editorial miscellanies and letters” By Fredonia Censor
No. 117 – Almet & Sheldon Broadhead
Sheldon Brady Broadhead was born Aug,. 24, 1846 and was the son of William and Lucy Cobb Broadhead. In January 1851 his younger brother, Almet Norval Broadhead was born. Together the two would not only help to continue their father’s legacy as one of the leading businessmen and industrialists in Chautauqua County, but they also established their own individual legacies along the way.
The two sons first became engaged as business partners with their father when they helped him operate the William Broadhead & Sons clothing store in Jamestown. Later, they would also form the Broadhead Worsted Mill on East First St. They later acquired the Hall’s Mill on Harrison St., which then became the Jamestown Worsted Mills.
While Sheldon helped to manage the family’s large Worsted Mills operation, Almet focused his attention on transportation, buying the Jamestown Street Railway in 1890 and converting horse-drawn cars to electric trolleys. He also purchased the Chautauqua Lake Navigation Company, which operated one of the fleets of lake steamers on Chautauqua Lake. He further promoted access to the lake by building the Chautauqua Traction Company in 1904, which ran on the west side of the lake connecting Jamestown with Westfield. He later purchased the Jamestown, Westfield and Northwestern Railway Company in 1913.
To help promote the use of his trolley lines, Almet also acquired Celoron Park and established the Midway Amusement Park in Maple Springs (Town of Ellery). In West Ellicott he built what was then the largest greenhouse in the nation, the Lake View Rose Gardens. The Broadheads’ Jamestown Shale Paving Company furnished bricks for many Jamestown streets.
Throughout their lives in Jamestown, the Broadhead brothers were also very active in various civic capacities and were well respected by all men they did business with. Almet passed away on May 5, 1925 and his older brother Sheldon died less than four months later on Aug. 24.
No. 118 – Warren Packard
Warren Packard wasn’t born in Chautauqua County, but his presence in the area left an indelible mark on southern Chautauqua County. Born in Austintown, Ohio in 1828. His father, William, brought the family to Lordstown, Ohio in 1834 and became its first postmaster.
At the age of 18, Packard moved to Warren, Ohio, carrying everything he owned in a cotton handkerchief. A relative helped him get a job with an iron and hardware business in Warren. Packard continued to work in the store until 1851 when he established the Warren Packard Company.
Packard married his first wife, Sylvia Camp, in 1852 and the couple had two sons, both dying at a young age. In 1856, Silvia died of illness as well. In the years that followed his wife’s death, Packard’s iron and hardware businesses continued to grow so that by 1863 he was the owner and operator of the largest iron and hardware business between Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
Packard remarried in 1856, this time to Mary E. Doud, and the couple had five children together, including James W. Packard, founder of the Packard Motor Car Company.
In 1861, Packard founded a lumber business that eventually expanded operations into western Pennsylvania and New York, adding that the company supplied much of the lumber used in building the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad.
In the mid-1870s Packard, along with his brother John, came to what was then called “Lakeview” on Chautauqua Lake and purchased the Lakeview House (formerly the Cowing House). On their lakefront property, which they called the Lakeview Tract, the two brothers built a number of Gothic style summer cottages for rental purposes. Warren also built his own villa near the hotel. By 1879, their adopted summer community had changed its name to “Lakewood.”
The Packard family continued to spend time in Lakewood each summer throughout the remainder of the 19th century. Warren Packard died on July 28, 1897, but even afterward, his son James would return to the community. The fortune that was made in the automobile and electrical business by the Packards was shared with their summer community by liberal philanthropic donations, including such worthy causes as the school and Lakewood Fire Department.
No. 119 – Robert Alexander Carter
Robert Alexander Carter, also known as “Ellick” Carter, was an African-American born into slavery in Oxford, Md. On March 6, 1838. Not much is known about Carter’s early childhood, only that at some point prior to 1860 he found his way to the north side of Jamestown and lived with other African-American residents in the part of the community known as “Africa.”
In the decades following the Civil War, the “Gaslight Era” began in Jamestown and a large number of gas street lights began to appear throughout much of the community. Carter was hired as the city lamplighter and he became a familiar figure as he helped to make the streets at night take on a warm, friendly glow. He rode a small brown horse in his work, and upon arriving at a lamp post, stood up on the patient animals back to reach the lamp.
Carter became a well-respected citizen and home owner of Jamestown, living at 626 Spring Street in the city. He even owned 10 acres of land and the property was referred to as “Carter’s Woods” by the locals who lived in the area. Carter died at his home on June 6, 1892 at the age of 54. H was buried in Lakeview Cemetery.
Today he is still fondly remembered as Jamestown’s Lamplighter and a photo of him can be found on display at the Fenton History Center in Jamestown.
No. 120 – Marion & Thomas Skidmore
Dr. Jeremiah F. Carter of Pomfret had been a member of a society of spiritualists since 1850 and the group would regularly hold grove meetings and picnics in the area. In 1873 the group began meetings on a piece of property on Cassadaga Lake owned by fellow member Willard Alden. From 1873 to 1877 a one-day meeting was held each year and was known by the organizers as the “June Picnic.”
In 1878, Dr. Carter believed spirit voices had requested he go to Alden’s property and start a camp meeting there, complete with guest speakers from throughout the United States. It was decided to hold the camp from Sept. 11 to the 16, and thus the first spiritual assembly on Cassadaga Lake took place.
Similar meetings continued until 1879 when Alden died. To ensure the meetings would continue, a board of trustees was established and the organization became known as the “Cassadaga Lake Free Association.” Among the founding members was Thomas J. Skidmore of Laona, N.Y.
Soon, cottages began being constructed on the grounds, along with a hotel to accommodate seasonal guests. The camp of 1881 ran from Aug. 6 to 28, and ended with just an $8 shortage in funds. However, it appeared some of the financial pledges would not be made and the annual assembly would end. But Skidmore’s wife, Marion Skidmore, made a generous donation in 1882 to ensure the assembly would continue. That year, it ran from June 10 until Aug. 27 and enough money came in to ensure the assembly would continue the following year.
Thomas Skidmore became president of the Assembly in 1883 and throughout the rest of the decade the camp grew, with an auditorium, lyceum and orchestra all becoming regular features. Under Skidmore’s guidance, the assembly developed into a destination for spiritualists around the world.
Skidmore’s wife, Marion, also played a crucial role during the “golden age” of the assembly. Among her accomplishment were the establishment of a library devoted to Spiritualism (later named in her honor) and also incorporating other social issues onto the agenda, including Woman’s suffrage. Susan B. Anthony made her first public appearance in 1891. Marion Skidmore also served for a time as president of the assembly.
The name of the assembly was changed to the City of Light Assembly in 1903 and to the Lily Dale Assembly in 1906. Today the Camp’s grounds, now 167 acres, remain a place of peace and renewal.
Ref: The Historic Anals of Southwestern New York, Vol. 1, Part II, Chapter XXVII
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