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Chauncey Thomas & Co.
Nichols & Thomas, 1851-1859; West Newbury, Massachusetts; 1859-1862, Roxbury, Massachusetts; Chauncey Thomas & Company, 1862-1926; Boston, Massachusetts
Associated Builders
D.P. Nichols & Co.

Chauncey Thomas (1822-98) was Boston's premier carriage-builder for more than fifty years. Though he died before his company began making automobile bodies, Boston's loyal elite continued to choose Thomas coachwork for their horseless carriages.

Most of the firm’s early automobile work is currently undocumented; however Boston newspaper classifieds and advertisements reveal the firm built on Holtzer, Napier, Shawmut, White and Winton chassis.

For over half a century Chauncey Thomas (1822-98)enjoyed an enviable position as Boston’s premiere vehicle manufacturer. Although he passed away before the firm bearing his name commenced the manufacture of automobile bodies, many of Boston’s old-established families turned to the Thomas works when equipping their new horseless carriages with coachwork.

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. Houghton in 1880, who initially rejected it. However the great success of Edward Bellamy's ‘Looking Backward’, published in 1888, established a strong niche market for this type of novel, and Houghton took on the project, which was first published in 1891 by Houghton, Mifflin & Company.

Chauncey Thomas was born in Maxfield, Penobscot County, Maine, on May 1, 1822, to Prince and Mary (Webb) Thomas. While the birthplace of his mother, Mary Webb, (Weymouth, Mass.) is undisputed, the birthplace of his father is open to some debate. The family’s most reliable genealogical record states his father, Prince Thomas jr. was born on November 3, 1778 in Brunswick, Cumberland County, Maine, Another source states he was born in Hingham, Plymouth County, Mass., which according to the reliable genealogy was the home of his (Prince’s) father when he passed away on June 4, 1797. Both of 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 father’s family, but could not locate enough information to confirm it on his mother’s side.

An early Thomas family genealogist, Lawrence Buckley Thomas, 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 Prince Thomas, twin brother of a Consider Thomas, in about the seventh generation from the emigrant.”

My research reveals that Chauncey Thomas was a sixth generation descendent of a New Plymouth settler, but his name was John Thomas, 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 brother named Consider, both born on Feb 16, 1753 to William and Susannah Thomas.

For those interested, Chauncey Thomas’ lineage follows:

“Chauncey Thomas (b. 1822-d.1898) (gen #6) was born to Prince and Mary (Webb) Thomas on May 1, 1822 in Maxfield, Penobscot County, Maine. He had an older brother named Benjamin (b. 1821-d.1892) who was born January 15, 1821, in Maxfield, Penobscot County, Maine and died November 21, 1892 in Medford, Piscataquis, Maine. Their parents, Prince Thomas (jr.) (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) and Abigail (Pratt) Thomas on November 3, 1778 in Brunswick, Cumberland County, 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, Mass. on Feb. 16, 1753 to William (b. 1724–d. 1820) and Susannah Thomas. William Thomas (gen #3) was born on November 1, 1724 in Duxbury, Plymouth, Mass. to Josiah (b.1697-d.1783) and Deborah Thomas. Josiah Thomas (gen #2) was born on March 16, 1697 in Chatham, Barnstable County, Mass. to Samuel (b.1655-d.1720) and 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 Thomas. John Thomas (gen #0 or emigrant) was born during 1621 in Musbury, Devon, England to Thomas (b. 1594-d.????) and Katherine (Seward) Thomas. Thomas Thomas was born during 1594 in Exeter, Devon, England to John and Elizabeth (Croone) Thomas. “

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, Maine, a significantly larger community located 40 miles south of Maxfield on the banks of the Penobscot River. The conditions of his apprenticeship were to work twelve hours a day for board and clothes, with an occasional dollar or two on holidays for spending money, and to receive instruction for one term at the Apprentices' School in Bangor.

A native of Hingham, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, Thomas 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 later member left the firm soon after, which carried on the production of carriages in the style of Whiton & Badger. Both partners were excellent mechanics, having learned the trade at the Boston carriage factories of John Raynor and Walter Frost.

Whiton carried on with the firm until 1850 when Phineas Yeaton was admitted to the firm, the ‘History of Penobscot County, Maine’, published in 1882, stating:

“Whiton & Yeaton occupy a three-story wooden building, 35x80 feet, and two two-story wooden buildings, 30x75 feet and 25 x 50 feet, located on Harlow street, for the manufacture of carriages and sleighs of all kinds. The business was established in 1832 by Whiton & Badger. They employ thirty-five hands, and do business to the amount of about $50,000 or $60,000 per year.“

The firm remained prosperous into 1870 when Phineas Yeaton retired after which Thomas J. Whiton’s son, Walter F. Whiton - born January 21, 1842, took over as president. Although the firm was popularly known as W.F. Whiton & Company, their incorporation papers dated February 7, 1870 state the legal name as Whiton Carriage Mfg. Co., its incorporators being Phineas Yeaton, George H. Yeaton, Walter F. Whiton, John P. Whiton, G.L. Boynton and John L. Crosby.

Just prior to Stephen Badger’s 1844 retirement, 19-year-old Chauncey Thomas embarked upon a full winter’s course of study at the Bangor Apprentices’ School after which his former employers procured him a job with the respected Boston carriage builders, Slade & Whiton. The Apprentice’s school was the forerunner of today’s vocational schools, and years later Thomas helped establish the Carriage Builder’s National Association, which established its own educational facility in Manhattan which was called the Technical School for Carriage Draughtsman and Mechanics.

