Albert Z. Downs Jr.

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On 23 January 1921, Albert Z. Downs, a civil war veteran and well respected New Haven resident, passed away at the age of 82. In this entry, as we approach 91 years since his death, we remember Albert’s interesting life and I demonstrate the wide variety of sources used to reconstruct it.

Albert Z. Downs Jr. was born in the town of Woodbury in Litchfield County on 31 December 1838 and was the son of Albert Zeri and Sarah (Prichard) Downs. [1] Albert lived in Woodbury until the age of 11 and attended the Minor Town District School. Around 1850/1 Albert moved with his family to the neighboring town of Bethlehem, where he attended winter school for five years and worked on a farm during the summer season. Around 1855, he moved with his family to the village of Westville, New Haven County, where he resided for the rest of his life. [2]

By 1860, Albert was living with the family of Morris Isbell. [3] Isbell was a Westville blacksmith and wagon maker, whose shop was located on Main Street, near its intersection with Tyron Street. [4] For four years between 1855 and 1861, Albert was engaged as an apprentice under Isbell, learning from his mastery. [5] As such he may have fastened metal shoes on horses and made and repaired farm and home equipment.

On 30 August 1861, Albert enlisted in Company F of the Sixth Regiment of the Connecticut Volunteers and was mustered in on 7 September. [6] Albert was joined by his younger brother, Edward. On 17 September, the Regiment, consisting of 1008 officers and men, left New Haven for “the seat of war”. [7] During his enlistment, Albert sent many letters home, providing a poignant account of his experiences and an invaluable insight into what the Sixth endured. [8] The letters portray Albert as a young man, who cared greatly about what others thought of him. [9] When illness caused him to be left behind at camp, while the rest of the Regiment went on an expedition, Albert was concerned he would miss out on the “action”, suggesting him to be adventurous and fearless. [10] Although just 3 years older than his brother Edward, Albert appeared much more serious, Edward seeming more inquisitive and mischievous. [11] In March 1863, Albert was appointed “Regimental Armor” [12] and was kept busy fixing revolvers, knapsacks, field lanterns and bayonets for example. [13] Albert was mustered out at New Haven on 21 August 1865. [14]

Upon return from the war, Albert began work with the A Beecher and Sons match manufacturing company as a machinist and blacksmith and as such he would have been responsible for ensuring the match making machines were working efficiently. [15] In 1870, match companies were combined to make the Swift, Courtney and Beecher Company and in 1881 the company was incorporated under the Diamond Match Company. [16] When the Diamond Match Company moved its operations out of New Haven, the Geometric Tool Company began leasing the empty factories. [17] Ultimately it appears that Albert worked on the same site from about 1867 until about his death in 1921, working first in the match factories and then for the Geometric Tool Company. [18] He was likely involved in making new machinery as production practices and needs changed overtime.

On 1 May 1867, Albert married Emily A. Evarts at the Westville Congregational Church. [19] Emily was born on 1 May 1842 and was the daughter of James Evarts and Emily Clark. [20] The couple had four children together; Linna (Downs) Pond, James Downs, Edith Downs and Alberta Downs. [21] Additionally it is suggested that Emily and Albert were largely involved in the raising of their only grandchild, Elton Downs. [22]

On 14 October 1870, Albert bought land on Willard Street in Westville for $525. [23] It is not indicated that a dwelling house stood on this land, which may explain why Albert borrowed $2400 from his father in law, James, on 1 January 1871. [24] This money Albert likely used to pay for the building of a house for his family. Albert and Emily resided continuously in this house from 1871 until their deaths and two of their daughters continued to reside there until the 1960’s. This house continues to stand today. [25]

In 1887, Westville had no lighted streets, water, fire engines or police. It was reported, in the New Haven Evening Register, that it was “not a village or township capable of self-reliant, independent action in local affairs” but was “rather the tail end of the town of New Haven, incapable of a single wag until the big New Haven part feels like it,…”. Furthermore, it was suggested that “many of our citizens have died and seem willing to die, simply “waiting for the wagging””. [26] This was a notion that Albert certainly did not adhere to. Newspaper articles suggest that Albert was actively involved in the Westville community. In both 1879 and 1883, he was appointed a special constable for Westville, a necessity as Westville had no police of its own. [27] Although Westville had “done very little for herself”, she did have her own school district, allowing her independent action in this arena. [28] In 1884, Albert was elected the clerk of the Westville board of education, a position which he held several times, including in 1886 and 1887[29] and from 1892-1899. [30] From 1903-1907, Albert was an auditor for the School Board.[31]

