Morell Newton would be remembered fondly as a “generous and sympathetic friend” who had dozens of close friends. He was charitable and kind, and he did not turn away if he could help someone. Deeply religious and active in church life, Newton was happy to bring others into the fold. His wife, Christina A. Lewis, was also active in church and had a bustling social life. The newspaper often reported that Mrs. M.M. Morell visited friends or relatives, that she had measles, and even how she experienced a debilitating fall from an omnibus. As busy as Morell was with his business, he and Christina found time to visit St. Louis and to attend the World’s Fair in Chicago the year before tragedy struck the family.
On May 19, 1845, in the small town of Pharsalia, in nearby Chenango County, Morell M. Newton was born to Miles and Louise Crumb Newton. The Newton family had four children, and Morell would receive his education at the common schools of Pharsalia and at the Norwich Academy. Upon the completion of his education, Newton taught school in both Pitcher and Otselic for a few years, after which time he became employed at the woolen mill of George L. Crandall in Pitcher. After two years of saving his money and building his experience in the woolen goods manufacturing business, he became a partner, and the firm became Crandall & Newton. A series of changing partnerships ensued over the next several years, until the death of Newton’s last business partner in 1876. For the next six years, he continued as the sole proprietor of the woolen business until a fire destroyed the mill in 1882.
At this time, Morell Newton moved to Homer and started a new woolen manufacturing business at the old stone mill out on the corner of Clinton Street and West Road. The old stone mill had been built in 1834, and part of its existence was spent as a flax mill operated by John L. Boorum. For about three years, Newton operated the business alone before he sold one-half interest in the firm to his brother, Devaulson D. Newton. The two brothers embarked on an extraordinarily successful partnership. For the next decade or so, Morell and Devaulson would build a reputable and respected business that would increase in size and contribute handsomely to the prosperity of the town of Homer. Several times, the factory went through expansions to increase production and often employed around 100 workers at any given time. The Homer Republican reported on January 19, 1893 that the last week’s sales for M.M. Newton & Bro. had reached $1,036. In today’s money, which would be $35,309!
Tragically, while inspecting equipment in the facility on March 27, 1894, Morell Newton became caught in a shaft and was killed in his own factory. He left behind his wife Christina and their sixteen-year-old son Lynn to mourn his sudden death at just 51 years of age. Three years later, Christina would die from heart failure at 52 years old, and Lynn was to meet his death in 1906. At 24 years old, Lynn died of tuberculosis at the State Hospital in Binghamton.
After the death of his brother, Devaulson Newton would continue the business with three other gentlemen. The woolen mill continued to do well financially, and Devaulson’s sons, Jesse and Dan joined the family business. The business expanded, and Newton Line was one of the resulting developments. Newton shirts were sold in stores like Abercrombie & Fitch and worn by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and those who accompanied him on African expeditions. The shirts were featured in magazines such as Field & Stream and Esquire. Later, when the company had changed hands and was called Wool Wear (with Jesse Newton as president of the company), the business churned out wool blankets to help the war effort.
Despite such a successful operation, tragedy would shadow this family business. In addition to the fire that destroyed Morell Newton’s original mill in Pitcher and his tragic death at the mill in Homer, the Newton Brothers business would experience two additional fires, one in 1906 and one in 1936. There was a death that resulted from the fire of 1906. Frank G. Babcock, the foreman of the carding department, died several days after the conflagration from the burns he sustained.
Morell Newton’s death and both the 1906 and 1936 fires occurred in March, leading some to say that March was an unlucky month for the Newton family. It should be noted that fires in factories were common before increased safety measures became the norm, and homes were frequently at risk as well.
Morell, Christina, and Lynn Newton are all at rest in Glenwood Cemetery. Time marches on, but we pause to remember their lives and contributions to the community.
~ Tabitha Scoville, Cortland County Historical Society Director