Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fox Conner

I dote on Ralph E. Luker's postings to the history blog called Cliopatria and while visiting there I happened upon a link to a book review by Jonathan Yardley. Yardley is always worth reading and this piece is as good as most. It's his review of Jean Edward Smith's new book on Dwight Eisenhower and in it he happens to mention the military officers who mentored Eisenhower during the two decades following his 1915 graduation from West Point. The name of one of these men caught my eye because it's the name of an uncle of my brother's wife.

I remember the uncle as owner of a smallish manufacturing plant which, from the 1930s through the '60s, produced a humane animal trap called Havahart™. I remembered two other facts: (1) the traps were invented by an eccentric German who sold the patent to the uncle sometime before WWII and (2) after the outbreak of that war, the uncle switched production from traps to a military item: liners for the fuel tanks of armored vehicles.

A bit of research shows both these facts to be true.

I also have a vague memory of the old brick factory where the traps and liners were made, located in Ossining right next door to the village in which I had been raised. Though I'm uncertain I actually saw it, there's no doubt about the existence of the place. Having begun as a plant for making a patent medicine called Brandreth's Pills and having been turned to other uses in the next 150 years or so, it now stands unkempt and empty.

This image shows the office building with the factory structures behind.

{The photo was taken from the west, or river, side of the property; caption: Buildings of the former Brandreth Pill Factory complex in Ossining, NY, USA source: wikipedia}

This is what the main factory buildings look like.

{Taken from the north, this shows part of the office and two of the Brandreth factory buildings; source:}[1]

This river-side view of the property comes from a certificate awarding the right to sell Brandreth Pills in Italy. It is dated 1863. The base of the copula still exists but there are only a few indistinct remains of the Greek-revival portico seen up the hill at right. The buildings are located on a cove of the Hudson River with the New York Central Railroad (indicated by smoke from a locomotive chimney) and Haverstraw Bay (indicated by distant hills) shown on the horizon. There is some artistic license taken. The cove was somewhat smaller than shown and the buildings are shown facing the wrong direction. They faced the river to the west, not, as shown, south toward the hamlets of Sing Sing and Sparta. The building at center is the original factory; at right is an office, and the hill-side structures are a "summer house" (with copula) and residence (with columned portico).[2]

{Detail from a Brandreth certificate of agency of 1863; source: Westchester Archives}

This detail from an 1868 property atlas shows the cove and orientation of the buildings. Click to view full size. Most of the factory structures are shown top left. There is one by the train tracks at river side and the remaining Brandreth buildings are office, store house, stable and residences.[3]

{Detail from Singsing, Town of Ossining, Westchester Co., N.Y. (Atlas of New York and vicinity by F.W. Beers published by Beers, Ellis & Soule, New York, 1868); source: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection}

This satellite image shows the area as it is now. The two residences that I've marked are both modern buildings built roughly on the location of the original ones. The building marked "Office" dates from 1838 and is the first factory building on the site. It is labeled "Pill Fact." on the 1863 atlas. The buildings I call "Pill and Plaster Factory Bldgs" were built in the next couple of decades and are called "Drug Mill & Plaster Manufactury" on the atlas.[4]

{source: Google}

This photo shows the property from out on the river to the west. The "Pill and Plaster Factory Bldgs" are directly behind the white structure at left. The "office" is along the shore at right. Other structures are hidden by the trees. The church seen mid-right is the one where the factory owners and their families attended services.

{The Brandreth property seen from the river; source:}

The uncle's name was Fox Conner as was the name of Eisenhower's mentor, and the one was son to the other — Fox Brandreth Conner, son of Fox Conner. Fox Conner was General Pershing's chief of staff. There's much to be read about him, and if you're interested, the wikipedia article on him is a good place to start. There's also a book on him, Grey Eminence: Fox Conner and the Art of Mentorship by Edward Cox (New Forums Press, 2010).

The factory that Fox Brandreth Conner ran has an interesting history.

The first factory building was put up in 1836 on property purchased from Oliver Cromwell Field, a direct descendant of the Lord Protector.[5] Field's house, on a promontory called Spring Hill, became the residence of the new owner, Benjamin Brandreth. You can read a concise history of Benjamin Brandreth and his family here (pdf). His grandfather invented Brandreth's Pills in Leeds, England, and Benjamin brought the business first to New York City and then to the land he'd bought from Field. The pills were a powerful vegetable-based purgative. A great-great grandfather of Fox Brandreth Conner, Benjamin was one of America's first advertising geniuses. His entrepreneurial ability made them just about universally known in their time. An astute businessman, he succeeded in acquiring and preserving a considerable fortune. In his book, Humbugs of the World P.T. Barnum describes Brandreth's early success:
"Great and reasonable as might have been the faith of Dr. Brandreth in the efficacy of his pills, his faith in the potency of advertising them was equally strong. ... Column upon column of advertisements appeared in the newspapers, in the shape of learned and scientific pathological dissertations, the very reading of which would tempt a poor mortal to rush for a box of Brandreth's Pills; so evident was it (according to the advertisement) that nobody ever had or ever would have "pure blood," until from one to a dozen boxes of the pills had been taken as "purifiers." The ingenuity displayed in concocting these advertisements was superb, and was probably hardly equaled by that required to concoct the pills.

