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History of Ivoryton

By Donald Malcarne, Essex Town Historian

Comstock, Cheney & Co.

"If one would know the real history of Ivoryton, he should look up and study the business history of the Comstock, Cheney and Company for that firm is really the Ivoryton of today"…

"The saving grace locally was the growth of the ivory related business in the Ivoryton section of town. It took advantage of the industrial revolution and the growth of international trade (importation of ivory from Africa) to cater to the growing affluence and interests of the American people. The long line of "Gothic" homes on Main Street leading into that borough is perfect artifactual evidence of the fall of one area and the emergence of another.

This paper will maintain a multi-casual viewpoint in trying to verify, complement, or rebut the above quotations. It will also try to give insight, through the study of artifacts and primary documentation associated both with them and of itself, of the social, economic, and physical growth of Ivoryton to the first decade of the twentieth century and attempt to place that community within the context of Essex, Middlesex County, Connecticut, and the world in doing this, the question of the motives, rationales, and drive of certain people will be of paramount importance. A few references to later dates and happenings will also be required, but the thrust of study will be the nineteenth century.

Initially, a brief description of Ivoryton past and present is in order. It was part of the Saybrook Colony which was established in 1635, and was included in the Oyster River Quarter well into the nineteenth century, an area named for that river which lies between Old Saybrook and Westbrook. It subsequently came to be known as the Centre Brook district before being called Ivoryton in the 1880s at which time it then also became the second voting district of Essex (in 1887). Centre Brook was not included in the official transformation of Essex from a borough to a town in the 1852-1854 period, but was added to it in 1859. Essex today incorporates the three villages of Essex, Centerbrook, and Ivoryton within its borders, with Ivoryton currently being almost one hundred percent residential in nature. It was severely damaged by a flood on June 5, 1982, as the Falls River, swollen by eleven inches of intensive rain and abetted by the breakup of an old Comstock, Cheney & Co. dam, went "wild".

The rugged topography of this section doubtless was a major reason for its being so late in developing, either in a residential or industrial sense. It features large ridges on three sides cut by the Falls River which finally flows into the Connecticut River just north of Essex village. Initially subsistence farming, including pasturing, was carried on within the confines of the narrow river valley by only a few families, specifically the Parkers, Clarks, Comstocks, and Bulls. It must be noted however, that the prime farmland of Essex was in the "Scots-Plain" section, an area that parallels route 153 towards Westbrook today. The construction of a dam in Centerbrook (the spelling has been this way for over one hundred years) in the early eighteenth century for an iron works, sawmill, and gristmill flooded an area back into what is now Ivoryton. This millpond became a focal point both geographically and philosophically for the next two hundred and fifty years, as many land transactions in the Ivoryton section near this body of water were referred to as being at the "head of the pond". Incidentally, this dam (partially rebuilt) still stands today.

Besides being "rural" in the most literal sense, Ivoryton (even though not yet named, I will refer to it as such) suffered on another score. It was two and one half miles from Potapoug as the village that became Essex was called up to 1820, where boat construction was being carried on in a most intense manner. Potapoug had emerged after the Revolutionary War as an ideal place to build various types of ocean going vessels required by many merchant traders up and down the east coast. Colloquially speaking, the "action" was in Essex, as artisans of many types came to town and literally precipitated a building "boom". Over five hundred keels were laid here from 1785 to the Civil War. A saving grace for the Centerbrook section was the location of the Congregational Meeting House of the Second Ecclesiastical Society there. This was founded in the 1720s and the current church building, constructed in 1790 and still standing, remains the oldest in the country.