Slade & Whiton was the successor to C.L. Brigham, a maker of chaises and carry-alls established prior to 1813 when it is recorded that Brigham erected a new manufactory at the corner of Hawley and Franklin Sts. Robert Slade worked under Brigham for 13 years, and upon the latter’s retirement, took over the business in conjunction with Henry Whiton. During the 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 Charitable Mechanic’s Association, a benevolent association co-founded by Paul Revere that provided assistance to the families of Boston’s fallen craftsmen, and held a yearly 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. Times were dull, and bodies not wanted; but I persistently requested an opportunity to show what I could do, and was at last 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 to find out for myself. This put me on my mettle, and with eyes wide open I proceeded to work out the problem. I must confess that I did not feel quite, easy in my mind as to the result. However, I succeeded beyond my own expectations, and evidently surprised the bosses as well as the workmen, for from that time forward, as long as I remained in that shop, I occupied the first place as body-maker."

Thomas was a skilled artist and draughtsman, and was eventually placed in charge of producing the working drawings for the woodwork and blacksmith departments as well as creating renderings of the finished product for the firm’s customers.

Shortly after he was placed in charge of Slade & Whiton’s body construction, he suffered a terrible knee injury which forced him to recuperate at home for an extended period of close to 24 months. While he convalesced he embarked upon a course of study in astronomy, geometry, trigonometry, algebra and surveying, and spent his free time working with pencil and paper, honing up his skills as an artist. During his recuperation, he contemplated becoming a full-time artist, but once he was returned to good health the desire to create vehicles out of wood and steel proved stronger and in 1851 he relocated to West Newbury, Essex County, Massachusetts, entering into a partnership with Daniel P. Nichols to be conducted in the style of 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 border with New Hampshire.

Thomas stayed with the Nichols brothers on their father’s farm during which he became enamored with their younger sister, Mary, whom he married in 1854. Thomas’ partner, Daniel P. Nichols, married Carrie G. (Lloyd) only daughter of Almon J. Lloyd of Blanford, Hampden County, Massachusetts on 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 Mary J. 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 West Newberry, Mass.), and an 8-month-old daughter named Mary E. Thomas. A second 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 wagon’ received a bronze medal at the 1856 Charitable Mechanic’s Association exhibition in Boston. Nichols & Thomas exhibited at the 1857 Essex County (Mass.) Cattle Show where they were awarded a premium along with Amesbury’s Sargent, Gunnison & Co. At the 1858 Essex County Agricultural Association Exhibition they were awarded a $10 premium for a ‘four-wheeled chaise.’

During 1859 Nichols and Thomas relocated to Roxbury, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, a large Boston suburb, located in the south west portion of Boston’s historic Back Bay district. The move is confirmed by the 1860 US Census which lists Daniel P. Nichols as a resident of Ward 3, Roxbury, Mass. With the start of the Civil War, Nichols & Thomas’ business picked up, and the firm built a few orders of carriages, ambulances and wagons for the Military.

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, pigment was made by hand with a muller and stone or it was procured from third parties who operated large mills. Thomas’ mill allowed individual carriage builders to create both dry and semi-liquid pigments with a minimum of labor, on-site. The device gained worldwide recognition when it was featured on the cover of the October 2, 1858 issue of Scientific American, but like the vast majority of patents, actual manufacture of Thomas’ paint mill is doubted.

The August, 1858 Journal of the Franklin Institute described it as follows:

“Mill for Grinding Paint, Chauncey Thomas, West Newbury, Massachusetts. Claim: The combination of the force or its equivalent with the grinder or mill for grinding paint. Also the mode of combining the piston with the mechanism or means of elevating and depressing it that is to say by such a mechanical device or devices as will not only allow the piston to be elevated out of the pump but swing laterally out of the way or beyond the mouth of the pump when receiving the material to be ground.”

The first known American paint mill was established in 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 embedded in the wall of the Blackstone Block, 9 Marshall Street, Boston, above a stone block identifying it as the ‘Boston Stone, 1737’.

An August, 1862 patent filing confirms both Thomas and Daniel P. Nichols, still partners at the time, were both residents of Roxbury, Massachusetts. Thomas’s original Patent No. 18,254 dated September 22, 1857 for an improvement in carriage props, was reissued Patent number: RE 1,331 on Aug. 26, 1862. Although originally filed by Thomas singly, it was reissued to Thomas 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 district. The 1865 Massachusetts State Census lists Chauncey Thomas residence as Roxbury, Ward 04, Norfolk County, Massachusetts. Beside Chauncey and his wife, Mary J. Thomas, two children were listed, Mary E. (10yo) Helen N. (2yo) Thomas. His occupation, carriage manufacturer. A son, Chauncey C. Thomas, (aka Chauncey Thomas jr.) was born on July 6, 1866. He 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, typically caused by consumption or tuberculosis).

J. Cushing Thomas could be Josiah Cushing Thomas jr., born Sept. 23, 1813, in Pembroke, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, to Josiah Cushing (b. 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, Massachusetts. They had three children, Josiah Cushing Thomas [#1] born September 23, 1813; Isaac Thomas, born July 15, 1815 (died Jan. 22, 1893); and Tilson F. Thomas, 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 in Pembroke, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, his wife, Anna or Nancy Cushing was born October 15 1786 in Pembroke, Plymouth County, Massachusetts. There were Cushings on both sides of Isaac’s family tree.

