James Llewellyn Hutchinson
(November 18, 1846 - September 3, 1910)
by Edward and Patricia Shillingburg © 2003
James Llewellyn Hutchinson died of a stroke at his home at 2 Summerfield Place at The Prospect on Shelter Island on Saturday, September 3, 1910. He was sixty-four and a widower. His wife, born Frances Margaret Watt in Delaware or Philadelphia in 1858, had died 8 years earlier. (She had been known as Vivienne since her brief years as a circus performer.) He left four children, James, Jr., known as Louis or Louie (born 1880), Guy (born 1884), Edith (born 1886), and Ruth (born 1893). Hutchinson was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Brooklyn.
“Shorty,” as he was known by his friends, died a very wealthy man.
He had purchased his home on Shelter Island in 1896. It was a large shingle style house with a red roof on Willow Walk overlooking Greenport Harbor. It was an impressive estate encompassing lots 11 through 23. The house had been built 10 years earlier by Dr. Cornelius N. Hoagland, a principle in the Royal Baking Powder Company and one of the founders of the Brooklyn Society of Arts and Sciences, the founder of the Hoagland Laboratory in Brooklyn, and an important supporter of the kindergarten movement in Brooklyn.
In announcing his death on September 10, 1910, the Suffolk Times reported, “Mr. Hutchinson had traveled all over the world, but was contented only at Shelter Island and Greenport. He used to say that this harbor was the most beautiful spot in all the world. He derived much pleasure from his houseboat, Whileaway.” The Jerseyville, Illinois Republican Examiner said that “he was fond of golf and yachting and owned a house-boat, upon which he spent a good part of his summers.”
He also owned the 61 foot Skylark which often challenged Twenty Mules Team owner Francis M. Smith’s much larger 211 foot Hauoli to races in the Greenport Harbor channel to the delight of young boys and grown men alike, according to Stewart W. Herman in his history of the Shelter Island Yacht Club. His other boats included the Imp and the Vivienne. In 1887, he purchased the Lagoda from General George S. Brown for $20,000, and around 1902 had the yacht Sunbeam built. She was built from a single mahogany log, it was said. In an undated newspaper clipping in the Hutchinson family archives, it says, “Numerous requests have been received from photographs of the Sunbeam, so on Tuesday morning, Mr. Hutchinson had her photographed by Howard while she was maneuvering off the Shelter Island Heights wharf.”
Hutchinson made his fortune as a circus man. From 1881 to 1887, the Greatest Show on Earth was owned by P. T. Barnum, James A. Bailey and James Llewellyn Hutchinson.
In 1880, P. T. Barnum (born 1810), after strenuous negotiations, bought out the London Circus and International Allied Shows, his greatest rival, owned by Hutchinson. The London Circus’s great advantage was possession of the first elephant born in captivity in the United States. Barnum attempted to buy the elephant, but in the end, merged the two circuses.
Barnum explained in his own words in a chapter added to his autobiography in 1883:
“On the tenth of March, 1880, while in Philadelphia, one of their large elephants, Hebe, became a mother. This was the first elephant born in captivity, and the managers so effectively advertised the fact that the public became wild with excitement over the ‘Baby Elephant.’ Naturalists and men of science rushed in numbers to Philadelphia, examined the wonderful ‘little stranger’ and gave glowing reports to the papers of this country and of Europe. Illustrated papers and magazines of this and foreign lands described the baby elephant with pen and pencil, and before it was two months old I offered the lucky proprietors one hundred thousand dollars cash for mother and baby. They gleefully rejected my offer, pleasantly told me to look to my laurels, and wisely held on to their treasure.
“I found I had at last met foemen ‘worthy of my steel,’ and pleased to find comparatively young men with a business talent and energy approximating my own, I met them in friendly council, and after days of negotiation we decided to join our two shows in one mammoth combination, and sink or swim, to exhibit them for, at least, one season for the price of admission.”
It was considered an audacious move to combine the two large enterprises and to show both extravaganzas for the same price of admission. But, the risk paid off, and even greater crowds came to experience the amazing shows and attractions. Barnum wrote, “I have always found the great American public appreciative and ready to respond in proportion to the sums expended for their gratification and amusement.”
The first year of the combined circus saw it stopping at Jerseyville, Illinois, Hutchinson’s home town. The Republican Examiner, Jerseyville, Illinois, September 7, 1881, noted:
“This tremendous consolidation, conceded the most extensive, respectable and moral exhibition anywhere in the wide world, will give two performances here on Saturday, September 17 ... So large is this great establishment that it performs only in the larger classed towns en route, and only pauses here because one of the proprietors, James L. Hutchinson, was born and reared here. His mother, sisters and a brother and many other relatives, greatly beloved by him, are still residents of this city and county.
