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IRA STILLMAN, INVENTOR



An antique roller washing machine, several items of vintage clothing, and old newspaper clippings and family writings, recently donated to the Almond Historical Society by the family of the late Ira B. Stillman, have given us a glimpse into life in Almond in the l800’s.


Ira’s great-granddaughter, Jeannette Drake, who has moved from Wellsville to make her home near her daughter, Emelyn Olson, in Erie, PA, presented the items for preservation at the Hagadorn House this summer. The Defiance washer, ca. 1870, was invented and manufactured by Mr. Stillman, who spent years as a traveling salesman going by horse and buggy as far away as Rhode Island and Illinois, selling his wares. The heading from a page of his account book reads thus: “Hornellsville, New York June 20, 1874: Bought from Ira B. Stillman, Patentee and Manufacturer of Stillman’s Defiance Washer, Office and Factory, West Genesee Street.” Sales entered from March to June that year totaled more than 130 washers, indicating that this new appliance was probably very much welcomed by housewives of the day at an average cost of around $2.50 apiece.

Stillman’s unique business card is illustrated with a black and white drawing of the machine on the front, and lists these “Points of Superiority” on the back:
1st. It saves one-half the Labor and Time, several garments can be Washed at once.

2d. It will wash anything, from a Lace Curtain to a Carpet.

3d. Does not wear the clothes, thereby saving the price of the machine every year.

AGENTS WANTED in all parts of the United States, Ira B Stillman, Hornellsville,NY.

Family information, together with historical information gathered from the AHS website, indicates that Mr. Stillman was born in Homer, NY, in 1825. What brought him to this area is not clear, but the 1850 Almond census information shows his occupation, at age 25, as a pumpmaker. Again, from the 1869 Village of Almond map on the AHS website, his residence is shown on Angelica Street, across the street from the Baptist Church which once stood on Chapel Street directly at the end of the park (former DeLavergne home). His first wife, Jane Bush of Cohocton, died in 1849, little more than three years after they were married. Later he married Matilda Ostrander of Almond, and they had four children: Frank, a Class of 1894 graduate of Alfred University; Susie, who died at fourteen months of age; Mary Jane (Jennie) who with her mining engineer husband, Will Ross, went to Brazil to live in 1906, where she died in 1933; and Elva, from whom Mrs. Drake is descended.

Elva, born in Almond November 20, 1855, attended the old Riverside Collegiate-Institute in Wellsville from 1872-1874 and then taught school in Hornell where she met and married Frank Furman, a cashier at the Bank of Hornellsville (later Steuben Trust). To them was born a daughter, Bernice, who later became Mrs. Carroll Sturtevant of Wellsville, mother of Mrs. Drake and grandmother of Emelyn. Among the papers they have donated to AHS include Bernice’s written memories of Almond in the late 1800’s, excerpts of which follow:

“My first recollection of Almond, New York, was a very long Main Street, a back street, and several cross streets. One end of Main Street towards Hornell was called Lower Battery and the other end was called the Upper Battery. On the farthest end of the Lower Battery was the DeBow Blacksmith Shop where oxen were shod as well as horses. There was Ostrander’s Wagon Shop (horse power), Angel’s General Store, where potash was made in the rear of the store. There was Curtiss Harness Shop, John Riley Tavern, the Arcade Building (former hardware store at the corner of Karrdale and Main across from Hagadorn House). There was the Henry Crandall Dry Goods Store, and the Presbyterian Church. The Methodist Church was on a side street. About the middle of town was the saloon, meat market, Dixon Drug Store, and Dart’s Dry Goods. Then Corey Handmade Shoe Store, DeBow Dry Goods, and the Baptist Church were in the back of the park. Three gristmills were Halsey, Hallock, and Rawson. The four blacksmith shops were DeBone, Ball, Freeman, and Busby. The Richardson Shoe Factory had 20 men employed (Fenner/Baker store and now Coslo’s) and Isaac Rawson had the mowing machine factory and the George Howell Hotel.

“A select school was started in Almond with Miss Wright (later Mr. L. S. Anderson) as the first teacher. Later money was raised for a school and Mrs. B. C. Rudd and Ira B. Stillman (her grandfather) solicited funds all over the area and a building was bought and called the ‘Bee Hive.’ B. C. Rudde was the first professor, and the school was quite a success. Professor Gilson was another professor. Music and gym were started in an empty store. Later Rev. Llewellen Davies taught in Almond. He was a great student of the Bible. He taught at Lima Seminary and died in Hallsport, New York.”

Bernice further recalls this story: “The following is a description of a minister that started a church quarrel. It soon became a village affair and all took sides. So many became disgusted that they moved to Hornellsville, taking the principal industries with them such as the Richardson Shoe Factory, and the Rawson Mowing Machine Shops. Famed Tenny’s Band also moved to Hornellsville.”

Whether for the same reason or not, Ira also moved to Hornell, where he apparently set up his manufacturing business on West Genesee Street and lived on Maple Street. Promoting and marketing his invention took him considerable distances, according to two letters furnished by family members. One, written September 13, 1878 to his wife and family from Westerly, RI, invites Matilda to join him as soon as he could collect one hundred dollars for machines. “You better look out the cloth for Frank’s clothes (their 11-year old son) so Elva can get it and have them made after you leave, as I want you to be ready for a start on short notice if I can get the money there in time to come this week. ..”, he writes, promising to meet her in New York at the Cosmopolitan Hotel near the landing of the ferry boat. “When you get this let me know if you can leave on one day’s notice,” indicating his strong desire to be reunited with his family while on the road. He went on to tell about visiting several cousins, old acquaintances and schoolmates in the Westerly area, and promised to “hold in store a good time for you which I hope you will enjoy, and I don’t think you can help it.”

The other letter, written to Elva on June 14, 1882 by her 57-year old father from Sterling, Illinois, is in response to her letter of thanks for the gift of furniture given to her by her dad. Ira writes back to her: “Nothing does me more good or gives me more pleasure of my very much loved wife and children, and I would like to be prospered so I could gratify their every wish. I believe it would give me more pleasure than it would them, my heart is bound up in my family and nothing but necessity to further the interests of my business would induce me to travel another year hoping by so doing to increase the happiness of my loved ones at home. It is very lonely for me and much more so when I think of your mother in her feeble health and the lonely house she has to spend,” he laments. “Then to think of Jennie so soon to take her departure to a distant land it seems as though I could never endure it, but the strongest ties must be severed by distance or otherwise, such is life, mine has been filled with joy and happiness in the bosom of my family, with toil and anxiety when away, a heart filled to overflowing with hope for better things in the future, never looking upon the dark side (if I did no one knew it) of anything an indomitable will power that will not allow me to give up until I can see to a certainty an opportunity of bettering my condition and that of my family. But I do so hope the time may speedily come that I can settle down in a home business and take life more to my liking with those that are near and dear to me. . .” he reflects.

That desire must have been fulfilled, because in 1886, the Stillmans moved to Wellsville where their daughter, Elva, and family lived, and built a home at 115 Maple Avenue, also later living 22 S. Highland Street. “He always kept a nice team of horses and loved to drive around and call on relatives,” Mrs. Drake writes in her description of her great-grandfather. After living in Wellsville for many years and celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in 1902, the couple moved to Springville the next year to make their home with Elva and Frank.

Ira, inventor, manufacturer, and traveling salesman, and his wife, Matilda, lived with them until their early 80’s and are buried in the family plot in Woodlawn cemetery, Wellsville. Their connection with Almond apparently remained strong, inspiring their descendants to bequeath irreplaceable family memorabilia to us for safekeeping.