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Scovil Hoe: More than Hoes (Part One)

Submitted by R. Thurston Clark

(March 28, 2024) — The name of the 18th and 19th Century Higganum manufacturing company D & H Scovil stands for brothers Daniel and Hezekiah Scovil.  The family probably descends from Richard and Mary (Cook) de Scoville, of County Dorset.  In England, there was another de Scoville, Ralph, of County Somerset as early as 1194.  Both of these families are believed to have descended from Norman invaders of the hamlet Escoville/Ecoville to England about 1066. The name has also been spelled: Skovile, Scowles, Scoble, Scobells, or Schofield.

In the Colonies, the popular record says that the Scovil descendants were brothers William and John Scovil originally of Farmington, Connecticut.  However, the William of Haddam can’t be proved other than one record by Dr. Dudley Field.  There is more evidence for John’s brother being Arthur of Boston, Middletown and Lyme, and “William” being the son of this John vs. his brother.

I have concluded that the brothers of the D & H Scovil company were descended from John’s son, William, born about 1671.  John married at Farmington 1666, acquired land there in 1670, removed to Waterbury and became one of the first settlers there, acquiring land in 1677, then removed again to Haddam about 1686.  This disputes the record that he was an early settler at Haddam shortly after 1662. (Note he was not one of the original 28 signers of Haddam in 1662).  It also disputes the record that William joined him there about 1668, because son William was not born until 1671.   John also had a son, Sargent John, who returned to Waterbury, plus Edward of Haddam, and Benjamin of East Haddam.

In 1802 at age 14 Hezekiah Sr. apprenticed with David Spencer of Ponsett to learn blacksmithing.  About 1814 he traveled to New Haven to apprentice with Eli Whitney learning the manufacture of welded gun barrels.  After a while he returned to Higganum to make gun barrels for Mr. Whitney under government contracts.  The association with Mr. Whitney continued for many years; between 1844 and 1847 D & H Scovil sold Whitney 36,000 rifle barrels.  He also started manufacturing ram rods for rifles, plus a number of hoes and other agricultural implements until his death in October of 1849.

The father and his son Daniel began making planters hoes in 1844 after Daniel had spent some time in the South observing cotton plantations and the inefficiency occurring by their use of existing “neck” hoes imported from England.  Daniel persuaded his brother, Hezekiah Jr., to leave his job as teller at Middlesex County Bank to join him at the shop.

The result was their famous “self-sharpening” planters, or Eye Hoe; they made them in five sizes.  Their “eye” hoe was made by welding three parts together: the eye bracket; the main rectangle part and the stainless blade.  Scovil didn’t sell individual hoes, or small quantities, rather they oiled the finished product, wrapped it in paper and put a hundred or so in a barrel for shipment.

D & H Scovil was very protective of their reputation about the quality of their hoes, but they did sell the “seconds” under the firm name “Connecticut Mfg. Co.”  Typically, the plants were running eleven months of the year, closing only when the water level in the ponds was too low to operate their machinery.

During the Civil War there wasn’t much demand in the South for their hoes, so their shops switched to manufacturing pistol barrels and ram rods.  In 1920 they switched from iron to the much lighter steel hoes.  As time went on D & H Scovil sold their Planter’s Hoe in fourteen states, including New York and most of the South, except Virginia.  They also sold their hoes in South America.

The “eye” hoe was first produced by the Collins Company in 1826, but the Scovil hoe proved to be of superior design.  There were also several other competitors that entered the market.  An example of the popularity of their hoe is the fact that they produced 354,000 hoes in 1890.  Employment at Scovil peaked at 90.

The Scovils also rented some small houses to workers.  The maximum appears to be about thirteen men, some of whom were father and son.  The brothers also dabbled in the shipping business with their financing of the ship Marathon in 1850.  She was captured by the “Rebels” in the war.  They also had some interest in the Mary Elizabeth and the City of Hartford, the latter being a steamboat that took passengers and freight between Hartford and New York.  The company started downsizing in the 1930’s.  Manufacturing was consolidated into Mill #3 so that the other buildings could be sold off, then the business sold outright in 1943.

In 1875 Hezekiah, Jr. built a Queen Anne style home on Maple Avenue in Higganum.  Daniel died in 1881, but the business was continued by his brother Hezekiah, until his death in January of 1903.  Since neither of these Scovil brothers had male heirs who was interested in the business it fell to the descendants of sister Fanny and her husband John Porter to assume control of the business. That is, son Joseph B. Porter (1839-1909), who was President of the company, and the son of brother Wallace (1850-1912), Philip Wells Porter, Sr. (1888-1969), who was also President of the company.

The sequence of the D & H Scovil structures in Haddam were:

  • A dam was built on the Candlewood Hill stream in 1848
  • “Mill #1” was constructed in 1849, enlarged in 1855.
  • “Mill #2,” called the Bell Shop for its bell tower, was constructed between 1859 and 1860. The building sits on fifty acres of land with two ponds.
  • The first “brick” shop was created about 1861.
  • “Mill #3” at 12 Scovil Road, just off Candlewood Hill Road, was constructed in 1867.
  • The firm’s office building is across the street from Mill #3
  • Mill Complex #4 are two buildings on Candlewood Hill Road, near Saybrook Road. Construction of the first building began in 1880, which included a 100-foot chimney.  The second building was constructed about 1905.
  • A dock on the Connecticut River.

 

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