While the villages of Essex and Centerbrook had by 1850 roughly established their current parameters as far as main roads, general layout, etc. were concerned. Ivoryton had only twenty six buildings, eight of which were recently built by, or were shops of, Samuel Merritt Comstock. While far from complete, investigation done to date, to further this point, indicates that perhaps only a dozen or fewer homes existed there in 1835. By contrast, the borough of Essex had a population of close to eight hundred and over one hundred dwelling houses by 1820. The oldest house in Ivoryton (still standing) is known as the "Reuben Bull Homestead" and stands in a very critical section just at "the head of the pond". It was actually built by Jonathan Parker prior to 1741 (but after 1720), turned over to his son Matthew in 1741, who in turn sold it to Captain Edward Bull in 1773. It passed down through three Reuben Bulls, the last of whom died in 1838. The inventory of the last Reuben is very revealing, for, in addition to this house on the north side of the highway, he had an interest in the gristmill behind the house and owned two hundred and twenty two acres of farmland south of this highway (The Pettipaug and Guilford Turnpike, currently Ivoryton Main Street and Route 80). This indicates that while still relying on agriculture (Reuben had a cadre of farming implements), a gristmill had been built. This was known, aptly enough, as Bull’s Gristmill and was operated by three members of that family. A dam had been constructed at "the head of the pond" for that purpose. This "mill privilege" had actually been in existence prior to the nineteen century, along with a sawmill slightly upstream, but its use was of minor significance until shortly after 1800. In addition, a cider mill was being operated adjacent to this dam. The inventory of John Bull in 1831, a brother of Reuben, reveals much the same information plus the presence of a "Fulling Mill" at this same location. For the first time, and considerably after other sections of Middlesex County (most notably East Haddam, Essex, and Middletown), economically driven factors were being introduced into Ivoryton, and competing with agriculture. Although these were very small operations (the Fulling Mill had a total value of $200), the mere factor of their existence is important. Additionally, the three Bulls, Reuben, William and John owned two boats operating out of Essex, the Sloop "Columbia," built in 1817, and the Sloop "Manilla," built in 1816. In both cases William Bull was master, perhaps indicating their small agriculturally oriented operations in Ivoryton could not support the whole family.

The manufacture of ivory products, mostly pins, combs, and notions had commenced about 1798 in Deep River, Centerbrook (at the site of a dam on the Falls River, previously described) and at the mouth of this same stream in Essex. The Pratt family had been leaders in this, through the inventions of Phineas Pratt and their application by his son Abel and son-in-law George Read. Interestingly enough, Samuel Merritt Comstock was learning about ivory manufacturing about the time of William Bull’s death at the shop in Centerbrook. He was to move from the dam site to the Bull dam within a few years. It is at this point that I will integrate the history of Ivoryton’s next sixty years with a discussion of Comstock and his associates.


Samuel Merritt Comstock, was born in the Ivoryton section of Essex on August 25, 1809. His father, also Samuel, was reputed to be a sea captain active in the West Indies trade. This at first appeared to conflict with the operation of a fifty acre fare on the banks of the Falls River, being that property he got from his father in 1805. Upon further investigation, it was found that he indeed was involved as Master of two vessels sailing to the Caribbean (out of Essex). The first was, "Union" a forty-five ton Sloop in 1797, and the other was "William", a fifty-seven ton Sloop in 1804. Of further import was the fact that he was part owner of the first boat and sold it in 1799 to Uriah Hayden 2nd, an up and coming Essex merchant. Uriah died tragically in 1801 of yellow fever contracted while on a business trip in New York City, but his father,, Ebenezer Hayden, continued to do business with Captain Comstock, accepting a mortgage on his fifty acre farm in 1808 for $527. This loan was finally cleared by Samuel Merritt Comstock in 1857, when he paid off the great-grandchildren of Mr. Hayden. The significance of this last transaction in relation to family ties in business will be dealt with later. In all Captain Comstock had ten children, of whom Samuel M. was the ninth. There obviously was a dearth of wealth in this family for neither Captain Comstock, who died in 1854, nor his father who died in 1823, had their estates probated. While this is not totally indicative of poverty it is very leading, based upon a study of estates in the lower valley area by this author. Prior to 1850, approximately forty to fifty percent of estates were probated locally.

In 1834 with little financial backing Samuel M. commenced his first business venture, in partnership with his brother, Joseph A. Comstock, and a friend, Edwin Griswold, in the manufacture of screwdrivers. This lasted but a short time when the three men turned to the production of various ivory items, most notably combs. This relationship lasted until 1847, after which Samuel went off on his own, but during the intervening years significant events occurred that relate to Ivoryton history.