No pain, ache, twinge, or other sensation, good, bad, or indifferent, ever experienced by a member of the human family, but was a most irrefragable evidence of the impurity of the blood; and it would have been blasphemy to have denied the "self-evident" theory, that " all diseases arise from impurity or imperfect circulation of the' blood, and that by purgation with Brandreth's Pills all disease may be cured." The doctor continued to let his advertising keep pace with his patronage; and he was finally, in the year 1836, compelled to remove his manufactory to Sing Sing, where such perfectly incredible quantities of Brandreth's Pills have been manufactured and sold that it would hardly be safe to give the statistics. Suffice it to say, that the only "humbug" which I suspect in connection with the pills was, the very harmless and unobjectionable yet novel method of advertising them; and as the doctor amassed a great fortune by their manufacture, this very fact is prima facie evidence that the pill was a valuable purgative.
In 1848 Brandreth purchased rights to a sticking plaster for relieving aches and pains: Allcock's Porous Plasters for Lumbago and All Pains. This too he heavily advertised and it was said to be so beneficial that the only problem its users faced was in removing the thing once it had done its work. Over the next century Brandreth and his successors added to the list of manufactured goods produced in the factory buildings: (1) ammunition-box liners for the military during World War I, (2) nail polish (3) mannequins, (4) cell forms for bulletproof fuel tanks during World War II, (5) an ersatz coffee, and (6) a fiberglass boat, the Swallow Model Adirondack Guideboat.

This lithograph was made just prior to the time Brandreth built his first factory building. The artist is standing on high land in the hamlet of Sing Sing, later to become the village of Ossining. The view is to the north west and Oliver Cromwell Field's property, where Brandreth will build, is out of sight, over the hill at center. The neck of land jutting into the Hudson is Croton Point. This part of the river is called Haverstraw Bay. The small peak pointed skyward on the horizon is High Tor, where Rip Van Winkle fell asleep.

{Caption: Sing-Sing or Mount Pleasant, lithograph by Jacques Gérard Milbert, Jacques, from: Itineraire pittoresque du fleuve Hudson et des parties laterales de l'Amerique du Nord, d'apres les dessins originaux pris sur les lieux. Source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

This painting shows Haverstraw Bay in 1839 with the artist standing in Sing Sing looking south and west. By this time Brandreth had built his first factory but it and the Field residence are out of sight to our right.

{The artist is W.H. Bartlett; source:}

This 1885 ad for the pills and the porous plasters shows Haverstraw Bay looking southwest from the river-side factory. The boy has one of the plasters on his back.

{source: wikipedia}

Here are some testimonial-style advertisements from the New York Tribune in 1871. Notice the willingness of officials to help promote what was then a place where many of the village's young women and not a few of its men found work.

{The Tribune almanac and political register edited by Horace Greeley (The Tribune Association, 1871)}

This detail from a property atlas shows the factory structures and residences as of 1893. H.C. Symonds was a member of the Brandreth clan. The house was labeled "Mrs. Brandreth" on earlier maps. I suspect that Miss J. Van Wyck was one as well. Her house was labeled "P.G. Van Wyck" on earlier maps. The original factory building is here labeled "Store House".

{Atlas: Sing Sing by Julius Bien & Co., 1893: source: David Rumsey Map Collection}

This larger view shows the growth of the village in the 60 years since Brandreth first moved there.

I haven't forgotten that it was the humane traps which first attracted my interest in the factory. This ad for it appeared in 1962.

As I say, Ossining is next door to the village where I was raised and I've consequently done some blog posts in which it figures. Here are some links: --------

Some sources:

“Eisenhower in War and Peace” by Jean Edward Smith a review by Jonathan Yardley, February 6, 2012

"Brandreth Pills" in Brother Jonathan: A weekly compend of belles lettres and the fine arts, standard literature, and general intelligence Horatio Hastings Weld, John Neal, George M. Snow, Edward Stephens (Wilson & Company, 1842)

Brandreth Pills in The Humbugs of the World, An Account of Humbugs, Delusions, Impositions, Quackeries, Deceits and Deceivers Generally, in All Ages, by P. T. Barnum (1866)

Ossining's Historic Brandreth Pill Factory, Ossining's Brandreth Pill factory gained its National Register designation in 1980 because of its connection with Dr. Benjamin Brandreth, by former Ossining Mayor Miguel Hernandez in Ossining Patch

Benjamin Brandreth on

EPN Real Estate Services to complete Hidden Cove on the Hudson, New England Real Estate Journal, January 8, 2008, an article about proposed development of the property

Hidden Cove on the Hudson, documents related to proposed development of the property for upscale housing

Draft Environmental Impact Statement Hidden Cove on the Hudson (pdf), one of the documents

Archaeological Assessment Hidden Cove on the Hudson (pdf) another of the documents

When Sing Sing Was a 'Model' Prison March 19, 2009, in Postscripts, an online magazine offering a pastiche of articles on current affairs, history, technics, opinion, writing, advice, humor and trivia.