“Almost everybody remembers a little fair-haired boy, always bright and cheerful, who was daily seen on our streets only a few years ago. His family was poor, but frugal and honest. He was popular with everybody because of his manly ways, frank demeanor and industrious habits. He grew up to manhood used to the hardships of laborious life. He worked in the adjacent harvest fields at twenty-five cents per day; set type in the UNION office for Doublebower for which he received pied type for compensation and with which he published a little two column paper once a week himself. The circulation, like the material, was limited, but only goes to show what sort of stuff the then man-boy was made of. He also clerked in Vandervoort's store for, we understand, one hundred dollars a year. But this slow going business was too monotonous for the ambitious ‘Shorty’ Hutchinson, as his friends still call him. After a year or two's experience as agent and side-show lecturer with smaller shows, he went, in 1870, with P. T. Barnum as Mr. B's book agent. From that moment his fortune was made. He has gone up, up, up, until today he is accredited with being worth a half a million dollars, besides he is the honored friend of Mr. Barnum and his valued associate in business, together with James A. Bailey.
“The management has no hope that the receipts will cover the enormous expenses. It is only to let Hutchinson's friends and relatives see the largest show in the world that it stops here on its way from Chicago to St. Louis. Well may we felicitate ourselves on this opportunity to see what President Garfield and his cabinet, the United States senate in a body, the general of the Army and the foreign ministers in Washington have pronounced the ‘most extraordinary and perfect exhibition in the world.’”
An ad on the front page of the Brooklyn Eagle on Thursday, May 15, 1884 boasted of the circus having 40 elephants. “Grand Triple Alliance Circus, with Three full companies in Three Rings. Enormous Double Menageries of Wild and Trained Beasts. Hugh Elevated Stage for special and high class performances. Roman Hippodrome with Gladitorial Contests and Sports. Immense Ethnological Congress of Strange and Savage Tribes, Mammoth Museum of the World’s Wonders and Curiosities.”
The ad continued, “Everything and Each Featured Just as it was exhibited in Madison Square Garden. All the Splendidly Gorgeous Circus. All the Fearless and Thrilling Races. All the rare animals, strange people, living wonders, exciting contests, and Truly Tremendous Attractions that Enraptured and Delighted a million people in New York, and will charm ten millions more this season.
“The greatest assembly of curious human beings ever seen together on earth. Collected only after three years constant and persistent researches in almost every portion of the known world. Of incalculable benefit to scientists and naturalists, and a never ceasing source of wonderment to ladies, children, and the adult humanity of the country. Exhibited here in this city for the first time, and containing Burmese, Nubian Warriors, Australian Cannibals, Zulu Chiefs, Japanese, Chinese, Syrians, Patagonians, Buddhists, East Indians, Todas People, Aztecs, or ancient sun worshipers, Afgans, Hindoos, real Nantch Dancing Girls (first ever here), and Sioux Indians, Boomerang Casters and many others.”
At the end of the circus season in 1887, at the age of 41, Hutchinson retired from the circus. He was bought out by Barnum and Bailey for $650,000. Shortly, thereafter, the entire property of the Barnum & Bailey Circus in Bridgeport, Connecticut was destroyed by fire. People referred to “Hutchinson’s luck,” his having sold out before the show suffered this financial setback.
John W. Rae's book -- Morristown's Forgotten Past: The Gilded Age -- tells of Hutchinson in New Jersey.
"Another resident of Madison Avenue was famous in the gaudy world of show business. He was James L. Hutchinson, the third member of the Barnum Circus Firm when the circus wagons and advertising were all lettered Barnum, Bailey and Hutchinson.
“On one of the circus’ numerous visits to Morristown, a community regarded in the Gilded Age as ‘a good circus town,’ he told J. Frank Holloway, for many years chief of police, that he liked Morristown and intended when he retired to make his home here. It was not an idle remark for he did come to Morristown in 1902, purchasing from John M. Chapman the mansion at 148 Madison Avenue for $28,000.
“The arrival of the Big Top in Morristown in Hutchinson’s day was an event that broke the barriers between the socially elite and towns folk in many respects. All went to the parade and three ring shows.
“Nothing in show business could match the great excitement of the circus parade through the streets of Morristown. It started before daybreak when several trains started unloading at the Morris Street crossing, accelerated as the parade rolled through town with its display of ornately carved wagons, lumbering elephants and a celliope or ‘steam wagon’ that always brought up the rear because its boiler sometimes blew up.
“Billboards were posted around town for days before the event advertising ‘Superb Troupes and Groups of Trained Animals in Wonder Commanding Displays,’ a’ 61 Horse Act, Congress of Wild Beasts’ and ‘Fabulous Trapeze Artists.’
