Warren County Historical Society Presents …
March 1, 2013
John P. Bowman, Stony Creek Businessman
John Porter Bowman was born in 1816 in the town of Clarendon, Rutland County, Vermont. His mother was Lorinda Hart Bowman. His father, John Bowman was a farmer. His grandfather was an early settler who came from Lexington, Massachusetts prior to the American Revolution. His grandparents, parents and a brother are buried in the East Clarendon Cemetery outside of Rutland, Vermont.
John P. Bowman
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 moved to New York State where he continued in the same trade for eight or nine years in Hunter, Greene County, in Saugerties, Ulster County, and finally 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 parts of the industry. Leaving Warrensburg, he went back to Vermont and established himself there in general tanning and currying business. He occupied a tannery near Cuttingsville, southeast of Rutland.
Mr. Bowman married in 1849 to Jennie E. Gates, the youngest of seven daughters of Franklin Gates of Warren, Herkimer County, New York. Jennie and John had two children Addie (b. 1854) and Ella H. (b. 1860). Addie died at 4 months of age, but Ella attained the age of womanhood and had strong and loving ties with her parents. 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 and plenty of hemlock bark but few other facilities or conveniences. The town was forming at that time and was a year from inception (1853). It was sparsely settled. The land was uneven, very stony and not adapted to farming pursuits. In the area known as Creek Center, there was a small tannery, an uncompleted sawmill and three houses. Mr. Bowman completed the tannery and put it into operation commencing the business of sole leather manufacturing in Stony Creek.
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 the most part, workers’ the pay was not good.
The tannery in Stony Creek preceded the Adirondack Railroad, so hides were hauled all the way from Saratoga by horse and wagon; 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 Stony Creek 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 at Stony Creek there were extensive bark sheds, storage buildings, a carpenter and repair shop, a large boarding house and houses for sixteen families. Bowman also built a pleasant residence, barns, and carriage house for his family.
John Bowman built this boarding house in Stony Creek to house employees at his tannery. The building still stands.
Consequent upon the growth and development of Mr. Bowman’s business enterprise quite a village grew up in the vicinity and included churches, schoolhouses and stores, occupying ground that was covered by an unbroken forest when John Bowman 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.”
By 1885, Mr. Bowman had an office building and storehouse at the railroad station. The Adirondack Railroad was now the mode of transportation and the station was three miles from the tannery.
John 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-running tanning operation in Warren County, being in operation from 1852-1904. The last remains of the tannery were 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 nineteen. The family was devastated. After the death of his second daughter, Mr. Bowman gave thought 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.
John Bowman purchased land adjacent to an existing cemetery in Cuttingsville, Vermont where he built a mausoleum as a memorial to his wife and daughters.
Less than a year after Ella died, in January 1880, Mrs. Bowman died as well. John Bowman was left alone to grieve the loss of his family. Bowman resolved to build a memorial and last resting place in his native Vermont. With the death of his wife, Bowman began the construction of a mausoleum at Cuttingsville, Vermont, and eventually the remains of his wife and daughters were taken to Vermont for interment.
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. A life size marble statue of Bowman himself was also carved to represent his figure climbing the steps to the tomb.
While the mausoleum was under construction Bowman also built an elaborately constructed and furnished summer Victorian mansion across from the Laurel Glen Cemetery. A handsome fountain graced the lawn. It had a carriage house nearby and the front contained a circular drive. The home, named Laurel Hall, eventually became Bowman’s permanent home.
Laurel Hall is the Victorian mansion John Bowman had built at the time he was building the mausoleum. Originally it was intended to be his summer home as he maintained his residence in Stony Creek.
In all, over 125 sculptors, granite and marble cutters, masons, carpenters and other laborers worked on the project and cost Bowman $75,000, a great deal of money at the time. This included purchasing the land adjacent to the existing cemetery and changing the look so the mausoleum was sitting high above the rest.
The inside of the mausoleum was and is something to behold. There is statuary, an arched ceiling, wainscoting, candelabra, molded urns, with lots of carved panels and emblems. The floors are laid with English tile. The interior is enhanced by plate glass mirrors which produce an optical illusion of vast space and depth. There are busts of the family members including a statue of a baby Addie.
The interior of the mausoleum. Note design in the floor tile, statues, and flowers (not real). You can see one of the mirrors used to make the inside seem bigger than it actually is.
Final resting place of the Bowman family.
In front of the mausoleum there is a life-size statue of John Bowman. He is bent with grief, burdened with mourning. He carries a cloak, hat, gloves, a huge funeral wreath, and a key to enable him to unlock the door. Inside the tombs of the family are stacked on top of one another, with John Bowman on the bottom, Jennie, his wife above him, daughter Ella above her, and baby Addie at the top. Carved above them all it says, “A COUCH OF DREAMLESS SLEEP.”
Bowman has a life-size statue of himself outside the mausoleum. Note that he is holding a cape, hat, gloves, a funeral wreath and key.
John Bowman died on September 24, 1891 in Cuttingsville or nearby Shrewsbury, Vermont at the age of 75 years. He had suffered from a combination of heart and lung troubles. 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 with two friends named as trustees, George W. Foster and S. Frank Smith. To fulfill Mr. Bowman’s wishes both the trust company and property were transferred to the Laurel Glen Cemetery Association, a corporation created in 1894.
A Close-up of the Bowman statue.
It is said that Mr. Bowman believed in reincarnation and therefore it was important that the house be maintained in “waiting readiness” for him to return. The custodian of the Cuttingsville property, George N. Jones, diligently carried out Bowman’s instructions, keeping the clocks wound, a fire in the fireplace, and lights in the windows at night and a hot meal at dusk for many years.
John Bowman’s final resting place.
© February 28, 2013, Warren County Historical Society.
The material for this article was initially prepared by Cynthia Cameron, Town of Stony Creek Historian for the Warren County Bicentennial souvenir magazine.
Photos courtesy of Stan Cianfarano and the Warren County Historical Society.