The History of New York State
Biographies, Part 18

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

REGINALD PELHAM BOLTON

By far the largest proportion of the problems that have perplexed the human race since man began to think remain unsolved. Real thinking ability is a comparatively recent acquirement of homo sapiens, an acquirement that as yet is the possession of only a few. Until the birth of science man's thinking in his efforts to solve the riddles of the universe found expression in speculative philosophies, and with futility as the total result. But in the midst of all these gropings after truth man has succeeded in wresting from the ruthless elements of nature a degree of comfort, and with constantly increasing success he is bending the forces of nature to his will and service. For this material advancement the scientist alone is entitled to thanks, yea, to gratitude. Genuine progress began when man learned that all true thinking must be based not upon fanciful speculation, but upon measurements, upon the collection and correlation of the widest possible range of the data involved in each problem. Our civilization is what it is largely because of the work of scientists, so much so that our age has come to be denominated the "scientific age." The application of scientific discoveries minister to our comfort, physical and mental, and to our happiness, safety, and general well-being every minute in every twenty-four hours. Even if space limitations did not forbid it, the enumeration of these blessings is not necessary; any reader can count them by the hundreds.

Among the engineers in this country who have won a foremost place in the application of scientific knowledge, and are, therefore, justly entitled to recognition as benefactors of mankind is Reginald Pelham Bolton, consulting engineer of New York City. Mr. Bolton's experience in that city dates from the very beginning of the modern engineering are; and through all the intervening yeas he has kept so well abreast of the latest developments in the various engineering fields in which he specializes, and to which he has also made valuable contributions, that his advice is sought not only from every section of this country, but from Europe as well. But he is not only an engineer. When one considers the many and widely varied fields that have enlisted his interest, time and effort, one is amazed beyond expression that one man could crowd so much into a lifetime. Others, all men of note--and their names will occur to every reader in this connection--have shown similar abilities and capacities; but all these men constitute an infinitesimal proportion of civilized man--minds possessing such keenness of perception, so quick in grasping ideas, yet also so thorough

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and discriminating in their consideration of every problem. They have developed efficiency in the human equation to the nth power. Mr. Bolton is one of these men; time, all that is necessary, he finds for every worth-while appeal.

He has done distinguished work as a genealogist, historian and archaeologist, and has published about a dozen volumes, equally divided between scientific and historical subjects. He is an active student of sociology, and is a humanist who has not hesitated at innovation or to be a pioneer when convinced by his own original study and research hat a new method of solving an old problem should be tried. And it is remarkable that thus far his major decisions along these lines have proven sound in pragmatic tests.

Even a brief study of the "Family of Bolton," a 500-page genealogy of which Mr. Bolton is he author, and which embodies almost endless personal research both in this country and in England, shows that he comes of a stock that for centuries has given men of outstanding abilities to the world; and in the branch of the family here under consideration these qualities have been especially marked for several generations. The eugenists would have to go far afield to find another family that so well supports their theory.

