Was Born in the Town of Danby—Made a Fortune in the Lumber Business
Danby, July 22 — Silas L. Griffith who is well known all over the State of Vermont, died at his California home, ”The Palms,” located near San Diego, yesterday afternoon at 5 o’clock after a few months illness.
Silas L. Griffith was born June 26, 1837, in the town of Danby, his parents being David and Sophia Griffith, and is the second born of their family of four children, the others being Charles H., William B. and Mary, all of whom are at the homestead of their late parents in Danby.
Mr. Griffith attended the district school at Danby until about 16 years of age, when he entered the employ of Lapham & Bruce as clerk in their general store at Danby, and continued in their employ for two years. He then accepted a clerkship in the store of P. D. Ames at East Dorset, where he remained a year, when he relinquished the position to enter upon a term of school in Kimball Union Academy at Meriden, N. H.
In September, 1858, Mr. Griffith opened a store at Danby with $1000, which was loaned him. In 1861 Mr. Griffith built the store in which he did business under the name of S. L. Griffith & Co., until 1865, when he sold out the business to his brothers, C. H. and W. B. Griffith, to devote his entire efforts to the lumber business. At that time he was operating at North Dorset, on some timber land which lie had been fixed to take in order to liquidate an indebtedness.
He continued in the lumber business till 1872, when he commenced the manufacture of charcoal, making a contract at that time with Barnum, Richardson & Co. of Lime Rock, Conn., which called for 1,000,000 bushels of charcoal at 13 1/4 cents per bushel on board the cars at Danby station. This contract was subsequently increased by the sale to Senator Barnum for the Lime Rock Iron Co. of 1,250,000 bushels, when the price was changed to 13 1/4 cents per bushel for both contracts. After receiving about 500,000 bushels both of the Connecticut concerns refused to receive any more coal giving as a reason that Mr. Griffith’s coal was not up to contract as to quality, when, in reality, the reason was that charcoal pig iron had dropped in price from $65 to $40 per ton, and they could not pay the contract price.
A settlement was made. Mr. Griffith then returned to the lumber business and has since continued in that line.
Mr. Griffith owned interests in Peru, Arlington, Dorset, Manchester, South Wallingford and other surrounding towns. At the time of his death Mr. Griffith owned over 50,000 acres of land.
There were 63 employees on his payroll. Mr. Griffith had six stores and a meat market in Danby and other towns and ran boarding houses where his help could board cheaper than at other places but they were not obligate to board at the house or trade at his stores unless… Griffith’s valuable ideas in the lumber business was the employment of specially constructed saws for the cutting down of trees, instead of the old way of chopping them down. The sawing method was first introduced in Mr. Griffith’s works, but it proved of so much time saving value that it was soon adopted in all parts of the country.
Mr. Griffith several years ago put in a splendid system of water supply, bringing the health-giving liquid from the “Grady spring,” situated some two miles distant from the village, at a cost of some $12,000, and giving to all who so desired an abundance of pure, cool spring water. Mr Griffith did much in…the village of Danby.
SILAS GRIFFITH’S LUMBER JOBS EMPLOYED HUNDREDS OF MEN
BY MARY GILBERT SMITH.
“He never tried to be anything that he wasn’t,” said an old- friend, speaking of Silas Griffith of Danby, who died in 1903 at the age of 66. He was just himself.” Which really was a full-time job!
When he was a small boy his father sent him and his two brothers into a field to pick up stones and promised to pay each of them a certain sum for his rock-pile. When he went out to inspect their work each of the two brothers had one big pile but Silas had made a dozen little ones. “A pile is a pile,” he declared, and demanded pay accordingly.
He began work in a Danby store at the age of 16, and later had a store of his own. He became a lumberman under compulsion because of timber lands that he had to accept as payment on debts. Several years passed before he took lumbering as his real vocation and kept stores only to supply his men.
His first big venture was in charcoal. He secured a contract to supply a big Connecticut firm for a year, and enlarged his facilities accordingly. Then the price of charcoal dropped, and the firm attempted to cancel the contract. Griffith remonstrated to no avail. Then he went to New York, secured the backing of a wealthy cousin and held the Connecticut firm to their contract—which made a difference of $80,000 in his finances and set him on his way as one of Vermont’s big business men.
Eventually he had 30 brick kilns, each of which made 45 cords of wood into charcoal every twenty days. He had men working on twelve lumber jobs in Mount Tabor, Stratton, Sunderland, Peru, Dorset, Danby, Groton and Orange and two hundred horses and eighty oxen of his own were at work drawing logs and lumber with farmers’ teams to help them when work was pressing. At the “Old Job” alone there were two boarding houses, twenty family houses, a store, a school and a post office.
Many of his men worked on the canal in the summertime, and came from Fort Edward when the water began to freeze. Others came from New York brick yards when the summer work there was ended. The steadiest workers were Canadian farmers who came in the fall and returned to their homes in April.
These French-Canadians never wanted to draw their pay until they returned to their farms. They got their board and any other necessities at the camp, but let their money accumulate until April. Then they each had a lump sum with which to make a payment on the mortgage or buy some stock for the farm.
One of the first three or four telephone lines in the state was installed by Griffith between his house in Danby and the store at the “Old Job.” At that time even Rutland had no telephone. This private line was later extended until it comprised 65 miles of wire and 13 instruments. The transmitter had not yet been invented. The mouthpiece served also as an earphone, and was shifted from mouth to ear.
One of Griffith’s executives thought to save this shifting; which often entailed the loss of a few words, by fitting each phone with two mouthpieces, one to be held to the mouth and the other to the ear. This idea was adopted by all the Griffith camps and used until the day of the transmitter.
These telephones enabled Griffith to keep in daily touch with all his camps, regardless of weather conditions. He called his men by name and always knew who was “bully” man in every camp.
In business matters he was noted for his quick decisions. “If I don’t buy it, someone else will,” he said, when urged by an associate to “think it over” before buying a certain piece of property. When he was going downstairs after buying it, he met a would-be purchaser coming up.
One day a railroad trestle at Hoosick burned down. Officials came on the afternoon train to ask Griffith how soon he could provide lumber for its rebuilding.
“A southbound passenger train leaves Danby station between 6 and 7 a. m.,” he said. “If you will give orders for it to take a freight car, I will have a car filled with lumber there for you, and send the rest just as fast as we can get it out.”
The lumber had to be sawed in large sizes, none of which were then on hand. But he telephoned directions for getting them out, and worked the mill night and day until the order was filled.
One of his hobbies was trout fishing. He spent $27,000 to build roads to Lake Griffith, and hired men to fish for him every spring to catch trout enough to keep it stocked. He maintained a hatchery at Danby for a time, but had to give it up because the water was not suitable for trout rearing.
He built a clubhouse at the lake where he delighted to entertain his friends. They were all invited to fish and catch all the trout they could eat, but were not supposed to carry any away. One guest who had lost both hands in an explosion was helped by Mr. Griffith and caught as big trout as anyone. “Something I thought I could never do again,” he said.
The “Boys’ Club,” an organization of local gray-beards, was taken to the clubhouse by Mr. Griffith every summer for a two day outing. Another summer day was given for a children’s outing. He also had a Christmas tree every year with gifts for all the children in Danby. This latter custom was perpetuated by his will, which left nearly a third of his estate for the welfare of his fellow-townsmen.
When he returned from a trip abroad, which included a visit to the Holy land, he was loaded with gifts not only for his family and friends but for his men. Many French and Italian families still cherish the receptacle in which “the boss” brought them holy water from the River Jordan.