The location of this new shop was just to the east of the dam operated by the Bull family, as previously mentioned. This site went on to house various factories through the 1870s, in addition to the one Samuel M. was involved in. They were the Comstock & Griswold Co., the Comstock & Dickson Co., the Pettipaug Mfg. Co., and H. J. Jones Co. The most famous landmark in the general area today is the Copper Beech Inn, an artifact that will be discussed under a different format later on. Prior to Samuel M. Comstock first "setting up shop" in this section there were two homes, the discussed "Bull" residence and that of their neighbor to the east on the same side on the Killingworth Turnpike, Mr. Daniel Griswold, about one quarter of a mile away.

On January 20, 1838, Samuel M. Comstock purchased fifty square rods of land from Daniel Griswold for $30, bounded south on the Turnpike, north on the Falls River, west on the Bull family property, and east on land of Dan Griswold. Seventeen days later he bought one half acre from William Bull adjacent to this parcel. The descriptions of both pieces are historically important for they define the now combined property as being two rods below the factory dam, and the east line in direct line with a backhouse of the comb factory. The commercial importance of an area in Ivoryton had now been firmly established. Samuel built his first homestead here, an extant "Federal" in 1838, while his partner Edwin Griswold, built on his father’s property next door, at approximately the same time. This is the current parsonage of the Ivoryton Congregational Church. In rapid succession four more homes went up, with one being practically a twin of Samuel’s directly to the south. This was the new homestead of Egbert Bull, built on farmland recently inherited from his uncle Rueben. In effect Samuel Comstock had helped establish what I will describe as the first "villagette" of Ivoryton. As will be seen, it was to be considerably expanded

"…Mr. Comstock was continually at work, devising new plans and opening new fields for utilizing the material (ivory), and economizing the cost of production. He had no visionary theories, or castles in the air, for his plans were put into immediate execution as fast as they were developed."

In 1847 he sold his part ownership of Comstock & Griswold and set up a business in a section of town on the Falls River, directly across the street from his boyhood home. This became the firm of S. M. Comstock & Co., and took advantage of an existing water privilege on the stream at this point. An 1849 deed, wherein Samuel purchased a small piece of property from one Charles Parker verified the existence of "a new dam" Samuel had built here.

This area was soon covered by buildings of this fledgling firm, and in 1851 Samuel sold the home he had built thirteen years before to Hobart E. Davis, an executive of Comstock & Griswold, and built a new one very near to this new factory, on land he had purchased from the Bull family. This land also included that acreage where his new shop had been set up, and was on the south side of the highway, and all part of the two hundred and twenty acres of farmland the Bull family had owned. The change to the industrialization of Ivoryton was moving swiftly (see maps "A" and "B" at conclusion to graphically appreciate the changes that were taking place.)

This new home, in effect, established a precedent and was the artifact that established where the center of Ivoryton would be. Interestingly enough, a landmark on this property, "the great gate of Samuel Comstock’s" was used in a few deeds to define placement of properties along a growing Main Street, the old Pettigpaug-Guilford or North Killingworth Turnpike. Approximately fifty years ago, eleven rooms were taken off this homestead, when it was in the ownership of the widow of E. M. Comstock, a grandson of Samuel’s. A fascinating question is posed by these "extra" rooms were they for servants as might be initially supposed, or were they originally used as a type of boarding house for an expanding work force, much as this author has suggested the third floor of the Griswold Inn on lower Main Street in Essex may have first been used by Richard Hayden in 1801. At the present time this must remain unanswered, until it can be clearly defined when the rooms were added or if they were original.

In 1857, in a succession of deeds Samuel and his brother Joseph split the original family homestead, with Joseph maintaining the house, and Samuel the acreage. The house immediately went to another relative, Marsena Comstock, who for years operated a small ivory shop in the rear of the dwelling. This consequent acreage owned by Samuel covered all of what is now Blake Street, Summit Street, Highland Terrace, and Chestnut Street. He continued to purchase parcels throughout the greater area until his death in 1878.

In the same year that he built his first home, Samuel Merritt Comstock married Harriet Hovey, a niece of the high regarded Reverend Aaron Hovey of the Centerbrook Congregational Church. A connection to the wealthy Hayden family in Essex is documented by this union, for the Reverend Hovey had married Huldah Hayden, the widow of Uriah 2nd, whose father, Mr. Ebenezer Hayden was the ultimate merchant, financier and boat builder in Essex from the end of the of the Revolution to the time of his demise in 1818. Huldah’s father was the Reverend Richard Ely, the predecessor of Reverend Hovey, and the progeny of her two marriages included William S. Hayden, who, along with his father-in-law Timothy Starkey, controlled the Essex waterfront, Amelia Hayden Champlin, the wife of Henry L. Champlin, who became a leading Essex entrepreneur, and finally the famous ocean going sea captain, Henry Hovey.

