Chauncey Thomas (1822-98) was Boston's
carriage-builder for more than fifty years. Though he died before his
began making automobile bodies, Boston's loyal elite continued to
coachwork for their horseless carriages.
Most of the firm’s early automobile work is
however Boston newspaper classifieds and advertisements reveal the firm
on Holtzer, Napier, Shawmut, White and Winton chassis.
For over half a century Chauncey Thomas
an enviable position as Boston’s premiere vehicle manufacturer.
passed away before the firm bearing his name commenced the manufacture
automobile bodies, many of Boston’s old-established families turned to
Thomas works when equipping their new horseless carriages with
Today Thomas is better known as the author
of ‘The Crystal
Button or, Adventures of Paul Prognosis in the Forty-Ninth Century’, a
work of science fiction set in
49th century Boston. Written from 1872-1878 in order to take his mind
off of business
cares, it was first submitted to Boston literary editor George W.W.
1880, who initially rejected it. However the great success of Edward
‘Looking Backward’, published in 1888, established a strong niche
this type of novel, and Houghton took on the project, which was first
in 1891 by Houghton, Mifflin & Company.
Chauncey Thomas was born in Maxfield,
Maine, on May 1, 1822, to Prince and Mary (Webb) Thomas. While the
of his mother, Mary Webb, (Weymouth, Mass.) is undisputed, the
his father is open to some debate. The family’s most reliable
record states his father, Prince Thomas jr. was born on November 3,
Brunswick, Cumberland County, Maine, Another source states he was born
Hingham, Plymouth County, Mass., which according to the reliable
the home of his (Prince’s) father when he passed away on June 4, 1797.
Chauncey Thomas’ parents claimed direct ancestry to the early settlers
of the Plymouth
Colony and I was able to confirm the statement in regards to his
family, but could not locate enough information to confirm it on his
An early Thomas family genealogist, Lawrence
author of ‘The Thomas Book’, pub 1896 gives the following lineage:
“Another branch of the descendants of
William Thomas, of New
Plymouth, is represented by Chauncey Thomas, of Chauncey
Thomas & Co., of Boston, Mass., son of Prince, and grandson of
Thomas, twin brother of a Consider Thomas, in about the seventh
My research reveals that Chauncey Thomas was
generation descendent of a New Plymouth settler, but his name was John
not William Thomas. John Thomas
emigrated sometime prior to 1655, when he and his wife Sarah were
listed as residents
of Marshfield, Plymouth County, Massachusetts. I
did confirm that Lawrence Buckley Thomas is
correct in stating that Chauncey’s grandfather, Prince (sr.) had a twin
named Consider, both born on Feb 16, 1753 to William and Susannah
For those interested, Chauncey Thomas’
“Chauncey Thomas (b. 1822-d.1898) (gen #6)
was born to
Prince and Mary (Webb) Thomas on May 1, 1822 in Maxfield, Penobscot
Maine. He had an older brother named Benjamin (b. 1821-d.1892) who was
15, 1821, in Maxfield, Penobscot County, Maine and died November 21,
1892 in Medford, Piscataquis, Maine. Their parents, Prince
(b. 1778-d.????) and Mary Webb were married on July 2, 1809 in
Weymouth, Mass. Prince
Thomas ( jr.) (gen #5) was born to Prince Thomas (sr.) (b.1753-d.1797)
Abigail (Pratt) Thomas on November 3, 1778 in Brunswick, Cumberland
Maine. Prince Thomas sr. (gen #4) [who had a twin brother named
Consider - born
Feb. 16, 1753 and died Sept 20, 1792 - was born in Duxbury, Plymouth,
Feb. 16, 1753 to William (b. 1724–d. 1820) and Susannah Thomas. William
(gen #3) was born on November 1, 1724 in Duxbury, Plymouth, Mass. to
(b.1697-d.1783) and Deborah Thomas. Josiah Thomas (gen #2) was born on
16, 1697 in Chatham, Barnstable County, Mass. to Samuel (b.1655-d.1720)
Mercy Thomas. Samuel Thomas (gen #1) was born on November 6, 1655 in
Marshfield, Plymouth County, Mass. to John (b. 1621-d.1699) and Sarah
John Thomas (gen #0 or emigrant) was born during 1621 in Musbury,
England to Thomas (b. 1594-d.????) and Katherine (Seward) Thomas.
was born during 1594 in Exeter, Devon, England to John and Elizabeth
Chauncey Thomas spent his early life on his
father’s farm, where
he attended the local schoolhouse when convenient. In
1837 the 15-year-old was apprenticed to
Whiton & Badger, ‘chaise makers’ of Bangor, Penobscot County,
significantly larger community located 40 miles south of Maxfield on
of the Penobscot River. The conditions of his apprenticeship were to
twelve hours a day for board and clothes, with an occasional dollar or
holidays for spending money, and to receive instruction for one term at
Apprentices' School in Bangor.
A native of Hingham, Plymouth County,
J. Whiton moved to Bangor from Boston in 1834 where he entered into a
partnership with Bangor natives, Stephen Badger and a Mr. Lovejoy. The
member left the firm soon after, which carried on the production of
the style of Whiton & Badger. Both partners were excellent
learned the trade at the Boston carriage factories of John Raynor and
Whiton carried on with the firm until 1850
Yeaton was admitted to the firm, the ‘History of Penobscot County,
published in 1882, stating:
“Whiton & Yeaton occupy a three-story
building, 35x80 feet, and two two-story wooden buildings,
and 25 x 50 feet, located on Harlow street, for the manufacture of
and sleighs of all kinds. The business was established in 1832 by
& Badger. They employ thirty-five hands, and do business to the
amount of about $50,000
$60,000 per year.“
The firm remained prosperous into 1870 when
retired after which Thomas J. Whiton’s son, Walter F. Whiton - born
1842, took over as president. Although
the firm was popularly known as W.F. Whiton & Company, their
papers dated February 7, 1870 state the legal name as Whiton Carriage
its incorporators being Phineas Yeaton, George H. Yeaton, Walter F.
P. Whiton, G.L. Boynton and John L. Crosby.
Just prior to Stephen Badger’s 1844
Chauncey Thomas embarked upon a full winter’s course of study at the
Apprentices’ School after which his former employers procured him a job
the respected Boston carriage builders, Slade & Whiton. The
school was the forerunner of today’s vocational schools, and years
helped establish the Carriage Builder’s National Association, which
its own educational facility in Manhattan which was called the
for Carriage Draughtsman and Mechanics.
Slade & Whiton was the successor to C.L.
maker of chaises and carry-alls established prior to 1813 when it is
that Brigham erected a new manufactory at the corner of Hawley and
Sts. Robert Slade worked under Brigham for 13 years, and upon the
retirement, took over the business in conjunction with Henry Whiton.
next few years the partner’s business increased in conjunction with the
prosperity of the City, increasing their staff from 8 to over 60 hands.
In 1849 Henry Whiton was admitted to the
Association, a benevolent association co-founded by Paul Revere that
assistance to the families of Boston’s fallen craftsmen, and held a
exhibition displaying the wares of Boston’s manufacturers and engineers.
