HORATIO D. AND DWIGHT NEWCOMB


Second in importance for Cannelton development to Hamilton Smith was Dwight Newcomb. Upon him the designation of entrepreneur fits more appropriately. As president and active agent of the Coal Company Smith sought to coordinate all facets of the operation to the best and ,mutual advantage of everyone concerned. Newcomb was the "take charge, nuts and bolts" manager who "got things done," not always in keeping with Hamilton Smith's guiding principles. He was successful in hiring capable supervisory personnel beginning with his chief superintendent, Michael Dusch, down through the ranks. The result for him was financial success.

Dwight Newcomb did not achieve these successes alone. His older brother, Horatio Dalton Newcomb, residing in Louisville, Ky., provided the financial backing and leadership, Dwight providing the on-the-job management of both the Cotton Mill and the coal mines just east of Cannelton.

There were 12 children born to Dalton and Harriet Wells Newcomb in Franklin County, Mass. Mention of only Warren Newcomb (died August 1866, New York) and of Mary Newcomb (died 6 December 1874, Springfield, Mass.) has been found in Cannelton sources in addition to the 2 brothers treated here. A biographical sketch of Horatio D. Newcomb published in Collinss History of Kentucky and one of Dwight Newcomb in Goodspeed's History of Perry County, Ind., provide the foundation upon which to add supplementary information.

(History of Kentucky, Collins [1877], p. 345) --"H. D. Newcomb was born and educated in Franklin Co., Mass.; settled in Louisville about 1833; from 1834 to 1864 applied himself to mercantile pursuits; was senior partner of H. D. Newcomb & Bro., whose business was, for 20 years the largest cotton mill in the west; aided greatly in improving his adopted city, erected some of her finest buildings, and was mainly interested in re-building the Galt House, the best arranged and most elegant structure in America for hotel purposes, costing, when opened, over $1,000,000; was president of the Louisville and Nashville railroad, from 1868, and made it the most powerful and successful railroad in the south or southwest; he died August 18, 1874, aged 65."

According to the age given above, Horatio Dalton Newcomb was born around 1809. Two Perry County newspapers disagree on the date of his death: Tell City Commercial, Thursday August 20, 1874 -- "H. D. Newcomb died in Louisville last Tuesday" (August 18); Cannelton Enquirer, Saturday, August 22 -- "H. D. Newcomb died last Monday in Louisville." (August 17)

The Cannelton Reporter on 29 August 1876 carried a lengthy summary of problems in the settlement of the H. D. Newcomb estate. In 1838 H. D. Newcomb married Miss Cornelia W. Reed of Louisville. In 1858 she became insane and was placed in an institution at Somerville, Mass. Newcomb obtained a divorce under an 1872 Kentucky legislative act on insanity of a spouse. He married again, had two children born, and then died in 1874. The Court held that the divorce was void and the first wife should have received 1/3 of the estate which was valued at $1,500,000. The will left $400,000 to the second wife and 2 children.

There were 2 known sons of H. D. Newcomb and his first wife. Herman, born 1849, died at Philadelphia on 2 November 1870. His son, Horatio Victor Newcomb, was the legatee of Dwight Newcomb in 1892.

In the above Collins sketch the junior partner of H.D.Newcomb & Bro. could have been either Warren or Dwight. A Perry County Court document dated 7 June 1852 stated that the operators of the Cannelton Cotton Mill were Horace D. Newcomb and Warren Newcomb of Louisville and Dwight Newcomb of Perry county. This was during the 2-year period when the Newcombs leased the mill. When the Cannelton cotton Mill became the Indiana Cotton Mill in 1854, the new owners were H. D. Newcomb, Dwight Newcomb, James C. Ford, Dr. M. J. Sellers, James Boyd and Fred Boyd. In a short time the number was reduced to the 2 Newcombs and Ford; Ford was president, Dwight Newcomb, treasurer.

In September 1855 H. D. Newcomb and Co. leased for 15 years the coal beds of the American Cannel Coal Company lying just east and northeast of Cannelton (Sulphur Spring and Mule Hollows extended for a mile beyond). This partnership was composed of the 2 Newcombs and James C. Ford. Dwight Newcomb and Ford were also directors of the Coal Company.