“By common agreement with the circus advance men, none of the circus signs appeared on Madison Avenue or the lower extremes of South Street where the great mansions began. Elsewhere they appeared on trees, poles and buildings.
“In the words of the Barnum, Bailey and Hutchinson program, the audience reaction to the parade sights was pure awe. And awe it was too that met the tales of the big top that Hutchinson used to spin at the gatherings of society, holding entire groups spellbound.
“The little people of the circus were prominent residents of Morristown. A newspaper of the 1870s mentions among smart equipages seen on the street was the Victoria of Major and Mrs. Tom Thumb, with a young boy up on the drivers seat. He was the worlds most famous dwarf.
“Every bit as famous was Major Tot, in private life Pierre Albert Poitras, who at birth in 1869 was so tiny, it was said, that his mother, Mrs. Ulric F. Poitras, could hold him in the palm of her hand.
“His firm of tailors, P. H. Hoffman & Sons, who made his clothes in Morristown, said it was like sewing for a doll. Pierre Albert usually wore black. Like Major Thumb, he traveled under the aegis of P. T. Barnum. For many years, his coach stood on the South Street farm near the old race track which his parents purchased in 1884."
In Hutchinson’s son’s uncorrected obituary on file at Yale University, it says that Guy was born in 1884 in New York City and that he attended schools in Morristown and Lawrenceville. It is probable that Hutchinson, therefore, resided in Morristown before 1902.
The social scandal of the summer of 1899 must have been the news that Louis Hutchinson, age 19, and Clara Britton, daughter of Eugene V. Britton, who had a house in the Heights, Bide-a-Wee, had eloped. It seems that Louis hired a sailboat and they fled to Greenport where they were married. The story was reported in the New York Times on August 23, 1899.
On May 26, 1900, the Suffolk Times reported, “Mr. J. L. Hutchinson and family are now occupying their beautiful home on the bay, and in a few days will be enjoying the speed and comfort of the steam yacht Vanish.” On July 21, “One of the greatest feats in swimming that has taken place at the Heights in several years occurred on Friday last, when Guy Hutchinson, a lad of 16 years, swam from Prospect to Greenport. Guy exhibited wonderful skill and endurance and could probably have swam much further.”
On April 1, 1902, Vivienne, Hutchinson’s wife and the mother of his four children, died after a long illness. She was 44 years old. Ruth was only nine. The Jerseyville Republican Examiner reported that Mrs. Hutchinson “was a woman of high standing, and a worker in the church and charitable enterprises.”
In 1904, Hutchinson took his children, governess, and chauffeur on a summer automobile tour of Europe. He published 15 articles on this trip in Automobile Topics in 1904 and 1905.
In 1906, Hutchinson sold the house in Morristown and moved his family to Englewood, New Jersey. In early May the family came to Shelter Island, and in October, the Suffolk Times reported, “Albert Helfer, chauffeur and engineer for Mr. James L. Hutchinson, was at the Heights this week and reports Mr. Hutchinson and his family back from Yellow Stone Park.”
On May 18, 1907, the Suffolk Times reported, “Arrived at the Shelter Island Yacht Club station Sunday last the fine and commodious house boat Whileaway, Mr. James L. Hutchinson and family on board.”
Throughout the Spring of 1908, the Suffolk Times carried many tidbits about the activities of the Hutchinson family: February 8, “Mr. J. L. Hutchinson, of the New York and Shelter Island Yacht Clubs, enroute to Miami, Fla., has reached there in his power boat, the Whileaway, and will spend several days at the Royal Poinciana, Fla. The Whileaway went by the inland waterway, a popular route to Palm Beach, this season. We think if Mr. H. were here at the present time, he would wish himself a long ‘while away.’” April 18, “James L. Hutchinson, who, with his family, have lately returned from Florida, where they spent the past winter, made a business trip to the Island last Monday, looking hale and hearty.” May 9, “Mason Frank Macomber is making a concrete wall in place of a brick one which has fallen in, on the east side of Mr. James L. Hutchinson’s cottage.” May 16, “Messrs. Fisher Brothers and force are painting Mr. James L. Hutchinson’s cottage on the north water front.” May 23, “Arrived Sunday, May 17th, the house boat Whileaway, Mr. James L. Hutchinson, from New York, and returned Monday.”
The June 13 Suffolk Times, on page one, announced the Hutchinson - Lang wedding: “A wedding of much interest in Manhattan and among the summer colony at Shelter Island occurred last week when Miss Mabel Lang, the accomplished daughter of Mr. Charles W. Lang., of New York, became the bride of Mr. Guy Hutchinson, of Englewood, N. J., who have a country seat at Shelter Island Heights. The groom will be remembered by many as the famous Yale foot ball player. Mr. and Mrs. Hutchinson are now on their honeymoon aboard the groom’s father’s house boat Whileaway.”