The Boltons have one of the longest lineage's among the families of British origins, going back to the time of William the conqueror, at which period the family was in possession of great estates both in Yorkshire and Lancashire. Reginald Pelham Bolton is of the twenty-second generation indirect line of descent from Oughtred (also spelled Utred, Uctred, or Auchtrea) de Bolton, who lived in the time of King Stephen (1135) and who was, according to quite satisfactory evidence, the lineal representative of the Earls of Mercia. From him the line descends as follows: Hugo, who married Cecilia Darrell; William, married Sarra, or Sarath, de Bothelton; Elias, married an heiress, Godytha, or Godyche, who was a Bolton and probably descended from Gilbert, youngest son of the original Oughtred; Roger; John, who was of age in 1252; Richard; Roger; Robert, married Anne, daughter of Nicholas Rushton; William, married Elenor, daughter of Rafe Ashton and died in 1663; Adam, married Elizabeth; Giles, died after 1642; married Margaret, who died in 1621; John baptized April 12, 1616, died in 1688; John, baptized March 16, 1658, died in 1693-93; married Ann, who died about 1714; Robert, who was the immigrant ancestor of the American family. He was born in 1688. He settled in Philadelphia in 1718; married there in 1721, Ann Clay, a native of England and widow of Robert Clay, a well-to-do Philadelphia merchant. Robert Bolton became a merchant and was very successful for a time, but was finally overtaken by financial disaster, after which he conducted a private school for some years, and won an enviable reputation as an educator. He died June 23, 1741. His son Robert was born January 1, 1722. He went to Savannah on account of his health about 1744, and became a prominent settler there. He participated in the Revolutionary War. He married Susannah, daughter of Mathieu Mauve. Their son Robert was born in Vernonburgh, Georgia , December 1, 1757, died December 4, 1802. He was well educated and became possessed of a large estate through his business ability and industry. He was one of the first exporters of sea-island cotton. He served in the Revolution; was with Washington at Trenton and also took part in the defense of Savannah helping to capture a British privateer. He was taken prisoner and was confined on a British prison ship for a short time, but made his escape and returned to the patriot army. Reginald Pelham Bolton has his sword, which tradition says was a gift from Washington. In 1781 Robert Bolton married Sarah McLean, of Chestertown, Maryland.

Their son, Rev. Robert Bolton, was born in Savannah, September 10, 1788. In 1808 he went to England, where he had been previously on a visit. Believing he had a call to preach the gospel, he augmented his education by attending an academy there. Beginning as a lay preacher, he was eventually ordained as a clergyman of the Methodist Church. He was a man of cultivation and took much interest in literature and the fine arts. While devoting his spare time to preaching as a layman, he engaged in mercantile business for several years; but the disastrous time of 1820 carried his business down in the general financial ruin. He took this as evidence that he should heed the urge he had long felt to devote his entire time tot he work of the ministry. After preaching for some time at Henley, he returned to the United States in April, 1836, and the following year he was ordained priest of the Episcopal church at St. Paul's Church, East Chester, this State, and was settled over that parish as a minister.

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Later he erected Pelham Priory, a handsome stone edifice, after plans suggested by his warm friend Washington Irving, and in building its walls used some of the bricks taken from the old Dutch Church at Sleepy Hollow. He had hardly become settled in his new abode before his southern friends began to beg that their daughters be permitted to be educated with his own. At first one or two were admitted as members of the household, but as additional requests were acceded to, the number of pupils in the school increased until it became one of the most important educational establishments of its kind in the country, and so continued until 1883, when the property was sold.

After removing to Pelham, Mr. Bolton continued to serve the East Chester church on Sundays and occasionally during the week. But the descendants of the Huguenot in Pelham and vicinity were without a church, and Mr. Bolton began ministering to their spiritual needs with results that led to the founding of Christ church, Pelham, whose edifice was completed and occupied in 1843.

In 1850, he and his family decided to visit his wife's people in England. While he never ceased to be an American at heart, the conservative tone of the English appealed strongly to a man of his culture and temperament, he was able to renew many of the warm associations established in his young manhood, and it was the birthplace of his wife, who, in addition to the attractions alluded to, was drawn by family ties. So they decided to remain in England, for a time a least. He became chaplain over the Earl of Ducie's chapel at Tortworth. He served there about four years until his death on November 19, 1857, at his residence in Cheltenham. On May 11, 1811, Rev. Robert Bolton married Anne, daughter of Rev. William Jay, of Bath, England. She as born November 15, 1793, and died September 27, 1859. She is buried beside her husband in the cemetery at Cheltenham.

Their fifth and youngest son was Rev. James Bolton, who was born at Weymouth, Dorset, February 11, 1824. He was twelve years of age when his father returned to America with the family, and young Bolton continued his education under the famous Dr. Muhlenberg, at College Point. At the age of sixteen he returned to England, where eh graduated from Corpus Christ College, Cambridge, in 1848. Having been ordained deacon, he was appointed curate of Saffron Walden in Essex. In 1849 he was ordained priest and two years later he became curate of St. Michael's, Pimlico. From there he went to St. Paul's, Kilburn, where his most promising career was cut short by death on April 8, 1863. The "Dictionary of Biography" carries the statement that "as a preacher to children he has perhaps never been surpassed." He wrote extensively, contributing to the "Family Treasury," the "Sunday Scholar's and Teacher's Magazine," and other juvenile publications. His published writings comprise some thirty-five volumes.

