April 1973 | Volume 24, Issue 3
Life in a small urban community in America in the 1880’s could be exceedingly pleasant, particularly if one was a leading citizen with the means to enjoy it. As an 1887 history of New Haven, Connecticut, recorded: “From the day, nearly two centuries and a half ago, when the first settlers landed at Quinnipiac [as the red man called the place], until today, the name of Hotchkiss—all of that name being the descendants of Samuel Hotchkiss, the original planter—has never ceased to be a familiar one to the people of New Haven.” At the time this was written, Henry Lucius Hotchkiss, at forty-five already a leading businessman of the town, was busily photographing on glass-plate negatives the delightful life he and his family enjoyed both in New Haven and at their summer homes in New Hampshire and the Adirondacks. He had just bought the handsome house at right on Hillhouse Avenue, a street earlier hailed by Charles Dickens as “the most beautiful in America.” Populated by wealthy men like himself and by the most distinguished names among the faculty of Yale University, including, successively, most of its presidents, Hillhouse Avenue was named after one of New Haven’s outstanding men, Senator James Hillhouse. Fortunately, the Hotchkiss clan still survives in Connecticut, and Jane Hotchkiss, a great-granddaughter of Henry L.’s, recently discovered over three hundred of his original plates in the family barn and restored them. The family has generously consented to their publication here. Henry Lucius Hotchkiss (above) did not have to fight his way up the ladder of success. At the age of twenty-one he became secretary of L. Candee & Co., by virtue of his father and uncle having backed this small firm. It was the first to have been granted a license to use the Goodyear vulcanizing process for the manufacture of rubber shoes. Charles Goodyear was a fellow New Haven man, and his discovery of the most important secret in rubber manufacture insured the L. Candee firm’s success. When the photograph above was taken in 1882, Henry had been president of the company for eleven years, having succeeded his father in that post. The firm employed over fifteen hundred men and produced twenty thousand pairs of rubber boots and shoes every day for a worldwide market. In that time this was a business of enormous dimensions, and India-rubber products had joined firearms, clocks, carriages, the beautiful central green, the memory of the Regicides, and Yale among New Haven’s claims to fame.
Henry had also succeeded his father as president of the Union Trust Company, which he had founded in 1871, and like his father before him he had married well. His mother, Elizabeth Daggett Prescott, was the daughter of Benjamin Prescott of the shipping firm of Prescott & ShermanofNew Haven. His wife, Jane “Jennie” Trowbridge, was the granddaughter on her maternal side of the famous lexicographer Noah Webster and the daughter of another exceedingly prosperous New Haven businessman, Henry Trowbridge.
When Jennie and Henry set up housekeeping in 1875, they took one half of a double house on Temple Street (first on the left in the bottom photograph opposite) built by Jennie’s uncle, Ezekiel Hayes Trowbridge. He lived across the street in the substantial dwelling at top, photographed by Henry one Decoration Day as a fire-engine parade was passing by. Uncle “Zeikle” had built the double house for his son, Hayes, who occupied the left-hand side and whose family provided the growing Hotchkiss clan with plenty of cousins to play with. When Noah Webster’s widow died, Jennie’s mother and father moved into the Webster house, only a few doors away on Temple Street. This street was one of the thoroughfares that earned for New Haven its gracious sobriquet “the Elm City.” In the late 1790’3 James Hillhouse had brought the young trees to New Haven from a farm he owned in Meriden, planted many with his own hands, and, according to one city history, “set the little town, which had then less than a thousand families, agog, so that even children were aroused to help him.” These elms, by the 1880’s, “now interlock their giant arms over the famous colonnade in Temple Street.” They made it one of the showplaces of New Haven and the pride and joy of the street’s residents.