As he grew older, Albert became increasingly involved in the Westville Congregational Church and in 1891 was the superintendent of the Sunday school. [32] Albert was also the Clerk of the Church, a position which he held for over 30 years and which he began in about 1886.[33] On 29 June 1884, Albert became a Deacon of the Church.[34]

Albert was also an active participant in G.A.R affairs (Grand Army of the Republic) and was a member of the Admiral Foote Post. [35] The post was organized on the 26 March 1868 which may have been when Albert first joined. [36] In 1885 and 1886, he is reported to have attended veterans picnics, which allowed him the opportunity to meet up with old comrades, many of which he may not have seen since the war. [37] He would have worn his blue uniform “set off by the glittering brass buttons” and was most likely joined by his wife and children. In 1885 the event was held at Savin Rock and Albert may have taken part in the wheelbarrow race or the barrel race on the water or he may have listened to the band play and joined in with the dancing.[38] In 1886 although Albert did not win any of the “Interesting Races and Athletic Contests”, he did win an order of a dozen photographs. [39] On several occasions during Memorial Day, Albert was responsible for decorating the graves of “departed heroes” in the Westville Cemetery. [40] He would have worn a single-breasted straight front blue sack coat with rolling collar, five G.A.R buttons with two small G.A.R buttons on each sleeve, blue trousers, the Grand Army badge and white gloves. [41]

Albert died on 23 January 1921 at the age of 82 and his obituary revealed that he was one of Westville’s “oldest and most respected residents”.[42] Emily lived for an additional 10 years and died 1 January 1931. [43] The couple are both buried in the Westville Cemetery.[44]

 

** This information was taken from a lineage paper I wrote last year. If you are interested in finding out more about Albert’s life, including details from the letters he wrote during the Civil War and information about his father and grandfather, you will find the paper at the New Haven Museum Library, entitled “One Descendent of Zeri Downs (Ca. 1769-1840)”. The original Civil War letters are housed at the John Hay Library, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.