On June 30, 1853, Rev. James Bolton married Lydia Louisa, daughter of Rev. William Wollaston Pym, rector of William, Herts, a member of an ancient Bedford and Hertsfordshire family. On her material side Lydia Louisa Pym was descended from a Huguenot family, the Gambiers; her great-uncle, Baron Gambier, was the founder of Gambier College in Ohio. Like her husband, Mrs. Bolton possessed literary ability of no mean order, seven books, all of a religious nature, standing to her credit.

Their third child and son, Reginald Pelham Bolton, was born in London, England, October 5, 1856. He was educated at private schools at Wimbleton. The premature death of his father left the family in straitened circumstances, and it early became necessary for young Bolton to take his place in the work-a-day world. Taking the first employment that offered, he worked for six months in the office of a firm of stockbrokers. Work of a constructive nature had always appealed to him. As a young lad this had crystallized into ambition to become a carpenter' but as he became more mature he realized that that trade was much too restricted in its scope and became aware that his real aspiration was toward engineering. So at the age of seventeen he was bound out as an apprentice to James Waite, of Epson, Surrey, and began his engineering education by firing a boiler in their plant--arduous labor for a young of his age. From that job he went into the blacksmith shop and so on step by step to the drafting room. It was in 1875 that he took up the latter work in the designing department of Powis, James and Company, of Lambeth, to whom he had apprenticed himself. Three years later he entered the employ of Davey, Paxman and Company, of Colchester, as a draftsman. They were agricultural and mining engineers. In those days there were no technical schools, and books on theory were few. Hours of labor were

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long and the way of the ambitious was hard. But obstacles and handicaps appeared not as barriers in this determined young man, but rather as incentives spurring him on. Before entering the employ of the last-named company, Mr. Bolton had already perfected his first important invention, the Reliance air compressor. So perfectly did this device function that many are yet in use. Wishing to broaden his knowledge and experience, he came to this country in December, 1879, and became assistant engineer of the Edgemoore Iron Works, in Wilmington, Delaware. They were building the steel work for the Brooklyn Bridge. Two years later he removed to Boston, where he had accepted a position as assistant to Dr. Erasmus D. Leavitt, consulting engineer of the Calumet and Hecla Mining company. There he was employed in designing mining machinery for about a year and a half. With the knowledge and experience now at his command, he felt that the time had come to venture into business upon his own account. late in 1881 he returned to England in ill health, but the following year opened his own office as consulting engineer and also made a connection with the mercantile firm of D. New and Company of London. Mr. Bolton then crossed to the Continent and traveled all over Europe designing special machinery and acting as representative of the London firm just mentioned. He carried a drawing board around with him and worked in the hotels where he stopped, having access to none of such helps as are not considered indispensable--libraries with their innumerable works of reference. He spent much time in Sicily, renowned for its bandits, who, at that time, carried on with little restraint, Sicily with rich in supplies of sulphur, but the methods of getting it out of the earth were crude in the extreme, human labor being the only power, and that mostly child labor. Mr. Bolton was engaged by an Englishman who owned a sulphur mine there to design machinery that would do away with such labor. This he accomplished successfully, and whereas previously it had been the custom to follow a vein of sulphur from the surface at whatever angle it ran, Mr. Bolton's machinery permitted the sinking of shafts, and an adaptation of the methods used in taking out other minerals.

