Colwell Lead Co.

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Colwell Lead Co.
New York

The founder of Colwell Lead Co. was Lewis Colwell (1814-1885). His death notice in the New York Times, 5 October 1885, p. 5, read in part: "Mr. Lewis Colwell, who has for many years been prominent in the lead and iron trades, died yesterday at his residence on West Twenty-eighth-street, in this city. He was born in Putnam County in 1814, and came to New-York as an apprentice in the iron works of Dunham & Browning when about 12 years old. He rose to be Superintendent of the works, and while there demonstrated the possibility of using anthracite coal instead of charcoal in smelting iron. About 1843 he started in business on his own account and made part of the castings for the Croton water works and much of the iron work for the Crystal Palace. During the war he was connected with the building of the monitors Weehawken and Tecumseh and the Stevens Battery, and later on he established the iron works at the foot of West Twenty-seventh-street. Then he organized the Colwell Lead and Shot Company, of which he became Treasurer, but continued to devote his attention to his iron works."

The Colwell Iron Works on West 27th Street were a partnership of Lewis Colwell with his brother, Joseph Colwell (ca.1823-1882). Joseph Colwell's obituary notice in the New York Times, 20 May 1882, p. 4, read in part: "Joseph Colwell, a well-known iron-founder, died at his residence, No. 412 West Twentieth-street, at 10:30 o'clock yesterday morning... Mr. Colwell was born in Carmel, Putnam County, N. Y., 59 years ago, and came to this city with his parents when very young. After learning the molder's trade he went to Columbus, Ohio, at the age of 20 and established a foundry. He went to California in 1849 in search of gold, and a year and a half later returned to the South, where he remained until 1854. In that year he came back to this City to take an interest in a foundry with his brother, Lewis Colwell. In 1861 Mr. Colwell opened a ship-yard in Jersey City, and built three monitors - the Weehawken, the Mahopac, and the Manhattan - under contract with the Government. In the latter part of 1863 he sold the ship-yard to Zeno Secor, and with his brother established extensive lead-works on Centre-street. Later the two founded the Colwell Iron-works a the foot of West Twenty-seventh-street, where they were largely engaged in the manufacture of sugar-house machinery up to the time of Mr. Colwell's death."

From approximately 1866 to 1874 Joseph and Lewis Colwell joined two others, William Anthony Shaw and Gardner Willard, to manufacture tin-lined lead pipe under the name Colwells, Shaw & Willard Manufacturing Co. at 213 Centre St. In 1866 William Anthony Shaw, of New York, N. Y., secured a patent for an "improved device for separating shot." This patent (no. 52,003, dated 9 Jan. 1866) was assigned to himself, as well as to Gardner Willard, Lewis Colwell and Joseph Colwell. In 1867 the same William Anthony Shaw secured a patent (no. 72,919 dated 31 Dec. 1867) for an "improvement in the art of manufacturing and uniting alloys of metal in forming water-pipes and other articles." Other patents (nos. 74,611, 74,612, 74,613 and 74,614 all dated 18 Feb. 1868) for an "improvement in the manufacture of tin-lined lead pipe" and for an "improved method of making tapering tubes" seem to have formed the basis for the Colwells, Shaw & Willard Manufacturing Co. This ad for the Colwells, Shaw & Willard appeared in Country Homes and How to Save Money to Buy A Home, by Sereno Edwards Todd, 1868. This ad for the Colwells, Shaw & Willard appeared in The Tribune Almanac and Political Register for 1871.

By 1890 the Colwells were dead and others had assumed control of the company. One later president was Benjamin Franklin Hooper (1857-1902). Hooper's obituary, New York Tribune, 22 April 1902, pg. 14, read, "Benjamin Franklin Hooper, president of the Colwell Lead Company, at No. 63 Centre-st., died at 11:30 o'clock on Sunday night, after a lingering illness at his home, No. 130 West Seventy-fourth-st. He was the son of John Hooper, an old stockholder of the Tribune, who preceded him as president of the Colwell Lead Company and who died in 1889. Mr. Hooper was graduated from the College of the City of New-York in the class of '78. In 1888 he married Edith May Walker, daughter of Alva S Walker, vice-president of the Colwell Lead Company. He was a member of the Colonial, Hardware, Fulton, New-York Athletic and City College clubs, the Chamber of Commerce, New-England Society and St. John's Lodge, F. and A. M. He leaves a widow, two sons and two daughters. The funeral will be held at 8 o'clock to-morrow evening at his home. The burial will be in Greenwood on Thursday morning." His biography in The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, vol. 12, 1904, repeated much of this information:, "... in 1878 [he] was graduated at the College of the City of New York. In the following September he entered the employ of the Colwell Lead Co., of New York, where he steadily advanced in position until elected to the presidency, in March 1890. Besides serving twelve years in this position, he was also president of the Independent Foundry Co., of Portchester, N. Y.; president of the Manufacturers' and Dealers' Protective Association, and vice-president of the Association of Manufacturers and Jobbers of Plumbers' Supplies. He was married in New York city, June 14, 1888, to Edith May, daughter of Alva S. Walker, the vice-president of the Colwell Lead Co. He died in New York, Apr. 20, 1902."

A portrait photograph of Benjamin Franklin Hooper appeared in Moses King's Notable New Yorkers, 1899.