Samuel, who had to borrow $1000 from his father-in-law, Mr. Edmond Hovey in 1853, ostensibly to complete his new home, was not a wealthy person by any stretch of the imagination, at this juncture. What happened between this date and his death is extraordinary, for his inventory totaled $179,985, one of the largest ever recorded in the lower country area up to 1878. The dwelling house, land, and outbuildings were valued at $9,500, indicting a veritable palace for that era. In addition he owned twelve other parcels of land and had 4558 shares of Comstock Cheney & Co. stock worth $113,950. This is the story of the ensuing chapter.

How does one evaluate the personality and accomplishments of Mr. Samuel Merritt Comstock? I suggest he was the successor to Mr. Ebenezer Hayden in a very real sense. Mr. Hayden was an almost classic case of the artisan turned entrepreneur. He however, worked with artifacts that were hand made and no two alike for there was no mass production or interchangeability in the building of sailing ships as was practiced in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Mr. Comstock appears to be the archetypical inventive "Yankee" artisan, of the mid-nineteenth century. striving for profit and mechanical progress. He seemed to possess a rational "bridge" between the older industrial world that existed prior to 1840, as described by Alfred Chandler in The Visible Hand and the more technologically and market oriented one that emerged prior to the Civil War. Although Essex village was very active building ships during most of Samuel Comstock’s life, he invested in only one. That, in all irony, was the Schooner "James Phelps", built in 1870, the last commercial sailing ship built in that place. What better way to signal the end of an era and note the dominance of a new one. Artifacts are expressions of those who produce them or think in a certain way, so following in the tradition of prominent "Saybrook Colony" entrepreneurs, Samuel Merritt Comstock rests under an Egyptian style obelisk in the Centerbrook Central Burying Ground. The pattern of local gravestone iconography continues.

The Village of Ivoryton, which a few years ago was almost wilderness, is now one of the most beautiful villages in the state, and this has been accomplished mainly through his (Samuel Comstock’s) efforts.

                                     THE COLLABORATION

George Arthur Cheney was born August 25, 1828, in New Salem, New Hampshire, and married Sarah, daughter of Rufus Greene for whom he worked. Rufus was a prominent ivory trader in Providence, Rhode Island. This explains why George and his wife spent so much time prior to 1860 in Zanzibar, on the coast of East Africa. His role was that of a super-cargo and eastern agent for his father-in-law’s firma fact which emphasized the growing demand for this product in both Europe and the United States. Two of his three sons, including Crawford (the other died very young), were the first white children born in that place. His uncle was also active in this trade, being part of the firm of Arnold, Cheney & Co. at 158 Water Street in New York City. This particular concern became a prime supplier of ivory to local lower valley factories in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Mr. Cheney was, therefore, essentially a buyer and seller throughout his earlier years, but never has there been any indication of his having any training in the actual production of goods in other words he was not, or never had been, an apprentice or artisan in the industrial sense.

On August 17, 1860, Samuel Merritt Comstock sold one quarter of his factory machinery (The S. M. Comstock & Co.) and the land on which it stood to George A. Cheney. The price was $3500, and the other members of this new partnership were Charles Rose and William C. Comstock, Samuel’s cousin. This organization was named the Comstock, Cheney & Co. The company was formally incorporated in 1872 under the same name, with a capitalization of $250,000. Simon W. Shailer, a person with experience in the manufacture of ivory products was also an incorporator, in addition to the men above.

George Cheney apparently did not take a very active a part in the operation of the factory for at least the first eight years. He permanently moved to town in 1868, when he purchased a very prestigious home on Champlin Square in Essex village for $7000 from Gideon Hayden on May twenty-eighth of that year. This home had been built in 1855 by the well known sea captain, John Rockwell, and lay between the prestigious homes of Captain Henry L. Champlin (deceased) and occupied by his widow Amelia (Hayden) Champlin. To finalize this sale, Cheney had to borrow $5000 from the Essex Savings Bank, a mortgage he cleared in 1878. The point of these facts is to infer that, at this time, he was not a wealthy person, or at least not in the class of his older partner, Samuel Comstock.

