In the business and commercial worlds, one of Rhode Island’s citizens who for many years took an important part was Walter Lane Preston, a native of Providence, this State, who was engaged in different types of endeavor in this city. The Preston interests, including those of both him and his brother, were extensive in scope and volume, not only in New England, but in other parts of the world as well. Mr. Preston was a man of unusual abilities, strongly public-spirited, eager to support the worthiest projects in his city, State and Nation, and kindly and generous in his personal qualities. For his achievements in connection with the guidance of the affairs of J. H. Preston and Company, of Providence, and its numerous affiliated organizations, he was esteemed and respected by his fellowmen; so that his life was a useful one, and his death a cause of deep sorrow.
The family from which he was descended was an old and honored one. The name is of great antiquity in North Britain, and was assumed by the family from territorial possessions in Mid-Lothian in the time of Malcolm, King of Scots. Leolphus de Preston, of the time of William the Lion in 1040, was grandfather of Sir William de Preston, one of the Scottish noblemen summoned to Berwick by Edward I in the competition for the Crown of Scotland between Bruce and Baliol, the division having been referred to Edward. After the death of Alexander III, in 1291, this Sir William was succeeded by his son, Nicol de Preston, one of the Scottish barons, who swore fealty to Edward I. He died in the beginning of the reign of David II of Scotland, son of Robert Bruce, and was succeeded by his son, Sir Lawrence de Preston, who in turn was succeeded by Richard de Preston, who was seated at Preston in Westmoreland in the time of Henry II. Sir Richard de Preston, fifth in descent from the above, Richard of Preston, represented the county of Westmoreland in Parliament in the seventeenth year of Edward III. His son, Sir Richard de Preston, had likewise the honor of being knight of the shire of Westmoreland in the same reign, twenty-seventh Edward III, and in the same year, 1368, obtained license to embark five hundred acres. His successor, Sir John de Preston of Preston Richard and Preston Patrick, was member of Parliament for Westmoreland in the thirty-sixth, thirty-ninth and forty-sixth years of Edward II. His son, Richard, had no male issue; his son John was judge of the Court of Common Pleas in the reigns of Henry IV and VI, and retired from the bench in consequence of great age in 1427. Children of Judge John Preston were the Rev. John, Richard (his heir), and a daughter. The American families of Preston are undoubtedly descended from some branch of this house. The Connecticut line has been traced to George Preston, of Valley Field, who was created a baron of Nova Scotia in 1537, through his son, William, who died April 23, 1585, and through William’s son, John. William Preston, the Connecticut immigrant, son of John, came in 1635, died in 1639, leaving land in Yorkshire, whence he came to this country.
Roger Preston was born in England in 1614, took the oath of allegiance in London in 1635, and sailed for America in the “Elizabeth and Ann”; his name was on the records at Ipswich, Massachusetts, in 1639, and his wife, Martha, whom he married in 1642, was born in 1622; after 1657 they lived in Salem, Massachusetts, where he died January 20, 1666.
Their son, Samuel Preston, born at Ipswich in 1651, went to Andover with his mother and settled there; he married (first), May 27, 1671, Susanna Cutterson, who died December 29, 1710.
Their fourth son, John Preston, born May I, 1685, in Andover, was among the patentees of the town of Killingly, Connecticut, October 10, 1709; he later removed to Ashford, that State, settling in the part of the town that is now Westford, where he was a pioneer, purchasing a large tract of land at twenty-five cents per acre, and becoming a leading citizen; he married, in Andover, January 10, 1707, Mary Haines, of Haverhill, Massachusetts, born March 3, 1687, daughter of Jonathan and Sarah (Moulton) Haines.
John (2) Preston, son of John and Mary (Haines) Preston, was born about 1710, in Killingly, and removed to Westford parish with his parents; there is no marriage record for him.
His son, John (3) Preston, born in 1737, was a soldier in the Revolution, marching from Ashford in Colonel Thomas Knowlton Chester’s regiment, 6th Battalion, General Wadsworth’s brigade, which went to reinforce General Washington’s Army in New York; in 1777 he was in the Connecticut militia, serving on the Hudson, being a sergeant in Captain Aaron Foote’s company, of the regiment commanded by Colonel Hooker; he married, in 1759, in Ashford, Sarah A. Eastman, daughter of Captain Peter Eastman.
Their son, John (4) Preston, was born and lived in Ashford, where he was a deacon in the church. He married Persis Works.
