Altamont, Jan. 30, 2014
Last week, I said that we would explore building and scenery changes made because of technology and gifts from benefactors.
My hometown of Fairhaven, Mass. has been honored with many gifts, so I would like to start with benefactors.
Our best known resident, Henry Huttleston Rogers, died in 1909, however, he and his family made a huge impact on our community.
Henry was an American industrialist and financier. He made his fortune in the oil refinery business, becoming a leader at Standard Oil.
He was born in Mattapoisett, Mass., a neighboring community just a few miles from Fairhaven, the son of Rowland Rogers, a former ship captain, bookkeeper, and grocer, and Mary Eldredge Huttleston Rogers. Both parents were of English descent and were descended from the Pilgrims who arrived in the 17th Century aboard the Mayflower.
His mother’s family had earlier used the spelling Huddleston rather than Huttleston.
The family moved to nearby Fairhaven, Mass., a fishing village across the Acushnet River from the great whaling port, New Bedford.
Fairhaven is a small seaside town on the south coast of Mass. It borders the Acushnet River to the west and Buzzards Bay to the south. Fairhaven was incorporated in 1812 and was already steeped in history when Henry Rogers was just a boy.
Fort Phoenix is in Fairhaven. There, during the American Revolution, British troops once stormed the area. Also, within sight of the fort, the first naval battle of the American Revolution took place on May 14, 1775.
Henry Rogers’ father was one of the many men of New England who changed from a life on the sea to other work to provide for their families. As a teenager, Henry Rogers carried newspapers and he worked in his father’s grocery store, making deliveries by wagon.
He was only an average student, and was in the first graduating class of the local high school in 1857.
Continuing to live with his parents, he hired on with the Fairhaven Branch Railroad, later to become the Old Colony Railroad, as an express man and brakeman, working for three to four years while carefully saving his earnings.
In 1861, 21-year-old Henry pooled his savings of approximately $600 with a friend, Charles P. Ellis. They set out to western Pennsylvania and its newly discovered oil fields. Borrowing another $600, the young partners began a small refinery near Oil City. They named their new enterprise Wamsutta Oil Refinery.
The old Native American name Wamsutta was apparently selected in honor of their hometown area of New England, where Wamsutta Company in nearby New Bedford had opened, and was a major employer.
The Wamsutta Company was the first of many textile mills that gradually took the place of whaling as the principal employer in New Bedford.
Rogers and Ellis and their refinery made $30,000 their first year. This amount was more than the earnings of three whaling ship trips during an average voyage of more than a year’s duration.
When Rogers returned home to Fairhaven for a short vacation the next year, he was greeted as a success.
While vacationing in Fairhaven, Rogers married his childhood sweetheart, Abbie Palmer Gifford, who was also of Mayflower lineage. She returned with him to the oil fields where they lived in a one-room shack along Oil Creek where her young husband and Ellis worked the Wamsutta Oil Refinery.
While they lived in Pennsylvania, their first daughter was born. They had five surviving children, four girls and a boy. Another son died at birth. One daughter, Millicent, was born in Fairhaven.
Abbie Palmer Gifford Rogers died unexpectedly in 1894. Her childhood home, a two-story, gable-end frame house built in the Greek Revival style, has been preserved. It is available for tours in Fairhaven, Mass., where she and her husband grew up.
Rogers was introduced to Charles Pratt who was another man of modest means. Pratt is said to have spent three winters as a student at Wesleyan Academy, and is said to have lived on a dollar a week at times. In nearby Boston, Mass. Pratt joined a company specializing in paints and whale oil products. Around 1851, he went to New York City, where he worked for a similar company handling paint and oil.
Pratt met Rogers on a business trip, he already knew Charles Ellis, having earlier bought whale oil from him back east in Fairhaven. Although Ellis and Rogers had no wells and were dependent upon purchasing crude oil to refine and sell to Pratt, the two young men agreed to sell the entire output of their small Wamsutta refinery to Pratt’s company at a fixed price.