Shortly thereafter, he brought three more acres from Amelia Champlin west of, and adjacent to his home, on top of a hill with a commanding view of Essex. This was where his youngest son, George L. Cheney, would build his "Watch Hill style" wood shingle "cottage" in the 1880s. George was destined to become treasurer and a large stockholder of the Pratt, Read & Co. of Deep River, a major source of competition for the Comstock, Cheney & Co. The oldest son, Crawford G. Cheney, married Harriet A. Stephenson, granddaughter of Henry Champlin in 1882, and George A. himself, became appraiser and an executor of the estate of Amelia Champlin. Thus, it can be seen that the Cheney family essentially supplanted the Hayden-Champlin family in the foremost section of Essex (during that era). In addition, the tie has already been pointed out between Captain Henry Hovey, Amelia Champlin and Samuel Merritt Comstock. It is evident that the value of family connections, while not anywhere as significant as during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, still had some relevance.

George A. Cheney died May 27, 1901 and left an estate valued at $313542. The significance of this is not merely in the amount, for it was indeed one of the largest ever in Essex (in absolute dollars), but in the comparison with that of his partner. Samuel Comstock had owned 4558 shares of Comstock & Cheney stock (value $25 per share), 300 shares of Connecticut Valley Mfg. Co, and 315 shares of Pratt & Reed Co. These were all companies he had a personal interest in, had worked for, or were involved in ivory production, thereby reflecting somewhat of a provincial industrial outlook. Cheney’s estate listed 4947 shares of the Comstock Cheney Co. (value $25 per share), plus interests in eighteen railroads, ten utility companies, three telegraph companies, two banks, mines, etc, throughout the United States. His entrepreneurial vision appeared to be much broader and up to date than that of Mr. Comstock’s. Within this mixture of philosophies, I submit, lay many of the reasons for the success of their company. This outlook of Mr. Cheney’s may also explain why he was the only officer or executive (along with his two sons) not to live in Ivoryton.

After its incorporation, the Comstock, Cheney & Co. was generally run by its main founder, Samuel Comstock, until his death on January 18, 1878. Mr. Cheney had become president of the Connecticut Valley Mfg. Co. in Centerbrook in 1873, a company he and Samuel had rescued out of bankruptcy that year. He continued combining his presence between these two firms until he became president of the Comstock, Cheney & Co. in 1878.

The rapid growth of this concern between 1870 and 1900 was astounding, and some of the ramifications of that rise will be listed here and be the point of discussion in the last chapter. Between 1867 and 1874, Samuel Comstock sold land to various executives of the new company, specifically W. A. Comstock, John E. Northrup (he married Samuel’s daughter, Elizabeth), Charles H. Rose, Nathaniel Miller, John Culver, L. D. Webber, H. Wooster Webber, and Simon W. Shailer. These sales resulted in the construction of what can be described as the long line of gothic homes", leading into Ivoryton on Main Street. They were all in direct proximity to the "great house" of Mr. Comstock’s, and were certainly representative of a planned, orderly development. The construction of the large "upper factory’", which started in 1873, was the signal of the demand for an expanded work force. The original "lower shop" became the ivory manufacturing and handling area, while the new factory was involved in the production of keyboards and actions.

Mr. Comstock built the "Ivoryton Store" in 1872, which sold general merchandise, hardware, groceries, etc., as well as having an assembly hall on the second floor. This was used for company functions as well as school graduations and other public activities. This served these latter purposes until the company built a new "company hall"" in 1908, which subsequently became the famous Ivoryton Playhouse when it was finally sold in the 1930s to Milton Stiefel. The store and hall remained in the personal possession of the Comstock family for sixty-five years, with one brief exception. The operation was leased to various people, most notably the Rose brothers, but it was one of the few structures not turned over to the company.