To add to the genealogical confusion, the family records state that Tilson F. Thomas changed his name to Josiah Cushing Thomas [#2]. Although no reason is given, it is likely that the first-born Josiah Cushing, born on September 23, 1813, passed away shortly after the birth of the second born son, Tilson F., and as was sometimes done, the surviving child was renamed 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 became involved in the management of Chauncey Thomas & Co. Confirmation follows from James Kendall Ewer’s ‘The Third Massachusetts Cavalry in the War for the Union’, pub. 1903:


“Corporal Thomas enlisted in Roxbury at the age of 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 went with the regiment to New Orleans, but the climate of Louisiana, did not agree with him, and he fell sick. He was finally discharged January 18, 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 August 4th, 1903.“

I could not locate a direct familial link between Chauncey Thomas and J. Cushing Thomas, although they could be distantly related as there were thousands of people in and around Eastern Massachusetts that shared the Thomas surname at that time.

Perry’s 1865 Boston Directory lists Chauncey Thomas, carriagemaker, foot of Chestnut, house in Roxbury. No listing for Nichols, Emond or Sears. J. Cushing Thomas is listed as carriage maker, boards at 71 Chambers St.

During the next decade Daniel P. Nichols would become involved in a half-dozen partnerships, most of which were located in Roxbury. The only knowledge we have of these firm is their listings in the Boston and Roxbury business directories.

Samson, Davenport & Co.’s 1866 Roxbury Directory lists Scott & Nichols (John A. Scott & D.P. Nichols) carriage builders, Warren corner Zeigler. Adams, Sampson & Co.’s 1858 Roxbury Business Directory lists John A. Scott under ‘carriage smith and spring maker’, Dudley st. corner 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 same time. I couldn’t locate any Roxbury directories for 1859-1865, but Perry’s 1865 Boston Directory lists Chauncey Thomas, carriagemaker, foot of Chestnut, house in Roxbury. A short history of the Thomas works confirms that Thomas constructed his first vehicles in an old boathouse located between Chestnut and the banks of the Charles River, within a few yards of where he later constructed 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 C. Thomas, (aka Chauncey Thomas jr.) was born soon-after on July 6, 1866. He 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, typically caused by consumption or tuberculosis).

The 1869 Sampson, Davenport & Co. Boston Directory no longer lists John A. Scott as a partner of Nichols, however another carriage builder, Bradford Perry, appears to have replaced him as a partner. Perry’s personal listing infers that he’s involved with D.P. Nichols: “Bradford Perry (D.P. Nichols & Co.), carriage builder, 118 W. Brookline, h. 697 Tremont.”

Perry’s 1870 Boston directory indicates that Daniel P. Nichols had established his own carriage works, D.P. Nichols & Co., (Bradford, Perry) carriage factory, 118 W. Brookline, by that time. Chauncey Thomas’ listing; Chauncey Thomas, carriage manufacturer, foot of Chestnut, house 18 Centre. Joseph P. Emond is listed as a carriage painter, boards at 1482 Washington. Sears is not listed.

The same (1870) directory lists a number of ‘carriage makers’ named Thomas who were recorded as working at Chauncey Thomas & Co.; J. Cushing Thomas, h. 9 S. Russell; James J. Thomas, boards 49 Grove; and J.J. Thomas, house 49 Grove St. Sampson, Davenport & Co.’s 1872 directory lists only Chauncey Thomas, the other ‘carriage makers’ sharing his surname in earlier issues are noticeably absent.

Although it appears they were no longer working together, Nichols and Chauncey Thomas, continued to share intellectual property as evidenced by US Pat. 159,717, an improvement in carriage flap fasteners - filed Dec. 22, 1874 and issued Feb. 9, 1875. The patent was awarded to Thomas and William K. Parker, but assigned to Thomas, Daniel P. Nichols and Leonard B. Nichols. Leonard B. Nichols, Daniel P. Nichols younger brother, was now in charge of Chauncey Thomas’ paint department, and within the year would become a partner.

Perry’s 1875 Boston Directory lists Chauncey Thomas & Co. and D.P. Nichols & Co. as before, but reveals 2 new firms, Emond & Quinsler (Joseph P. Emond and George J. Quinsler) located at 2 Williams st., corner of Washington; and Sears & Nichols (Henry C. Sears & ?? Nichols) at 1785 Washington. Leonard B. Nichols is listed as a carriage painter, boards at 62 W. Cedar. Also listed was J. Cushing Thomas, carriage maker, Chauncey Thomas & Co., house at 18 Centre (also the home of Chauncey Thomas).

March 1877 issue of the Hub:

“Mr. Chauncey Thomas, one of the leading coach-builders of Boston, has invented and patented what he calls a Cradle-Spring. It resembles the two halves of an elliptic spring reversed, and is claimed to give a much easier ride.”

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 in Maxfield, Penobscot Co., Maine, on May 1, 1822, both parents being of Plymouth 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 education 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 mechanical skill, it was determined by his father that he should learn a trade; and in 1837, at the age of, fifteen, he was, apprenticed to Messrs. Whiton & Badger, ‘chaise-makers,’ of Bangor, Maine, to learn carriage-part and body making. Both partners were excellent mechanics, enjoying a well-merited reputation for thoroughness, and their shop was rich in the traditions of the celebrated carriage factories of John Raynor and Walter Frost, in Boston, where both masters and men had received their training. The conditions of his apprenticeship were to work twelve hours a day for board and clothes, with an 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 splits, felloes sawed by hand from the plank, and the jack-plane was in constant 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 chief master of the carriage mechanic. Still, work was conscientiously done, and the result generally satisfactory to both maker and buyer, which can not always be said of carriages built with the help of modern appliances. More or less mystery then hovered over the trade, which was closely guarded by the initiated, and it was only during the last year of his apprenticeship that its secrets were cautiously imparted to him.

“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. Times were dull, and bodies not wanted ; but I persistently requested an opportunity to show what I could do, and was at last 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 to find out for myself. This put me on my mettle, and with eyes wide open I proceeded to work out the problem. I must confess that I did not feel quite, easy in my mind as to the result. However, I succeeded beyond my own expectations, and evidently surprised the bosses as well as the workmen, for from that time forward, as long as I remained in that shop, I occupied the first place as body-maker.’

