Bell Casting in Troy
A Family Affair
by Charles Skinner
After the Revolution and the opening of the frontier, the Mohawk Valley became one of great avenues of the new nation's westward expansion. Yankees from New England joined New Yorkers and Scotch-Irish immigrants in settling the area upstate, west and north of Fort Schuyler (Rome, New York). The area around Troy, just north of the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson, became the industrial gateway for this expansion-particularly after the opening of the Erie Canal in the 1820s.
Among the enterprising Yankees who expanded their business into the Troy area was Col. Benjamin Hanks, who had established the first bell and cannon foundry in America in Mansfield, Connecticut, in 1785. (Mansfield is a town in eastern Connecticut, north of Willimantic and about 20 miles as the crow flies due east of Hartford.) A little over two decades later, in 1808, Col. Hanks set his young son Julius up in the brass foundry business in Gibbonsville, a settlement on the flood plain across the Hudson from Troy. In July of that year, Gibbonsville's new foundry advertised the manufacture of church bells, tower clocks, and surveying instruments thus writing the first chapter in the history of bell casting in the Troy area.
In 1819, a name that would become synonymous with bells from Troy first cropped up. In that year a young Andrew Meneely was apprenticed to Julius. Andrew, who had been born in Gibbonsville on March 19, 1802, was the second child of Andrew and Eleanor (Cobb) Meneely, immigrants who had come to New York from northern Ireland in 1795. (The family name had originally been McNeely.)
When Andrew's apprenticeship was over, he went to work for Julius' brother (or cousin) Horatio, who had also apprenticed at the Gibbonsville foundry. Horatio had set himself up as an instrument and small bell maker in Auburn, New York, in 1818, to take advantage of business opportunities attendant on the construction of the Erie Canal. (Auburn is between Syracuse and Seneca Falls, at the lower end of Lake Owasco the second from the East of the Finger Lakes.) During Andrew's years in Auburn, he met Horatio's cousin Philena Hanks when she and another cousin from Mansfield visited Horatio there. Philena was the daughter of Olive (Freeman) and Rodney Hanks, Col. Benjamin's younger brother.
In 1825, Julius abandoned his old shop and foundry in Gibbonsville for a new location in Troy, on the northeast corner of Fulton and Fifth. Andrew, sensing the opportunity, married Philena and acquired the Gibbonsville property. At the same time (1826) Horatio closed his shop in Auburn and moved back to Troy, where he ran a small shop supporting the local mathematical instrument trade until 1828. In Troy, Julius also continued to manufacture "church bells, town clocks, copper and brass castings, and surveyors' instruments of the most improved construction." But across the river in Gibbonsville, Julius' former apprentice Andrew began to compete for the same market. An 1831 advertisement stated that:
Indeed, Meneely bells gained a reputation for beauty of tone, winning medals at many fairs. Andrew was constantly experimenting and improving on the methods of his master. In 1834, Julius passed his business on to his son Oscar, who continued it until 1845, when he gave in to Andrew's competition. (Subsequently, Oscar Hanks' instrument manufacture was carried on by William Gurley, an 1839 graduate of the Rensselaer Institute who had joined the Hanks' establishment in 1840 and eventually took over the Troy property, However, the firm of W. and L. E. Gurley, manufacturers of mathematical and engi- neering instruments, never cast bells.)
However, Andrew's success also had its price. In 1836 his health obliged him to take on his foreman, Jonas Volkert Oothout, as a partner. For five years his firm was known as "Meneely and Oothout." In 1841, however, the partnership was dissolved and the business reverted to "Andrew Meneely." In 1850, Andrew's eldest son Edwin Andrew, who was then twenty-two (b. 1828), joined the business as manager, and the name was again changed to "Andrew Meneely & Son."
Andrew was twice elected president, in 1839 and 1843, of the Village of West Troy, as Gibbonsville had been renamed in 1836. He was also a ruling elder in the Dutch Reformed Church in his village, and the following story illustrates how strictly he kept the Sabbath:
A young man from out of town called on Andrew one Sunday morning, with the intention of purchasing a bell. Andrew, however, refused to conduct any business on Sunday. Instead, he invited the man to church with him and to remain overnight at this house that night, so they could discuss business early Monday morning. The man declined Andrew's offer saying he had to be home that night. He wanted to visit the foundry and look over the various sizes and pattems of bells, but still Andrew refused. The following day the man sent a letter addressed to the "Reverend" Andrew Meneely, containing an order for a bell.
Andrew died in 1851. After his death, Edwin continued the business in partnership with his brother George Rodney (b. 1831) under the name "Andrew Meneely's Sons." Edwin ran the office, George the foundry. In the year after their father's death the two brothers added a large melting furnace and rebuilt the foundry. At that time the business occupied nine lots in the heart of West Troy, while in the same year (1852), across the river in Troy, W. & L. E. Gurley erected a large factory that soon came to dominate the manufacture of surveying instruments. As a result, the two sons eventually abandoned the making of instruments in favor of bells, which the Gurleys never produced.