The hotel and men’s boarding house, which was in operation by 1866 and the women’s dormitory were the start of a solution to an employee housing problem that has fascinated some industrial historians. According to Essex tax records (see Appendix), the company owned one dwelling house in 1871, eleven in 1881, twenty-nine in 1891, thirty-six in 1901 and sixty-six in 1911. These were small homes for what was fast becoming a workforce dominated by immigrants. The total number built is not known at this time, some estimates going as high as one hundred and thirty five, but I believe that was excessive. It is true however, that the progressive numbers indicated by the tax records do not necessarily reflect the total built, for some were sold. For example, between 1901 and 1903 the company sold and took back mortgages on twenty-two dwellings. The nationality of those purchasing these houses is indicative of the changing nature of the workforce, for they were mostly people of Scandinavian descent, who had dominated this area since the expansion of the company in the early 1870s. These names were Nelson, Johnson, Lindgren, Carlson, etc., and it would appear that man now wished to set themselves apart (philosophically and economically, at least) from the newer employees, which, after the turn of the century, were mainly Italian and Poles. Indeed, an agent was probably retained at Ellis Island in New York to direct potential help to Ivoryton. All these homes had been (and continue to be) put on the hills surrounding the town that were described in the first pages of this treatise and on land either inherited or purchased by Samuel Comstock. It, once again, appears to be an undeniable fact that he had a rational plan in mind for the growth of the town.

After the store, hall, and boarding houses were established the company instigated (and maintained buildings for) a male oriented "Wheel Club" with bowling alleys, a ladies social club, a cornet band, and baseball organization. In addition, the company and/or the Comstock family helped finance or gave land for the Grammar School, the Ivoryton Library, the Swedish Church in Ivoryton, and the Congregational Church in Ivoryton. This latter church was at first essentially an adjunct of the main church in Centerbrook. The significance of this pattern of growth will be the feature of the next and last chapter.

The size that Comstock, Cheney & Cheney & Co. had grown to by the turn of the century is indicated by the following figures, between 1891 and 1903 it processed 852,476 pounds of soft ivory and 243,992 pounds of hard ivory. By way of comparison, the Pratt-Read Co. of Deep River used 784,809 of the soft, and 689,409 of the hard. This material was generally brought by boat up the Connecticut River until about 1900, when the company purchased six acres next to the train station in Centerbrook, and then switched to much greater railroad use.

R. H. Comstock, a son of S. M. Comstock, became president of the company after the death of Mr. Cheney. It continued to be run by members of the Comstock family until the merger with the Pratt-Read Co. in 1936, when its name was changed to that of the new partner. The terrible depression had taken its toll on both firms. In this combination, it was decided to sell off all the non-factory real estate of the Comstock & Cheney Co., and the Ivoryton Realty Corporation was formed for that purpose. When asked why the name of the new firm was Pratt-Read, rather than Comstock-Cheney, the president of that organization from 1954 to the mid 1980s, Mr. Peter Comstock stated that it was really simple: Pratt-Read had a better reputation for quality "goods", even though he understood this was probably not necessarily the case. It could also be that Comstock, Cheney & Co. was considered somewhat "provincial" by the piano manufacturers since it was still operating under conditions (welfare capitalism) established in the nineteenth century. In any event, peak employment was reached during the Second World War when more than thirty six hundred people were working there. `


The two questions that opened this work can now be evaluated in light of the information presented. While Ivoryton is certainly a reflection of the Comstock, Cheney & Co., most particularly in the 1880s and after (a fact that will be expanded on subsequently), the initial impetus to its growth came through the innovations and personality of Samuel Merritt Comstock. He was the person who essentially started Ivoryton, although it was not named as such until after his death. His inventive mind, coupled with the availability of an efficient power source in the Falls River, led to the formation of one of the first "modern" factory systems in the lower valley. The boat builder artisan of Essex village was rather quickly replaced by a rational division of the labor force into more specialized groups in Ivoryton, even though manual (as contrasted to mechanical) work was still primary. More complete mechanization came with the building of the "upper shop" in 1873, and the later additions to it. A brief survey of any national census after 1860 will verify this specialization of the workforce.

