Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Seymours and the Wrights

A recent inquiry about the connection between the Seymours of Hudson and the Seymour family of Yale University has prompted this posting. The short reply is that they are one and the same. Nathan Perkins Seymour (1813-1891), an 1834 graduate of Yale, came to Hudson in 1840 as Professor of Greek and Latin and taught at the old college until 1870 when he became professor emeritus and continued teaching the classics and English literature until 1891 when he went to New Haven to join his son and died shortly after. He is probably best remembered today as the builder of the beautiful house on Prospect Street that became our guest house in 1998, and as the namesake for Seymour Hall. His son, Thomas Day Seymour (1848-1907), born in Hudson, attended the old preparatory school, graduated from Western Reserve College in 1870 and taught classics at the college from 1872 to 1880. He then went to New Haven where he was Hillhouse Professor of Greek at Yale until his death. He was the author of several books dealing with Homer and Pindar and the Homeric Age.

Thomas Seymour's son, Charles Seymour, followed in the scholarly ways of his father and grandfather and became a professor of history of Yale, and in 1937 was selected to be President of Yale University where he served until 1950. While he was still serving as University Provost, Charles Seymour came to Hudson in 1934 as part of Western Reserve Academy's Founders Day celebration. He had a chance to visit the house that his grandfather had built and where his own father had been born and spent the years of his youth and early manhood. In the mid-1950's Charles Seymour Jr., son of the Yale President, also made a pilgrimage to Hudson to visit his family's Ohio homestead. He would have learned that in the 19th century, the old college had a reputation as "the Yale of the West".

Another contact we've had with Groton School in Massachusetts revealed that Paul W. Wright (1905-1993) beloved teacher and Headmaster at Groton for more than 40 years, and who spent another 12 years of his "retirement" teaching at the Belmont Hill School, was the son of J. Aubrey Wright (1858-1937), a graduate of Western Reserve College in Hudson who taught at the Academy from 1883 to 1889 before returning to his hometown of Bellevue where he married the sister of WRA's Harlan N. Wood, another Bellevue native. So Paul W. Wright, the revered former Headmaster at Groton, was in fact a nephew of our own beloved Dean, Mr. Wood.

Ellsworth Letter Book Returns to WRA

This summer when Planned Giving Director Jack McKee was visiting Bill Horner '39 at his home in Maine, he was offered a large volume of business letters written by school benefactor James W. Ellsworth during the 1880's. The volume itself is comprised of several hundred carbon type copies of letters and notes to family members, companies, and business associates. It has been added to the Ellsworth Collection in WRA Archives, but the story of its return is fascinating.

It seems that when Bill Horner was at WRA, most students were required to
spend part of one day a week working at Evamere Farm directly across Aurora Street from where Hudson Street intersects. This was the location of Ellsworth's farm of several hundred acres that he left to the school upon his death in 1925. The school operated a "farm program" through the 1940's, and finally sold off the acreage between 1951 and 1959. One spring day in 1936 Bill Horner and some of his classmates were at liberty in one of the barns when they discovered a bin full of old business volumes. Bill decided to take one home, and for over 70 years he kept this souvenir from Evamere Farm. He finally decided to "own up" to what he had snitched from the barn, and return it to WRA. He had inscribed on its cover the date he found it: April 12, 1936.

Someday a researcher may want to carefully look at each of the 300 or more letters in this book in order to gain some understanding of how Ellsworth built his business empire when he was still
in his 30's. One window into that world of the Gilded Age is a series of letters regarding a business initiative in Wakeeney, Kansas in the western part of that state. I have subsequently learned that this was when Wakeeney, the "queen city of the High Plains" was just opening up to settlement and the building of the railroad, and by 1879 Ellsworth's younger brother, Frank, had gone there to be an agent for their Chicago-based coal business. For some reason, their father, Edgar Birge Ellsworth, who had lived all his life in Hudson, decided to go out to Kansas to visit his son in 1883 and died there. His body was shipped back to Hudson for burial. All this from a long-lost volume of letters that had been discarded in a barn all those years ago. We are pleased that Bill Horner has donated this priceless piece of our history.