In mid-September, the Suffolk Times reported, “Mr. James L. Hutchinson and family left their beautiful summer home last Friday and sailed away in their house boat, Whileaway, to New York, where they will cruise on the Hudson river for some time. Mr. Hutchinson certainly enjoys a Whileaway.”
In 1909, on June 19, the Suffolk Times announced, “Among the recent cottage arrivals at the Heights are Mr. James L. Hutchinson and family, occupying their large cottage on Willow Terrace.” On July 17, “Mr. James Llewellyn Hutchinson of Englewood, N. J., has announced the engagement of his daughter Edith to Mr. Eugene Francis Verdery, Jr. of Augusta, Ga. The wedding will occur early in September at Mr. Hutchinson’s summer home on Shelter Island, N. Y.”
In 1910, the February 5 Suffolk Times reported, “Mr. James L. Hutchinson and family are enjoying the winter in the South. They are now at Magnolia Springs, Fla.” On May 14, “Fisher Bros. are painting the large cottage of Mr. James L. Hutchinson at the Heights.”
On September 10, the Suffolk Times reported on page one: “Early last Saturday morning, James L. Hutchinson, a summer resident of Shelter Island Heights, died from a stroke of apoplexy in his 65th year. The deceased was a well known circus man in his early life, having brought a circus over from London that competed with the big Barnum shows. Mr. Hutchinson later formed a partnership under the name of Barnum, Bailey and Hutchinson, and retired with a fortune. His place at the Heights is one of the finest at that resort. Four children survive him, two daughters and two sons, the later being James Lewis and Guy Hutchinson, all of whom are well known on the Island...”
On page four, the local reporter wrote, “The sudden demise of James L. Hutchinson of Shelter Island Heights was a very great surprise to the whole community, especially that evening in the Heights, where he has spent so many summers. Mr. Hutchinson was the owner of one of the largest cottages at the Heights beautifully located on the north water front, where with his family he has enjoyed so many years. He was a member of the Shelter Island and New York Yacht Clubs and was fond of being on the water in his comfortable house boat Whileaway. He was a pleasant and jovial man and held in high esteem. His age was about 65 years, the cause of death was apoplexy...”
Hutchinson’s will, written in 1902, was probated in Suffolk County, New York a few weeks after his death in 1910. The executors were his son Guy and the Reverend Ernest M. Foote. He left an annual income of $1,000 to his mother Rebecca and the right to live in the home he owned in Jerseyville, Illinois for her life. He also left his sister, Virginia A. Smith, and his brother, William H. Hutchinson, both the life use of $10,000. The rest of his estate was divided equally between his four children. The sons were to receive half upon attaining age 25 and the other half at age 35. The daughters were to benefit from “the accumulations” for life with the principal to be paid to their heirs.
The Englewood house was sold at the end of October 1910 to J. D. Coffin for $33,000, the house in Jerseyville to L.P. Squier in August 1913 for $2,277.35, the house on Shelter Island to George H. Webster in March 1914 for $12,600, and a vacant lot in a suburb outside of Chicago, in August 1916 for $32.
Guy married Mabel Florence Lang on June 2, 1908 in New York City. They had two daughters, Carra Margaret and Marjorie Ruth. That marriage ended in divorce in 1938. In 1939, Guy who had been a star football quarterback at Yale, wrote the following to the Yale Alumni Weekly, “The wedding is announced of Miss Grace Angelau of New York City to Guy Hutchinson. The bride is an opera star of international repute, having sung many leading roles throughout Germany, Italy, Australia, South America, and the United States and Canada. Hutchinson’s two daughters by a earlier marriage are Mrs. Rives Matthews of Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and Mrs. Malcolm Young, Jr. of Trafford, Pa.” Guy and Grace emigrated to Australia in 1939 with their two sons, Guy, Jr. who had been born in Gorgonzola, Italy, and Jay Benjamin who had been born in London. Guy died two years later of pneumonia. He is buried in the “Garden of Remembrance” in Springvale, Australia. Grace died in Melbourne, Australia in October 1958. The two families did not know of each other until each was researching their genealogies in 1999 and united the families of his two marriages.
Edith later married Purdom Carpenter.
Ruth married J.C. Victor Brownlow, possibly the late period Hudson River School painter.
Dee Hutchinson, Louis’ son, born in 1901, is still remembers by Shelter Islanders. He owned a house on Hager Road. He must have had a bit of circus in him. Eben Case remembers Dee riding down the State Road on his motorcycle standing on the seat.
The house at 2 Summerfield Place on Shelter Island burned to the ground in 1920 and was replaced by the present house by George H. Webster and his wife Charlotte. Webster, a New York attorney, was active in Heights Association and Yacht Club affairs.