GEORGE SYKES.  The life of George Sykes, a manufacturer of Rockville, and at this time the president of three large manufacturing corporations of a city in which he has dwelt for upward of a third of a century, and which he has aided very materially in developing from a village into one of the busiest industrial centers in New England, furnishes to the ambitious youth of to-day an example of what can be accomplished in the line of energy, industry and integrity.

Born April 4, 1840, in Honley, near Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England, Mr. Sykes is a son of John Sykes (son of Joseph) and his wife Harriet Durrans (daughter of Thomas), who came to America about 1851.  In his youth and early manhood John Sykes had been taught woolen manufacture in all its branches, a business in which he was employed, near Huddersfield, until he came to America.  After coming to the United States, he entered the mills of E.S. Hall & Co., of Millville, Mass., a firm, which then and for many years afterward enjoyed the highest reputation as manufacturers of fancy cassimeres.  After some years Mr. Sykes removed to North Adams, where he died at the age of eighty-seven years, his wife dying in that place at the age of seventy-six, both respected in the community.  Their family of boys became citizens of the type that few parents are permitted to take pride in.  The mechanical skill of the father was inherited, the pious teaching of the mother also bore fruit, and New England profited by the presence of this little English family whose members would have been a credit to any community.  While Mr. Sykes supported the Republican party, he took no active part in politics, although he was much interested, a constant reader of the New York Tribune, and a great admirer of its noted editor, Horace Greeley, until the latter’s unfortunate candidacy for the Presidency.  Although he was well qualified, he would never accept political office, but could argue a point and enjoyed doing so for what he considered right.  He was a mechanic, and a superior one, and his intellect was such as, under other circumstances, would have made of him a leader of men.  Socially he was connected with the order of Foresters, and both he and his wife were devoted members of the Episcopal Church.

Mr. And Mrs. Sykes had children as follows:  (1) George, whose name opens these lines, was the eldest.  Of the others,  (2) Thomas W. married Miss Jennie Bond, of North Adams, and has three children, Carrie Bond, Bertha and Mattie (now Mrs. Herbert Lewis).  (3) Elizabeth is a resident of North Adams, Mass.  (4) James T., whose death occurred at Rockville on Nov. 19, 1894, at the early age of thirty-nine years, was from boyhood a resident of Rockville, where he was well and favorably known.  Born in 1855, at Millville, he came to Rockville at the age of fourteen and entered the mill of the Hockanum Co., familiarizing himself with the work of every department until he was made superintendent, a position he had filled for ten years before his decease.  His sturdy character and honesty of purpose in all things were greatly admired by the community.  His widow, formerly Hattie L. Vibbert, and one son, Elmer H. survive.  (5) David A.

Receiving a common school education, George Sykes at an early age entered, as a carding boy, the mill where his father was employed.  Both his grandfathers had been skilled workmen, in the line of woolen manufacture, one in the weaving, the other in the finishing department, and the knowledge of this, and of his father’s skill in the same line, in addition to the fact that his birth took place in a great manufacturing center, may have been something of an inspiration to the fourteen-year-old lad, creating the ambition that led to his great success in after years.  As he planned how best to use his first wages, $13 per month, he probably could never have dreamed of the changes the years would bring, nor of how many ciphers he could add to those first dollars as time passed by.

Possessing a natural aptitude for mechanical work, and giving his duties diligent attention, young Sykes passed from one branch of the industry to another, becoming a weaver, then loom-fixer, and later overseer in the weave-room.  Shortly after attaining his majority he went to Cavendish, Vt., to take charge of the weaving in the woolen mill at that point belonging to Frederick Fullerton & Co., and a year later, in 1864, was advanced to the superintendency of the mill.  This position he held until he came to Rockville, Conn., on Oct. 1, 1866.  Since that time Mr. Sykes has gradually widened his influence, steadily forging his way to the front rank of New England manufacturers and to a most enviable place among them.  During all these years he has been closely identified with the growth of Rockville as a manufacturing center, and has been allied with some of the largest corporations.  On coming to the village, in 1866, he became manager of the Hockanum Mill, and though he was but a young man of twenty-six, under his able conduct of the affairs of the company their goods became widely and favorably known in the market, and the name of the Hockanum Co. second to none in prominence among the manufacturers of New England.  What was known as the Saxony Mill, at Rockville, was bought and equipped by the Hockanum Co.  Mr. Sykes, in association with the late most highly esteemed George Maxwell, purchased the mill of the New England Manufacturing Co., whose business was established in 1836 by the late Allen Hammond and George Kellogg, re-organized it, and made it a joint-stock company, of which Mr. Maxwell was president until his death, in 1891.  Prosperity attended his efforts, and in 1886, opportunity offering for the purchase of the stock of the Springville Manufacturing Co., Mr. Sykes and his associates became the owners, the mill now being operated under the old charter.  The old mill was removed and on its site was erected a new one, which is considered one of the best equipped and most successful woolen mills of its kind in this country.  Of these three corporations Mr. Sykes is now president, having succeeded Mr. Maxwell as president of the New England Co.  The products of all these mills are fancy cassimeres and worsted goods for men’s wear.