[1] New Haven, Ct., Deaths, Jan 1921 (certificates), Albert Downs; New Haven Vital Statistics. No birth record was found for Albert at the Woodbury Town Clerk.
[2] Commemorative Biographical Record of New Haven County, Connecticut (Chicago: H. Beers & Co., 1902), 255; digital images, Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org : accessed 1 February 2011).
[3]1860 U.S. census, New Haven County, New Haven, Westville Post Office, Ct., population schedule, ward 8, p. 972 (stamped), p. 16 (penned), dwelling 653, family 159, Morris Isbell family; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 5 February 2011); citing NARA microfilm M653, Roll 87.
[4] Atlas of New Haven County, Connecticut (New York, Ny.: F. W. Beers, A.D. Ellis & G.G. Soule, 1868), 17.
[5] Commemorative Biographical Record of New Haven County, Connecticut , 255.
[6] Albert Downs, Muster Roll of Co. F, 6th Conn Volunteers, 7 September 1861; Box 62; Reports of Operations, Engagements and Casualties, July 1860-March 1866, Record Group 13; Connecticut State Archives.
[7] Charles Cadwell, The Sixth Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry in The War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865 (Hartford: Case, Lookwood & Brainard Company, 1889), 1.
[8] These letters are housed at the John Hay Library, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.
[9] Albert Z. Downs (Steamer Cosmopolitan, Warsaw Sound) to “Dear Mother” [Sarah Downs], letter, 7 February 1862, A25918; Folder 4; Box 1; Downs Family Correspondence, 1861-1865, Ms 79.8; John Hay Library, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. Albert was concerned that in their letters home the other men were not representing things as they were.
[10] Albert Z. Downs (Port Royal) to “Dear Mother” [Sarah Downs], letter, 26 January 1862, A25917; Folder 3; Box 1; Downs Family Correspondence, 1861-1865, Ms 79.8.
[11] Edward Downs (“Camp Mud”, Jones Island, Sc.) to “Dear Mother” [Sarah Downs], letter, 27 March 1862, A26082; Folder 5; Box 1; Downs Family Correspondence, 1861-1865, Ms 79.8.
[12] Albert Z. Downs (Beaufort, Sc.) to “Dear Mother” [Sarah Downs], letter, 9 March 1863, A25956(1); Folder 16; Box 1; Downs Family Correspondence, 1861-1865, Ms 79.8.
[13] Albert Z. Downs (Hilton Head, Sc.) to “Dear Mother” [Sarah Downs], letter, 16 April 1864, A26009(1); Folder 6; Box 2; Downs Family Correspondence, 1861-1865, Ms 79.8. Albert began writing this letter on 16 April but added to it on 19 April. He wrote about his work on 19 April.
[14]Albert Downs, Muster Out Roll of Co. F, 6th Conn Volunteers, 21 August 1865; Box 63; Reports of Operations, Engagements and Casualties, July 1860-March 1866, Record Group 13; Connecticut State Archives.
[15] Commemorative Biographical Record of New Haven County, Connecticut , 256.
[16] A.B. Underwood, “The Manufacturing Interests of New Haven”, in William Davis, editor, The New England States, their Constitutional, Judicial, Education, Commercial, Professional and Industrial History  (Boston: D.H. Hurd & Co., 1897 ), 2: 872; digital images, Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org : accessed 2 February 2011).
[17] New Haven Preservation Trust, “Westville Village Historic District”, Essay, New Haven Preservation Trust (http://nhpt.org/index.php/site/district/westville_village_historic_district/#: accessed 9 February 2011), para. 8.
[18] Commemorative Biographical Record of New Haven County, Connecticut , 256. Also, 1910 U.S. census, New Haven County, Town of New Haven, Ct.,  population schedule, ward 13, p. 193B (stamped), enumeration district (ED) 439, sheet 15B, dwelling 300, family 363, Albert Downs Jr. family; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 5 February 2011); citing NARA microfilm T624, Roll 138. Also, 1920 U.S. census, New Haven County, Town of New Haven, Ct., population schedule, ward 13, p. 169 A (stamped), enumeration district (ED) 397, sheet 4A, dwelling 68, family 76, Albert Downs Jr. family; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 5 February 2011); citing NARA microfilm T625, Roll 193. Whilst Albert likely started at the match factory in 1865, this was originally located at Tyron and Fountain Streets. In 1867 it moved to the corner of Water and Pearl Streets (preset day Valley and Blake Streets).
[19] New Haven, Ct., Marriages, 16: 126, Albert Downs and Emily Evarts marriage, 1867, photocopy; New Haven Vital Statistics.
[20] New Haven, Ct., Deaths, Jan 1931 (certificates), Emily Downs; New Haven Vital Statistics.
[21] “Albert Z. Downs”, obituary, New Haven (Ct.) Evening Register, 25 January 1921, p. 8, col. 1; CSL Microfilm AN 104.N6 R 44 1921: Jan, Connecticut State Archives. Also, Also, “Emily Downs”, obituary, New Haven (Ct.)Evening Register, 3 Jan 1931, p.4, col.4; CSL Microfilm AN 104.N6 R44 1931: Jan. 1-15, Connecticut State Archives. Albert’s and Emily’s obituaries list their children.
[22] Also, 1900 U.S. census, New Haven County, Town of New Haven, Ct., population schedule, ward 13, p 213 A-B (stamped), enumeration district 397, sheet 7A-B, dwelling 131, family 161, Albert Downs Jr. family; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 9 February 2011); citing NARA microfilm T623, Roll 146. Also, 1910 U.S. census, New Haven County, Town of New Haven, Ct., pop. sch., ward 13, p. 193B (stamped), ED 439, sheet 15B, dwell. 300, fam. 363, Albert Downs Jr. family.
[23] New Haven, Ct., Land Records, 248: 591, William Alden to Albert Z. Downs, 14 October 1870; New Haven Town Clerk.
[24] New Haven, Ct., Land Records, 258: 425, Albert Z. Downs to James Evarts, 24 August 1871; New Haven Town Clerk. Deed was made on 24 August 1871 but mentions promissory note dated 1 January 1871.