“As the business of Whiton & Badger gradually drifted into wagon and sleigh making, with increasing hard work and insufficient pay, Mr. Thomas left their employ in 1843, and devoted the winter of that year to study in the Apprentices' School in Bangor. In 1845 he removed to Boston, where he was engaged by Messrs. Slade & Whiton, then a rising firm of carriage-builders; to whom he had been recommended by his former employers. Here, all varieties of carriages were made, to order, and he was immediately set to work making drawings for customers, and working patterns for the woodworkers and blacksmiths, and was finally given full charge of construction.

“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, when one so young as I should be pushed forward into a place of so much responsibility. Looking back, I now believe it was altogether in my favor that I learned my trade in a small place like Bangor, for upon going to Boston I was all eyes, feeling my ignorance, and filled with ambition to know all there was to be known. At that time there were many grand old vehicles in Boston, including C-spring chariots, coaches with hammer cloths, and French caleches. These filled me with curiosity and delight; I studied them with the utmost care, sat up nights to make drawings of them and of their parts, and soon began to plan modifications and improvements, and to make new and original designs.

“’I thus acquired the knack and the habit of putting my ideas into shape on paper, and this early training has ever since proved valuable to me.’

“While Mr. Thomas was in the employ of Slade & Whiton, he met with an accident which resulted in a severe injury to one of his knees, and disabled him for two years. His disappointment can readily be understood. He did not lose courage, however, but devoted his time to studying astronomy, geometry, trigonometry; algebra and surveying, and this undoubtedly marked the most progressive period in his mental development, giving him the foundation for that wide and varied information which to-day marks him as one of the best educated members of the trade. His taste for drawing led him at the same time to give considerable study to art matters, and he felt a strong inclination to become an artist; but on recovering from his disability, he returned to his old trade.

“In 1851 an opportunity offered for going into business in West Newbury, Massachusetts, on his own account. Here he married in 1854, and returned shortly afterward to Boston, where he has ever since been in active business as a carriage-builder, having his ups and downs like the best of his contemporaries,- sometimes poor, often perplexed, but always coining out of his troubles with an untarnished name, the same enthusiasm for his trade, and the same faith in his ability to command success ultimately. In one of Mr. Thomas private letters to our editor, occurs the following remark, which throws light upon his character: ‘I can not forget the struggle for existence which I had before gaining a firm foothold, but I suppose it was only such as thousands of others have experience. Still, I take pleasure in thinking that, while I have often suffered from dealings with others, others have not suffered by their dealings with me.’

“His present factory is located at No. 103 Chestnut-street, Boston, and was completed in 1876. The main building covers an area of 34 by 100 feet, six stories high, and supplied with steam power and all the, modern improvements, including saws, planers, elevators, power paint-mills, etc. The firm, consisting of Chauncey Thomas, L. B. Nichols, and J. C. Thomas, assumed considerable responsibility in erecting this factory while business was depressed in Boston, but has never had reason to regret it, as trade has continued good. A specially is made of heavy work, the classes of carriages chiefly built being landaus, coaches, coupés, and victorias, all of high grade and nearly all built to order. From thirty to forty workmen are employed, and four forges are kept constantly busy.

“It will readily be understood that Mr. Thomas's mechanical taste and training have stood him in good stead. Not only has he originated many valuable inventions; several of which have been patented, but he has been able to cater to the best class of Boston buyers many of whom resemble the aristocracy of London and Paris in frequently demanding new and original features in their equipages. City builders understand what such orders mean, and they only can appreciate the difficulty of being always equal to the occasion.”

Chauncey Thomas was awarded a gold medal at the annual Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association, which was held during September and October, 1884, in the new Mechanic’s Building which was located at the corner of Huntington Ave. and West Newton St.:

“47 - Chauncey Thomas & Co. 101 Chestnut St., Boston; Landau, Three quarter Brougham, White Chapel Dog Cart, Harvard Stanhope, Gig Cab, Pole Cart, Victoria, Sociable Cart. The three quarter Brougham is very superior in design workmanship and finish and is hung on Thomas's patent 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 important improvements and, with the other carriages exhibited by him, is entitled to especial notice for its general outlines and excellent workmanship, and it is believed by the judges that these are the best carriages ever exhibited in this country and are justly entitled to the highest award offered by the Association, viz. To Chauncey Thomas, for improvements: Gold Medal. To Chauncey Thomas & Co., for exhibit: Diploma.”

At the same show D.P. Nichols was awarded a silver medal:

“188 - DP Nichols & Co., Boston. Two Victoria Hansoms and one Two Wheeled Hansom with many improvements. A very superior carriage of excellent style good material and first class workmanship: Silver Medal.”

The December 31, 1887 issue of The Electrical World mentioned the firm’s exhibit at winter 1887 Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic’s Association Exhibition in Boston:

“Messrs. Chauncey Thomas & Company of Boston had an exhibition an elegant brougham with cradle spring banging under the driver's seat an electric storage battery for lighting carriage. This is said to be the 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 advertisement for the state’s exhibit at the upcoming St. Louis World’s Fair, published by 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 high standing enjoyed by the carriage making industry among the trades of Massachusetts. This industry has experienced great advancement during the last score of years and now the amount of capital invested in it is counted by millions of dollars. The admitted leader in this trade and the man whose brain has conceived many original ideas in the construction of carriages to please the most exacting lovers of road driving is Mr. Chauncy Thomas whose factory and warerooms occupy two six story buildings on Chestnut Street at the west end of Boston. He holds patents on twenty or more inventions useful in his trade and has evolved innumerable conceits which have been copied very extensively. As the business of Mr. Thomas sprang from a small beginning and arose to its present importance by virtue of his own untiring efforts the history of his life challenges the attention of admirers of self-made men. He was born in 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 sixteen years of age he was apprenticed to the carriage making business in Bangor Me. and subsequently came to Boston where he worked in the capacity of a journeyman until 1852. While working as an employee Mr. Thomas displayed in a remarkable degree a gift for drawing and he seized every opportunity to develop that talent thus acquiring talent thus acquiring an advantage which ever since has served him well.

