“There is no substitute for hard work”
In thinking about how to write this blog and pass on the stories and journeys of our ancestry, I realized I already had the first entry sitting in my file drawer. In 1993 my father, Carleton Schaller Jr., wrote about the history of George Ross Mackenzie and Glen Spey, New York for the family. Dad blogged the old fashion way: he typed it up, made copies and he mailed the essay with photos to each of the relatives!
George Ross MacKenzie (1820 – 1892) was the fourth President of Singer Manufacturing Company and is my great-great grandfather through his daughter, Margaret Ross (MacKenzie) Elkin ( 1863 – 1951). Doubly so, my adoptive parents are first cousins. My grandmothers were sisters: Lucie Gertrude (Elkin) Stephenson Peacock (1893 – 1973) and Katherine Dulcie (Elkin) Schaller (1899 – 1985).
In this essay, Dad talks about the extensive work he did to help coordinate the sale in 1970 of the undivided properties in Glen Spey that were owned collectively by the MacKenzie families. Especially enjoyable are his recollections of visiting Glen Spey with his parents as a boy and his impressions while visiting again many years later in the 1990s. The words are my fathers but I have made some notes of interest highlighted in blue that were not part of my father’s original essay. I also removed names of people still alive today out of respect for their privacy. I included pictures taken by my father when he revisited Glen Spey as well as others I have from my parents collection.
My Dad died four years ago. This is being posted in his memory. He was a man who had incredible insight, a great sense of family and history and love for the wilderness that was astounding.
Thank you, Dad!
I miss you and I love you…
Our Ancestor: George Ross MacKenzie
by Carleton Schaller Jr.
Children named in the Will of George Ross MacKenzie:
- John MacKenzie
- Grace (MacKenzie) Ewing
- James MacKenzie
- Alexander MacKenzie
- Hugh MacKenzie
- Edward MacKenzie
- Margaret Ross (MacKenzie) Elkin
- Jessie (MacKenzie) Alexander
- Isabella (MacKenzie) Craig
- Rebecca MacKenzie
To my knowledge, each one of you to whom I am writing is a direct or indirect descendant of George Ross MacKenzie. So am I. Because of a recent visit to Glen Spey, New York, where George Ross Mackenzie spent many summers, I am moved to tell you what I have learned and re-learned about this truly remarkable man, and something of the unique place called Glen Spey. Much of the personal information comes from a book George Ross MacKenzie which is based upon four “appreciations” that appeared as obituary notices at the time of his death. The book was published in 1892.
George Ross MacKenzie was born in Scotland on May 12, 1820. Soon thereafter the family moved to Kingussie, a small Scottish village of some 300 people. His father was a “wheelwright” (meaning, literally, a maker and repairer of wheels and wheeled vehicles). As a young boy George Ross worked at his father’s side. During his pre-teens, when his father died suddenly, George Ross left school so as to earn an income with which to support his mother. At age 16, he was working for himself. Part of that work was engaged in shipping game to the London Market.
In 1846, with very little money in his possession, he crossed the Atlantic and arrived in New York with the ostensible purpose of tracking down an old friend who owed him money. He planned then to move on to Canada to seek work. But a snowstorm prevented further travel; so he looked for employment in New York City. By 1852, he was working for I.M. Singer, who held the patent of the sewing machine. The plant was in Jersey City, New Jersey. George Ross’ work consisted of making models and cases for sewing machines. He was also a packer, “the lowest run on the sewing machine ladder”. His salary was $11.50 per week.
Apparently, I.M. Singer was not a fiscally keen businessman. The enterprise was a two-person partnership. One day at a gathering of employees, Mr. Singer announced that the business was for sale; its debt was substantial. George Ross asked the price. Answer: $5,000. George Ross went to a bank and produced the cash needed to continue the venture. This incident is an indication of the ability, character and drive of George Ross MacKenzie. He paid strict attention to his duties and because of his ingenuity and faith in the organization, perfected an improvement in the styling of sewing machines. This change was accepted by Mr. Singer, and in 1863 Singer and his partner merged the business into Singer Manufacturing Company. Later as its Manager, George Ross revolutionized the entire operation, and within one year of his appointment paid off the company’s debt. He rose to the position of Vice President and later President of the Company. At his death in 1892, his personal financial worth was calculated to be $3,500,000. (NOTE: That is equivalent to $92,000,000 in purchasing power in 2017.)
George Ross is described as having “an acute intellect and an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and displayed an interest and familiarity with many subjects entirely removed from the sphere of his actual labors”. He was activated by humane and religious motives, making numerous anonymous gifts, as well as publicly announced ones. He sent money to build a church, manse and library in his childhood town of Kingussie, Scotland. A Presbyterian, George Ross provided money for the building of a Scotch Presbyterian Church and rectory in Jersey City. Each Christmas his thoughts returned again to Kingussie when he sent a sizable gift to the villagers with which to purchase coal for heating their homes. The local Jersey City YMCA was also a big beneficiary of his generosity.
