Wolcott History
Wolcott Historical Society

Seth Thomas, His Wolcott Years
 

By Florence Goodman

Seth Thomas

  • James Thomas came from Scotland in the late 1700's and settled in Farmingbury.

  • He built a one and a half story Cape Cod style, post, and beam home (circa 1775) on Spindle Hill near the James Alcott house, which today is just east of the junction of Mad River and Spindle Hill Roads.

Seth Thomas House

Seth Thomas House at 36 Peterson Lane circa 1984

Seth Thomas House

Seth Thomas House circa 2005

  • James Thomas married Martha Barnes. ( In Samuel Orcott's book he says that James married Maria Ward of West Haven or Orange, but in his genealogy section he says James married Martha Barnes and Orcutt lists all of their children, Seth being one of them.)

  • They had seven children, Seth was the fifth child, and was born in this house in 1785. He lived there until about 1810.

  • James Thomas, was a cooper by trade, a person who repairs casks and barrels, but he also loved carpentry.

  • Seth had a natural ability for carpentry and he probably obtained his knowledge and interest in mill property and manufacturing from this.

  • Seth had a limited formal education and at an early age left school to become a carpenter apprentice to Daniel Tuttle, of Plymouth.

  • Seth was a man of few words with great energy and perseverance in all that he did; thus, Seth paid strong attention to the duties of this apprenticeship.

  • After his apprenticeship was completed, Seth became a skillful woodworker and worked building houses and barns in the nearby towns around Farmingbury/Wolcott (incorporated 1796).

  • In the early 1800s, Seth attempted to set up a clock-making industry in Wolcott. He made his first clock in his family's house.

  • The woods around the house were filled with mountain laurel trees; many Wolcott men worked cutting the trees and sawing them into thin slices, which, when seasoned, were used for the wooden wheels of the clocks.

  • The women of the town spun flax (cotton) into cords and these were used to hold the clock weights.

  • So the town of Wolcott profited to some extent from Seth Thomas's enterprise, the short time it was located in Wolcott.

  • In 1807, Seth moved to Plymouth. There he joined Eli Terry and Silas Hoadley in a business of making clocks at a wholesale rate. Seth mainly worked on fitting the wheels and different clock parts together. From 1807 until 1810, they made 4000 clocks of the "hang-up" or "wag-on-the wall" type. These clocks did not have cases, but buyers who wanted cases for their clocks hired carpenters to build what they called "grandfather cases" for them.

  • Around 1810 he made an offer to a Mr. Daniel Byington, of Wolcott, to purchase mill property on the Mad River.

Mad River at Center Street

The Mad River at Center Street

  • It was believed that the waterpower of Wolcott was superior to that of Plymouth Hollow and this site would have made an excellent location for his mill.

  • He also asked the town to open a road direct to Cheshire for the export of his manufactured goods, but the town declined his offer.

  • Soon after, Thomas and Hoadley bought out Terry's share of the company and worked together until 1812. At that time Seth Thomas sold out his share of the company to Hoadley, and went into business on his own in Plymouth Hollow.

  • In time he built a mill for rolling brass and making wire that he operated in conjunction with his clock factory.

  • It wasn't until 1853 that the Seth Thomas Clock Company was established. Thomas also purchased the manufacturing rights of the shelf clock from Eli Terry and turned this particular type of clock into a big seller. He mass-produced clocks by using automated methods to build and assemble the components of the clocks.

  • Seth's first wife was Philinda Tuttle; they married in the early 1800's and had a daughter, Philinda. His second wife was Laura A. Andrews. They had six children Seth, Martha, Amanda, Edward, Elizabeth, and Aaron. (From Orcutt's genealogy) Seth Thomas, Jr. went into the clock business with him.

  • It was his son who enlarged the clock factory and developed it into a world business. Seth Thomas died in 1859 in Plymouth. It was at that time that the politicians of Plymouth made the western portion of the town, where the factory was located, into a new town called Thomaston.

  • Residents of the "Old Thomas Place:"

    1775- ?: Thomas, James

    1865- ?: Wiard, W.

    ? - 1918: Bryant (was a dairy farm)

    1918-1981: Peterson Family (was part of a dairy farm)

    1981-1984: Brooks, Paul and Patty

    1984-present: Goodman, Terry and Flo

  • Some Wolcott Facts

    Incorporated 1796

    Before the incorporation it was known as Farmingbury, derived from Farmington and Waterbury.

    The Tunxis Indians hunted and celebrated in the town, but did not live in the town.

    Seth Thomas was born in the town in 1785.

    Amos Bronson Alcott, famous educator and father of Louisa May Alcott was born in the town in 1799.

    Seedling of the Constitution Oak was planted in the town on Spindle Hill Road in 1902 and still stands there today.

    Area: 20.6 sq. mi.


    Sources:

    Badger, Rose Wakelee, Old Wolcott

    Orcutt, Rev. Samual, History of the Town of Wolcott From 1731 to 1874, Waterbury, Connecticut, 1874

    "Thomas, Seth," Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia. 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation

     

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