Sunday, October 7, 2012

Clapp Spooner (1824-1899)


  A prominent citizen and financier based in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the strangely named Clapp Spooner also served as Mayor of that city from 1863-1864. Although few sources mention him at great length, a fairly substantial overview of Spooner's life was found in America's Successful Men of Affairs, Vol. II published in 1895. The rare portrait of him above (and the only one to be found online) was also discovered in this book.
  Clapp Spooner was born in the village of Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire on  June 11, 1824, the third born son of Charles (1789-1842) and Betsey Powers Spooner (1793-1866), both former residents of Petersham, Massachusetts. Clapp Spooner inherited his odd first name from his paternal grandfather, also named Clapp Spooner (1760-1826). Young Clapp attended common schools local to the Barre, Massachusetts area and as an adolescent found employment as a clerk in a grocery store.
   After leaving behind his clerkship, Spooner joined up with the Thompson and Co. Express in Boston, Massachusetts. In July 1848 he married Harriett Garland, with whom he had one daughter, Anna Garland Spooner (1849-1864). Harriett Spooner died at the age of 26 in April 1852 and in March 1857 Clapp remarried to Catherine Wiley. Spooner's second marriage lasted over thirty years, and also saw the births of three more children, Charles Wiley (born 1858), Eliza Towne (born 1861) and Henry Clapp (born 1864).
   During the late 1850s and early 1860s, Clapp Spooner earned a reputation as one of the premier businessmen in New England, eventually working his way up to the position of part owner of the Phillips and Co. Express. In 1854 this company merged with three other independent express companies (including Harnden and Company) to form the famed Adams Express Company, a freight and transport business still in existence today, although it is now known as an equity fund and investment trust. Spooner is listed by the Successful Men of Affairs as one of "the nine organizers of that company and has been identified with it ever since." During the 1870s and 80s he served as a manager and superintendent of Adams's New England division, and in 1887 he was named as the company's Vice President, serving in this post until 1891.
  While Spooner's business activities dominated most of his life, his involvement in local and state politics are also a major part of his life story. He was a member of the Bridgeport City Council and in 1863 was elected as the Mayor of Bridgeport. His election to the above offices are remarked by America's Successful Men of Affairs as having an impact on Bridgeport, as "the city has had a great benefit of mature judgement and great business capacity." A roster of Bridgeport mayors (bearing Spooner's name) has been provided below.


   While his involvement in politics was rather short, Spooner is mentioned as being a staunch Republican, and throughout the remainder of his life maintained a "keen interest in political matters, local and national." As he entered his twilight years, Spooner continued a string of successful business endeavors, including being a director of the Hartford Steam and Boiler Co., a past director of the American Steel Company of Bridgeport, past director of the Connecticut National Bank of Bridgeport, and one of the directors of the Bridgeport Brass Company.
  As a result of his numerous financial interests, Spooner became one of Bridgeport's wealthiest residents, and with this wealth came one of Spooner's most lasting attributes, Brooklawn Park. This 200 acre piece of land was bought and developed by Spooner into "the finest suburb of Bridgeport", and he spent the remainder of his life improving and redesigning this landscape to attract Bridgeport's wealthiest and well known citizens.
   Clapp Spooner continued to be socially active well into his seventh decade, and this activity was only curtailed by an accident he suffered on the streets of Bridgeport in 1896. In July of that year he encountered the bad fortune of being struck by a team of horses being driven by a drunk driver! Spooner was on his way to board a trolley car when the accident occurred, and it is mentioned that he was "knocked down by a horse and trampled upon", resulting in serious injury. This accident eventually led to Spooner being confined to his home for the remainder of his life, and he died at his estate on July 30, 1899 at age 75. His cause of death was listed by his New York Times death notice (posted below) as a "general breaking down as a result of the accident." He was interred along side his wife Catherine (who had predeceased him in 1890) at the Mountain Grove Cemetery and Mausoleum in Bridgeport.

                                            From the New York Times, July 31, 1899 edition.

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