Mr. Thomas gives the following account of
his success when
entrusted for the first time with the construction of a body:
"How well I remember my first chaise body.
dull, and bodies not wanted; but I
persistently requested an opportunity to show what I could do, and was
told to go ahead. After sawing and dressing my stock, I asked a
question of one
of the journeymen regarding the framing, but was told rather crustily
out for myself. This put me on my mettle, and with eyes wide open I
to work out the problem. I must confess that I did not feel quite, easy
mind as to the result. However, I succeeded beyond my own expectations,
evidently surprised the bosses as well as the workmen, for from that
as long as I remained in that shop, I occupied the first place as
Thomas was a skilled artist and draughtsman,
eventually placed in charge of producing the working drawings for the
and blacksmith departments as well as creating renderings of the
product for the firm’s customers.
Shortly after he was placed in charge of
Whiton’s body construction, he suffered a terrible knee injury which
to recuperate at home for an extended period of close to 24 months.
convalesced he embarked upon a course of study in astronomy, geometry,
trigonometry, algebra and surveying, and spent his free time working
pencil and paper, honing up his skills as an artist. During his
he contemplated becoming a full-time artist, but once he was returned
health the desire to create vehicles out of wood and steel proved
in 1851 he relocated to West Newbury, Essex County, Massachusetts,
into a partnership with Daniel P. Nichols to be conducted in the style
Nichols & Thomas.
West Newbury was located 40 miles north of
Boston across the
Merrimac River from West Amesbury, 4 miles west of Newburyport near the
with New Hampshire.
Thomas stayed with the Nichols brothers on
farm during which he became enamored with their younger sister, Mary,
married in 1854. Thomas’ partner, Daniel P. Nichols, married Carrie G.
only daughter of Almon J. Lloyd of Blanford, Hampden County,
June 2, 1857.
The 1855 (taken Sept 4th, 1855)
Massachusetts State Census
lists Daniel P. Nichols (age 26), David L. Nichols (age 22) occupation:
carriage manufacturers, on the farm of their father Daniel (52 yo) and
Nichols (49 yo). Down the street lived
Henry D. Lay (30 yo) who was listed as a carriage maker.
The same census also lists Chauncey Thomas
address as West
Newbury, Essex county, Mass. His age is 32, his occupation, carriage
manufacturer. Also listed was his wife Mary J. (Nichols), age 22 (b. in
Newberry, Mass.), and an 8-month-old daughter named Mary E. Thomas. A
daughter, Helen N. Thomas, was born in 1863 and a son, Chauncey Thomas
(jr.),followed in 1866.
Daniel P. Nichols and Chauncey Thomas’
carriage works put
out numerous award-winning carriages. A Nichols & Thomas ‘buggy
received a bronze medal at the 1856 Charitable Mechanic’s Association
exhibition in Boston. Nichols & Thomas exhibited at the 1857 Essex
(Mass.) Cattle Show where they were awarded a premium along with
Sargent, Gunnison & Co. At the 1858 Essex County Agricultural
Exhibition they were awarded a $10 premium for a ‘four-wheeled chaise.’
During 1859 Nichols and Thomas relocated to
County, Massachusetts, a large Boston suburb, located in the south west
of Boston’s historic Back Bay district. The move is confirmed by the
Census which lists Daniel P. Nichols as a resident of Ward 3, Roxbury,
With the start of the Civil War, Nichols & Thomas’ business picked
the firm built a few orders of carriages, ambulances and wagons for the
On April 27, 1858 Chauncey Thomas was
awarded his second patent,
US Pat. NO. 20102, for a mill for grinding paint. Up until that time,
was made by hand with a muller and stone or it was procured from third
who operated large mills. Thomas’ mill allowed individual carriage
create both dry and semi-liquid pigments with a minimum of labor,
device gained worldwide recognition when it was featured on the cover
October 2, 1858 issue of Scientific American, but like the vast
patents, actual manufacture of Thomas’ paint mill is doubted.
The August, 1858 Journal of the Franklin
it as follows:
“Mill for Grinding Paint, Chauncey Thomas,
Massachusetts. Claim: The combination of the force or its equivalent
grinder or mill for grinding paint. Also the mode of combining the
the mechanism or means of elevating and depressing it that is to say by
mechanical device or devices as will not only allow the piston to be
out of the pump but swing laterally out of the way or beyond the mouth
pump when receiving the material to be ground.”
The first known American paint mill was
Boston after 1635 by Thomas Child. An artifact from the factory,
an 18” granite
grindstone, survives, and for almost the past two centuries has been
in the wall of the Blackstone Block, 9 Marshall Street, Boston, above a
block identifying it as the ‘Boston Stone, 1737’.
An August, 1862 patent filing confirms both
Daniel P. Nichols, still partners at the time, were both residents of
Massachusetts. Thomas’s original Patent No. 18,254 dated September 22,
an improvement in carriage props, was reissued Patent number: RE 1,331
26, 1862. Although originally filed by Thomas singly, it was reissued
and Daniel P. Nichols.
Roxbury, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, was
a large Boston suburb,
located in the south west portion of Boston’s historic Back Bay
1865 Massachusetts State Census lists Chauncey Thomas residence as
Ward 04, Norfolk County, Massachusetts. Beside Chauncey and his wife,
Thomas, two children were listed, Mary E. (10yo) Helen N. (2yo) Thomas.
occupation, carriage manufacturer. A son, Chauncey C. Thomas, (aka
Thomas jr.) was born on July 6, 1866. He passed away on Dec. 17, 1888
age of 22. According to his death certificate, he died of phthisis
wasting away or atrophy, typically caused by consumption or
J. Cushing Thomas could be Josiah Cushing
Thomas jr., born
Sept. 23, 1813, in Pembroke, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, to Josiah
Mar. 25, 1791-d. May 1, 1826) and Phebe (Fuller) Thomas. Josiah
Cushing Thomas sr. and Phebe Fuller
were married on November 22, 1812 in Pembroke, Plymouth County,
They had three children, Josiah Cushing Thomas [#1] born September 23,
Isaac Thomas, born July 15, 1815 (died Jan. 22, 1893); and Tilson F.
born December 28, 1817.
Josiah Cushing Thomas sr, was born on March
25, 1791 (one
source says March 19, 1791) in Pembroke, Plymouth County, Mass. to
Isaac and Anna
[or Nancy?] (Cushing) Thomas. Isaac Thomas was born on March 31, 1747
Pembroke, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, his wife, Anna or Nancy
born October 15 1786 in Pembroke, Plymouth County, Massachusetts. There
Cushings on both sides of Isaac’s family tree.
To add to the genealogical confusion, the
state that Tilson F. Thomas changed his name to Josiah Cushing Thomas
Although no reason is given, it is likely that the first-born Josiah
born on September 23, 1813, passed away shortly after the birth of the
born son, Tilson F., and as was sometimes done, the surviving child was
to ensure that the father’s name would survive him.
So it’s more likely that Josiah Cushing
Thomas [#2] born on
December 28, 1817 as Tilson F. Thomas, is the J. Cushing Thomas that
involved in the management of Chauncey Thomas & Co. Confirmation
from James Kendall Ewer’s ‘The Third Massachusetts Cavalry in the War
for the Union’,
“CORPORAL J. CUSHING THOMAS.
