Biography of Thomas Henry Handy

A prominent man in the business and community life of Manville, Rhode Island, Thomas Henry Handy is treasurer of the Contrexeville Manufacturing Company, and descendant of a fine old family long established in that section. The name was originally spelled in various ways, such as Handy, Hendy, and Hendee, which are all to be found in early records of New England. The immediate ancestor of the branch to which the subject of this record belongs was Stephen Handy, who spent his early days at Burrillville, Rhode Island, where he was a shoemaker, school teacher, and farmer. He built his house on his farm at Herring Pond, and so clever was he that he forged the nails he used. In that primitive day, when living conditions were hard, he showed a veritable genius in meeting difficult situations and triumphing over obstacles. In his early ’thirties he moved with his family to Manville, where he spent the rest of his life. Stephen Handy married Deborah Ballou, a native of Gloucester, now Burrillville, and they were the parents of the following children: Sarah; Celinda E.; Esther W.; Amey Ann, born March 5, 1825; George D.; Russell, of further mention; and John.

Russell Handy, son of Stephen and Deborah (Ballou) Handy, was born February 25, 1830, at Burrillville, and was taken as a child to Manville, Rhode Island. He was educated in the schools of his district, and was employed in the mills during his youth. So capable was he that he won rapid promotion, rising to the position of superintendent, and ultimately becoming a shareholder in the Manville mills. While in control, he made many improvements, including the erection of large mills for the company and the enlargement of the dam. His enterprise exceeded the scope allowed by the Manville Company and enabled him to establish a manufacturing business of his own at Kinderhook, New York, but the mills there were soon destroyed by fire. Mr. Handy then resigned from the Manville company and, with his sons, organized the manufacturing enterprise now known as Contrexeville. Purchasing a large tract of land in 1887, known as the Lapham place, he erected a mill, inventing much of the machinery put into it. His premature death that same year deprived the plant of his important assistance during the early years of its operation. He was a self-made man of remarkable ability who attained prominence in the community through sheer force of personality and accomplishments. He was a communicant of Emanuel Episcopal Church, and supported it in a liberal manner.

Russell Handy married, December 24, 1857, at Fishkill, Dutchess County, New York, Euphemia Ketcham, born in the metropolis, daughter of Ebenezer and Lydia (Rogers) Ketcham, both natives of Harrison, New York. The children of this couple were: Edwin E.; Thomas Henry, of further mention; Russell, Jr., deceased; and Ruth Louise, also deceased.

Thomas Henry Handy was born in Manville, Rhode Island, March 12, 1863, son of Russell and Euphemia (Ketcham) Handy. He was educated at the Mowry & Goff English and Classical School. His first position was in a print cloth mill at Kinderhook, where he remained for about a year.

He then opened an office for the purpose of selling mill engines, and also for introducing some patents of his father. After a year, however, he became interested in the manufacture of plushes and, with his father and elder brother, he organized the Contrexeville Manufacturing Company, which was incorporated in 1887. The company manufactures cotton, jute, flax plushes, and velveteens by a process on which it holds the patent, and for many years was unique in its field. Mr. Handy was secretary and treasurer from the start and continues this association with the company of which his nephew, Edwin Rogers Handy, is president The plant which in 1887 consisted of one large brick building two stories high is now twice its size and has greatly improved equipment. Some two hundred workers are employed in the plant which is situated in a region of great natural charm. Overlooking it is the two-hundred-acre farm of Mr. Handy, to which he devotes his spare time. He is a communicant of the Episcopal Church, which he serves as senior warden and Sunday school superintendent.

Thomas Henry Handy married, November 3, 1889, Susan E. Waterman, born in Manville, daughter of William H. and Abby Green (Sayles) Waterman, the father a blacksmith and farmer of the neighborhood. Mr. and Mrs. Handy are the parents of the following children: 1. Thomas Handy, Jr., educated at Woonsocket High School and at the Fall River Textile Institute at Fall River, Massachusetts. 2. Abbie, wife of Theron L. Kelly, an artist of Scarsdale, New York. 3. Susan, a student at Wellesley College, living at home. 4. William Russell, now deceased.

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

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