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Chester Will Chappell: Cazenovia native, casket company tycoon

From the Madison County Historian

Chester Will Chappell was born in Cazenovia in 1845 and went on to form the successful National Casket Company with his Rochester business partners. He died in 1909 in one of Madison County’s first recorded fatal automobile accidents.

Chester Will Chappell was born in Cazenovia in 1845 and went on to form the successful National Casket Company with his Rochester business partners. He died in 1909 in one of Madison County’s first recorded fatal automobile accidents.

Madison County’s history of inventors and businessman can be traced back to its founding in 1806. People who lived here at the county’s outset had to be creative and shrewd.

The lack of development meant residents spent many harsh winter months without any contact to stores, mills and even people. That spirit lasted through the development of hamlets, villages and towns.

Many of the county’s earliest settlers paved the way for the next generation to make their lives easier. One of these later generation settlers was Chester Will Chappell, originally of Cazenovia and later Oneida. Chappell studied an industry, and then revolutionized it, creating the largest firm of its kind with a base in Oneida.

Chappell (later known as C. Will) was born in Cazenovia on April 5, 1845. He attended local schools before enrolling in Cazenovia Seminary. Upon completion he accepted a position as a partner in a book and stationary store in Cazenovia. He sold the business in 1867 and moved out west briefly before returning to Oneida in 1870.

Upon his return, he partnered with Benjamin E. Chase to open a clothing store. This business was successful so Chappell purchased Edward W. Jones’ undertaking business after Jones’ death in 1876. It was a natural move as Jones had a large business that manufactured burial robes in addition to the undertaking business.

Jones had a profitable enterprise but purchased different items like caskets from other firms. Chappell saw an opportunity to create a company that would supply all an undertakers’ needs from one source. He partnered with John Forbes Tuttle to manufacture undertaker supplies, while Chase and Chappell continued the clothing operation together.

Shortly after Tuttle and Chappell joined forces, they partnered with John Maxwell who was producing caskets in Rochester. The company did a fine business. In 1890 it combined with the other two largest undertaking supply companies to form National Casket Company.

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