The Cannelton Reporter of Friday, 27 November 1863, carried one line: "H. D. Newcomb & Bro. will dissolve 1 January 1864." This indicates that Warren Newcomb was the junior partner or that the Collins sketch was incorrect: "H. D. Newcomb and Bro., whose business was for 20 years the largest cotton mill in the west." The 20-year period would have been the years 1854-1874.

At the outset of the Civil War, 90 men, employees of the Cotton Mill, organized a company named the Newcomb Guard in honor of H. D. Newcomb. Cannelton tailor Conrad Dusch made uniforms for this company from Cotton Mill cloth.

(History of Perry County, Goodspeed -- 1885, p. 713) -- "Dwight Newcomb,

a prominent citizen of Cannelton, was born in Franklin Co., Mass., December 1, 1820, and is the only surviving member of twelve children born to the marriage of Dalton Newcomb and Harriet Wells, also natives of the 'Old Bay State.' He was reared in his native county, where he remained until he attained the age of seventeen years [1837-38]. Being one of a large family of children, and his father a man in very moderate circumstances, living on a New England farm, he received only a common school education. After leaving home he worked in an edge-tool manufactory, and later, in the hydraulic machine works in Vermont, until 1841, when he came to Louisville, KY., and clerked in his brother's grocery store for five years [1841-1846]. The next five years were (sic) spent in steamboating, and in 1849 he built the steamer California, which he sold in June 1851. In September of that year, he came to Cannelton to look after his brother's interest in the cotton-mill, but with no intention of becoming a permanent resident of the place. The mill, however, was in such a condition that it was necessary to make extensive repairs, and he remained five years putting the mill in good shape. He was subsequently elected president of the cotton mill company. In 1855, under the firm name of D. Newcomb (sic) & Co., he leased the American Cannel Coal Company's Mines, and invested about $42,000 in their development. It proved to be an exceedingly profitable investment. After repaying the capital invested, a total dividend of $400,000 remained. For five years Mr. Newcomb in partnership with others [1871-75, Michael Dusch and Henry Wales] operated a coal mine at Newburgh. He has always taken a vacation from business for about two months each year, visiting Saratoga, Newport, and resorts in this country, and for ten years made an annual trip to Europe. He has now entirely retired from business. Mr. Newcomb is a man of rare business ability, and deserves great credit for the part that he has taken in developing the resources of the county and building up the town. In politics he is a Democrat, and formerly took a very active part in the political affairs of the State and county."

Dwight Newcomb's experiences in machine manufacturing in 1837-41 were, no doubt, helpful but were not sufficient to enable him to solve the more complex problems of setting the Cotton Mill in consistent motion in 1851-54. However, he knew when and where to seek appropriate expert assistance. On his steamboat, California, he brought the first load of 129 bales of cotton from the Louisiana plantation of James C. Ford to the wharfboat at the foot of Adams Street. According to Way's Packet Directory, this California was built at New Albany in 1850 and "was snagged and lost March 25, 1853, in Shirt-Tail Bend, 16 miles below Greenville, Miss.," less than 2 years after the Newcombs sold it.

In the mining venture at Newburgh Newcomb purchased Henry N. Wales's share in July 1874; he then sold all his holdings in it to Michael Dusch around 1 May 1875. Dusch fell overboard from a barge and drowned on 16 May; he was buried in Cliff Cemetery. (Wales died at Indianapolis 25 May 1881 and was buried in Cliff Cemetery.) The announcement of Newcomb's death on 4 July 1892 in the Tell City Journal noted that he had crossed the ocean 20 times. He was buried in Cave Hill Cemetery at Louisville.

Dwight Newcomb was one of the leaders in civic affairs in early Cannelton. At the incorporation election on 18 September 1851 he was elected as one of the town trustees; he retained that office through 1854. When the school was built in 1854-55 he was paid $50.00 for superintending the work. This 2-story brick structure was to become the county courthouse in December 1859. One of Newcomb's coal barges brought the county records from Rome to Cannelton on 8 December 1859.

During the Civil War Dwight Newcomb's importance extended beyond the boundaries of Cannelton. Beginning in 1855 at the McLean Mine south of Mine Avenue, he then mined through Cavender Hill to the north. In 1859 the Coal Company drove a tunnel through the ridge just east of St. Michael's Cemetery and constructed a railroad connecting mines north of the ridge with the road leading to the drum house on the river a few hundred yards upstream from the present Bob Cummings Bridge. With a force of 90-120 miners Newcomb was then able to deliver 9,000-12,000 bushels per day. When the war put an end to most civilian steamboating, the river fleet of US gunboats required great quantities of coal from Cannelton. This was done on long-term credit, Newcomb personally sustaining the cost of continued operation of the mines.