The ultimate question is really not what happened in Ivoryton, but why? What drove Samuel Comstock to act as he did and what did he wish to accomplish? The answer, at this juncture appears multi causal, and not always totally rational. In any consideration of this type one must take into account four factors which gave us a "cultured" approach: they are ideological, social, economic, and technological. It appears the answers be in the final three. It has already been indicated much time how inventive and mechanical he was, as well as having the available power (natural resource) and a still very elemental ivory industry locally. This gives credence to the technological part of this triangle, as he turned the ivory industry into a practical reality. As far as economics are concerned, an interesting aspect is presented. There is no doubt that he was aware of the wealth being created in Essex in the shipbuilding industry, yet he never got involved, and in addition his agriculturally based family was extraordinarily poor. I would suggest that he was out to prove his worth, make amends as well as his fortune, as it were, thereby making an economic "statement" to the area. The expansion of the market system also encouraged this New England "Yankee" to innovate and grow. He, in a very "Georgian" sense, seemed to be developing a set of planned economic values. The social factor interacts with the other two, and will be enlarged upon more fully in relation to a major issue, in the next section. Samuel Comstock was a distinctive person, who strove for success, and created and abetted a very distinctive subculture in this part of Saybrook Colony.


"Business leaders were seldom given to abstract thought about the proper shape of a new and more humane industrial order. They did, however, devote a great deal of attention to building their own industrial enterprises."

"Taken together, these practices compose what is known as welfare capitalism by definition, any service provided for the comfort or improvement of employees which was neither a necessity of the industry nor required by law."

"But welfare capitalism meant more than that. It sustained a power system that granted management full authority over the terms of employment. Contemporary labor programs, remarked the economist Simner H. Slichter in 1929, ‘are one of the most ambitious social experiments of the age, because they aim, among other things, to counteract the effect of modern technique upon the mind of the worker, to prevent him from becoming class conscious and from organizing trade unions.’ This aim, more than considerations of humanity or efficiency, measured the ultimate value of welfare capitalism to most of its advocates."

The above three statements indicate different views on the industrial-social concern, and allow us to focus on one of the most important factors in the evolution of Ivoryton: the concept of a "COMPANY TOWN". This relates to the aforementioned multi casual "cultured approach" we should take in judging any society, and most specifically an industrial subculture that quickly arose from subsistence agriculture. It must also be remembered that although events of times past may occasionally seem irrational, nonsensical, illogical, etc. to us, the concept of cultural relativity must come to the fore. We must separate accepted mannerisms of today, in many cases from those of the past to obtain fair judgements. We cannot necessarily impose our order on the past.

Ivoryton became a "Factory Town" in three historical stages, from all available evidence. The first step primarily involved Samuel Comstock, who essentially was the Comstock, Cheney & Co. and Ivoryton until his death, as we have seen. He ran the factory and the factory became the political, social and economic fact of life in the area. A biographical description of him is very applicable.

"He was large hearted, liberal, and generous. He was kind and considerate to his employees … When the labors of the day were completed, he engaged heartily in the sports of the men and took an active interest in everything that concerned their welfare or happiness."

His great grandson, Mr. Peter Comstock, while stating that he did not know a great deal about his forebear did agree that it was "a very paternalistic society" back then, and that Samuel was very well liked by members of the workforce, from what he had been able to glean over the years. Because of his being first an apprentice, then artisan and finally entrepreneur, it is all the more evident why he was so protective of his company and consumed with it. The planning of the executive homes is very significant, since this happened well before any of the more well known, typical Ivoryton factory dwellings were constructed. He very obviously had a rational plan of growth in mind, and doubtless would have kept the company in his hands alone if any infusion of funds were not needed. His protectionism is indicated in another way, by an 1871 deed, just before the incorporation. In it he repurchased, for $5000, a one-sixteenth share of the factory and its assets from one of his sons, George Hovey Comstock, which Samuel had deeded to him five years earlier. In 1876, another fascinating thing took place with this particular offspring, for he was only given life use of the two and three quarter acre and dwelling house where he now lived, by his father. It was then to go to the children of George, then the grandchildren, etc. in fee simple. The question of why George was not to be in the business and was treated differently than his brothers, has not been fully answered. Perhaps he was not interested, not competent enough, or did not fit the mold that his father wished. Whatever the case, Samuel protected him on one hand and protected the company on the other. The concept of management control and design is implicit in all that Mr. Comstock was doing; yet it seemed to be done on far less than a corporate level, and much more on a personal scale. It also must be noted again that the workforce was smaller in this 1860 to 1878 period, and its makeup was primarily people of the nordic races and "Yankees". Because of the very close owner – employee tie, I choose to refer to this period as one of "Familial Paternalism". The redundant nature of this phrase is designed to separate it from the next phase.

