Samuel Merritt Comstock:  'Founder' of Ivoryton

From Essex Events, Fall 1997

    "In light of the recent publication of "From Bicycles To Buicks," an excellent history of the Behrens & Bushnell Company (now Town & Country Auto Sales, Inc.) of Ivoryton by Michael Wells, it might be prudent to look at the man who was essentially responsible for the development of that village of our town, Samuel M. Comstock.
    "The Deep River New Era stated in the September 29, 1899 issue that "If one would know the real history of Ivoryton, he should look up and study the business history of the Comstock, Cheney & Co. for that firm is really the Ivoryton of today."  Samuel Comstock was the real founder of that company, as well as Ivoryton itself.  Indeed, Beer's 1884 "History of Middlesex County" states that, "the village of Ivoryton, which a few years ago was almost a wilderness, is now one of the most beautiful villages in the state, and this has been accomplished mainly through his (Samuel Comstock's) efforts."
    "Samuel Merritt Comstock was born in what was then the West Centrebrook (old spelling) section of town (current Ivoryton), in the second house past the Ivoryton Hotel, on August 14, 1809.  He had nine brothers and sisters, and his father (also Samuel) was a part time sea captain, operating primarily in the West Indies trade.  He went to work for his uncle, Elisha Comstock, in the combmaking trade at an early age, both at where Centerbridge Books and Centerbrook Architects are now located in the village of Centerbrook.  By the time he was 25, he and a business partner, Edwin Griswold, formed the firm of Comstock & Griswold, working off the dam behind the current Ivoryton Congregational Church.  As a matter of fact, they built almost identical homes on either side of Brackett Lane (they are turned 90 degrees to each other) in 1838.
    "This small area of town was then known as Whitesboro.  They continued to manufacture ivory combs here until 1847, when the firm was dissolved and Comstock set up a new shop across from his boyhood home further up the Falls River.
    "This is where the so-called Ivory Shop building still stands today.  Mr. Comstock understood the need for an adequate amount of water to power his plants.  As a result he built a succession of dams to harness the energy of the Falls River and other streams.  One of these dams, located on Bushy Hill, burst under the duress of 15 inches of rain in June 1982, causing untold damage 110 years after it was built.
    "This new organization was the S. M. Comstock & Co., a family firm, in which an endless variety of ivory products were manufactured, from combs to billiard balls.  Mr. Comstock was not only an astute business person, but a renowned inventor of machinery used in manufacturing ivory products.
    "More importantly, he had a plan for this section of town, and when this was finally brought to fruition (by his business partner, George A. Cheney), Ivoryton became a classic example of a town designed around a factory.  In 1851, he had built a new home (adjacent to the Ivoryton Post Office to the east), and proceeded to fulfill his dream.  He had married Harriet Hovey of Mansfield, CT in 1838, and had 11 children, although only 6 lived to adulthood.  Some of these offspring lived in currently prominent Ivoryton homesteads.  Archibald W. Comstock, mentioned in Michael Wells' book, built what is now the Copper Beech Inn as his home in the early 1890s.  His brother, and later President of the Comstock, Cheney, & Co., Robert H., lived diagonally across the street in the home now occupied by the Grover family at the entrance to Riversedge Condominiums.
    "In 1862, the expansion of his company required more financing, and the Comstock, Cheney, & Co. was formed, with a new investor, George A. Cheney, as an equal partner.  In the early 1870s the so-called "upper shop" was built (and added to three times before 1900), and was one of the largest producers of ivory products in the world.
    "Stores, homes, amusements, schools, etc. were built in Ivoryton by the company for their employees, in a classic display of welfare capitalism.  Mr. Comstock never really saw all of this happen, however, for he died in Wilmington, North Carolina on January 18, 1878.  As indicated earlier, George Cheney became the head of the company at Comstock's death and carried it to great size and importance.
    "The legacy Samuel Comstock left was tremendous, however, for Ivoryton remained a superb example of the culture of the Industrial Revolution.  In 1936 the Great Depression had taken a terrible toll economically and Comstock, Cheney, & Co. combined with the Pratt, Read & Co. of Deep River, forever after to be known by the name of that Deep River firm.  All of the non factory assets of the Comstock, Cheney, & Co. from the Ivoryton Playhouse to the 1838 house built by Samuel Comstock were transferred to the Ivoryton Realty Co., created specifically to sell all this property.  Samuel Comstock's dreams had become victim to the realities of 20th century economics and societies."


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