This worked well at first. Then, a few months later, crude oil prices suddenly increased due to manipulation by speculators. The young entrepreneurs struggled to try to live up to their contract with Pratt, but soon their surplus was wiped out.
Before long, they were heavily in debt to Pratt. Charles Ellis gave up, but in 1866, Henry Rogers went to Pratt in New York and told him he would take personal responsibility for the entire debt. This act so impressed Pratt that he immediately hired him for his own organization.
That somewhat sets in place a little bit of the background of Henry Huttleston Rogers. He was a man who took advantage of every opportunity to become a financial success. His success made him one of the wealthiest men of those days. He was also a man with a great amount of integrity. Because of his modest beginnings he also became a leading philanthropist.
Henry Huttleston Rogers began to donate buildings to his hometown of Fairhaven, Mass. These included the Rogers School and a grammar school built in 1885.
The Millicent Library was completed in 1893 and was a gift to the town by the Rogers children in memory of their sister Millicent, who had died in 1890 at the age of 17. Abbie Palmer (Gifford) Rogers presented the new town hall in 1894. The George H. Taber Masonic Lodge building, named for Rogers’ boyhood mentor and former Sunday-school teacher, was completed in 1901. The Unitarian Memorial Church was dedicated in 1904 to the memory of Rogers’ mother, Mary Huttleston (Eldredge) Rogers. He had the Tabitha Inn built in 1905, and a new Fairhaven High School, called Castle on the Hill, was completed in 1906.
It has always been exciting for me to show friends pictures of my high school. It is a rare treat to be in a school that has stained glass windows, gargoyles, fancy cement work both in and outside of the building. The senior room was one that graduates were almost sad to leave.
Rogers also funded the draining of the millpond to create a park, installed the town’s public water and sewer systems, and served as superintendent of streets for his hometown.
Years later, Henry H. Rogers’ daughter, Cara Leland Rogers Broughton, purchased the site of Fort Phoenix, and donated it to the town of Fairhaven in her father’s memory.
Henry Rogers was far more than just a benefactor to the town of Fairhaven. He was also generous to many other people. That generosity was frequently not known about until after his death in 1909.
In 1893, a mutual friend introduced Rogers to humorist Mark Twain. Rogers reorganized Twain’s tangled finances, and the two became close friends for the rest of Rogers’ life. By the 1890s, Twain’s fortunes began to decline in his later life. Twain suffered from depression. He lost three of his four children, and his wife, Olivia Langdon, before his death in 1910.
Twain had some very bad times with his businesses. His publishing company ended up going bankrupt, and he lost thousands of dollars on a typesetting machine that was never finished. He, also, lost a great deal of revenue on royalties from his books being plagiarized before he had a chance to publish them himself.
Rogers and Twain enjoyed a more than 16-year friendship. Rogers’ family became Twain’s surrogate family, and he was a frequent guest at the Rogers townhouse in New York City. One mutual friend described the relationship in these words: “Rogers and Twain were kindred spirits - fond of poker, billiards, the theater, practical jokes, mild profanity, the good-natured spoof. Their friendship, in short, was based on a community of interests and on the fact that each, in some way, needed the other.”
They had a standing joke that Twain was inclined to pilfer items from the Rogers household whenever he spent the night there as a guest.
After Abbie’s death, Rogers developed close friendships with another notable American, Booker T. Washington.
He was also instrumental in the education of Helen Keller. Urged on by Twain, Rogers and his second wife financed her college education.
In May 1896, Rogers and Mark Twain first saw Helen Keller, then sixteen years old. Although she had been made blind and mute by illness as a young child, she had been reached by her teacher-companion, Anne Sullivan. When she was 20, Keller passed with distinction the entrance examination to Radcliffe College. Twain praised “this marvelous child” and hoped that Helen would not be forced to retire from her studies because of poverty. He urged the Rogers to aid Keller and to solicit other Standard Oil chiefs to help her. Rogers paid for her education at Radcliffe and arranged a monthly stipend.
