Charles Bristed Rockwell

Biography of Charles Bristed Rockwell, Jr.

Vice-president of the Collins and Aikman Corporation, operators of the Cranston Worsted Mills at Bristol, Rhode Island, Charles Bristed Rockwell, Jr., has succeeded his father as an executive of one of Bristol’s most important industrial enterprises. He was born at Cranston, Rhode Island, on October 15, 1889, son of Charles B. and Martha Briggs (Skerry) Rockwell, and member of an old New England family, descended directly, in the tenth generation, from Deacon William Rockwell, one of the three original selectmen of Dorchester, Massachusetts, in 1630. Later, Deacon William Rockwell moved to Windsor, Connecticut, where a branch of the family was seated for several generations, and finally moved to Winsted, Connecticut.

This family has produced many educators and jurists of note. Henry Ensign Rockwell, grandfather of Charles Bristed Rockwell, of this record, was in the Federal Government Service for many years, mainly as a commissioner of education. He left Yale University in his sophomore year to become principal of a high school, and later assumed the commissionership of the Fisheries Commission Station at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, before becoming commissioner of education.

Charles Bristed Rockwell, Sr., son of Henry Ensign and Enerette (Munson) Rockwell, was born at Winsted, Connecticut, on September 25, 1848, and died on May 10, 1929, in his eighty-first year. At the age of thirteen, during the period of the Civil War, he accompanied his father about his duties in the Quartermaster’s Department at Washington, and at the close of the war, was present at Fortress Monroe when Jefferson Davis was brought in there. At the age of sixteen he left home to enter business at Boston, and thereafter made his way in life alone and unassisted. His long career was one of distinguished success. Determining to enter the textile field, he went to Germany in 1871 to study the manufacture of worsted yarns and cloth, earning his own way as he carried on his studies, and incidentally reporting the siege of Paris for the American press during the eventful Franco-Prussian War. Upon his return to America he entered business independently and later formed the partnership of Rockwell and Skerry. In 1886 he brought about the establishment of the Cranston Worsted Mills at Cranston, Rhode Island, and in 1891 removed the factories to Bristol, where they have since been located. In 1927 this company w r as merged with the Collins and Aikman Corporation of Philadelphia.

After the turn of the century, Mr. Rockwell also purchased the Namquit Mill, which is now a part of the larger plant of the Collins and Aikman Corporation. Later the buildings which were formerly a part of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company on Burnside Street, were added, and a branch was also established at West Barrington, Rhode Island, in the plant formerly occupied by the O’Bannon Corporation. Mr. Rockwell’s services were a decisive factor in the continued growth and success of his enterprise. He was an able and conscientious executive, sound in judgment and capable in the direction of large affairs. For a great many years before his death, Mr. Rockwell was a director of the Bristol Branch of the Industrial Trust Company. He was generous in his support of civic and charitable causes, and the best interests of Bristol were always a matter of deep personal consideration with him. He did much for Bristol. The Young Men’s Christian Association Building, Rockwell Hall, was erected through his gift, also M. B. S. Rockwell Convalescent House, which is maintained by the family; and in the fall before his death, he graded and fenced the old DeWolf Inn plot on Thames Street at his own expense. Mr. Rockwell was a member of the Town Council for a time, and took an active part in all town affairs. He was a member of the vestry of St. Michael’s Church.

Of his personal characteristics, the testimony of those who knew him speaks best. “Of a quiet retiring disposition,” wrote a Bristol paper at his death, “probably no man was more looked up to and respected, either among his business associates or among his townsmen. His sincerity, simplicity and directness were such that no one could fail to be moved by his opinions when they were given.

. . . . Practically every resident of this town knew Mr. Rockwell personally, and the announcement of his death caused much sadness through the community. It can be truly said that his employees loved and revered him, and he always demonstrated his personal interest in the affairs of each and every one of them.”

In 1879 Charles Bristed Rockwell married Martha Briggs Skerry, of Plymouth, a descendant of Myles Standish, and other members of the “Mayflower” expedition. The ceremony was performed in Brooklyn by the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, one of the greatest ministers of the time. Martha Briggs (Skerry) Rockwell died in 1915, and Mr. Rockwell married (second) Sarah Nelson Guerin, of Sterling, New Jersey, who survives him. Three children also survive, all of the first marriage: 1. Mrs. H. Wilson Moorhouse, of Ardmore, Pennsylvania. 2. Mrs. Austin T. Levy, of Harrisville, Rhode Island. 3. Charles B. Rockwell, Jr., of this record.

Charles Bristed Rockwell, Jr., received his preliminary education in Bristol public schools, later attended the Hill School, and finally entered Princeton University, from which he was graduated in 1912 with the degree in Civil Engineering. He began his business career as an associate of his father in the operation of the Cranston Worsted Mills, becoming vice-president and treasurer of the company. These positions Mr. Rockwell occupied until the merger with the Collins and Aikman Corporation in 1927, and since that time has been vice-president and treasurer of the latter corporation.

Mr. Rockwell is a Republican in politics, and since the war has been a member of the Bristol school committee, serving now as its chairman. He also served on the water supply board of Bristol, was a member for three years of the Republican town committee, and is now chairman of the Church Street Park, which he donated to the town of Bristol. Mr. Rockwell is affiliated fraternally with St. Albans Lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons, and in this order is also a member of Hope Royal Arch Chapter. He is a member of the Rhode Island Country Club, the Hope Club, the Princeton Club of New York, the Lions Club of Bristol, the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, of which he was president for two terms, and the Bristol Yacht Club. He is president of the Bristol District Nursing Association, vice-president of the National Association of Woolen and Worsted Spinners, treasurer of the local Young Men’s Christian Association, and in 1928 was chosen one of three delegates from the United States to attend the International Wool Conference held in Paris, in 1928. During the period of the World War he was in charge of the Bristol Constabulary. Besides his connection with the Collins and Aikman Corporation, Mr. Rockwell is a director of the What Cheer Mutual Fire Insurance Company, president of the Millbury Spinning Company of Millbury, Massachusetts, a director of the Crown Worsted Mills of Olneyville, and a director of the Wallace and Tucker Lumber Company of Providence, Rhode Island. Yachting and fishing are Mr. Rockwell’s chief hobbies, while with his family he attends St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. In his own career he has continued the tradition of prominence long associated with the Rockwell name in Bristol affairs, devoting much of his time to service in the public interest.

In 1913 Charles Bristed Rockwell married Eleanor Benson, born at Brooklyn, New York. They are the parents of five children: 1. Charles Bristed, III. 2. Henry Benson. 3. Paul Standish. 4. Eleanor. 5. Martha.

Source: Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.

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