Biography of J. H. Estes & Son
Bristol County, MA Biographies

J. H. Estes & Son

PLEASANTLY situated in the Maplewood valley, about two miles from the center of Fall River, are the mills of J. H. Estes & Son, where an interesting variety of white and colored cotton goods is manufactured. The policy of this well known firm is a progressive one as the present thoroughly equipped and developed condition of its business will testify. They operate one of the largest cotton twine mills in America, and daily manufacture about 8,000 pounds of wrapping twine, which is shipped to all parts of the United States, and carloads are exported each year. Aside from this well and widely known product they manufacture large quantities of carpet warp, yarns, ropes, clothes lines, floor mops, dish mops, caulking cotton and machinery wiping waste, all of which are extensively known in the respective classes of trade to which they belong, as the business has been established forty years. The latest feature added to their long list of manufactures is that of absorbent, bleached and tinted cottons for druggists, hospitals, perfumers and jewelers. Their Excelsior brand of absorbent cotton has been pronounced by experts to be the finest they have seen, and meets with ready sale wherever shown.

John H. Estes, the central figure in the cotton manufacturing business at Maplewood, was born in Tiverton, R. I., June 19, 1835. His father, Job Estes, was a wheelwright, and his carts and wooden plows were famous many miles around. Turning hubs by hand was tedious work, and he conceived the idea that there was power enough in the valley brook to turn his lathe and run his saw, and in 1825 decided to buy the property. He built a small shop, about 15 by 15, to which the motive power of the brook was transmitted by a flutter wheel. In 1834 Oliver Buffinton, the pioneer cotton waste dealer of Fall River, leased the privilege of operating four eighteen inch batting cards in the north end of the shop and Mr. Estes spent a part of his time in running them, while his wife helped in putting up the bats for market. Three years later Jonathan Bridges, formerly superintendent of the Massasoit Cotton Mill in Fall River, proposed utilizing the power for textile purposes, and leased the shop and power. A stronger water wheel was constructed, and the shop greatly enlarged and fitted with wooden shafting, which run about fifty looms weaving sheetings, shirtings and print goods. Experience proved the power to be inadequate for the load and Job Estes built a second water wheel about thirty rods farther down the stream, where a ten foot fall was obtained, and transmitted this additional power through the woods to the mill by a maniila rope, but the device did not work very well.

Meanwhile Israel Buffinton, who bad purchased the batting machinery of Oliver Buffinton, being promised the power of the lower waterwheel when the Bridges lease expired, built adjoining the wheel a wooden mill for the manufacture of cotton batting. So anxious was he to get started that he could not wait for the lease to expire, and constructed a windlass which was turned by a pair of horses, behind which, on the lever, John H. Estes, then a barefoot boy, used often to steal rides. High over the heads of the horses from a horizontal flywheel about fifteen feet in diameter, a belt conveyed this provisional power to the mill.

Starting without any working capital Mr. Bridges found it up hill work doing business on a credit basis, and before his lease expired be. came financially embarrassed and his creditors seized all his stock, tools and machinery. Quick to improve this opportunity, Mr. Buffinton at the lower mill changed from horse to water power and added five cards, which increased his product to about five hundred pounds daily. So great was the demand for batting that customers in their efforts to secure it remitted months in advance. Within fifteen years he succeeded in accumulating considerable money and built a larger mill of stone upon his own property farther down the stream upon the present site of the Fall River Bleachery. The wooden mill was later changed to a grist mill.

At the upper mill A. & J. Shove succeeded Mr. Bridges and equipped it with machinery for spinning carpet yarns for domestic weaving. It was here that John H. Estes started as a doffer boy and gradually worked his way through every department. When the Shove lease expired Job Estes bought the machinery, and with his children and two or three employees operated the mill for about five years, during which time it was decided to unite the motive power of the two mills by leading the water in a canal to a site where a fall of twenty five feet could be obtained, and in 1857-8 a two and one half story stone mill, 45 by 70, was constructed and fitted mainly with machinery removed from the upper mill, which burned to the ground in 1872. In 1860 John H. Estes, whose genius as a practical manufacturer had already made itself felt, associated himself with his brother in law, Thomas W. Lawton, leased the stone mill and machinery, and the firm of Lawton & Estes was formed, which, for about fifteen years, continued to make wrapping twine and carpet warp with about twelve employees. Job Estes died in 1872. Failing to secure another lease of the property the firm was dissolved and the mill stood idle several years. Meanwhile Mr. Estes improved his farms and tenement property, and, although never a dabbling politician, served one year as councilman and another as assessor in this city.

In 1880 the mill and adjoining real estate were bought at public auction by Mr. Estes, who, with his brothers, Benjamin F. and Joseph D., formed the firm of J. H. Estes & Bros., which existed for ten years. John H. Estes was manager and largest owner, and during this time his ability and judgment were shown by a series of enlargements and improvements, and by the signal progress which characterized this decade. In 1883 the mammoth breast wheel of twenty five horse power was supplanted by a modern turbine of forty horse power, and in 1887, to meet the increasing demands of their trade, an engine and boiler of 160 horse power were added and the amount of machinery increased threefold. About 6,000 square feet of floor was added to the mill and a large stone storehouse constructed.

By mutual consent, in October, 1890, the partnership was dissolved, and two months later the present firm of J. H. Estes & Son was formed, with J. Edmund Estes the junior partner. Industrial progress and enlargement has been the aim and the result of the present management. In 1892 a large storehouse was built, and a year later another story added to the mill and adjoining buildings. In 1895 a three story No. 2 mill, 75 by 130, was built, two boilers added to the steam plant and the old engine supplanted by a 420 horse power, crosscompound, condensing Harris Corliss engine. A large stone office was built, also another storehouse 75 by 125 feet. In 1897 the entire plant was equipped with a thorough system of automatic sprinklers.

Charles Estes, of Warren, R. I., has recently prepared a genealogy of the Estes family, which he traces back to the year 1097, and has found that the name, spelt in different ways, was known in history as remote as 136 years B.C. John H. Estes is a descendant in the sixth generation from Richard Estes, the emigrant, who was born in Dover, England, in 1647, and came to America in 1684. In 1866 John H. Estes married Caroline A. Ling, a local school teacher, and four children were born to them; J. Edmund, Jennie L., Elmer B., and Everett L.

John H. Estes is a self made man. With scanty schooling and training he has by tact, ingenuity, judgment and foresight forged his way to success. He learned to do by doing, and not only improved, but made opportunities. Like other self made men he has had many obstacles to encounter and overcome, but no disappointment discouraged, and no opposition disheartened. It has been well said that success is the reward of those "who spurn delights and live laborious days," and in the life of Mr. Estes this is notably true. Strict business has been the current of his life. He has taken pains to succeed. He is a wealthy and influential citizen, a large real estate owner, vice president of the Board of Trade and a director in five local corporations.

Our county and its people
A descriptive and biographical history of
Bristol County, Massachusetts
Prepaired and published under the auspices of
The Fall River News and The Taunton Gasette
With assistance of Hon. Alanson Borden
The Boston History Company, Publishers, 1899.

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