The mills of the Hockanum Co. are the most extensive of the kind in Rockville.  With ten sets of cards and 162 broad looms the output is enormous.  The business was established in 1838, with two sets of woolen machinery for the manufacture of satinets, which were its product until 1858, when the manufacture of all-woolen fancy cassimeres  was commenced, and from that time on the aim of the company has been to make high-grade cassimeres as regards material, style and finish, the finest to be produced, for this purpose selecting the very best native and imported wool.  At the Vienna Exposition, in 1873, the company was awarded a medal for the superiority of its goods; in 1876, at the Centennial Exposition, an award was given the company; and at the World’s Columbian Exposition at Chicago, in 1892, the product of these mills was greatly admired by foreign experts and others, and an award was given on fancy cassimeres “for beautiful, fine and even spinning, excellent designs and beauty of finish,” and on worsteds “for beautiful new designs, splendid colorings and excellent finish.”  Henry Latzko, the Imperial Commissioner of Austria, a successful worsted manufacturer at Brunn, and one of the judges on textile exhibits, pronounced the goods of this company equal in every respect to the best made in Europe.  In the Paris Exposition of 1900 the three mills of which Mr. Sykes is president received three gold medals.  As a proof of the popularity of their superior goods it may be noted that the inaugural suit of President McKinley in 1897 was made exclusively and expressly in their establishment.

The Hockanum Co. has a capital of $300,000 and gives employment to 400 hands.  The New England Co. has a capital of $250,000, and operates nine sets of cards and 114 broad looms, and was established in 1836, under the firm name of Hammond & Kellogg.  In 1837 this company was incorporated with a capital stock of $31,000, for the manufacture of satinets, but in 1842 the product of the mill was changed to fancy cassimeres, for which Crompton looms were put in, and in 1879 the manufacture of worsted goods was commenced, these fabrics ranking among the best in the country.  This company gives employment to 350 people, and the mill has a capacity of 300,000 yards of material annually.  The Springville Company has a capital of $250,000, operates eight sets of cards and 135 broad looms, and employs 350 skilled operatives.  This company furnished the cloth for the inaugural of President Harrison, in 1889.

Mr. Sykes was married Sept. 2, 1864, to Sarah A. Fitton, a native of Northfield, Vt., born Nov. 6, 1844, daughter of James and Mary (Watson) Fitton, both of Lancashire, England, the former of whom was a manufacturer.  Mr. Fitton’s death occurred in England, but his body was brought to the United States and was buried at Cavendish, where his wife had died.  Children as follows have been born to Mr. And Mrs. Sykes:  Lizzie M., born at Cavendish, Vt., graduated from the Rockville high school, married Charles Bond, and they reside in Hartford.  Eva L., born in Rockville, graduated from the Rockville high school, and spent two years at Mrs. Brown’s School in New York; she married Everett J. Lake, and resides in Hartford, with two children, Harold Sykes and Marjorie Sykes.  Elsie E., born in Rockville, graduated from the Rockville high school, and in 1900 married Hon. Charles Phelps, of Rockville.  Bertha died at the age of eleven.  George Edmund is a member of the class of 1903, Yale University.

Mr. Sykes is a director of the Rockville National and Savings Banks; the Rockville Aqueduct Water Co., the Rockville Railroad Co., and for years has been a member of the National Association of Wool Manufacturers, for an extended time having been one of the executive members of that organization, and in 1898 becoming its vice-president.  In his political views he is a Republican, was a Presidential elector in 1892, and a delegate to the Republican convention at St. Louis in 1896, but has never accepted public office.  He was one of the commissioners from Connecticut at the World’s Fair in Chicago, 1893.

The family are all connected with the Union Congregational Church, where Mr. Sykes is most highly esteemed, and to the support of which he is a liberal contributor.  In 1893 he built his elegant mansion on the corner of Ellington avenue and Prospect street, in Rockville, where hospitality is dispensed with good taste, and without ostentation.  Socially Mr. Sykes is an interesting companion, his reading, experience and travel having given him a wide outlook over life.  Nineteen times has he crossed the Atlantic, and foreign shores are almost as familiar to him as his own, and although business responsibilities press upon him at all times he is never too occupied to do a kind action or to extend the helping hand to a worthy but less fortunate brother.

Reproduced by:

Linda D. Pingel


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