The following are letters written by Ellen D. Witherbee Atwell in 1899 and 1900 to her nephew Tyler Reed Woodbridge of Victor, Colo. She was age 64 at that time. She tells of her family life, traditions, and some facts of history relating to the Witherbee family, handed down by her parents and grandparents, written at Port Henry.
These letters were sent to me from Bill Knowlton of Liverpool in 2002. Ellen Atwell was his great aunt.
Epilogue to Aunt Ell’s Letters by Milley Adams Witherbee Milliken-Oct. 1953, Granddaughter of Thomas & Milley Adams Weatherby”
Thomas Francis Witherbee) He enlisted in the Civil War at a very young age and was a member of the Band of the 30 PA Inf. Regiment under the leadership of one Dave Morgan of Vergennes, Vermont. Upon his return home in 1864, he organized a Village Band and Dave Morgan came over to train it. Since that time, until a few years ago, there has always been a band in Port Henry and at least in the early days, a very good one. I know that it was considered the best band in Northern New York. Father played the cornet. My brother George was a member of the band later on and an accomplished cornetist - he was leader of the University Band when he was a student at Cornell.
Uncle John sent Father to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he gained the technical knowledge required in his chosen profession. He and Mother (Caroline Amaryllis Pease) were married in 1867 and went to Fletcherville, a short distance from Mineville, where Father, at the age of twenty-four, was in charge of the operation of a charcoal blast furnace. The following quotation is from an article contributed by Frank Spencer Witherbee (his nephew but only nine years his junior) to the History of the Village of Port Henry by Dr. Charles B. Warner, published in 1931:
“Fletcherville Charcoal Blast Furnace”
This furnace was located three miles from Mineville and was built in 1865 by S. H.
And J. G. Witherbee and Mr. F. P. Fletcher, of Bridport, Vermont.
A Mr. Bailey was its first superintendent, and afterward succeeded by Thomas F. Witherbee. The quality of the iron made was of a high character, and some of the first steel rails in this country were manufactured from this iron.*
It is a matter of historical interest to note in connection with Thomas F. Witherbee’s administration of this furnace that for over a period of over two months about twenty-three hundred pounds of pig iron were produced on the consumption of less than sixteen hundred pounds of charcoal. This low fuel record, it is believed, has never been surpassed by any modern blast furnace. It is also interesting to record that Mr. Witherbee ran, with this furnace, the first chemical laboratory ever attached to a blast furnace. The first closed-front used in America was also installed by Mr. Witherbee in this furnace.
Our brothers, John and George, were born in Fletcherville, John on July 16, 1868 and George on July 16, 1871. The family moved back to Port Henry in 1872 or 1873 and lived in the house which Uncle John had built for his mother. Here Jessie and I were born and Tom.
Father was then engaged in designing and building for the Cedar Point Iron Company “ a fine modern Blast Furnace on the southern end of the Village of Port Henry. Whitwell hot blast stoves were imported from England and the furnace was the most expensive one that had yet been constructed. Installed in this furnace were a number of innovations of his own invention, perhaps the most outstanding of which was the “Witherbee Bronze Twyer,” which was soon used by some, if not all, of the furnaces in the country. He was Superintendent and General Manager of this furnace for many years and became one of the acknowledged foremost blast furnacemen in the country. He was a Charter Member of the American Institute of Mining Engineers.”
Joan Daby is the retired town of Moriah historian.