“In 1852 Mr. Thomas went to West Newbury Mass where in conjunction with other young men he established a carriage factory. The principal event of his seven years stay in that locality was his marriage. Mrs. Thomas being the daughter of the late 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, ambulances and army wagons.

“In a short time this partnership was dissolved and Mr. Thomas came to Boston where he transformed an old boat house located on the banks of the Charles River, within a few yards of the site of his present establishment, into a carriage factory. During the thirty years which have since passed Mr. Thomas by giving constant personal supervision to his business by his ability to design in a way to please and by his readiness to conceive original ideas to meet the aesthetic as well as the practical tastes of the people of the Back Bay has built up a business which is an honor to the State. Although devoted to business, Mr. Thomas has time to indulge in his literary tastes. He not only reads extensively but also writes interestingly. Mr. Thomas is the author of The Crystal Button published by Houghton Mifflin & Co., Boston, a most ingenious and fascinating work of the imagination portraying the possibilities of an ideal civilization when the problems of natural and social 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 Carriage Builders National Association, who’s Manhattan-based Technical School for 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. Tucker (tire 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 eventually became Thomas’ chief engineer and his renderings and body drafts were often featured 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:


George W. McNear, formerly with Chauncey Thomas & Co., carriage builders, of Boston, Mass., has left that firm to become a partner in the firm of Quinsler & Co., also of Boston. Mr. McNear has earned a good reputation as a designer and draftsman, and his long experience with so eminent a house, as that of Chauncey Thomas & Co. fits him well for the new position. The Hub extends congratulations, and most hearty wishes for his success as a builder.”

During this period Chauncey Thomas & Co. was also involved in the construction of the Holtzer Electric automobile, whose history can be found HERE.

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 marvelous discoveries and inventions of the last half-century have sent men's imagination into the future, to shape the material and moral condition and state of humanity centuries hence. Mr. Chauncey Thomas has done this, and gives us the result of his imaginative explorations in a striking story entitled ‘The Crystal Button.’

“He reaches forward three thousand years, and found very wonderful contrivances for the comfort and convenience of men: air-ships, railway, trains of almost incredible speed, and electricity so well understood and controlled as to be perfect for light and motive power, steam obtained from the heat of the sun’s rays, hydrogen, procured from water, as the chief article 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 central principle was to be true and honest in every act, word and thought." Naturally, under this principle, character outweighed wealth or station, monopolies died out, labor questions were gradually settled, and, in short, peace on earth and good-will among men prevailed. 
“One great charm of this story is the natural adjustment of the miraculous achievements to causes which are in operation now and here. The beneficent result is no prodigy, but the inevitable outcome of the orderly development and 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 builder, and one still in active service, namely: Mr. Chauncey Thomas, of Boston, Massachusetts who has occupied a prominent position as one of the leaders of the trade for upwards of a quarter-century past. So far as we are aware, this is the first time any carriage-builder has ever disclosed himself to the public eye as a writer of fiction, but the trade has reason to be proud of this first manifestation. The scheme of the story forming the nucleus of "The Crystal Button" is briefly as follows. Paul Prognosis, a skilled mechanic; while rescuing a workman who has fallen from a bridge, receives an injury to his brain which, for the succeeding ten years, renders him oblivious to all persons and things in the material world, although, there is no external evidence of injury and his general health continues good. During this period, he lives in an ideal world of fancy, where all mechanical possibilities that he had previously forecast or even vaguely imagined appear to be realized. These are described in detail and with a vividness that compels the sympathy and interest of the reader as he follows the delighted visitor in excursions through the wonder-city, of Tone. The carriage builder will no doubt be chiefly interested 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 vehicles.

“As will be observed, the plan of the work closely resembles that of Mr. Edward Bellamy's 'Looking Backward,' but it deals chiefly with mechanical rather than social and economic questions, and thus serves to, fill out the picture which Mr. Bellamy has so attractively sketched; and, as explained in the preface, it, was written during the years 1872-78, long before the production of 'Looking Backward'.

“The atmosphere of the book throughout is eminently cheerful and stimulating and we recommend it as well worth careful study by both workmen and manufacturers who are not averse to being amused as well as instructed.”

According to his death certificate, Chauncey C. Thomas died suddenly at the age of 76 after a 3-day bought of Angina Pectoris, on November 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, Massachusetts, died at his residence at Roxbury on Nov. 8, in the 77th year of his age. Mr. Thomas had been in poor health for some time but was able to be at the factory nearly every day up to Saturday, the 5th inst., but the nature of his trouble (heart disease) made his friends aware of the fact that he was liable to drop off at any moment. In the death of Mr. Thomas there has passed away another of the eminent carriage builders of the old school, it skilled mechanic, a draftsman 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, he 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 the public schools. In 1887, at the age of 15 years, he was apprenticed to Whiton & Badgor, "chaise makers," of Bangor, Maine, to learn the woodwork branch of the business. Owing to business changes he left the employ of the firm in 1843, and studied one winter in the Apprentices' School, in Bangor. He moved to Boston in 1845, where he worked for the firm of Slade & Whiton. His skill soon brought him to the front. Meeting with an accident which disabled him for two years, he devoted his time in studying astronomy, geometry, trigonometry, algebra and surveying, a course of study which laid the foundation for that wide and varied information which has made him notable as 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 his business to Boston, where he continued to conduct it until the time of his 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 foothold, but I suppose it was only such as thousands of others have experienced. Still I take pleasure in thinking that while I have often suffered from dealings with others, others have not suffered by their dealings with me.' Mr. Thomas made a close study of the carriage business and invented many valuable improvements.

