NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Alonzo J. Mansfield, 1824-1908

COURTESY NIAGARA HISTORY CENTERThis map from the 1908 Niagara County Atlas shows the Mansfield Glass Works on both sides of Green Street, Lockport, in 1908. 

 

Last week, Niagara Discoveries looked at the life of Orange Mansfield, resident of the town of Clarence and the town of Lockport. Mansfield and his first wife, Marian, had four children, the third child and second son being Alonzo. He was born on his family’s farm in Clarence in 1824. His mother died in 1831 and Orange married Mary Underwood and had three more children.

In 1848, Alonzo and his father moved to Rapids in the town of Lockport and the younger Mansfield established a farm on Wisterman Road alongside Tonawanda Creek. He married Mariette Lincoln of Clarence and they had two children, Orange in 1850, and Betsey in 1854. For 10 years, Alonzo and his father operated a saw mill on the creek at Rapids until he moved to the village of Lockport to take a job as a constable in that municipality.

In 1859, Alonzo and his wife were living at 57 Main St., between Elm and Charles streets, where Mariette operated “Mrs. Mansfield’s Millinery Establishment” until about 1863. That year, Alonzo Mansfield was appointed assistant assessor with the U.S. Internal Revenue Office, a position he held until 1872, when he purchased the Lockport Glass Works.

By the time Mansfield bought the manufactory, the Glass Works had already been in existence for almost 30 years. It was started on Gooding and Grand streets in 1843 by Twogood & Company. After being acquired by George W. Hildreth and Company in 1845, the factory was moved to Green Street between North Transit and Hawley streets. The new owner erected buildings on the new site, one which burned to the ground less than a week later, in the first of many fires that would plague the property.

Although the company used Hildreth’s name, the largest share was held by A. T. Webber, who died in 1850. His interest in the company was then sold to Francis Hitchins, a canal contractor and owner of the large stone house at Summit and State streets. Three years later, Hitchins bought out the other interests in the company, including Hildreth’s, and operated the business until 1866. That year, the “Lockport Glass Manufacturing Company” was incorporated with five new trustees controlling 150 shares in the company. This arrangement lasted a short time, and the Glass Works were again sold, this time to S. B. Rowley of Philadelphia, in 1869. Rowley invested heavily in the operation, expanding the property and modernizing the equipment and the glass-making process. Despite this, he too sold out to Alonzo J. Mansfield in 1872.

At the time Mansfield took over the ownership of the Glass Works, it was employing 115 men, women, boys and girls of all ages and skill levels, from professional glass-blowers to packers, and produced approximately 6,000 fruit jars a day. This continued steadily until 1878, when a major fire destroyed almost every building on the property except the factory itself. Despite not being insured, Mansfield decided to not only rebuild but enlarge and improve the operations.

After the fire, by using newer equipment and techniques, the work force was decreased while output increased. By 1881, 75 workers were producing about 8,500 jars daily. According to an article in the Lockport Daily Journal that year, “The products of the factory, which are sold almost exclusively in the West, have amounted on an average for the past year to $10,000 a month. It costs for labor and materials to carry on this vast business about $275 per day, or $1,500 per week.” Mansfield stated that, “he could have sold nearly double the above amount [of jars] if he had them.”

In 1883, Alonzo's wife Mariette died and he later married Martha Rogers. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Lockport in 1885 and also served on the Police Board and the Board of Education.

Over the years, the Glass Works would be hit with strikes due to the poor working conditions involved in glass making and disagreements over how much wages should be paid, but these disputes were usually resolved quickly and production resumed. By 1900, competition was increasing, particularly from recently opened glass factories in the western part of the country. In 1904, the company was reorganized as the “Mansfield Glass Works” with a new board of directors but a reduction in capital. The new corporation planned to increase efficiency at the Lockport location and build a new factory in Hamilton, Ontario, to serve the Canadian market. That factory was never built. Four years later, the Mansfield Glass Works in Lockport went out of business. Although no official reason was given, it is believed that increasing competition, outdated equipment and insufficient capital were to blame.

Alonzo J. Mansfield died on Feb. 1, 1908, within days of his business closing, at the age of 83. He is buried in Glenwood Cemetery with his first wife, Mariette, and his son Orange, who had drowned in 1866.

Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.