The Comstock, Cheney & Co. under the stewardship of George A. Cheney represented the second stage of growth and philosophy, and would last to the turn of the century. It was during this period, plus what I call phase three (1900 to 1930), that the greatest number of corporate incentives to the employees was offered, a fact of control and persuasion most especially significant in a single economy town such as Ivoryton. As the number of employees rose to a total of seven hundred by 1900, management (note once more that the Cheney family did not live in Ivoryton and was not even from Connecticut originally) was beginning to have to deal with a far more turbulent marketplace and workplace. The market was quickly becoming far more consumer oriented, and the factory far more rationalized and impersonal. When this was compounded with the spectre of unionism and the decomposition (and factoring) of the workforce, as immigrants from southern Europe were moving in, it was obvious programs to maintain control of the factory housing stores, etc. that has previously been described. This was a period of classic "Corporate Paternalism", in Ivoryton, perhaps not too far removed (but in a far smaller way) from what George Pullman was doing farther west about the same time. In fact, the "villagette" described earlier grew greatly in this period, with (for example) another "personage" being built, Chauncey Spencer setting up five tenement buildings, and next door, The Beherens and Bushnell Co. coming into being. The company was "doing well by doing good" and grew and prospered greatly, so that the following statement had much relevance.

"Among the most significant of the other ends of the supply-and-demand circuit, as the slave trade waned and the nineteenth century drew to a close, were factories in the Connecticut River Valley – Comstock, Cheney & Co., at Ivoryton, and Pratt, Read & Co. at Deep River. Among their varied products were billiard balls, dominoes, combs, spatulas, letter openers, and a host of ornamental goods typical of the Victorian era. Most important, by far, were ivory piano keys. Pratt, Read alone supplied enough for nearly 100,000 pianos a year…."

George A. Cheney, salesman and entrepreneur had replaced Samuel Comstock, an original artisan. They were representative of two different eras (Cheney was also much younger) and two different philosophies of life and business. They were the right people in the right place at the right time, as far as their company was concerned. It is questionable if Samuel Merritt Comstock could have dealt with the great changes of the 1860s and after, both locally and nationally. In their respective ways and times, they were tying their values to rational economic action.

Classic "Welfare Capitalism" characterized the final years of the Comstock, Cheney & Co. up to the merger with Pratt, Read & Co. in 1936. It operated very well until the "Great Depression", which was its undoing. This was the period when, Robert (RH) Comstock, Elliott M. Comstock, and Archibald (AW) Comstock were leaders of the organization. They were somewhat different from both their father (Elliott’s grandfather) and George G. Cheney in their conception of how the business was to be run and prosper, and how to maintain the required amount of "control", for they had to deal with a different workplace. To give a good example without going into great detail, they now had a workforce that was "second" generation and much more "American". It was during their era that a new meeting hall was constructed, which later became the well known Ivoryton Playhouse. In addition they formed and operated a company baseball team, which featured employees often hired for their athletic skills, rather than mechanical ones. The field they played on was subsequently turned over to the town for a park. In any event, the Comstock, Cheney & Co. disappeared as a separate entity. As the merger with Pratt-Read was finalized, it was decided that all the property held by the Ivoryton company could not be maintained in the new organization, it was all transferred to a new organization to dispose of it, the Ivoryton Realty Co., a fact I have indicated previously, whose president was none other than A. W. Comstock, whose classic "Victorian homestead is now the "Copper Beech Inn", a very well known restaurant. All the property was not finally disposed of until after World War II.

This has not meant to be, in any way, an inclusive history of Ivoryton. It is rather, a lead into that study, and only summarizes material investigate as of now. It has been most beneficial in allowing this author to stand back and see where he stands to date, and to try and place the evolution and growth of the town within the context of the greater American industrial-economic scheme. Ivoryton truly does represent the fall of the old artisan based, handwork economy of Essex and the rise of technology, the Industrial Revolution, and broad-based marketing. It is also reflective of the general mechanization of people and the workplace after 1840. The reconciliation of a multiplicity of possible outcomes, and how the general concept of "Paternalism" was adopted, is a vital concern here, and will continually be evaluated as this work goes forward.

Copyright (c) 2002, Savage Systems, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Updated: May 5, 2002