“He catered to the high grade trade and maintained a most excellent reputation. He was a prominent member of the Carriage Builders' 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 Monthly:

“Chauncey Thomas is dead. The older carriage builders of America do not need to be told who and what he was, and where he stood as a carriage builder, a citizen and a man. The younger race of carriage builders know of Chauncey Thomas, have heard of him as one of those bright and shining lights who, for more than a generation, stood in the van of improvement and progress and art and originality and enterprise. He died at the venerable age of seventy-six, at his home in Roxboro, Boston, Massachusetts, on November 8th, revered by the community and honored by craftsmen. Mr. Thomas ranked with John W. Britton, Charles P. Kimball and men of that stamp and class. He was one of the founders of the C. B. N. A., and helped by his wise councils to make it what it is. As a mechanic, he stood at the head. He was born in Howland, Maine, and learned his trade of carriage builder in Bangor, Maine. He first entered the carriage business at West Newbury, Massachusetts, in 1852. He came to Boston, in 1859, and had been continuously in business ever since. The present firm of Chauncey Thomas & Co. was established in 1876, with L. B. Nichols and J. C. Thomas as partners. J. C. Thomas retired from the firm in January, 1892. For nearly forty years their carriage works stood at the foot of Chestnut street, and they became known as the originators of the finest carriage styles on the continent. He aimed all his life to produce the best. His inventions are known to carriage builders, and his improvements became the common property of the craft. When, some years ago, it was decided to bring out the work entitled: 'One Hundred Years of American Commerce,' with Chauncey Depew as editor, Chauncey Thomas was selected to write an article on the development of the carriage industry in this country, which he did, and which has since stood as a piece of literary work and an example of historical breadth and exactness which, perhaps, has no equal in its field. To write a deserving notice of the 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 carriage building was a crude industry; when art, originality, taste, skill were all at a low ebb. To him, as to his associates of those early days, belongs the credit of evolving the carriage, not by way of imitation, but on lines of originality 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 home and 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 the elements of a forceful character, and throughout his entire life he developed 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 meeting to 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 Becknels.

“The employees of the firm attended in a body. Floral 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 no mean ability. He has left behind him two evidences of his literary ability-one 'The Crystal Button,' and the other a volume of poems of 118 duodecimo pages, published in 1891 in Boston. Among these poems we select one which, by the way, was, read or recited at his funeral service, and is entitled '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 through these 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 the 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 resolutions were unanimously adopted:

“’WHEREAS, Our friend and associate has been taken suddenly 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 him to his immediate associates and made him respected by all who knew him, a citizen of high character and undoubted integrity, ever ready to help the needy and 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 carriage 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 men, yet his writings both in prose and verse show the intellectual acquirements of the deceased. He took a deep interest in the affairs of the city, state, and country. Be it further

“’Resolved, That we extend to his family our deepest sympathy in the loss of a kind and devoted husband, a tender and loving father; hoping, that even in the sadness of their afflictions they may find some consolation in knowing that the worth of his private qualities and the value of his public life are fully appreciated."

From 1857 until shortly after his death in 1898 Chauncey Thomas was awarded 24 US Patents as follows:

































































































After attending the Carriage Draughtsmen and Mechanic’s course in New York, Fred and Charles T. Fisher briefly worked as journeymen in the Chauncey Thomas shops prior to their engagement with C.R. Wilson in Detroit. Charles T. Fisher’s obituary in the August 9, 1963 New York Times substantiates the claim:

“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 father, Lawrence B. Fisher, a blacksmith, had gone from Norwalk to learn carriage making.

“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 travelling artisans in the carriage trade. One of their early starts was at the C.R. & J.C. Wilson Carriage Company in Detroit where Fred Fisher and the late Henry 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 to settle down. Fred became superintendent of the Wilson shop with Charles as his assistant.”

Although Thomas’ first automobile bodies date from 1895, the firm didn’t start building them in any great numbers until well after the turn of the century. Napier displayed a Thomas-bodied touring at the 1905 New York Automobile Show which was held at Madison Square Garden. The January 28, 1905 issue of the Automobile reported on the various bodies seen at the show:

“The larger Napier car - 28 horsepower - in the basement, was fitted with a body by Chauncey Thomas & Son of Boston, finished in the characteristic Napier colors, green, black molding and white stripe with bright red leather; a full extension top of green leather lined with red leather was fitted. This body would accommodate four persons easily on the rear seat with two more in revolving chairs while the single wide front seat had room for two beside the driver if necessary. The other two Napier cars had London made bodies and all four were fitted with the hinged metal wind shield in front easily removed but when in place keeping the wind off the driver's feet.”

A 1905 classified ad in the Boston Globe advertised a special sale of both new and used automobile coachwork:

“Chauncey Thomas & Co., Chestnut Street, Boston

“AT BARGAIN PRICES - Several second-hand Limousine bodies, can be fitted to any make of chassis. New Limousine and Landaulet Bodies in 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 tire is located at 27-33 Haverhill street, Boston, Mass. Mr. Tucker succeeds the old house of C.S. Mersick & Co. an old and well established company. The Goodrich company have had in contemplation for some lime the special appointment of a representative who would represent them and look after their interests throughout New England. Mr. Tucker grew up with Chauncey Thomas & 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 Hub's competition for physician's buggy. Superintendent for Ferd. F. French & Co. Ltd. for five years. Associate with Ferdinand F. French in organizing The French Carriage Company and was its secretary for four years. Boston Manager for C.S. Mersick & Co. of New Haven, agents for the Kelly Springfield rubber tires and later for the B.F. Goodrich solid tires in New England.”