“Corporal Thomas enlisted in Roxbury at the
27. He joined Captain Swift’s company and was made Corporal of
Company C, Forty-first
Massachusetts Volunteers. Before the war he was a carriage dealer. He
with the regiment to New Orleans, but the climate of Louisiana,
agree with him, and he fell sick. He was finally discharged
1863. Since the war he has been in business in Boston. In 1887 when
the Association met in Lynn, he was elected president. He died
I could not locate a direct familial link
Thomas and J. Cushing Thomas, although they could be distantly related
were thousands of people in and around Eastern Massachusetts that
Thomas surname at that time.
Perry’s 1865 Boston Directory lists Chauncey
carriagemaker, foot of Chestnut, house in Roxbury. No listing for
Emond or Sears. J. Cushing Thomas is listed as carriage maker, boards
During the next decade Daniel P. Nichols
involved in a half-dozen partnerships, most of which were located in
The only knowledge we have of these firm is their listings in the
Roxbury business directories.
Samson, Davenport & Co.’s 1866 Roxbury
Directory lists Scott
& Nichols (John A. Scott & D.P. Nichols) carriage builders,
corner Zeigler. Adams, Sampson & Co.’s 1858 Roxbury Business
lists John A. Scott under ‘carriage smith and spring maker’, Dudley st.
of Warren, house at 51 Dudley.
Chauncey Thomas & Co. lists 1862 as the
year of their
founding, so it can be assumed D.P. Nichols joined John A. Scott at the
time. I couldn’t locate any Roxbury directories for 1859-1865, but
Boston Directory lists Chauncey Thomas, carriagemaker, foot of
in Roxbury. A short history of the Thomas works confirms that Thomas
constructed his first vehicles in an old boathouse located between
the banks of the Charles River, within a few yards of where he later
his permanent manufactory at 101-103 Chestnut St.
Beside Chauncey and his wife, Mary J.
Thomas, two children
were listed, Mary E. (10yo) and Helen N. (2yo) Thomas. A son, Chauncey
Thomas, (aka Chauncey Thomas jr.) was born soon-after on July 6, 1866.
passed away on Dec. 17, 1888 at the age of 22. According to his death
certificate, he died of phthisis (Greek for wasting away or atrophy,
caused by consumption or tuberculosis).
The 1869 Sampson, Davenport & Co. Boston
longer lists John A. Scott as a partner of Nichols, however another
builder, Bradford Perry, appears to have replaced him as a partner.
personal listing infers that he’s involved with D.P. Nichols: “Bradford
(D.P. Nichols & Co.), carriage builder, 118 W. Brookline, h. 697
Perry’s 1870 Boston directory indicates that
Nichols had established his own carriage works, D.P. Nichols & Co.,
Perry) carriage factory, 118 W.
Brookline, by that time. Chauncey Thomas’ listing; Chauncey Thomas,
foot of Chestnut, house 18 Centre. Joseph P. Emond is listed as a
painter, boards at 1482 Washington. Sears is not listed.
The same (1870) directory lists a number of
named Thomas who were recorded as working at Chauncey Thomas & Co.;
Cushing Thomas, h. 9 S. Russell; James
J. Thomas, boards 49 Grove; and J.J. Thomas, house 49 Grove St.
Davenport & Co.’s 1872 directory
lists only Chauncey Thomas, the other ‘carriage makers’ sharing his
earlier issues are noticeably absent.
Although it appears they were no longer
Nichols and Chauncey Thomas, continued to share intellectual property
evidenced by US Pat. 159,717, an improvement in carriage flap fasteners
Dec. 22, 1874 and issued Feb. 9, 1875. The patent was awarded to Thomas
William K. Parker, but assigned to Thomas, Daniel P. Nichols and
Nichols. Leonard B. Nichols, Daniel P. Nichols younger brother, was now
charge of Chauncey Thomas’ paint department, and within the year would
Perry’s 1875 Boston Directory lists Chauncey
Co. and D.P. Nichols & Co. as before, but reveals 2 new firms,
Quinsler (Joseph P. Emond and George J. Quinsler) located at 2 Williams
corner of Washington; and Sears & Nichols (Henry C. Sears & ??
at 1785 Washington. Leonard B. Nichols is listed as a carriage painter,
at 62 W. Cedar. Also listed was J. Cushing Thomas, carriage maker,
& Co., house at 18 Centre (also the home of Chauncey Thomas).
March 1877 issue of the Hub:
“Mr. Chauncey Thomas, one of the leading
Boston, has invented and patented what he calls a Cradle-Spring. It
the two halves of an elliptic spring reversed, and is claimed to give a
An extensive biography of Thomas was
published in the February
1880 issue of The Hub:
“CHAUNCEY THOMAS, of Boston, Massachusetts,
senior member of
the firm of Chauncey Thomas & Co., carriage-builders, and second
vice-president of the Carriage-Builders' National Association, was born
Maxfield, Penobscot Co., Maine, on May 1, 1822, both parents being of
Colony stock. His early life was spent on a farm, where he worked
during his boyhood,
at the same time making good use of the limited' opportunities for
offered by a district school, which he attended from the age of five to
fifteen, during the summer and winter terms, studying reading, writing,
arithmetic and geography. In consequence of his giving evidence of
skill, it was determined by his father that he should learn a trade;
1837, at the age of, fifteen, he was, apprenticed to Messrs. Whiton
Badger, ‘chaise-makers,’ of Bangor, Maine, to learn carriage-part and
making. Both partners were excellent mechanics, enjoying a well-merited
reputation for thoroughness, and their shop was rich in the traditions
celebrated carriage factories of John Raynor and Walter Frost, in
both masters and men had received their training. The conditions of his
apprenticeship were to work twelve hours a day for board and clothes,
occasional dollar or two on holidays for spending money, and to receive
instruction for one term at the Apprentices' School in Bangor.
“In those days, work in carriage shops was
much harder, as
well as more varied than at present. Spokes were worked from rough
felloes sawed by hand from the plank, and the jack-plane was in
requisition. Very little of the modern science of body-making, now
known as the
French or Square Rule, was then understood, and experience was then
master of the carriage mechanic. Still, work was conscientiously done,
result generally satisfactory to both maker and buyer, which can not
said of carriages built with the help of modern appliances. More or
mystery then hovered over the trade, which was closely guarded by the
initiated, and it was only during the last year of his apprenticeship
secrets were cautiously imparted to
“Mr. Thomas gives the following account of
his success when
entrusted for the first time with the construction of a body. ‘How well
remember my first chaise body. Times were dull, and bodies not wanted ;
persistently requested an opportunity to show what I could do, and was
told to go ahead. After sawing and dressing my stock, I asked a
question of one
of the journeymen regarding the framing, but was told rather crustily
out for myself. This put me on my mettle, and with eyes wide open I
to work out the problem. I must confess that I did not feel quite, easy
mind as to the result. However, I succeeded beyond my own expectations,
evidently surprised the bosses as well as the workmen, for from that
forward, as long as I remained in that shop, I occupied the first place
“As the business of Whiton & Badger
into wagon and sleigh making, with increasing hard work and
Mr. Thomas left their employ in 1843, and devoted the winter of that
study in the Apprentices' School in Bangor. In 1845 he removed to
he was engaged by Messrs. Slade & Whiton, then a rising firm of
carriage-builders; to whom he had been recommended by his former
Here, all varieties of carriages were made, to order, and he was
set to work making drawings for customers, and working patterns for the
woodworkers and blacksmiths, and was finally given full charge of
“Concerning this sudden and unexpected rise
in his position
Mr. Thomas says: ‘It would seem that
there must have been a great lack of competent mechanics in those days,
one so young as I should be pushed forward into a place of so much
Looking back, I now believe it was altogether in my favor that I
trade in a small place like Bangor, for upon going to Boston I was all
feeling my ignorance, and filled with ambition to know all there was to
known. At that time there were many grand old vehicles in Boston,
C-spring chariots, coaches with hammer cloths, and French caleches.