Purgation Unlimited James Harvey Young, in The Toadstool Millionaires: A Social History of Patent Medicines in America before Federal Regulation

Brandreth Pill Factory Documents, 1863-1900

The Tribune almanac and political register edited by Horace Greeley (The Tribune Association, 1871)

Archaeological Assessment and Field Investigation, Hidden Cove Development, Brandreth Pill Factory, Village Of Ossining, Westchester County, New York (pdf)

"A Most Mephitic Mystery" by venta Belgarum in The Sandisfield Times, Vol. 1, No. 5, August 2010

Brandreth's Pills in Historical Images of the Drug Market, Medical Collectors Association Newsletter, December 22, 2000

Allcock's Porous Plasters by Caroline Rance on October 16th, 2009

Œuvres complètes d'Alexis de Tocqueville (M. Lévy frères, 1865)

Fiberglass Adirondack Guideboat in Boats and Boating in the Adirondacks by Hallie E. Bond (Syracuse University Press, 1998)

Gen Fox Conner on

Thomas Allcock on

Benjamin Brandreth on wikipedia

Thomas Allcock on wikipedia


DEATH OF G.A. BRANDRETH.; Head of a Well-Known Manufacturing Company and Prominent in the Affairs of His Town, New York Times, November 16, 1897


Dr. Brandreth Symonds, New York Times, August 26, 1905

DEATH OF G.A. BRANDRETH.; Head of a Well-Known Manufacturing Company and Prominent in the Affairs of His Town, New York Times, November 16, 1897

Conner -- Brandreth, New York Times, June 5, 1902

Paid Notice: Deaths CONNER, FOX BRANDRETH, New York Times, July 19, 2000
Extract: "CONNER, FOX BRANDRETH - Fox Brandreth Conner of Ossining died on July 17, 2000, at the Arden Hill Nursing Home in Goshen, NY. He was 95. Mr. Conner was born June 23, 1905, at Fort Hamilton Army Base in Brooklyn, NY. He was the son of Major General Fox Conner, Chief of Operations for the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War I, and Virginia Brandreth Conner. Mr. Conner married Muriel Macpherson in 1927. She died on September 12, 1986. ... In 1929, he joined the family business, the Allcock Manufacturing Company, in Ossining. ... In the 1930s, the company began producing Havahart traps, humane traps that capture animals alive and unhurt. Mr. Conner became President of the company in 1945 and began to focus exclusively on manufacturing Havahart traps, which became the country's most popular humane animal traps, sold in the United States and overseas. ... Mr. Conner was an avid fisherman and outdoor sportsman, spending much of his time at the family seasonal residence in the Adirondack Mountains at Brandreth Park, NY. He enjoyed gardening and reading, and was an accomplished wood sculptor. ... "

Brandreth Pill Factory
Extract: "During the later years of the 19th century and the early 20th, the factory began to diversify its operations in response to increasing federal regulation of the patent-medicine industry. Among the new products were ammunition-box liners for the military during World War I. ... Franklin Brandreth stepped down in 1928 and was replaced by his grandson Fox Brandreth Conner. By then the domestic market for the pills it had once manufactured in abundance was gone. ...In 1940 the company sold the buildings at the southern end of the property to the Gallowhur corporation, which used them to make insect repellent and suntan lotion. The rights to the pill formula were also sold off after World War II. Brandreth's company, under the Allcock name, continued its manufacturing operations in the 1870s complex until 1979. They were later used by the Filex Corporation, a maker of steel office furniture."



[1] Jaime Martorano and Abandoned New York have made available excellent, though fiercely protected, photo sets of the factory complex.

[2] Here is the full certificate.


[3] Notice that one local resident bears the name Conner: "Jas. Conner" lives in a house on Snowden Ave. (top right of image). I don't know anything about the man but there may be a connection with the Conner family which eventually took over management of the Brandreth factory. It's also interesting to see a member of the Van Wyck family on the Brandeth property. The house of "P.G. Van Vyk" at Grove Hill is just east of the office and store house and somewhat north of Mrs. Brandreth's residence.

[4] Notice that there is a Van Wyck St. pointing south west toward the Van Wyck property. An atlas of 1893 shows "Miss J. Van Wyck" to be owner of this place. It also shows that the house of Mrs. Brandreth then belonged to a "H.C. Symonds". Symonds was a member of the Brandreth family.

[5] Alexis de Tocqueville once visited Oliver Cromwell Field at his home in Sing Sing: "Singsing, 31 mai 1831. Il y a à Singsing un vieillard qui se rappelle avoir vu les Indiens établis dans 'ce lieu. Le nom même de Singsing est tiré du nom d'un chef indien. On nous montre une maison où demeure un descendant d'Olivier Cromwell."

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