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Warren County Bicentennial

Floyd Bennett speaking at Shepard Park

John P. Bowman

John Porter Bowman was born in 1816 in the town of Clarendon, Rutland County Vermont. His father was John Bowman, a farmer and Lorinda Hart his mother. His grandfather was an early settler who came from Lexington Massachusetts prior to the revolution. His grandparents, parents and brother are buried in the East Clarendon Cemetery.

John had very few school advantages and most of his early years were given to practical industry. At the age of fifteen years he started learning the tanning and currying trade at Rutland Vermont. After five years, he went to New York State he continued in the same trade for eight or nine years in Hunter, Greene County, Saugerties, Ulster County, and at Warrensburg Warren County. While in Warrensburg, he was employed at Burhans and Gray sole leather manufacturers. While working there he became proficient in all its parts. From Warrensburg he went to Vermont and established himself in general tanning and currying business. He occupied the tannery near Cuttingsville.

Mr. Bowman married in 1849 to Jennie E. Gates the youngest of seven daughters of Franklin Gates of Warren, Herkimer County New York. “She was prepossessing in appearance, dignified, and graceful in manner, self reliant and courteous” She had a kind nature, was a devoted wife and mother with a large circle of friends. She often gave her husband prudent counsel and cheerful encouragement.

Jennie and John had two children Addie and Ella H. Addie died in infancy. Ella attained the age of womanhood and had strong and loving ties with her parents. She took real pleasure in making others happy and her presence in the home brought continual sunshine in the family circle. Mr. Bowman thoroughly appreciated his family and found his highest enjoyment in the companionship of his wife and daughter.

In January 1852, Mr. Bowman moved to Stony Creek, New York. When he arrived he found water-power, plenty of hemlock bark but few other facilities or conveniences. The town at that time was new and sparsely settled; the land was uneven, very stony and not adapted to farming pursuits. In the village of Creek Center there was a small tannery, a then uncompleted saw-mill and three houses. Mr. Bowman completed the tannery and put it in to operation commencing then the business of sole leather manufacturing.

The life of a tannery worker was back breaking, twelve hour-days (ten in the winter) six days a week. They worked in smelly, drafty, dirty conditions and for most workers the pay was not good.

This tannery preceded the Adirondack Railroad, so hides had to be hauled all the way from Saratoga; it was a two-day trip each way. The teams always went in pairs so they could double up on the Cornish Hills.

The size of tanneries was determined by employee numbers. A tannery with four to nine employees was small, ten to nineteen was large, twenty to twenty nine was larger, and thirty or more was largest. Bowman’s tannery was considered a large tannery.

He added to and improved the tannery and it became one of the best in the state. Its capacity was 40,000 sides of leather a year.

In addition to the tannery proper there were extensive bark sheds, storage buildings, a carpenter and repair shop, a large boarding house and houses for sixteen families. He had also built a pleasant residence, barns, and carriage house.

Consequent upon the growth and development of Mr. Bowman’s business enterprise quite a village has grown up in the vicinity and now churches, school-houses and stores occupy ground that was covered by an unbroken forest when he commenced operations there. The most pronounced effect of tanning in the Adirondacks was what it did for the region’s towns and settlements-tanneries spawned whole towns. In 1885, Warren County Historian H.P Smith observed that “It is a noteworthy fact that Wevertown, North Creek and Creek Center in Stony Creek date the origin of their existence as villages immediately subsequent to the erection of the tanneries that now keep them alive.”

In 1885, Mr. Bowman had an office building and storehouse at the railroad station. The Adirondack Railroad was now the mode of transportation its station was three miles from the tannery.

Mr. Bowman was well known in business circles and his name was regarded with the highest honor and integrity. His hard work, attention to detail and good judgment helped him to be one of the very few of numerous kindred enterprises to succeed. Through financial depressions, and periods of business Mr. Bowman was able to manage his affairs and maintain his commercial standing. Mr. Bowman’s tannery was the longest continuous tanning operation in Warren County running from 1852-1904. The tannery was torn down in 1921.

With all Mr. Bowman’s good fortune in business and family matters sorrow was to come in June of 1879 when daughter Ella died having just reached the age of womanhood. The happy family was devastated. After the death of his daughter Mr. Bowman gave thoughts to the building of a family tomb.

He devoted much study to the formation of plans and designs. He visited different cemeteries and examined many structures.

In January 1880 Mrs. Bowman died and Mr. Bowman was left alone to grieve the loss of his family. The remains of his wife and daughter were taken to Vermont for interment. After Mrs. Bowman died Mr. Bowman started in July 1880 to begin the construction of a mausoleum at Cuttingsville Vermont. He enlarged and beautified Laurel Glen Cemetery and then erected the mausoleum. The general plan of work was Mr. Bowman’s own conception. It became known as the Taj Mahal of Vermont.

At the same time Mr. Bowman built an elaborately constructed and furnished summer Victorian mansion across from the Laurel Glen Cemetery. A handsome fountain graced the lawn and a carriage house was nearby.

A life size marble statue of Bowman himself was also carved to represent his figure climbing the steps to the tomb.

Mr. Bowman died September 24, 1891 in Cuttingsville Vermont at the age of 75 years. He had suffered from a combination of heart and lung troubles. Mr. Bowman left careful and detailed instructions for the future upkeep and maintenance of the mausoleum, greenhouse, residence and grounds. In his will he left a trust fund of $50,000, while his Shrewsbury possessions, together with the income from the fund were left to two friends George W. Foster and S. Frank Smith as trustees. To fulfill Mr. Bowman’s wishes both the trust company and Mr. Smith (Mr. Foster having died) turned over their respective trust fund and property to the Laurel Glen Cemetery Association, a corporation created in 1894.

Among other bequests of 1885, Mr. Bowman left to a niece in New York State “the house and lot where I now reside in Stony Creek New York and all furnishings thereon at the time of my decease.”

It is said that Mr. Bowman believed in reincarnation and that the house be maintained in “waiting readiness” for him to return. The custodian of the property George N. Jones has diligently carried out his instructions keeping the clocks wound, a fire in the fireplace, and lights in the windows at night and a hot meal at dusk.

Whether you believe in Bowman’s theory of reincarnation or not, the retelling of history is like a reincarnation of events of long ago brought back to life today.

So maybe by me telling you the story of Mr. Bowman his wish came true!

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