filled me with curiosity and delight; I studied them with the utmost
up nights to make drawings of them and of their parts, and soon began
modifications and improvements, and to make new and original
“’I thus acquired the knack and the habit of
ideas into shape on paper, and this early training has ever since
valuable to me.’
“While Mr. Thomas was in the employ of Slade
he met with an accident which resulted in a severe injury to one of his
and disabled him for two years. His disappointment can readily be
He did not lose courage, however, but devoted his time to studying
geometry, trigonometry; algebra and surveying, and this undoubtedly
most progressive period in his mental development, giving him the
for that wide and varied information which to-day marks him as one of
educated members of the trade. His taste for drawing led him at the
to give considerable study to art matters, and he felt a strong
become an artist; but on recovering from his disability, he returned to
“In 1851 an opportunity offered for going
into business in
West Newbury, Massachusetts, on his own account. Here he married in
returned shortly afterward to Boston, where he has ever since been in
business as a carriage-builder, having his ups and downs like the best
contemporaries,- sometimes poor, often perplexed, but always coining
out of his
troubles with an untarnished name, the same enthusiasm for his trade,
same faith in his ability to command success ultimately. In one of Mr.
private letters to our editor, occurs the following remark, which
upon his character: ‘I can not forget the struggle for existence which
before gaining a firm foothold, but I suppose it was only such as
others have experience. Still, I take pleasure in thinking that, while
often suffered from dealings with others, others have not suffered by
dealings with me.’
“His present factory is located at No. 103
Boston, and was completed in 1876. The main building covers an area of
100 feet, six stories high, and supplied with steam power and all the,
improvements, including saws, planers, elevators, power paint-mills,
firm, consisting of Chauncey Thomas, L. B. Nichols, and J. C. Thomas,
considerable responsibility in erecting this factory while business was
depressed in Boston, but has never had reason to regret it, as trade
continued good. A specially is made of heavy work, the classes of
chiefly built being landaus, coaches, coupés, and victorias, all of
and nearly all built to order. From thirty to forty workmen are
four forges are kept constantly busy.
“It will readily be understood that Mr.
taste and training have stood him in good stead. Not only has he
many valuable inventions; several of which have been patented, but he
able to cater to the best class of Boston buyers many of whom resemble
aristocracy of London and Paris in frequently demanding new and
features in their equipages. City builders understand what such orders
and they only can appreciate the difficulty of being always equal to
Chauncey Thomas was awarded a gold medal at
Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association, which was held during
and October, 1884, in the new Mechanic’s Building which was located at
corner of Huntington Ave. and West Newton St.:
“47 - Chauncey Thomas & Co. 101 Chestnut
Landau, Three quarter Brougham, White Chapel Dog Cart, Harvard
Cab, Pole Cart, Victoria, Sociable Cart. The three quarter Brougham is
superior in design workmanship and finish and is hung on Thomas's
improved cradle spring, giving free suspension to the back seat. The
cab is a
new invention of Mr. Thomas, having an adjustable balance and other
improvements and, with the other carriages exhibited by him, is
especial notice for its general outlines and excellent workmanship, and
believed by the judges that these are the best carriages ever exhibited
country and are justly entitled to the highest award offered by the
viz. To Chauncey Thomas, for improvements: Gold Medal. To Chauncey
Co., for exhibit: Diploma.”
At the same show D.P. Nichols was awarded a
“188 - DP Nichols & Co., Boston. Two
and one Two Wheeled Hansom with many improvements. A very superior
excellent style good material and first class workmanship: Silver
The December 31, 1887 issue of The
mentioned the firm’s exhibit at winter 1887 Massachusetts Charitable
Association Exhibition in Boston:
“Messrs. Chauncey Thomas & Company of
Boston had an
exhibition an elegant brougham with cradle spring banging under the
seat an electric storage battery for lighting carriage. This is said to
first application in America electricity to road carriages.”
A short biography of Thomas can be found in
Daniel P. Toomey
and Thomas Charles Quinn’s - Massachusetts of to-day, a book-length
for the state’s exhibit at the upcoming St. Louis World’s Fair,
the Massachusetts Board of Managers, World's Fair, in 1892:
“To the proverbial nicety of taste exercised
by the wealthy
citizens of Boston in matters combining style and comfort is due the
standing enjoyed by the carriage making industry among the trades of
Massachusetts. This industry has experienced great advancement during
score of years and now the amount of capital invested in it is counted
millions of dollars. The admitted leader in this trade and the man
has conceived many original ideas in the construction of carriages to
the most exacting lovers of road driving is Mr. Chauncy Thomas whose
and warerooms occupy two six story buildings on Chestnut Street at the
of Boston. He holds patents on twenty or more inventions useful in his
and has evolved innumerable conceits which have been copied very
As the business of Mr. Thomas sprang from a small beginning and arose
present importance by virtue of his own untiring efforts the history of
life challenges the attention of admirers of self-made men. He was born
Maine in 1822 his parents who are direct descendants of the Old Colony
Puritans, having moved to the Pine Tree State in 1819. When he was
years of age he was apprenticed to the carriage making business in
and subsequently came to Boston where he worked in the capacity of a
until 1852. While working as an employee Mr. Thomas displayed in a
degree a gift for drawing and he seized every opportunity to develop
talent thus acquiring talent thus acquiring an advantage which ever
served him well.
“In 1852 Mr.
went to West Newbury Mass where in conjunction with other young men he
established a carriage factory. The principal event of his seven years
that locality was his marriage. Mrs. Thomas being the daughter of the
Daniel Nichols of the town named.
“Leaving West Newbury in 1859 Mr. Thomas
with his brother in
law set up a factory in Roxbury and there constructed carriages,
“In a short time this partnership was
dissolved and Mr.
Thomas came to Boston where he transformed an old boat house located on
banks of the Charles River, within a few yards of the site of his
establishment, into a carriage factory. During the thirty years which
since passed Mr. Thomas by giving constant personal supervision to his
by his ability to design in a way to please and by his readiness to
original ideas to meet the aesthetic as well as the practical tastes of
people of the Back Bay has built up a business which is an honor to the
Although devoted to business, Mr. Thomas has time to indulge in his
tastes. He not only reads extensively but also writes interestingly.
is the author of The Crystal Button published by Houghton Mifflin &
Boston, a most ingenious and fascinating work of the imagination
possibilities of an ideal civilization when the problems of natural and
science shall have been fully solved.”