Benjamin Franklin Hooper's father, John Hooper (1812-1889), had also been a president of Colwell Lead Co. His obituary in the New York Times, 23 Dec. 1889, p. 2, read, "John Hooper, President of the Colwell Lead Company of this city, and an old and well-known business man, died at his residence, 281 Monroe-street, Brooklyn, yesterday morning. Mr. Hooper was born in New-York seventy-seven years ago. His father, George Hooper, had come to this country just previous to the war of 1812, and was a civil engineer by profession, having been engaged on the work of the Thames embankment before leaving England, and assisting in the building of Trinity Church and the old Mott-street cathedral in this city.
"Mr. Hooper was educated here and in Burr Seminary, Manchester, Vt. About the year 1846 he received the nomination for an appointment to the West Point Military Academy, where he was a student for two years. Having resigned his cadetship, Mr. Hooper accepted a position as civil engineer on the line of the New-York and Erie Railroad, which was then in course of construction. He retained this position until 1841, when he entered the Tribune business office. Later he formed what is claimed to have been the first advertising agency in the city, having at first an office on Fulton-street, and afterward in the old Times Building. He made a remarkable success of this business and afterward became connected with many other enterprises. He was, until about ten years ago, President of the North River Savings Bank, and was at one time a Director of the Iron Steamboat Company, as well as of several other corporations.
"Mr. Hooper was liberal in his contribution to all worthy charities. It was his invariable custom at Christmas time to send a check to each of the charitable organizations in this city. His illness was not a long one, and death, which was caused by heart failure, came very unexpectedly. The funeral will take place to-morrow afternoon at 2 o'clock."

A later president of the Colwell Lead Co. was Jesse Townsend Duryea (1865-1927). His biography in The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, vol. 14, 1910, reads in part, "Duryea, Jesse Townsend, physician and president of the Colwell Lead Co., was born at Manhasset, L. I., Nov. 11, 1865 ... Dr. Duryea numbered among his friends those who controlled the Colwell Lead Co., and recognizing his business and executive ability and powers of organization, they invited him to become the vice-president and general manager of the company in 1902. The company was founded in 1850 as the New York Lead Co. by Lewis Colwell, W. A. Shaw and Gardner Willard, the original members of the firm. In 1866 it became known as the Colwell, Shaw & Willard Manufacturing Co., Incorporated. The present officers of the company are Jesse T. Duryea, president; S. R. Bush, vice-president; C. F. Duryea, treasurer, and B. O. Tilden secretary. The New York office is at Lafayette and Walker streets, with a branch at Worcester, Mass., and manufacturing plants at Elizabeth, N. J."

The Colwell Lead Co. manufactured not only lead pipe but also lead shot for guns and rifles. The company is mentioned in Cast-Iron Architecture in America: The Significance of James Bogardus (1998), by Margot Gayle and Carol Gayle, for having acquired the cast-iron shot tower designed by the pioneer cast-iron founder and architect, James Bogardus. Bogardus built the tower for the McCullough Shot and Lead Co. in 1855. The Gayles write, "The McCullough tower changed hands after the Civil War, when Lewis Colwell of the Colwell Iron Works bought it. It was a beehive of activity in 1871 when a reporter for the New York Times toured the facility: 'Yesterday they had 33 men working in the tower or in the rooms in the main building [below]. It is estimated that they can produce 15 tons of shot in one day. In an hour and a half's time two men can send down through the shaft four tons of shot.' The Colwell company produced gunshot in the tower until the turn of the century."

The 1880 U. S. Census (non-population schedules) recorded the Colwell Lead Co. as owning $300,000 in real capital and $277,695 in raw materials. It employed an average of 25 men and 1 boy at annual total wages of $15,237. Manufactured products in the preceding year were valued at $418,838.

In the same census the Colwell Iron Works was recorded as owning $300,000 of real capital and $148,212 of raw materials. It employed an average of 200 men and 165 "children and youth" at annual total wages of $82,931. Manufactured products and services in the preceding year were valued at $261,311.

Several sources include the information "The company was founded in 1850 as the New York Lead Co. by Lewis Colwell, W. A. Shaw and Gardner Willard, the original members of the firm." This seems to be inaccurate. Lewis Colwell was a moulder in New York city directories as early as 1838, but the first mention of N. Y. Lead Co. came almost 30 years later in 1865. William A. Shaw was a tinsmith, carpenter and builder in New York as early as 1842, but there seems to have had no connection with Colwell until 1867 when Colwells, Shaw & Willard was listed at West 27th Street on the corner of 11th Avenue. Gardner Willard did not appear at all in city directories until 1860. Like Shaw, he does not seem to have any connection with Colwell until Colwells, Shaw & Willard was formed in 1867. Instead, Louis Colwell's partner in the 1850s was Jeremiah Terbell (1799?-1862). Terbell, a coal dealer, and never mentioned in any account of the Colwell companies, was listed as Louis Colwell's partner in the copartnership section of the Trow city directory of 1854-55. Subsequent directories listed him through 1857, and he died, age 63, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, 13 October 1862. Terbell is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn (lot 4047, section 23). Terbell's home (constructed 1846-47) at 118 West 12th St. is treated extensively in The Houses of Greenwich Village, by Kevin D. Murphy (2008). (The address in the 1840s and 1850s was listed in city directories as 66 Twelfth St. and 70 Twelfth St.)

This ad for the Colwell Lead Co. appeared in Trow's New York City Directory for 1879.

The Colwell Lead Co. continued for many years after the death of the original Colwells. They were in business in New York until the late 1920s. After the 1880s Colwell specialized in the sale of plumbers' supplies. This ad from 1882 for Colwell reflects the new emphasis on plumbers' supplies. This ad from 1891 is practically identical.

The Biggert Collection of Architectural Vignettes at Columbia University contains a Colwell Lead Co. bill or receipt dated 1912. It shows eight locations and features Ideal Plumbing Fixtures.

The filled-in drain on Duane St. likely dates from the years 1890 to 1910. From 1917 until the late 1920s, Colwell Lead Co. was located in the Bronx (from 1917 to 1926) at 437 E. 162nd St.

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