Collection ID: Coll. No. 99

Collection context


Maxwell family
This collection represents a wide variety of the business and personal interests of Thompson C Maxwell and his brothers Joshua and Henry who were in the nursery business from 1848 until their deaths. It includes correspondence, photos, stock certificates, and many deeds related to their land purchases across the country.
2 boxes


Scope and Content:

This collection covers quite a bit of material related to land acquired by the Maxwell Brothers and their partners, in addition to papers from the construction and furnishing of North Presbyterian Church. This includes correspondence and invoices from 1874 to 1907 with the workers producing every little detail of furniture, curtains, bells, organ, stained glass, and other furnishings in the church.

This collection also contains correspondence related to the American Forest Tree Propagation and Land Company of which the Brothers and five others created. It was in existence a short time but provides insight into those who wanted to use the western lands for productive soil rather than developing cities. It also gives a quick glimpse into the cholera outbreak occurring at the same (c. 1866) in Auburn as seen by the president of the company, Reverend Frederick Starr Jr. Additional material compiled by the Geneva Historical Society includes photographs and stock certificates of the family.

Biographical / Historical:

In 1848, Thompson C Maxwell, who was in the nursery business with his brother Olney in Dansville, came to Geneva to buy trees from Hildreth, but instead he purchased a cottage and six and one-half acres from him. There he worked the land until joined by his parents in 1849 and his brothers Henry in 1852 and Joshua in 1853. On July 1, 1853 the brothers signed a partnership agreement under the name TC Maxwell & Brothers.

As the Civil War ended, the Maxwell Brothers associated with five others and founded the American Forest Tree Propagation and Land Company, hoping to secure rights to 10,000 acres of public lands in Kansas through a private bill in the US Congress. Bonds were to be issued in the name of Ottawa Indian University of Kansas and would fund an experiment in forestation supervised by Professor SF Kelsey. Difficulty arose when representatives of Ottawa University, impatient with lack of progress, submitted an alternative bill to Congress in which they made extravagant and expensive commitments. The differences between the land company and Ottawa University were in the process of reconciliation when the company’s president, Reverend Frederick Starr, died. After more than two years of unsuccessful lobbying through the office of Senator Brown of Missouri, the enterprise appears to have expired for lack of sufficient interest in Congress.

The Maxwell Brothers nurseries were located off Castle Street; Maxwell Avenue is named after them. Prior to the brothers’ deaths, Henry in 1889 then Thompson in 1908 and Joshua in 1912, the company had given up the nursery business in favor of fruit growing and general farming. Henry T Maxwell, son of Henry E, was general manager and secretary, as well as serving as mayor, by 1929.

Henry joined with E. Horton Bowden, who worked with the Rice Brothers, to take over the business of John P Rice (who experienced reversals in banking). By the late 1930s, this business was known as Maxwell, Bowden, Inc. John’s son, T Raymond Rice, purchased the company on his return to Geneva in December 1941, renaming it Maxwell, Bowden & Rice. By this time, the company had moved from a grower of nursery stock into a wholesale distributor of supplies. The company could no longer compete with others by the 1950s.

Acquisition information:
A bulk of the collection was donated by a descendant, Thompson Scoon Jr., in August 1974. Two folders were compiled by the Geneva Historical Society.
Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: a Content Standard


Geneva History Museum
543 South Main Street
Geneva, NY 14456, United States