Numerous talented individuals worked their
way through the
Thomas shops in a large part due to his close association with the
Builders National Association, who’s Manhattan-based Technical School
Carriage Draughtsmen and Mechanics provided him with a steady supply of
talented energetic craftsmen and engineers.
Famous Thomas employees included brothers’
Charles A. and
Fred Fisher (auto body mfrs.), C.A. Willey (paint mfr.), Frank W.
distributor), Oscar H. Schildbach and George W. McNear. Apprenticed
to the Thomas works in 1880,
McNear embarked upon a course of study at the CNBA school, and
became Thomas’ chief engineer and his renderings and body drafts were
within the pages of the carriage trades.
In 1895 he left the Thomas works, entering
into a partnership
with George Quinsler, a well-known builder located at 26-34 Cambria St.
in the Back
Bay section of Boston, the April 1895 issue of the Hub reporting:
“GONE INTO BUSINESS.
George W. McNear, formerly
Thomas & Co., carriage builders, of Boston, Mass., has left that
become a partner in the firm of Quinsler & Co., also of Boston. Mr.
has earned a good reputation as a designer and draftsman, and his long
experience with so eminent a house, as that of Chauncey Thomas &
him well for the new position. The Hub extends
and most hearty wishes for his success as a builder.”
this period Chauncey Thomas & Co. was also involved in the
construction of the Holtzer Electric automobile, whose history can be
The April 1895 issue of the Hub reported on
the release of Chauncey
Thomas’ first published novel, ‘The Crystal Button’:
“Novel Written by a Carriage-builder.
“THE CRYSTAL BUTTON.
“The marvelous discoveries and inventions of
half-century have sent men's imagination into the future, to shape the
and moral condition and state of humanity centuries hence. Mr. Chauncey
has done this, and gives us the result of his imaginative explorations
striking story entitled ‘The Crystal Button.’
“He reaches forward three thousand years,
and found very
wonderful contrivances for the comfort and convenience of men:
railway, trains of almost incredible speed, and electricity so well
and controlled as to be perfect for light and motive power, steam
the heat of the sun’s rays, hydrogen, procured from water, as the chief
of fuel, and many other things quite as remarkable.
“The moral atmosphere of the community may
be inferred from,
the prevalent influence of the great Order of the Crystal Button, whose
principle was to be true and honest in every act, word and thought."
Naturally, under this principle, character outweighed wealth or
monopolies died out, labor questions were gradually settled, and, in
peace on earth and good-will among men prevailed.
“One great charm of this story is the natural adjustment of the
achievements to causes which are in operation now and here. The
result is no prodigy, but the inevitable outcome of the orderly
extension of forces with which we are all more or less acquainted.
“HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & Co., Publishers.
February 1, 1891.
4 Park Street, Boston, Mass.
“Readers of The Hub are likely to take a
special interest in
the above-named novel, for the reason that its author is a carriage
and one still in active service, namely: Mr. Chauncey Thomas, of
Massachusetts who has occupied a prominent position as one of the
the trade for upwards of a quarter-century past. So far as we are
is the first time any carriage-builder has ever disclosed himself to
eye as a writer of fiction, but the trade has reason to be proud of
manifestation. The scheme of the story forming the nucleus of "The
Button" is briefly as follows. Paul Prognosis, a skilled mechanic;
rescuing a workman who has fallen from a bridge, receives an injury to
brain which, for the succeeding ten years, renders him oblivious to all
and things in the material world, although, there is no external
injury and his general health continues good. During this period, he
an ideal world of fancy, where all mechanical possibilities that he had
previously forecast or even vaguely imagined appear to be realized.
described in detail and with a vividness that compels the sympathy and
of the reader as he follows the delighted visitor in excursions through
wonder-city, of Tone. The carriage builder will no doubt be chiefly
in the chapters describing 'The Underground Railway,' 'The
Pyramids,' 'The Air-Ship,' 'The Trans-Continental Railway,'
'Mount Energy,' and 'The Solar Steam-Works,' and also in
incidental references to the disuse of horses in all cities and the
substitution of electricity as a motive, force for propelling pleasure
“As will be observed, the plan of the work
that of Mr. Edward Bellamy's 'Looking Backward,' but it deals chiefly
with mechanical rather than social and economic questions, and thus
fill out the picture which Mr. Bellamy has so attractively sketched;
explained in the preface, it, was written during the years 1872-78,
the production of 'Looking Backward'.
“The atmosphere of the book throughout is
and stimulating and we recommend it as well worth careful study by both
and manufacturers who are not averse to being amused as well as
According to his death certificate, Chauncey
C. Thomas died
suddenly at the age of 76 after a 3-day bought of Angina Pectoris, on
8, 1898 at his Roxbury home, 73 Crawford St., Boston, Massachusetts.
The following obituary appeared in the
November, 1898 issue
of The Hub:
“Chauncey Thomas carriage builder of Boston,
at his residence at Roxbury on Nov. 8, in the 77th year of his age. Mr.
had been in poor health for some time but was able to be at the factory
every day up to Saturday, the 5th inst., but the nature of his trouble
disease) made his friends aware of the fact that he was liable to drop
any moment. In the death of Mr. Thomas there has passed away another of
eminent carriage builders of the old school, it skilled mechanic, a
and designer of more than usual genius and good taste. A successful
manufacturer, a student and a writer, whose works evidence deep
thought; a man
of sterling integrity, intelligence and worth. Unobtrusive but genial,
surrounded himself with friends who will deeply mourn his loss.
“He was born in Maxfield, Maine, on May 1,
1822; his early
life was spent on a farm, and his education was such as he could get at
public schools. In 1887, at the age of 15 years, he was apprenticed to
& Badgor, "chaise makers," of Bangor, Maine, to learn the
woodwork branch of the business. Owing to business changes he left the
of the firm in 1843, and studied one winter in the Apprentices' School,
Bangor. He moved to Boston in 1845, where he worked for the firm of
Whiton. His skill soon brought him to the front. Meeting with an
disabled him for two years, he devoted his time in studying astronomy,
geometry, trigonometry, algebra and surveying, a course of study which
foundation for that wide and varied information which has made him
one of the best educated men in the carriage trade.
“He returned to the carriage industry in
1851, going into
business for himself in West Newbery, Massachusetts. In 1854 he moved
business to Boston, where he continued to conduct it until the time of
death. In a letter to the former editor of THE HUB Mr. Thomas said: 'I
cannot forget the struggle for existence which I had before gaining a
but I suppose it was only such as thousands of others have experienced.
take pleasure in thinking that while I have often suffered from
others, others have not suffered by their dealings with me.' Mr. Thomas
made a close study of the carriage business and invented many valuable
“He catered to the high grade trade and
maintained a most
excellent reputation. He was a prominent member of the Carriage
National Association and of the Massachusetts Charitable, Mechanics
Association, in which he served as a member of its board of government.”