In 1852, however, the opportunities looked good. The prosperity of the business, coupled with the disruption in family relations caused by Andrew's death, caused Edwin and George's cousin and uncle, James Harvey Hitchcock, to withdraw from the firm and set up a competing foundry in Troy with the financial backing of Eber Jones. James was the son of Isaac and Nancy (Meneely) Hitchcock, Andrew's older sister, and the husband of Juliaette Hanks, the younger sister of Andrew's wife Philena. At the time of Andrew's death, he was thirty-five and foundry foreman. Undoubtedly, he was disinclined to work for his younger nephews.
Initially, Jones & Hitchcock, as the new business was christened, set up business on the northwest corner of Adams and First Streets, where they erected a plant called the Troy Bell Foundry. In 1853, the new foundry cast the first complete chime in the U.S., nine bells in the key of D, for St. Stephen's Church in Philadelphia. The following year, the plant was relocated to the southwest corner of the same streets.
Faced with competition in the instrument trade from W. & L.E. Gurley and in the bell business from the Troy Bell Foundry, Andrew Meneely's Sons failed in the Panic of 1857. In the same year, Hitchcock withdrew from his partnership with Eber Jones, and the firm was renamed "Jones & Company." The Meneely firm resumed operations (under the name "Andrew Meneely's Sons, Agents") only after Andrew's widow Philena stepped in and took over the business. Soon, however, "Andrew Meneely's Sons" was back in business, and within a few years, the firm was again on a sound financial footing, but a further family feud forebode future trouble.
Clinton Hanks Meneely, Andrew's third son (b. 1839), was only twelve when his father died. In his mid-teens, he began working in the firm's office (he is listed in the 1857 Troy City Directory as a clerk and bookkeeper). When the Civil War broke out in 1861 and he was twenty-two, he wanted to volunteer his service to the Union cause. His family was opposed. When he want ahead and joined, a rift was created that was not repaired despite the many battles he fought in, including Gettysburg. (During the war years, he also married Josephine Elizabeth Roff in November 1862 and fathered his first child a son Wadsworth, born in 1864.) After he was mustered out with the rank of Colonel (or Major) in 1866, he set himself up in the business of buying and selling surplus army clothing and equipment. However, business was slow, and in 1869, Clinton petitioned his brothers to become a partner in the family firm, which had been renamed "E. A. & G. R. Meneely" in 1863.
George, in the meantime, had continued his father's efforts to improve the business's products, and in 1868 acquired a patent for a new method of attaching the bell to the yoke. This method allowed the bell to turn so that each time the clapper swung it struck the bell in a new place, making it less likely that the bell : would crack, as the Liberty Bell had in 1835, when tolling the death of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall.
Clinton, however, also possessed a knowledge of bell casting from his time with the family firm. He had further improved this knowledge through the study of a book on bell founding that had been published in France in 1751. This book described in detail the making of sweeps, the templates that are rotated to make the molds used in founding bells, and later in his life Clinton prized its role in the formative years of his career.
However, at this stage, he was rebuffed by his brothers. Undaunted, he let it be known that he was looking for capital to begin his own business. George Hazard Kimberly was a successful West Troy merchant, who was familiar with Clinton's situation through his sister, who was married to Clinton's oldest brother Edwin. Believing Clinton to have been poorly treated by his brothers, Kimberly formed a partnership with him in June 1870 under the name "Meneely & Kimberley." The partners built their foundry the third in the Troy area at this time on the East side of River Street, between Washington and Adams. This location was less than a block from the Troy Bell Foundry, which at the time was being operated by Eber's son Octavous. At the same time, and even before they began production, Meneely & Kimberly commissioned a catalogue from the local printer who printed the catalogue for Clinton's brothers. On January 1, 1871, Meneely & Kimberly began making their first molds and two weeks later cast their first bell.
To acquire the experienced workers they needed, Meneely & Kimberly had hired three former employees of E. A. & G. R. Meneely. They also turned to Clinton's Uncle James Hitchcock, who had moved to Chicago, to serve as their agent. Even though Edwin and George's agent, Fairbanks & Co., refused to serve as Meneely & Kimberly's agent, they purchased bells outright from the new firm for resale in their New York, San Francisco and Canadian offices. Clinton also quickly began to compete on the technological front. In little more than a year from when he launched his operation, on May 9, 1871, Clinton was granted a patent for his "conical rotary yoke." With two bell foundries in the Troy area named Meneely, some confusion was inevitable, and the two soon began to receive each other's mail (and, even though competition was growing, forward it to the proper address).
Eventually, however, the competition from their brother led Edwin and George to sue. On September 9, 1871, they asked the courts to order Clinton and his partner to
desist and refrain from using the name and designation "Meneely" in their aforesaid business of bell founding at Troy in any manner or form whatever, and that in the meantime a temporary injunction may issue restraining them as aforesaid and that they may be adjudged to pay the plaintiffs damages to the amount of ten thousand dollars and the cost of this action.
The famous Meneely Trade-Mark Case, Meneely vs Meneely, dragged on through the New York courts over the next four years, until in 1875 the Court of Appeals established the legal right to use one's surname commercially, even if a business using the same name already existed. Henceforth, Edwin and George attempted to capitalize on their priority by advertising their firm as "The Old Meneely Foundry, established AD 1826 by Andrew Meneely." Both firms, however, continued until about 1951, when the effects of war restrictions on the supply of metals, alternative technologies (electronic chimes) and increased competition as a result of the removal of tariffs brought an end to this chapter in the history of American industry and craftsmanship.
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