Another problem to be overcome in war time was a periodic shortage of labor. Already by 26 September 1861 the mines were idle due to the labor shortage brought about by the recruitment of 15 companies since April. In the summer of 1863 and in the spring of 1864 the miners sought to better their lot through strikes. The strike at the Newcomb mines ended, "satisfied that strikes are not the best means of settling rights." A union of 120 miners was organized in January 1864. (Cannelton Reporter, 23 April 1864) -- "The American Cannel Coal Co. resumed their mining operation last Monday, allowing the diggers the former rates."

When Newcomb was mining at Newburgh in the early 1870s he shipped coal from his mines to his Cotton Mill. In 1873 he contracted for 9 barges to be built at Cannelton by Henry Scott for the Newburgh Mines, each costing $1, 000. Three of these brought 9,000 bushels of coal to the Mill in June 1874.

Two of the sites of Newcomb's residence in Cannelton have been of as much historical interest as any of his other activities. Until 1861 he lived in a boarding house. The 1860 census locates him in that of Miss Ellen Lea, then at the corner of 6th and Adams Streets.

On 23 June 1860 Newcomb purchased from Joseph Brenning for $2,500 lot #23 adjoining corner lot #22 at First and Washington Streets (later the site of the Sunlight Hotel). (Cannelton Reporter, 27 September 1860) -- "Capt. D. Newcomb has purchased the stone building erected by Jo Brennen immediately in front of his coal landing on Water Street, and designs fitting it up for an office and a social retreat for his (not exclusively) bachelor friends." [Oral tradition had it that the never-married Newcomb maintained mistresses at various times.]

The Reporter notes that the gas line was being extended to the superintendent's house and to Newcomb's house (18 October 1860); Newcomb's progress in "fitting up his palatial house" (25 October 1860); the oak-grained interior woodwork was being finished (10 January 1861); Newcomb's new office and residence on Front Street was complete (21 February 1861).

A deed from Mrs. James Boyd of Boston, Mass., to Newcomb for 25 feet of lot #22 adjoining lot #23 was made on 19 March 1862. By the time Newcomb sold both parcels to James Bunce on 26 September 1871, Oak Hall was situated on that part of lot #22. It became part of G. W. Pohl's Sunlight Hotel complex on 2 October 1899 when Bunce's widow sold it. It burned with the hotel on 31 January 1917. Unless Newcomb built a second stone Oak Hall, the building purchased from Joe Brenning was to be made into Oak Hall. Possibly, for some unknown reason, the southeast 25-feet of lot #22 was not conveyed to Brenning; a contractual agreement would serve temporarily. When he purchased Brenning's building in 1860 Newcomb probably took over the unrecorded agreement and completed the deed conveyance from the distant Boyd heirs in March 1862; another explanation for the site and construction of Oak Hall has not come to view.

Newcomb's sale of Oak Hall to James Bunce came nearly a year after he had leased the Newburgh mines. It is probable that he spent considerable time in both Cannelton and Newburgh during the next 4 years. Even as he bought Wales's share of the partnership in July 1874, he was looking to retirement. The Cannelton Reporter of 1 August 1874 observed "that Capt. D. Newcomb has given up the idea of removing from Cannelton."

Through all his large-scale coal dealings Newcomb maintained his interest in the Cotton Mill, serving as president of the board after the death of his older brother until he resigned in December 1880. On 12 May 1881 it was announced that he had sold his entire interest to Mill Treasurer George C. Buchanan of Louisville, Ky.

The building still called "The Newcomb Place" was purchased by Newcomb on 22 June 1881. It had been built on Third street next to St. Luke's Church by Charles H. Mason in 1867-68. John C. Shoemaker purchased it in June 1875 from Mason and the Sheriff; Newcomb purchased it from the Shoemaker family.

Newcomb resided here until his death on 4 July 1892, leaving it to his nephew, H. Victor Newcomb. Shortly after the will was probated on 18 August 1892, the latter sold it to Samuel L. Sulzer on 21 September 1892. Sulzer's daughter, Maude, signed an agreement to sell it to the Knights of Columbus in late April 1924 and soon completed the transaction. The K of C sold it to the Cannelton School System in late summer 1935. Today one front room serves as the School Superintendent's Office.