A second obituary followed in the December,
1898 issue of Carriage
“Chauncey Thomas is dead. The older carriage
America do not need to be told who and what he was, and where he stood
carriage builder, a citizen and a man. The younger race of carriage
know of Chauncey Thomas, have heard of him as one of those bright and
lights who, for more than a generation, stood in the van of improvement
progress and art and originality and enterprise. He died at the
of seventy-six, at his home in Roxboro, Boston, Massachusetts, on
revered by the community and honored by craftsmen. Mr. Thomas ranked
W. Britton, Charles P. Kimball and men of that stamp and class. He was
the founders of the C. B. N. A., and helped by his wise councils to
what it is. As a mechanic, he stood at the head. He was born in
and learned his trade of carriage builder in Bangor, Maine. He first
the carriage business at West Newbury, Massachusetts, in 1852. He came
Boston, in 1859, and had been continuously in business ever since. The
firm of Chauncey Thomas & Co. was established in 1876, with L. B.
and J. C. Thomas as partners. J. C. Thomas retired from the firm in
1892. For nearly forty years their carriage works stood at the foot of
street, and they became known as the originators of the finest carriage
on the continent. He aimed all his life to produce the best. His
known to carriage builders, and his improvements became the common
the craft. When, some years ago, it was decided to bring out the work
'One Hundred Years of American Commerce,' with Chauncey Depew as
editor, Chauncey Thomas was selected to write an article on the
the carriage industry in this country, which he did, and which has
as a piece of literary work and an example of historical breadth and
which, perhaps, has no equal in its field. To write a deserving notice
life and life's work of this talented man would require the work of a
biographer and the contents of a book. He came upon the scene when
building was a crude industry; when art, originality, taste, skill were
a low ebb. To him, as to his associates of those early days, belongs
of evolving the carriage, not by way of imitation, but on lines of
and breadth, which laid the foundation of the perfect work of to-day.
“Mr. Thomas in social life was most genial,
ever the same
agreeable, pleasant man, always looking on the bright side of life and
spreading sunshine wherever he went, and always brightening his own
fireside with the same sunshine.
“He was unconsciously a pattern to other
men. His goodness
of heart was innate, not assumed for show or effect. He was born with
elements of a forceful character, and throughout his entire life he
force, and made it felt in all things with which he had to do.
“The funeral took place November 11th, at 2
P.M., and was
largely attended by the local carriage builders, who met in special
arrange for united attendance.
“They passed appropriate resolutions. The
pallbearers at the
funeral were: John A. Scott, J. P. Emond, H. C. Sears and Alfred
“The employees of the firm attended in a
offerings were made in profusion.
“There was singing by a professional
quartet. The CARRIAGE
MONTHLY was represented by W. W. Wood.
“Mr. Thomas was not only a carriage builder,
but he was a
man. He was a deep and close reader and thinker, and, withal, a poet of
ability. He has left behind him two evidences of his literary
'The Crystal Button,' and the other a volume of poems of 118
duodecimo pages, published in 1891 in Boston. Among these poems we
which, by the way, was, read or recited at his funeral service, and is
'Lines to My Jack Plane.' It was written in 1852, when Mr. Thomas was
a mechanic at the bench. There is a sweet and poetic vein running
lines which shows his genius was not confined to his craft alone....
“As a final paragraph in this insufficient
tribute to the
memory of one of our great and good men in our craft, we make room for
resolutions passed by his associates. BOSTON, November 10, 1898.
“At a meeting of the Carriage Makers of
Boston, held to-day,
to take action on the death of Chauncey Thomas, the following
“’WHEREAS, Our friend and associate has been
from our midst by death, be it
“’Resolved, That in his death we have lost a
true friend and
genial companion, whose kind disposition and unassuming manner endeared
his immediate associates and made him respected by all who knew him, a
of high character and undoubted integrity, ever ready to help the needy
uplift the down trodden. Be it
“’Resolved, That in his death the carriage
trade has lost
one of its brightest and best men, whose genius has done much to raise
making to a high standard as a trade; and, for more than forty years of
business career always thriving for the best. And, although a business
his writings both in prose and verse show the intellectual acquirements
deceased. He took a deep interest in the affairs of the city, state,
country. Be it further
“’Resolved, That we extend to his family our
sympathy in the loss of a kind and devoted husband, a tender and loving
hoping, that even in the sadness of their afflictions they may find
consolation in knowing that the worth of his private qualities and the
his public life are fully appreciated."
From 1857 until shortly after his death in 1898
awarded 24 US Patents as follows:
AXLE NUT LOCK
CART TWO WHEELED
LANDAU & LANDAULET
After attending the Carriage Draughtsmen and
course in New York, Fred and Charles T. Fisher briefly worked as
the Chauncey Thomas shops prior to their engagement with C.R. Wilson in
Charles T. Fisher’s obituary in the August 9, 1963 New York Times
“Mr. Fisher was the only member of the
original family who
was not born in Norwalk, Ohio. He was born in Sandusky, Ohio, where his
Lawrence B. Fisher, a blacksmith, had gone from Norwalk to learn
“The son was trained as a blacksmith also.
He and his late
brother Fred took to the road just before the turn of the century as
artisans in the carriage trade. One of their early starts was at the
J.C. Wilson Carriage Company in Detroit where Fred Fisher and the late
Ford worked in the same drafting room.
“Later the two brothers were employed for a
period by the
Chauncey Thomas Company of Boston, but in 1902 they returned to Detroit
settle down. Fred became superintendent of the Wilson shop with Charles
Although Thomas’ first automobile bodies
date from 1895, the
firm didn’t start building them in any great numbers until well after
of the century. Napier displayed a
Thomas-bodied touring at the 1905 New York Automobile Show which was
Madison Square Garden. The January 28, 1905 issue of the Automobile
the various bodies seen at the show:
“The larger Napier car - 28 horsepower - in
was fitted with a body by Chauncey Thomas & Son of Boston, finished
characteristic Napier colors, green, black molding and white stripe
red leather; a full extension top of green leather lined with red
fitted. This body would accommodate four persons easily on the rear
two more in revolving chairs while the single wide front seat had room
beside the driver if necessary. The other two Napier cars had London
bodies and all four were fitted with the hinged metal wind shield in
easily removed but when in place keeping the wind off the driver's
A 1905 classified ad in the Boston Globe
special sale of both new and used automobile coachwork:
“Chauncey Thomas & Co., Chestnut Street,
“AT BARGAIN PRICES - Several second-hand
can be fitted to any make of chassis. New Limousine and Landaulet
stock for quick delivery.”
The Portrait Sketches column of the
February, 1905 issue of Carriage
Monthly, announced the success of a former Thomas employee:
“FRANK W. TUCKER - Frank W. Tucker,
representing the B.F.
Goodrich Co., Akron, Ohio for the sale of the Goodrich solid rubber
located at 27-33 Haverhill street, Boston, Mass. Mr. Tucker succeeds
house of C.S. Mersick & Co. an old and well established company.
Goodrich company have had in contemplation for some lime the special
appointment of a representative who would represent them and look after
interests throughout New England. Mr. Tucker grew up with Chauncey
Co., was with them for ten years, while there was student in the first
Corresponding Class of the Technical School was a prize winner of the
competition for physician's buggy. Superintendent for Ferd. F. French
Ltd. for five years. Associate with Ferdinand F. French in organizing
French Carriage Company and was its secretary for four years. Boston
for C.S. Mersick & Co. of New Haven, agents for the Kelly
rubber tires and later for the B.F. Goodrich solid tires in New
At the 1906 Boston Automobile Show the local
displayed a 4-cylinder 35-45 h.p. Shawmut Model 6, with a wood and
body designed by Chauncey Thomas & Company, its cost, $4,750.00.
