Thomas Lyman Arnold

Biography of Thomas Lyman Arnold

No account of Rhode Island’s growth and development wOuld be complete without a record of the life and work of Thomas Lyman Arnold, for many years one of the leading business men of this State, as well as of New York City. Successfully guiding the affairs of Arnold and Aborn, a firm of coffee and tea dealers, he proved himself a talented commercial leader; and for his achievements in this field, as well as for his kindly and pleasing qualities of character and personality, he w’on hosts of friends. A man of strong public spirit and lofty ideals of citizenship, warm in human affections and sympathies, genial and companionable by nature, Mr. Arnold was well equipped for living a useful and worthwhile life, in the course of which he won the highest regard of those who knew him.

Born in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts, on March 2, 1856, he was a son of Lemuel Hastings and Harriet R. (Sheldon) Arnold, and a descendant of old and honored ancestors on both the Arnold and Sheldon sides of his house. One of the early Arnolds who won distinction in America and who was one of Mr. Arnold’s forebears, Jonathan Arnold was surgeon general in the Continental Army during the War of the American Revolution. He received for his services a grant of land at St. Johnsbury, Vermont, now a well-known site. His father, Lemuel Hastings Arnold, was a business man; and he had seven children, six of them sons, who became eminently successful in different fields of endeavor. They were:

  1. Lemuel Hastings.
  2. Edward Sheldon.
  3. Richard.
  4. Harriet R.
  5. Thomas Lyman, of this review.
  6. Lyndon.
  7. Frank W.

Several members of the family removed to Brooklyn, New York, while Thomas Lyman Arnold was still very young, and with them he went. There he attended the public schools, and later was graduated from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. He began his business career as a clerk with W. L. Strong and Company, cotton and woolen dealers, at the age of eighteen; and with this company he continued for about five years, acquiring a wealth of experience and knowledge of commercial procedure that placed him in an excellent position for the work that he was subsequently to perform. At the end of that period he was able to establish his own company, referred to above, that of Arnold and Aborn, dealers in coffee and tea, which he steered successfully through its early critical times to a place of solidity in the business world. Of this firm, he remained the executive head until his retirement about 1907.

Nor was this his only business activity; for Mr. Arnold was also interested in other enterprises, notably real estate, which he handled extensively, always with a clarity of judgment as to property values that astounded many of his associates. For instance, he purchased the Atlantic Yacht Club, held it for ten years, and sold it to the parties who later transferred it to the North German Lloyd Steamship Company, which needed the property for docking facilities. For at this pier the great ships “Bremen” and “Europa” were able to dock, although they were unable to do so elsewhere in the New York Harbor.

One of Mr. Arnold’s interests was the sea and the water, of which he was fond. A member of the old Brooklyn Atlantic Yacht Club, he was for years its Rear Commodore. In the last years of the nineteenth century he was among the famous yachtsmen of the world, unexcelled as an amateur racer. Owner of the “Awa” and the “Choctaw,” he won scores of competitions with these and other craft, winning and keeping many coveted trophies. After 1905 he made his summer home at Charlestown, Rhode Island, where, on the waterfront, he bought a large tract of land, developing it into a fine and beautiful colony, known as “Arnolds.” Here are today many fine estates, and the colony is one of Charlestown’s attractive spots. In order to protect those who bought property here near the sea, Mr. Arnold later purchased “Welcome Foster Farm,” the “Stanton Green Farm,” and the “Abbey, Sarah, and Mary Champlin Farm.” So he kept the region clear of intruders and undesirable inroads, and at the same time, close to the water, maintained his interest in yachting, designing now and then in his leisure hours a number of small sailboats.

After his retirement from Arnold and Aborn, he continued his activity in real estate circles; and, while his coffee and tea trade had been confined to the vicinity of New York City, his operations in land holdings extended throughout New England. In the Charlestown community, where he and his wife spent more and more of their time with the passing of years, the Arnolds came to be widely known; and here they took a lively interest in public affairs. They were both members of the Unitarian Church.

Thomas Lyman Arnold married, in Brooklyn, New York, on April 13, 1880, Mary N. Robinson, daughter of George C. and Mary Lyman (Arnold) Robinson, and granddaughter of the late Governor Arnold, of Rhode Island. Mr. and Mrs. Arnold, after a half century of happy wedded life, celebrated, on April 13, 1930, their golden anniversary. With them Mr. Arnold’s nephew, Thomas L. Arnold, 2d, for many years made his home, and he, since his uncle’s death, has carried on the affairs of the estate.

The death of Thomas L. Arnold occurred on Friday, May 16, 1930, in Charlestown, Rhode Island, after a two weeks’ illness. Though he was in his seventy-fifth year, he was dearly loved by his hosts of friends and acquaintances, for he had contributed substantially, indeed, to community life and to the business world. Many were the institutions that benefited from his helpful influence and his material donations; and these, like the people who knew him and were his friends, were sufferers by his death, an event that caused widespread sorrow and regret. His memory will live on, however, a source of inspiration and joy to others in the years to come.

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

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