At the 1906 Boston Automobile Show the local Shawmut distributor displayed a 4-cylinder 35-45 h.p. Shawmut Model 6, with a wood and aluminum 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 $60,000, issued $53,200. President and Treasurer L.B. Nichols; vice-president, Mary E. 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 resident Neil Clifford.

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. Nichols, celebrated his 50th year in the carriage business as reported in the July, 1911 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., Boston, Mass., recently observed the fiftieth anniversary of his entrance into the business. He first began as a carriage painter in the shop of J. P. Emond, of Roxbury. This gentleman is still alive, and together with his wife, was the guest of Mr. Nichols and his family on the occasion of the anniversary. They enjoyed an automobile ride and had dinner at Mansfield.

“Mr. Nichols is sixty-eight years old and was born in West Newbury, Mass. After learning his trade he entered the employ of Mr. Thomas as 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 incorporated, be assumed the offices that he has filled ever since. He lives at 73 Coolidge Street, Brookline. His family consists of his wife and two daughters, Miss Berta Nichols, well known as a violinist, and Mrs. Frank P. Rhoades, of Braintree.

“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 became a staunch Republican. His first vote was cast in the second election of Abraham Lincoln, and he has voted for every president since then with the exception of drover Cleveland.

“Since he cast his lot with the corporation of which he is now president, Mr. Nichols has seen many changes in the business. His house was 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 of the 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 Chauncey Thomas & Co. were now distributing the Rochester, New York-made Cunningham automobile.

On the morning of October 30, 1915, Chauncey Thomas & Company’s Beacon Hill factory burnt to the ground, the Boston Globe reporting:


“A furious four-alarm fire swept through the building of the Chauncey Thomas & Co. Inc., carriage-makers and automobile repairers, at 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 Back Bay 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, hurried to safety, and 25 of them, including Pres. L. B. Nichols, were trapped on the third floor and forced to escape down ladders raised by the firemen.

“Danger to Residences.

“Meanwhile the greedy flames were licking up the shavings, paint, white lead and varnish on the six floors of the tall brick -building, sending forth great volumes of heavy black smoke end burning- sparks and cinders, which the high west wind from the Charles River carried down to scores of residences on Brimmer and Charles sts.

“Residents of Otis pl., at the rear of the building, frightened by the flames that shot from every window, ran to and fro with baskets of silver and other valuables, which they stored in Mrs. Glendower Evans' home at 12 Otis pl., lest the fire should span the gap to their own homes and bring further ruin.. The tottering brick walls of the structure threatened danger to the firemen.

“Good Work Confines Blaze

“That the blaze was ultimately confined to the Thomas Company’s Building may be ascribed in part to the excellent work of the Fire Department and in part to the fact that there was no building immediately adjoining the burning one except one and two story stables and garages at 95, 97, and 99 Chestnut st. One of these was the Oliver Ames stable, unused. It happened that the corner of the carriage factory adjacent to 99 was free from flame almost throughout the fir, being the only part of the building, in fact, 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 on the 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 trip to the other side. It was this block that was threatened during the early stages of the fire, and from which valuables were carried up the street to the home of Mrs. Evans, the social worker.

“Fine Residences Close By.

“On the esplanade side of the factory at 107-109 Chestnut st, with a narrow court intervening, is a handsome white residence owned by Miss Grace Nichols, artist, and occupied by 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 volumes of water poured by the fireman in steady stream that prevented the wall of the Otis pl. block from baking sufficiently to start the woodwork inside.

“Opposite this building: was a club stable containing many 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 her electric automobile, which was in a garage close to the building, rushed in and drove it out herself, taking it over the sidewalk to the esplanade, to avoid running 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 small fires broke out at different times in the three hours in which the fire lasted.

“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 chip, but passersby, climbing to the lattice work and tearing it away, prevented further damage. A short time later, the next building, No. 67, owned by R. C. Bridgman, was threatened by a blaze that started in a shed at the rear, but prompt work 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 unoccupied, was burning. Running to the scene of the main fire, he informed Chief McDonough, who dispatched the hose-cart of Engine 27. Liberal use of axes and chemicals made short work of this blaze.

“Fire discovered at 9

“The fire was first discovered at 9 o’clock by ‘Billy’ Morrill, shipped in the Chauncey Thomas & Co. factory, on the first floor toward the rear. Although the men had been at work for an hour and a half, there had been no sign of the fire until Morrill, returning to the room, found it in a blaze and warned his fellow workmen.

“’The minute I heard the cry,” said Vice Pres. O.H. Schildbach, describing the events later, “I jumped for an extinguisher and ran out into the hall, telling the two women in the office to hurry out. Three other fellows had extinguishers, like myself, but we couldn’t do a thing, as the fire was eating right through the building and was making a lot of smoke.

“’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 drive it out through the smoke to Chestnut st. We only got one other car out. The rest, two of them ready to be delivered, were all lost. There must have been several 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 others were trapped on the third floor. So intense was the smoke that they could not alarm, and the firemen, arriving, raised Mr. Morrill, however, had sounded an alarm and the fireman, arriving, raised the ladder and permitted the employees to walk down to safety. It was none too soon, as the flames were tearing through the upper stories of the building at a rapid rate. The only two women there were Miss Higgins, stenographer, and Miss Phoebe Russell, assistant cashier.