In 1882 Mr. Bolton returned to the United States. That was the time when electric light and power distribution was being developed here. The marvelous possibilities in electricity impressed him at once, and he applied himself to gaining all the information obtainable in this new department of engineering. This took him about a year, and, thus equipped,, he returned to Europe and got in on the first electrical construction work there, which was the transformer, the principles and design of which were then being worked out by French engineers. In 1888 he became general manger for Appleby Brothers, Limited, crane engineers of Greenwich, and the following year re-entered practice as a consulting engineer on his own account. He was back and forth between Europe frequently until 1894, when he decided to open an office in New York City, and remain here permanently. It so happened that at that time the first sixteen-story building in New York was being erected at the corner of Nassau and Liberty streets. By this time Mr. Bolton had acquired a wife and child; funds were low, and he was wondering what his first commission would be and how and where he would get it. In front of St. Paul's church he met, quite by accident, a man whom he had known in England. The old friend said, "You are the very man I want; I have a problem to solve: I must plan the machinery for a sixteen-story building." Mr. Bolton went right to work at the task. The old friend was George Cullingworth, of the then firm of machinists and engineers known as the Ingersoll Rock Drill Company, and Mr. Bolton had done work for him in Europe. That gave Mr. Bolton his start on a road on which he has traveled far since that day. At that time Mr. Bolton was the only engineer in the city with an all-round training and experience that equipped him to tackle any mechanical system or device in a building. He designed for the building just referred to the heating plant, the elevator work, the plumbing and the electrical work His first big job was the Bowling Green Building and that was followed by a number of others, including the first eighteen-story building in the city, that at the corner of Broadway and Chambers Streets. Then, when the old Grand Central Station was remodeled, he did all the interior engineering work, and when the present station was built that work was again assigned to him. He laid out the plans for heating, power, elevators, water distribution, etc. the Hotel Ansonia was another important undertaking. Two thousand plumbing fixtures were installed in that building and sixty-six miles of water pipes. That task consumed three years.

As already noted, Mr. Bolton is very much of a humanist; he loves human kind. . He believes that the solution of the difficulties be-

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tween labor and capital lies in the hands of the employer; and he believes not only in preaching but in practice. Accordingly, he organized in 1913 the R. P. Bolton company, in order to bring his associates into more vital and profitable identification with the business. Mr. Bolton had been president, of course, from the beginning. The company functions as consulting engineers for large corporations, among which may be mentioned: Department of Water Supply of the City of New York; New York Central and Hudson River Railroad; the Plant System; New York Edison Company; United Electric Light and Power Company; Narragansett Electric Light and Power Company of Providence; R. H. Macy and Company, and corporations of similar standing all over the United States. The company's work is largely in connection with devising increased economies in operation and production and the reduction of expense in the utilization of electric current by large consumers. This often involves the changing over of plants, altering systems, etc. similar expert advice is given in connection with the utilization of steam.

In 1915 Mr. Bolton organized the Electric Meter Corporation. They handle the problems in connection with sub-meters used by owners of properties who purchase current from public sources of supply and resell the current to tenants. New York City is the field of this corporation's operations. The present quarters of these companies was originally the home of Rev. Howard Crosby, which Mr. Bolton purchased and remodeled to meet the requirements of his business and to provide the best possible environment and atmosphere for his associates to work in. the staff comprises some thirty-five or forty people.

It has already been intimated that Mr. Bolton is a keen and discerning student of sociological and economic problems in which he is an original experimenter. He was, so far as known, the first man to institute the five-day week in his office, a plan which is now being widely adopted. Henry Ford did not put the plan into effect in his plants until a year after Mr. Bolton had; but there is an important difference in Mr. Bolton's method, for he did not reduce wages; instead, he increased them. He believes that in maintaining and improving morale and efficiency--and he has demonstrated the accuracy of his theory--a system of rewards for well-doing accomplishes more than penalties for delinquencies. Applying this idea, he devised a system for paying five per cent of the weekly wages to every employee from manger down to the office boy; conditioned on only one consideration, viz.: that services for the week shall be satisfactory. This means, for instance, among other things, that the employee shall not be late in getting to the office more than once during that period. This may seem like a small inducement, but it has had a tremendous effect.