Keller dedicated her book, The World I Live In, “To Henry H. Rogers, my Dear Friend of Many Years.” On the fly leaf of Rogers’ copy, she wrote, To Mrs. Rogers The best of the world I live in is the kindness of friends like you and Mr. Rogers.
Around 1894, Rogers attended one of Booker T. Washington’s speeches at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The next day, Rogers contacted the educator and invited him to his offices. They had common ground in relatively humble beginnings and became strong friends. Washington became a frequent visitor to Rogers’ office and his 85-room mansion in Fairhaven.
In June 1909, Dr. Washington went on a previously arranged speaking tour along the newly completed Virginian Railway. He rode in Rogers’ personal rail car, Dixie, making speeches at many locations over a seven-day period. Washington said Rogers had urged the trip to explore how to improve race relations and economic conditions for African Americans along the route of the new railway. It connected many previously isolated rural communities in the southern portions of Virginia and West Virginia.
Washington told about other Rogers’ philanthropy: “funding the operation of at least 65 small country schools for the education and betterment of African-Americans in Virginia and other portions of the South, all unknown to the recipients.”
Rogers had also generously provided support to Tuskegee Institute and Hampton Institute. Rogers supported projects with at least partial matching funds, in order to achieve more work, and to ensure recipients were also stakeholders.
We have lived in Altamont longer than we have lived anywhere else including my hometown of Fairhaven, Mass. This is home and we are very proud to tell people where we live. But it is very nice to know the history and background of people who were raised in our hometown. It is even nicer to know that they have shared their successes with others.
Tae Kwon Do
The Altamont Elementary School has announced that the Tae Kwon Do has been canceled due to poor enrollment. The school is notifying those who enrolled and made payments that the payments will be returned. Parents having questions are advised to call the school at 861-8528.
The community food pantry at St Lucy/St.Bernadette’s Parish Center continues to have needs. Donations of peanut butter, jelly, jams and oatmeal can be left in the basket that is found in the gathering space at the church. All donations are appreciated.
Father Joseph Girzone will be the guest speaker at the Altamont Reformed Church on Friday, Jan. 31, at 7 p.m. The church is located at 129 Lincoln Ave. in Altamont. Refreshments will be available in the Fellowship Hall where guests will be able to visit with Fr. Girzone.
Information can be obtained by calling Bob Luidens, Pastor, at 861-8711.
Members of the 1997 Humzingers enjoyed a brunch on Martin Luther King Day at the 98 Diner in Latham. Those in attendance included June Pelham and Gerald Irwin.
Sports sign up
Interested in playing a spring sport at Guilderland High School? If yes, sign-up packets are in the school nurse’s office. Completed packets must be returned to the nurse’s office by Feb. 25.
Students planning to play a sport this spring must schedule a physical with the nurse’s office. Physicals will be done on Monday, Feb. 10, and Monday, Feb. 24, from 4 to 5:45 p.m. Sign up with nurse’s office.
Happy-anniversary wishes are extended to:
— Bev and Bob Haviland (former Altamont residents and now of Fort Myers, Fl.) who will celebrate their special day on Feb. 2; and
— Jackie and Jack McClintock on Feb. 6.
Happy‑birthday wishes are extended to:
— Danielle West and Anna Wilson on Jan. 31;
— Eileen Mckenny and Alexander Rosa on Feb. 1;
— Russell Antonucci and Heather Cannell on Feb. 2;
— Marian Bernd on Feb. 3;
— Kathy Hornberger, Cathy Schillinger and Lisa Whiting on Feb. 4;
— Jeremy Naginey and Daniel Reinemann on Feb. 5; and
— Tom LaPorte and Tracey McGann on Feb. 6.