The 1906 ‘Boston Directory of Directors in
the City of
Boston & Vicinity’ listed Thomas’ officers and directors as follows:
“CHAUNCY THOMAS & COMPANY INC. 101
Chestnut Street, Boston. Incorporated
under laws of Maine. Annual meeting in March. Capital stock authorized
issued $53,200. President and Treasurer L.B. Nichols; vice-president,
Poland; Clerk, N. Clifford. Directors: President and Mary E. Poland.”
As stated previously L.B. Nichols was
Chauncey Thomas’ brother-in-law,
and Mary E. Poland, his daughter. N. Clifford was most likely Roxbury
The 1907 ‘Boston Directory of Directors in
the City of Boston
& Vicinity’ indicated that O.H. Schildbach was now a director:
“CHAUNCY, THOMAS &
COMPANY, INC (Carriages),
103 Chestnut Street, Boston.
“Incorporated under laws of Maine. Annual
meeting in March.
Capital stock authorized, $60,000, issued,
$63,200. President and Treasurer, L. B.
Nichols, Vice-President, Mary
E. Poland; Clerk, N.
Clifford; Directors: President,
Vice-President, and O. H. Schildbach.”
In 1911 Thomas’ president, Leonard B.
his 50th year in the carriage business as reported in the
issue of Carriage Monthly:
“Celebrates Fifty Years in the Trade
“Leonard B. Nichols, president and treasurer
of the carriage
and automobile building firm of Chauncey, Thomas & Co., Inc.,
Mass., recently observed the fiftieth anniversary of his entrance into
business. He first began as a carriage painter in the shop of J.
Emond, of Roxbury. This gentleman is still alive, and together
wife, was the guest of Mr. Nichols and his family on the occasion of
anniversary. They enjoyed an automobile ride and had dinner at
“Mr. Nichols is sixty-eight years old and
was born in West
Newbury, Mass. After learning his trade he entered the employ of Mr.
a foreman painter on February 5, 1865. In 1876 he was admitted to the
firm as a
partner and when Mr. Thomas died in 1898 and the business was
assumed the offices that he has filled ever since. He lives at 73
Street, Brookline. His family consists of his wife and two daughters,
Berta Nichols, well known as a violinist, and Mrs. Frank P. Rhoades, of
“As a boy Mr. Nichols passed much of his
time in the village
post office and from hearing the usual country arguments on politics he
a staunch Republican. His first vote was cast in the second election of
Lincoln, and he has voted for every president since then with the
“Since he cast his lot with the corporation
of which he is
now president, Mr. Nichols has seen many changes in the business. His
the first to introduce rubber tires for vehicles in Boston and what was
probably the first automobile ever built in that section was turned out
shops more than twenty-five years ago. It was an electrically propelled
machine, built to the order of a customer.”
The March 1, 1912 issue of the Automobile
Journal included a
list of exhibitors at the 1912 Boston Automobile Show which indicates
Thomas & Co. were now distributing the Rochester, New York-made
On the morning of October 30, 1915, Chauncey
Company’s Beacon Hill factory burnt to the ground, the Boston Globe
“FOUR ALARM FIRE IN BACK BAY
“A furious four-alarm fire swept through the
building of the
Chauncey Thomas & Co. Inc., carriage-makers and automobile
101-103 Chestnut st., just after 9 this morning, causing a loss of over
$200,000, giving the Fired Department a hard and dangerous fight and
threatening for nearly an hour the heart of the West End, adjoining
and the Esplanade.
“For a few moments after the outbreak of the
fire there was
the utmost confusion in and about the burning building. Sixty
employees, a few of whom had made a
vain attempt to check the onrush of the flames with fire extinguishers,
to safety, and 25 of them, including Pres. L. B. Nichols, were trapped
third floor and forced to escape down ladders raised by the firemen.
“Danger to Residences.
“Meanwhile the greedy flames were licking up
paint, white lead and varnish on the six floors of the tall brick
sending forth great volumes of heavy black smoke end burning- sparks
cinders, which the high west wind from the Charles River carried down
of residences on Brimmer and Charles sts.
“Residents of Otis pl., at the rear of the
frightened by the flames that shot from
every window, ran to and fro with baskets of silver and other
they stored in Mrs. Glendower Evans' home at 12 Otis pl., lest the fire
span the gap to their own homes and bring further ruin.. The tottering
walls of the structure threatened danger to the firemen.
“Good Work Confines Blaze
“That the blaze was ultimately confined to
Company’s Building may be ascribed in part to the excellent work of the
Department and in part to the fact that there was no building
adjoining the burning one except one and two story stables and garages
97, and 99 Chestnut st. One of these was the Oliver Ames stable,
happened that the corner of the carriage factory adjacent to 99 was
flame almost throughout the fir, being the only part of the building,
that escaped the raging flames.
“At almost any other point the flames would
have had to jump
a gap to ignite neighboring buildings, although there was always the
possibility of sparks causing damage in the path of the wind.
“Otis place backs up to the rear of the
Thomas Building and
in the block at No.6, 7 and 8, directly in back of it, connected only
first two stories, live Louis D. Brandeis, the publicist; Miss Louise
Wells and Charles G. Loring jr.,
son-in-law of Ambassador Page, who recently returned from his wedding
the other side. It was this block that was threatened during the early
of the fire, and from which valuables were carried up the street to the
Mrs. Evans, the social worker.
“Fine Residences Close By.
“On the esplanade side of the factory at
st, with a narrow court intervening, is
a handsome white residence owned by Miss Grace Nichols, artist, and
her and by Mr. and Mrs. Edward Wigglesworth. Directly opposite it, also
overlooking the esplanade, is the brand-new palace of Mrs. Susan Thayer
Bigelow. These are the buildings in the foreground of an accompanying-
photograph of the fire.
“These two residences were kept well out of
danger by the
brisk wind that swept in from, the Charles River, but it was only the
of water poured by the fireman in steady stream that prevented the wall
Otis pl. block from baking sufficiently to start the woodwork inside.
“Opposite this building: was a club stable
valuable horses, while in the burning building were scores of valuable
automobiles. All but three of these were lost.
“Miss Nichols Saved Car.
“Miss Nichols, however, not content to risk
automobile, which was in a garage close to the building, rushed in and
out herself, taking it over the sidewalk to the esplanade, to avoid
over a pile of crushed stone on Chestnut st.
“The menace from
flying sparks was felt as far away as 67, 69 and 70 Beacon st., where
fires broke out at different times in the three hours in which the fire
“In the building at 69 Beacon st., corner of
River st., a
wooden railing on a stoop at the second floor was caught by a burning
passersby, climbing to the lattice work and tearing it away, prevented
damage. A short time later, the next building, No. 67, owned by R. C.
was threatened by a blaze that started in a shed at the rear, but
by the firemen extinguished it.