Another thing which he believes should never be forgotten is the period of service, and his observations lead him to the conclusion that this has not generally received sufficient attention. He believes that when an employee has been with a concern for two, three, four, five or more years that fact should receive some recognition without waiting for the employee to call attention to it. so he gives every employee a birthday present on every anniversary of his coming with the company, including the first one; and the amount increases each year, beginning with twenty dollars, to which amount five dollars is added the next year; the third year the present is thirty-five dollars, the fourth yeas, forty dollars, and so on.

The scientific mind pays little heed to tradition and Mr. Bolton has observed that the training of an engineer has a wonderfully liberalizing effect upon the mind, making it more receptive to new ideas, or at least readier to give them fair consideration.

He is the inventor of a hydraulic governor, the Bolton and Hartley Air Compressor, a gearing for electrical cranes, and an electrical rock-boring and hammering apparatus. Among the books he has written may be mentioned "Motive Powers," 1895; "Elevator Service," 1908; "Building for Profit," 1911; "An Expensive Experiment," 1913; and numerous monographs published in the proceedings of various engineering societies. Besides the Bolton genealogy already referred to, Mr. Bolton has written "Washington Heights, Manhattan, Its Eventful Past," published in 1924 by the Dyckman Institute. This is a most valuable contribution to the published history of the State and contains the very important results of Mr. Bolton's extensive archaeological research in this region.

In order to be near relatives he settled in Westchester County when he came to the United States in 1894. Washington Heights was then sparsely populated and he found it to be a wonderfully interesting field for exploration work. In 1901, "The Assault of Mount Washington," appeared from his pen, and in 1904, the "Autobiography of an Irish Terrier."

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Mr. Bolton's interest in Washington Heights has never abated. He is the last large garden on Manhattan Island. Horticulture is one of his hobbies and he has established a community flower garden that has enlisted the interest of many neighbors, each of whom view with the others, but all of whom work with the ensemble in mind. These gardens are contiguous and are unmarred by separating fences or hedges. For twenty-five years Mr. Bolton has been secretary of the Washington Heights Tax-Payers' Association, and he has had a great deal to do with local development and civic enterprises. He has numbered every mayor of new York from and including the late Mayor McClellan to "Jimmie" Walker, among his personal friends. Former Mayor Hylan said of Mr. Bolton, he as the one man he knew in the city who has no personal axe to grind.

Mr. Bolton is a member of many learned bodies. He is a charter member of the American Institute of Consulting Engineers; he is a very old member of the English Institution of Civil Engineers, from which he received the Telford gold Medal in 1891; for more than thirty years he has been a member of the American Society of Engineers which has honored him with a life membership; American Society of Mechanical Engineers; he is a Fellow of the Royal Society of England; he is a past president of the American Society of Heating and Ventilating Engineers; New York Electrical Society; New York Electrical Society; he is an honorary life-member of the New York Historical Society. He has been a member and for many years was vice-president of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society. The preservation of old buildings is one of Mr. Bolton's particular hobbies. He is also a member of the City historical Club; Municipal Art society, and of the National Art and Lawyers clubs.

On May 4, 1878, Reginald Pelham Bolton married, at Hating, England, Kate Alice, youngest daughter of Captain Henry Behenna of the royal Army, a well-known scientific officer. He was the last representative of an ancient Cornish family, the members of which devoted themselves for many generations to the British Navy. Captain Behenna died in 1880. Mrs. Bolton was born at Plumstead, Kent, November 12, 1859. She died August 15, 1891, and was buried in Broxburne churchyard, Herts. Three children were born from this union: Ivy May; Reginald James Darnton, deceased; and St. George Guy Reginald, who is everywhere known as Guy Bolton, the playwright.

For his second wife Mr. Bolton married, on September 3, 1892, Ethelind, daughter of Leonard Huyck, of Washington District of Columbia, and granddaughter of John Quackenbush Huyck and Elizabeth Van Ness, of Columbia, this State. For more than thirty years the Bolton residence has been at No. 638 West one Hundred and Fifty-eighth Street, Washington Heights, New York City.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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