Mystery Monday: The Disappearance of George McClellan: Success In Denver Turns To Smoke

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George McClellan left his new bride Imogene and infant son George in Hanson, Mass. and arrived in Denver, Colorado by early December 1873. He probably traveled by railroad, including the Old Colony Railroad from Hanson, The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad to New York City, the  Baltimore and Ohio Railroad from New York City to St. Louis, and the Missouri Pacific Railroad from St. Louis to Kansas City and on to Denver.

 

The first identified record of George R. McClellan in Denver is from an announcement published in Daily Rocky Mountain News on 6 December 1873  stating that Frederick William Gromm formed a business partnership with George R. McClellan for the Denver Trunk Factory.

 

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Advertisement of the Denver Trunk Factory, announcing the new partnership of Frederick W. Gromm and George R. McClellan. Daily Rocky Mountain News (Denver, Colo.) 6 Dec. 1873, p. 1.

 

1873-12-06 Denver Trunk Factory Ad

Earlier in 1873, German immigrant F. W. Gromm formed a trunk company with J.J. Miller. However, Gromm and Miller’s partnership ended in October 1873, perhaps due to financial or personal troubles. Gromm then advertised that he would continue the trunk manufacturing business alone at the “old stand” on Planter’s house block, 223 16th St. By December 1873, Gromm had found a new partner for the trunk business – the newly arrived George R. McClellan. Since George McClellan had previously worked as a mason, it seems unlikely he brought any particular trunk manufacturing expertise to the partnership. Instead, McClellan primarily brought a financial investment to the partnership, assuming an equal share in the risks and rewards of the business. It is possible that Barnabas Everson provided his son-in-law George R. McClellan with some of this capital. From December 1873 – March 1874 and August 1874-November 1874, Gromm and McClellan bought daily and weekly ads in newspaper Daily Rocky Mountain News to advertise their Denver Trunk factory.

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Gromm & McClellan Denver Trunk Factory ad. Daily Rocky Mountain News (Denver, Colo.) 16 Aug. 1874, p. 1.

The Denver Trunk Factory, Gromm & McClellan and George R. McClellan all had entries in the 1874 and 1875 Denver City Directories:

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Denver Trunk Factory in 1874 Denver City Directory, p. 101.

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Gromm & McClellan in 1874 Denver City Directory, p. 122.

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George R. McClellan in 1874 Denver City Directory, p. 156.

 

By the spring of 1874, McClellan had some confidence in the success of the Denver Trunk Factory, and he made several purchases of investment properties. However, throughout his time in Denver he lived in a rented apartment on the second floor of the Planters House at 223 Sixteenth Street above the Denver Trunk Factory.

 

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1864 image of Planters House (white hotel mid-right) and intersection of Blake and Sixteenth Streets. In 1873, Gromm & McClellan’s Denver Trunk factory was based in the “old stand” at Planters House, and George R. McClellan rented a room in Planters House, whose address at the time was 223 Sixteenth Street at the corner of Blake Street. Photograph courtesy of the Denver Public Library.

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1868 Map of Denver showing Planters House at the intersection of Blake and Sixteenth Streets. Map courtesy of the Denver Public Library. Planters House was listed in this map on Block 41, buildings 1 [two and a half stories] and 1a [two stories].

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1874 Denver Map. Intersection of Blake and Sixteenth Streets in center, including Planters House. Map courtesy of the Denver Public Library.

 

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1875 Denver City Directory, p. 132.

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1875 Denver City Directory, p. 290.

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1875 Denver Directory, p. 168.

 

But George McClellan’s success soon went up in smoke. Just before midnight on 23 February 1875, George McClellan had to flee his rented room as the Planters House caught fire. McClellan rushed below to his factory on the lower level to pull out of the building as many trunks and pieces of luggage and he could. Some pieces were saved, but the entire building quickly burned. The following morning the Daily Rocky Mountain News reported the fire:

A Big Blaze. A Fire Licks Up the Top Portion of the Old Planter’s House. A Great Hub-bub and a Lively Tumbling of Things – The Losers and Their Losses. The ancient Planter’s House, at the corner of Blake and Sixteenth streets, is a roofless shell this morning. It is one of the old landmarks, and, as contrasted with its stately neighbors, the Inter-Ocean and American, has simply encumbered the corner for years, instead of giving place to a structure in keeping with its surroundings, and the metropolitan character of the Denver of to-day. At 11 o’clock last night a fire burst out through the roof on the Blake street front. R. L. Hatten, of the American House, discovered the flames, and gave the alarm. By the time the first stream, which was remarkable only for its weakness, got to playing friskily against the window panes, the flames were whipping over the entire north end of the roof, and working rapidly down into the second story. The other hose companies came up promptly, and turned loose their streams, but the fire crowded steadily along the whole length of the building, until a portion of the roof tumbled in. The firemen, however, by well-directed efforts, succeeded in confining the flames to the top floor, and bringing them under control. In the meantime the wildest excitement prevailed. The two streets were crowded with spectators. Heads protruded from every window in the neighboring buildings. The blinding storm and rush of smoke and sparks made sight-seeing anything but a pleasure and well nigh an impossibility in the streets. The stores and shops and wash-houses under the burning building were emptied of their contents in short order. The show cases, medicine jars, and perfumeries in Dingle’s drug store, on the corner, were jerked out and dumped on the opposite sidewalk, but were afterwards removed into the office of the American House. The trunks, valises, and the like, big and little, in F. W. Gromm’s manufactury, on the Sixteenth street side, were rolled end over end to the Inter Ocean side, while the costly fabrics, sewing machines, etc., in Bell’s merchant tailoring shop were lugged to places of safety. A few cases and boxes of minerals and fossils were carried out of Hamilton’s museum. Wing Lee’s wash-house was gutted in a twinkling, and an up-town merchant, who had run six blocks, and was panting for breath, was heard, above the din and racket, to accost the frightened Celestial with – “Where the h-ll’s my wife’s washing?” The chairs, shaving cups, and like appurtenances of Julius Pearse’s barber shop were carried to the American House steps, as also were moveables in Weiner’s tobacco store. The losses may be approximately summed up as follows: Wm. Dingle, druggist, $3,500 – $1,200 insurance on fixtures, none on stock; H. Bell, merchant tailor, $200 – including the value of two silk dresses undergoing cleansing; Julius Pearse, barber, $1,500 – no insurance; A. Weiner, tobacco dealer, $2,000 – uninsured; Professor Hamilton, owner of museum, $500 – no insurance; F. W. Gromms, trunk manufacturer, $500 – insured for that amount; Ludwig Schrader, shoemaker, probably $25; Dr. Whitehead, furniture, instruments, fixtures, etc., $100. The building is owned by Major Bradford, and is leased to John W. Smith, renting for $166 per month. There is no insurance on the building, and the loss to its owner cannot be much. Two or three of the second story apartments were occupied, but most of the rooms were vacant. It is thought that the fire caught from a defective flue leading from one of the occupied rooms. [“A Big Blaze”, Daily Rocky Mountain News (Denver, Colo.) 24 Feb. 1875, p. 1.]

George McClellan himself was one of the “two or three” tenants renting an apartment on the second story of the Planters House, so in the course of one evening he lost both his residence and a good portion of his business. The destruction of Gromm and McClellan’s company was a devastating financial blow to the partners. Although they were able to salvage some of the materials, McClellan did not have enough spare capital to re-invest in the efforts to rebuild. Gromm recovered the $500 he had insured on the business, and was determined to begin again. But McClellan called it quits, and returned home to Hanson, Massachusetts empty-handed.

Gromm continued his business alone, and went on to grow the Denver Trunk company into a major producer, eventually becoming one of Denver’s leading businessmen. A biography  later reflected that Gromm “has been continously in business in Denver since 1873. He started in a small way, but has built up a business that makes him the leading trunk manufacturer of Denver.” [The City of Denver and the State of Colorado (1890) p. 124.] George R. McClellan’s role as Gromm’s partner from 1873-1875 was forgotten in local Denver histories.

While George was away in Denver from 1873-1875, his wife Imogene was raising their son George Cameron McClellan with the support of her parents, Barnabas and Deborah Everson. During this time Imogene joined the Marshfield Agricultural and Horticultural Society and during subsequent years submitted entries for various categories at their annual fair (known today as the Marshfield Fair). In February 1874, the infamous Sturtevant murders occurred, and Barnabas Everson’s sawmill was a landmark in the murder trial, since William Sturtevant had cut through Everson’s cedar swamp and mill along the old Native American footpath called “Tunk” to visit his uncles in Halifax, Mass. William Sturtevant murdered his uncles and their housekeeper and stole money from their house. On his return along Tunk behind Everson’s sawmill, Sturtevant dropped bloody coins along the same path on his way back to his home in South Hanson that were later used as evidence against him during his murder trial.

George McClellan returned to Hanson in the spring of 1875. He had left for Denver in the fall of 1873, and had been away from his family for almost two years. By July of 1875 Imogene was pregnant with their first daughter, who was born 3 April 1876 and named Lillian in honor of Imogene’s middle name.

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Birth record of Lillian McClellan, born Hanson 3 April 1876. George McClellan was listed as a resident of California, and his occupation was brick mason.

Curiously, on Lillian’s birth record it states that George R. McClellan was residing at the time of her birth in California. Nothing else is known about George’s time in California, but it appears that he therefore returned to Hanson for only a short time following the burning of Gromm & McClellan’s trunk factory in 1875 before he tried his luck in California.

George returned to Hanson before 20 February 1879 when he petitioned the U.S. Circuit Court for naturalization, stating that he was born at Pictou, Nova Scotia on 8 May 1848, and that he arrived at Portland, Maine on 8 September 1869. He declared that he was  a bricklayer residing in Hanson.

Tragedy struck the McClellan family one month later. On 25 March 1879, their 6 year old son George Cameron McClellan died of diphtheria, which he caught at the #4 schoolhouse in Hanson where several children were sick with the disease. His 19 year old teacher Bertha Alice Hood died 26 February 1879 of diphtheria. In 1881, the death of another #4 student and several sick schoolchildren caused a “diphtheria scare” in Hanson and parents kept their children out of school for an entire term [see my article on the history of teachers of Schoolhouse #4, now the Hanson Historical Society headquarters].

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Death record of George Cameron McClellan, aged 6

George Jr.’s death devastated his parents and caused additional tension in their marriage. Shortly after burying his son and namesake at Fern Hill Cemetery in Hanson, George R. McClellan determined to return to Denver in an attempt to make his fortunes yet again, leaving his grieving wife Imogene and their 3 year old daughter Lillian behind.

 

Would George McClellan be successful his second time in Denver?

 

Up Next: George McClellan Fights Against and Participates in Denver’s Corrupt Political Scene

Previously: Part One: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan

Previously: Part Two: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: His Roots

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