“Again, at 11:45 a.m., a boy found that the
rear roof of the
building at 70 Beacon st., owned by the C.C. Cotting estate and
burning. Running to the scene of the main fire, he informed Chief
who dispatched the hose-cart of Engine 27. Liberal use of axes and
made short work of this blaze.
“Fire discovered at 9
“The fire was first discovered at 9 o’clock
Morrill, shipped in the Chauncey Thomas & Co. factory, on the first
toward the rear. Although the men had been at work for an hour and a
there had been no sign of the fire until Morrill, returning to the
it in a blaze and warned his fellow workmen.
“’The minute I heard the cry,” said Vice
Schildbach, describing the events later, “I jumped for an extinguisher
out into the hall, telling the two women in the office to hurry out.
other fellows had extinguishers, like myself, but we couldn’t do a
the fire was eating right through the building and was making a lot of
“’Men Trapped on Third Floor
“’Most of the employees were running out of
the building. I
just had time to jump into Mr. Nichol’s car (he’s the president) and
out through the smoke to Chestnut st. We only got one other car out.
two of them ready to be delivered, were all lost. There must have been
dozen of them in various stages of repair and renovation.”
“No sooner had Mr. Schildbach and the
employees on the first
few floors escaped, than they found that Mr. Nichols and two dozen
trapped on the third floor. So intense was the smoke that they could
and the firemen, arriving, raised Mr. Morrill, however, had sounded an
and the fireman, arriving, raised the ladder and permitted the
walk down to safety. It was none too soon, as the flames were tearing
the upper stories of the building at a rapid rate. The only two women
were Miss Higgins, stenographer, and Miss Phoebe Russell, assistant
“The sixth floor of the structure has been
given up to
assembling and painting, on the fifth was the trim-shop and finishing
room, on the fourth, the body-making
room, on the third, storage rooms and on the second a machine shop. In
the shipping room and office, on the first floor of the building, was a
repository and a blacksmith shop.
“Sixty Autos Lost In Fire
“The Thomas company originally was a
firm, over 45 years on that site. Of recent years it has extended its
to automobiles, taking hundreds of cars for repair and tinkering from
Back Bay families.
“One of these, lost in the flames, was the
body of a
landaulet owned by Eben D. Jordan; another was owned by Mrs. Jackson of
Back Bay. Employees of the factory estimate that there were 60 autos
lost in the
flames, four of them finished and nine of them ready for trimming, as
200 carriages in the process of manufacture and 100 sleighs and boobies
(sleighs with a coupe-like arrangement), mostly owned by people of the
and Brookline Districts.
“Mr. Schildbach, assuming that the building
and its contents
will be a total loss, as they probably are, estimated the amount at
$250,000. Of this amount $100,000 will cover the company’s loss on
perhaps $60,000 on the building, which is owned by Mrs. Chauncey Thomas
Roxbury, and the registered valuation of which is about $25,000. Mr.
Schildbach, thought that the loss in customer’s automobiles, brought in
repair, might approach $100,000.
“Two Minor Explosions.
“Directly after the outbreak of the fire
there were two
minor explosions in the building, probably caused by paint or white
ignited by the flames. There was no gasoline in the building, except in
buried tank in the basement, but several of the gasoline tanks in the
been filled in preparation for delivery.
“A. Henry, the blacksmith who conducted the
shop at the rear
of the first floor, bad an exciting escape to the street through the
densest part of the smoke. Mr. Henry stated that upon hearing a woman
'Fire' somewhere on Otis pl. he opened the door to the repository and
by a powerful rush of smoke that veritably drove him back into the
the room. His first natural move was to close the door, but on second
he realized that he must drive straight through the smoke in order to
safely. He did it, but he was much the worse when he reached the
“In the stable next to the factory Frank
of Mrs. W. Scott Fitz of 75 Beacon st, was having his hands full trying
out two horses of Mrs. Fitz; and to care for his wife and 5-year-old
Henry. With the aid of Thomas Campbell he led the horses to safety,
spraining his wrist by falling in the blackness. His wife and child,
smoke, had to be helped to safety.
“By the time the firemen had arrived the
blaze was well
underway. Hose was stretched from neighboring hydrants and four alarms
sent in from Box 1385 in quick succession.
“Cat Comes Down Hose Line.
“Almost the first thing the firemen saw from
was an ordinary mongrel cat, owned by night watchman H. J. Danby, who
work at 7:30 a.m. Pussy came out on a window sill of the third floor,
hose that had been stretched up to fight the fire, and picked her way
down its body to the street. A considerate neighbor lifted the kitty
the maze of hose lines and the swirling waters and took her into one of
stables for protection.
“While the open arrangement
of the buildings in that vicinity offered the
comparatively free access to the building, the wind was so strong that
few minutes there was constant danger that some of the walls might fall.
“The fire was hardly 10 minutes old when the
wavered perceptibly in the stiff wind and cracked at one side all the
the second story to the top. As the interior of the building fell prey
flames there was increasing danger, and the firemen were constantly on
guard lest the tottering attacks of water and wind.
“In spite of the danger, the men of Water
Tower No. 2 kept
their hose playing persistently against the front wall in the face of
until finally Chief McDonough ordered this and other wagons out of the
“When this order came, Ladder 13 was stuck
so fast in the
crushed stone on the street that it took braces, ropes and the help of
bystanders to pull it out toward the boulevard where Metropolitan Park
summoned by request of Capt. Peabody of Station 3, were keeping the
“The hose of Engine 3, which stood in the
areaway near the
Nichols mansion and had been using its wagon-gun with telling effect
the windows, was also ordered out of danger.
“Others Beneath Tottering Walls.
the other side of the building, in Otis
pl., Ladder 1
was fighting to send a stream in the upper windows of the burning
two connections failed to give the desired pressure, and it finally
proved easier for the men to fight the blaze from the roof of the
table which adjoined the structure at
“In spite of the indications that the walls
sooner or later, they were still standing after noontime, though
perceptibly in the high wind. The fire by that time was confined
materials that were smoking inside the building, and had been under
since shortly after 10 o’clock.
“Altogether it was the most spectacular fire
in the city for
a long time. At one point almost every window, save some on the first
belching forth sheets of flame, which was later replaced by heavy black
The usual crowd of fire followers, many hundred strong, responded to
the wind off the river and the broad stretch of the esplanade offering
good place from which to watch the blaze.
“The recall was sounded at 1:05 p.m., three
minutes short of
four hours after the first alarm was rung in.
“Books, Perhaps Destroyed.
“Vice Pres. Schildbach was unable to say at
or not the books of the concern had been saved. While the fire had not
the office in its early stages, the smoke had driven bookkeeper Herbert
and Miss Russell out of the room before they could take any steps to
“Mr. Schildbach and the employees could give
no theory for
the cause of the disastrous fire other than it may have resulted from
spontaneous combustion. It is believed to have started in the boiler
“The building was really in two parts, the
at 101 Chestnut st., which was originally used entirely for the
repair of carriages, and the new at 103. The buildings appeared and
as one, however, and Chauncey Thomas & Co., Inc. was the only firm
occupied the building.”
Thomas Story is continued HERE
© 2012 Mark Theobald - Coachbuilt.com