Silas Preston, son of John (4) and Persis (Works) Preston, and grandfather of the man whose name heads this review, was born February 28, 1798, in Ashford, where he was a custom shoemaker on a large scale, employing several apprentices. He cultivated the homestead farm, twice represented his town in the General Assembly, and was an active business man, having organized the bank at Eastford and served as its first president, and having been connected for several years with the Stafford bank. After having had to support his widowed mother for several years, he came into possession of large land tracts in Illinois by the purchase of soldiers’ land warrants. In religion he was a Baptist; in politics he was at first a Whig, then a Republican and finally a supporter of the Prohibition party; he died December 19, 1893, aged ninety-six years, and his wife passed away November 11, 1883. He married, in 1820, in Plainfield, New York, Betsey Wright, born there January 13, 1800, daughter of Ezra and Rhoda (Preston) Wright.
Their son, James H. Preston, father of Walter Lane Preston, was born September 3, 1826, in Westford, where he attended the public schools and the academy. Later he went to Providence, Rhode Island, entering the employ of a Mr. Buffington, a flour dealer, and subsequently took up carpentry. Still later he was a manufacturer of jewelry, but in the panic of 1857 lost heavily by the delinquency of his debtors, though he was able to pay all that he owed at the cost of quitting business. In 1862 he became a commission merchant, as head of the firm of J. H. Preston and Company, with a store on North Main Street, continuing in active commercial work until his death in Providence on August 20, 1899, at the age of seventy-two years. He married, in Providence, October 23, 1854, Sarah Ann Pearce, born November 4, 1829, in Cumberland, this State, daughter of Jeremiah and Mary Ann (Craig) Pearce; she died in Providence May 17, 1900. Their children were:
- Julius Hervey, a record of whose life and works appears elsewhere in this volume.
- Walter Lane, of further mention herein.
Walter Lane Preston was born on September 6, 1859, in Providence, and here received his early education. After he had completed his studies, he became associated with his father in the fruit and produce business established by the elder man during the Civil War. Throughout his active career he was closely associated with his brother, Julius Hervey Preston, not only in the management of J. H. Preston and Company, of which the brother was president, but also in the conduct of a number of subsidiary groups. The business covered a vast territory and a wide scope of usefulness.
In Texas he gave personal attention to sheep raising; in San Domingo, helped to form the Samana Bay Fruit Company, dealers in bananas; in New England, owned and operated, with his brother, the Connecticut Valley Onion Company, at South Deerfield and North Hatfield, Massachusetts; in Tampa, Palmetto and other parts of Florida, owned large orange groves, and aided in organizing the Manatee Fruit Company, of Palmetto and Tampa, of which he was treasurer at the time of his death; and in Providence, was always prominent in the operation of J. H. Preston and Company, the parent of all the other interests.
As may be understood by a glance at his record of achievements and business affiliations, Mr. Preston contributed more than a little to the prosperity of his State and Nation; but he was also active in other fields. He was a member of the Squantum Club, the Rhode Island Country Club, the New York Yacht Club, the Society of Colonial Wars, and the Free and Accepted Masons. In the Masonic Order his affiliation was with Adelphi Lodge, and he held the thirty-second degree of Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite. Into all of these groups he ever put his fullest energies and his greatest devotion, with the result that his life was wholly worthwhile and of outstanding value to others.
Walter Lane Preston married Mary M. Hayden, daughter of James H. Hayden, a Rhode Island mill man. Mrs. Preston was, before her marriage, a resident of Willimantic, Connecticut. By their union, Mr. and Mrs. Preston became the parents of three children:
- Marian Hayden, who became the wife of C. Coburn Darling; they have two children, Eleanor, and C. Coburn, Jr.
- Whiting Hayden, who continues his father’s interest in the Manatee Fruit Company, of Tampa, Florida; he married Alice De Veau Whitner; they have one son, Walter L., and the family home is in Tampa.
- Hayden Preston, of Providence.
The death of Walter Lane Preston occurred on December 23, 1924, and was a cause of widespread and sincere sorrow among all whose privilege it was to know him. He had contributed substantially to civic life in Providence and to the industrial well-being of a great country; and had, by his personal characteristics and his delightful traits as companion and friend, won a large circle of acquaintances. He will long be remembered in Providence and Rhode Island, as well as throughout the business world; and his memory will serve as a source of encouragement and inspiration to others.
Source: Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.