Edward Lee Wells, president of the J. B. Wells & Son Company, dry goods merchants of Utica, and a representative
of one of the best known families in Oneida county, was born at Utica, March 1, 1852. He is a son of John Breed
Wells, for many years a prominent merchant of this city, and Rosanna ___ (Lee) Wells. The father was born at Colchester,
Connecticut, August 24, 1816, a son of Henry and Sophia (Breed) Wells. He moved with the family in his early youth
to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and at the age of fourteen was apprenticed to Owen & Huriburt, paper manufacturers
of South Lee, Massachusetts, and spent seven years in their general supply store. He then purchased the store and
continued the business for a year. In 1839 he came to Utica and was for two years in the employ of his cousins,
A. L. and R. H. Wells, in the dry goods business. In 1841 he associated with Lewis Bailey of Utica as Bailey &
Wells and they were in the dry goods business for two years at Auburn and for the next three years at Utica. In
1846, the partnership having expired, he started in business on his own account and became the head of one of the
largest dry goods houses in central New York. In 1865 he admitted John S. Capron as a partner, the firm becoming
J. B. Wells & Company, and in 1873 Edward Lee Wells was admitted to partnership under the title of J. B. Wells
Son & Company. The firm sustained a heavy loss by fire, amounting to over one hundred thousand dollars, on
May 9, 1893, but soon recovered and reopened with a larger and finer stock of goods than had been destroyed. Mr.
Wells was one of the founders of the Skenandoah Cotton Company in 1882 and served as vice president and president
of the company. This concern began with a capital of two hundred thousand dollars and ten thousand spindles. The
capital stock was successively increased to three hundred thousand, six hundred thousand and one million dollars,
the enlarged modern plant now comprising four large mills supplied with about sixty thousand spindles. Its remarkable
growth was due largely to the business ability of Mr. Wells. He was also a stockholder in the Mohawk Valley Cotton
Mills of Utica, the Willowvale Bleaching Company and the Utica Steam Cotton Mills, and for ten years was a director
of the First National Bank of Utica, contributing in an important degree to the success of all the institutions
with which he was connected. In religious belief he affiliated with the Presbyterian church and was a member of
the First Presbyterian church from 1843 until his death, an elder for thirty years and a deacon for ten years.
From 1887 he was president of the board of trustees of the Young Men's Christian Association of Utica and was largely
instrumental in securing the erection of its first building, which was dedicated November 1, 1889. He also officiated
as treasurer of the Home for the Friendless.
At Lyme, Connecticut, October 18, 1841, Mr. Wells was married to Miss Roxanna Hill Lee and five children were born
of this union, Mary Louise, John H., Helen E., Edward Lee and Anna S. John H., the second in order of birth, died
November 17, 1865, at the age of eighteen years. Helen E. was born June 21, 1850, and was married April 5, 1893,
to Dr. Eugene Grove Carpenter, of Cleveland, Ohio, her death occurring August 25 of the same year as her marriage.
Mr. Wells was one of the ablest business men Utica has known and for nearly fifty years was prominent in the development
of the city. He was a liberal contributor to worthy causes and in every respect filled the ideal of a model citizen.
He was called from earthly scenes November 27, 1891. "He was not a man of many words but of many good deeds."
Edward Lee Wells was educated in the public schools of Utica and at Utica Free Academy, graduating from the latter
institution in 1870. In September of the same year he entered his father's dry goods store and has ever since been
identified with the dry goods business, being at the present time president of the J. B. Wells & Son Company,
which was incorporated in April, 1906. The business has greatly prospered under his experienced management and
a beautiful new store on Genesee street speaks in no uncertain terms as to the good taste and judgment of those
now in charge. Mr. Wells is also president of the Standard Harrow Company, the Roberts-Wicks Company and the Olympian
Knit Goods Company, all of Utica; and is president of the Yonkers North End Land Company of New York city. He has
for a number of years served as a member of the board of directors of the First National Bank of Utica and in a
similar capacity with the Skenandoah Cotton Company and the Herron Manufacturing Company. He has for twenty five
years been actively interested in the Young Men's Christian Association, serving as a director during the time
named, as trustee for fifteen years and as treasurer for the last fourteen years. He is a member of the board of
sessions of the First Presbyterian church and a liberal contributor toward religious and other causes. In politics
he is a republican but has never sought nor held any position, although he has been active in municipal affairs
in securing a capable and efficient administration as a member and director of the Utica Chamber of Commerce, and
has devoted much time and capital to the industrial development of Utica. Socially he is a member of the Fort Schuyler
Club. He takes an active interest in world affairs and the development of the higher ideals. He is frequently a
speaker on subjects pertaining to travel, sociology and commercial ethics. From his youth he has been controlled
by a desire to promote the best interests of those with whom he is associated and his life has been crowned with
success well merited as it has been honorably won.
History of Oneida County, New York
From 1700 to the present time
of some of its prominent men and pioneers.
By: Henry J. Cookinham
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
Oneida County, NY
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