“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 addition 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 carriage manufacturing firm, over 45 years on that site. Of recent years it has extended its business to automobiles, taking hundreds of cars for repair and tinkering from prominent 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 the 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 well 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 Back Bay 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 nearly $250,000. Of this amount $100,000 will cover the company’s loss on stock, and perhaps $60,000 on the building, which is owned by Mrs. Chauncey Thomas of Roxbury, and the registered valuation of which is about $25,000. Mr. Schildbach, thought that the loss in customer’s automobiles, brought in for 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 lead being ignited by the flames. There was no gasoline in the building, except in a buried tank in the basement, but several of the gasoline tanks in the cars had 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 very densest part of the smoke. Mr. Henry stated that upon hearing a woman cry 'Fire' somewhere on Otis pl. he opened the door to the repository and was met by a powerful rush of smoke that veritably drove him back into the middle of the room. His first natural move was to close the door, but on second thought he realized that he must drive straight through the smoke in order to reach safely. He did it, but he was much the worse when he reached the street, and nearly collapsed.

“In the stable next to the factory Frank Robbins, coachman of Mrs. W. Scott Fitz of 75 Beacon st, was having his hands full trying to lead out two horses of Mrs. Fitz; and to care for his wife and 5-year-old baby Henry. With the aid of Thomas Campbell he led the horses to safety, though spraining his wrist by falling in the blackness. His wife and child, choked by 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 were sent in from Box 1385 in quick succession.

“Cat Comes Down Hose Line.

“Almost the first thing the firemen saw from the building was an ordinary mongrel cat, owned by night watchman H. J. Danby, who had quit work at 7:30 a.m. Pussy came out on a window sill of the third floor, sighted a hose that had been stretched up to fight the fire, and picked her way carefully down its body to the street. A considerate neighbor lifted the kitty from amid the maze of hose lines and the swirling waters and took her into one of the stables for protection.

“While the open arrangement of the buildings in that vicinity offered the firemen comparatively free access to the building, the wind was so strong that after a few minutes there was constant danger that some of the walls might fall.

“The fire was hardly 10 minutes old when the front wall wavered perceptibly in the stiff wind and cracked at one side all the way from the second story to the top. As the interior of the building fell prey to flames there was increasing danger, and the firemen were constantly on their 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 danger, until finally Chief McDonough ordered this and other wagons out of the danger zone.

“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 20 bystanders to pull it out toward the boulevard where Metropolitan Park Police summoned by request of Capt. Peabody of Station 3, were keeping the crown roped off.

“The hose of Engine 3, which stood in the areaway near the Nichols mansion and had been using its wagon-gun with telling effect through the windows, was also ordered out of danger.

“Others Beneath Tottering Walls.

“On the other side of the building, in Otis pl., Ladder 1 was fighting to send a stream in the upper windows of the burning building, but 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 unoccupied table which adjoined the structure at this point.

“In spite of the indications that the walls would fall sooner or later, they were still standing after noontime, though tottering perceptibly in the high wind. The fire by that time was confined entirely to materials that were smoking inside the building, and had been under control 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 floor, was belching forth sheets of flame, which was later replaced by heavy black smoke. The usual crowd of fire followers, many hundred strong, responded to the alarm, the wind off the river and the broad stretch of the esplanade offering them a 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 noontime whether or not the books of the concern had been saved. While the fire had not reached the office in its early stages, the smoke had driven bookkeeper Herbert Rich and Miss Russell out of the room before they could take any steps to save the records.

“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 room.

“The building was really in two parts, the old, so-called, at 101 Chestnut st., which was originally used entirely for the manufacture and repair of carriages, and the new at 103. The buildings appeared and were used as one, however, and Chauncey Thomas & Co., Inc. was the only firm that occupied the building.”

The Chauncey Thomas Story is continued HERE

© 2012 Mark Theobald -



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Lawrence Buckley Thomas - The Thomas book: giving the genealogies of Sir Rhys ap Thomas, K. G., the Thomas family descended from him, and of some allied families. Pub., 1896

Ernest S. Woodaman - Boston Directory of Directors in the City of Boston & Vicinity, pub. 1907

Chauncey Mitchell Depew - 1795-1895: One Hundred Years of American Commerce, Vol. II, pub. 1895

James Birtley McNair - McNair, McNear, and McNeir Genealogies, Volume 1, pub. 1923

Peter Stott - A Guide to the Industrial Archeology of Boston Proper, pub. 1984

Edwin T. Freedley – Leading Pursuits and Leading Men, pub. 1856

Williams, Chase & Co. - History of Penobscot County, Maine, pub.1882

Webb Bros. - Webb's New England Railway and Manufacturers' Statistical Gazetteer, pub. 1869

John Marshall Raymond - Thomas Families of Plymouth County, Massachusetts, pub. 1980

Robert B. Powers - Fisher Body - Wards Quarterly, Vol II, pub. 1966

George Weston Jr. - Boston Ways, pub. 1957

James Kendall Ewer - The Third Massachusetts cavalry in the war for the union, pub. 1903

Daniel P. Toomey, Thomas Charles Quinn - Massachusetts of to-day, pub. 1892

Thomas P. Nichols - Vital records of West Newbury, Massachusetts to the end of the year 1849, pub. 1918

Topsfield Historical Society - Vital records of Amesbury, Massachusetts to the end of the year 1849, pub. 1913

Albert Nelson Marquis - Who's who in New England, pub. 1909

John Marshall Raymond - Thomas Families of Plymouth County, Massachusetts, pub. 1980

D. Hamilton Hurd - History of Essex County, Massachusetts, pub. 1888

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