[25] New Haven, Ct., Deaths, Jan 1921 (certificates), Albert Downs. Also, New Haven, Ct., Deaths, Jan 1931 (certificates), Emily Downs; New Haven Vital Statistics. Also, “Edith Downs”, obituary, New Haven (Ct.)Evening Register, 31 Aug 1962, p.19, col.1; CSL Microfilm AN 104. N6 R44 1962: Aug. 16-31., Connecticut State Archives. Also, “Alberta Downs”, obituary, New Haven (Ct.)Evening Register, 14 Jan 1961, p.7, col. 7; CSL Microfilm AN 104.N6 R44 1961: Jan. 1-15, Connecticut State Archives. Edith and Alberta Down’s obituaries state that they lived in the same house in which they were born.
[26] “Westville Growing Liberal”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  22 September 1887, p. 4, col. 2; digital image, News Bank: America’s Historical Newspapers (www.infoweb.newsbank.com : accessed 11 February 2011).
[27] “The Military Enrollment”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  2 July 1879, p. 4, col. 1; digital image, News Bank: America’s Historical Newspapers (www.infoweb.newsbank.com : accessed 11 February 2011). Also, “City and Town Business”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  31 January 1883, p. 2, col. 2; digital image, News Bank: America’s Historical Newspapers (www.infoweb.newsbank.com : accessed 11 February 2011).
[28] “Westville Growing Liberal”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  22 September 1887.
[29] “The School Election”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  16 September 1884, p. 2, col. 4; digital image, News Bank: America’s Historical Newspapers (www.infoweb.newsbank.com : accessed 11 February 2011). Also, “The Westville School Meeting”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  21 September 1886, p.3, col. 6; digital image, News Bank: America’s Historical Newspapers (www.infoweb.newsbank.com : accessed 11 February 2011). Also, “Westville Growing Liberal”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  22 September 1887.
[30] Annual Report of the Superintendent and Acting School Visitor and Treasurer of the Westville School District, 1892-1895 (New Haven: Press of the Stafford Printing Co.), back cover; New Haven Museum. Also, Annual Report of the Superintendent and Acting School Visitor and Treasurer of the Westville School District, 1896-1898 (New Haven: Press of C.G Whaples & Co.), back cover; New Haven Museum. Also, Annual Report of the Superintendent and Acting School Visitor and Treasurer of the Westville School District, 1899 (New Haven: Press of T.B Healy, 1899), back cover; New Haven Museum.
[31] Annual Report of the Superintendent and Acting School Visitor and Treasurer of the Westville School District, 1903-1907 (New Haven: Press of C.G Whaples & Co.), back cover; New Haven Museum.
[32] Westville Congregational Church, Manuel of the Westville Congregational Church (New Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, Printers., 1891), 29; New Haven Museum.
[33] “Albert Z. Downs”, obituary, New Haven (Ct.) Evening Register, 25 January 1921, p. 8, col. 1. Also, Commemorative Biographical Record of New Haven County, Connecticut , 256.
[34] Westville Congregational Church, Manuel of the Westville Congregational Church, (1891), 4.
[35] “Albert Z. Downs”, obituary, New Haven (Ct.) Evening Register, 25 January 1921, p. 8, col. 1. Also, Commemorative Biographical Record of New Haven County, Connecticut , 256.
[36] Admiral Foote Post, No. 17, Department of Connecticut, Grand Army of the Republic, New Haven (New Haven: Mac Printing Co., 1900), 22; New Haven Museum.
[37]“Veterans at Savin Rock”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  20 August 1885, p. 1, col. 3 & 4; digital image, News Bank: America’s Historical Newspapers (www.infoweb.newsbank.com : accessed 11 February 2011). Also, “The Big Shore Picnic”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  6 August 1886, p. 3, col. 6; digital image, News Bank: America’s Historical Newspapers (www.infoweb.newsbank.com : accessed 11 February 2011).
[38] “Veterans at Savin Rock”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  20 August 1885.
[39] “The Big Shore Picnic”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  6 August 1886.
[40] “In Honor of the Dead”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  30 May 1888, p. 1, col. 4; digital image, News Bank: America’s Historical Newspapers (www.infoweb.newsbank.com : accessed 11 February 2011). Also, “Commander Tisdale’s Order”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  24 May 1889, p. 4, col. 3; digital image, News Bank: America’s Historical Newspapers (www.infoweb.newsbank.com : accessed 11 February 2011). Also, “Exercises of the Day: Decoration of Soldiers Graves”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  29 May 1895, p. 1, col. 3; digital image, News Bank: America’s Historical Newspapers (www.infoweb.newsbank.com : accessed 11 February 2011). Also, “All Honor to the Nation’s Heroes: Exercises of the Day”, New Haven(Ct.) Evening Register,  30 May 1896, p. 1, col. 1 & 2; digital image, News Bank: America’s Historical Newspapers (www.infoweb.newsbank.com : accessed 11 February 2011).
[41] By Laws of Admiral Foote Post, No. 17, Department of Connecticut, Grand Army of the Republic, New Haven (New Haven: Press of S. Z Field, 1905), 14; New Haven Museum.
[42] New Haven, Ct., Deaths, Jan 1921 (certificates), Albert Downs. Also, “Albert Z. Downs”, obituary, New Haven (Ct.) Evening Register, 25 January 1921, p. 8, col. 1.
[43] New Haven, Ct., Deaths, Jan 1931 (certificates), Emily Downs.
[44]Westville Cemetery (Town of New Haven, Ct.), Albert and Emily Downs makers; personally read, 2011.

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