Not withstanding the rigors of ocean travel, George Ross made 51 Altantic crossings in his lifetime, both for the expanding Singer Company and in pursuit of his own wide spread interests. In 1847 he married Rebecca Elsey (1826 – 1890). They had twelve children, six boys and six girls. One of the boys died while a child. At some period during his rise to the presidency of the Singer Manufacturing Company, George Ross purchase 3,000 acres of land in Sullivan County, New York, (near Port Jervis on the Delaware River).
He named this property Glen Spey after the river which runs through Kingussie in Scotland. George Ross arranged for the building of the “Homestead”. It was located near the current Town hall on what has been called in the deed, “the Golf Links”. The Glen Spey property also included a lake, know as Metauque.
George Ross frequented Glen Spey with his family until his death in 1892. His wife, Rebecca died two year before him, and it is said that the loss of her, coupled with the unexpected death of their eldest son, John, a short time before, contributed to the rapid health decline of George Ross himself. After his death, the Homestead property became the home of Jessie Ann Alexander, the youngest MacKenzie daughter. The remainder of the Glen Spey property was divided among George Ross’ living children. George Ross, his wife, Charles and Margaret Ross (MacKenzie) Elkin, Charles Elkin, Jr. and other members of the MacKenzie family are all buried in the Glen Spey cemetery.
Of eight original family mansions, three are still standing. One of these is Burn Brae, originally the home of Charles and Margaret Ross (MacKenzie) Elkin. The other two are “Woldcroft”, the home of Jessie Stone MacKenzie, and “Ardmore”, home of Francis Issac VanderBeck. Ardmore became a Ukranian resort, and Woldcroft was turned into a Pythean camp. Each of these two dwellings have been substantially altered. Burn Brae, in contract, has retained most of its original external appearance. The Homestead was demolished in 1991, the victim of disuse and neglect.
(Suzy’s note on the mansions in 2018: Ardmore is now The Mountain View Manor and Woldcroft is still a camp: Camp Chayei Sura. Burn Brae has been restored inside as well as out and is now an inn. Burn Brae Mansion. The interesting thing with Burn Brae today is its involvement with the paranormal. They do paranormal investigations and claim the place has been the subject of many “investigations. I don’t remember any stories from my grandmothers or parents about weird things happening at the mansion, but who knows).
In 1970, the undivided properties were sold by a committee representing the MacKenzie family. Metauque Lake (70 acres) was sold to the Bergen County (New Jersey) Girl Scouts of America for $150,000. The lake is currently in year-round use as a family and scout camp and has hosted thousands of campers since its inception. It can accommodate up to 160 people at one time. The camp is named “Camp Glen Spey”. Two other undivided properties of the MacKenzie holdings have been sold, one for $12,000 and the other for $40,000. One of these is now the location of the Town of Lumberland town hall building. (the official name for Glen Spey).
Glen Spey Revisited (1993)
As mentioned, in September of this year several of us on the Elkin side of the family made an excursion to Glen Spey. We were particularly anxious to get to Metaugue Lake, so as to see how the Girl Scouts have used this property since becoming its owners. It is not an exaggeration to say that we were thrilled. Wood tent platforms and the necessary common building are scattered throughout the woods so as to be virtually hidden. Trees were left standing when construction took place. With the exception of the original boathouse (restored), the shoreline is free of structures. In other words, Metauque Lake retains its natural charm. A comment to the camp director, who showed us around, is apt. “It was lovingly carved out from the land, sold to your council by a large family descended from George Ross MacKenzie”.
We also visited with a young man whose avocation is to serve as Glen Spey historian. He was delighted to meet with us and directed us to several of the Glen Spey properties. As historian he has created a small museum in the former school building which was build with a contribution from George Ross MacKenzie. This building is now part of the Town Hall complex. The museum contains considerable MacKenzie memorabilia, and the historian would be overjoyed to receive more.
Of particular joy for us was our visit to Burn Brae, once the home of Charles and Margaret (MacKenzie) Elkin. We were able to visit the house and meets its current owner, who uses the home and property as a base for training Olympic bicycle racers. In addition, he is an avid restorer of old home and furnishings. As a result, Burn Brae (which had been divided into several apartments) is now being restored. It was gratifying to see, what for us is a truly historic dwelling, now in the hands of such and interested and caring person. He is still in the process of restoring the interior while at the same time making the entire dwelling serviceable for his occupation.
For me, this trip to Glen Spey was especially moving, because as a youngster (perhaps age 9 or 10) I went to Glen Spey a number of times with my mother and dad, often staying at a boarding house, run no less, by the parents of the current Glen Spey historian! Our visits then were lake oriented, for we were bass fishing enthusiast; the fishing alone was rewarding. We also went to see deer, birds, and to spend time in the glorious wild “outdoors” as was Glen Spey then in the mind of a young boy. Later as an adult, and building on those memories, I made a number of visits to the lake with my wife and mother and friends of ours.
It’s personally satisfying for me to see now how much of Glen Spey has retained its natural attractiveness, due in no small extent to the careful, well-designed management by the Girl Scouts of Metauque Lake. From about 1961 to 1970, I served on a committee with server other descendants of George Ross MacKenzie. We were charged with the responsibility of selling the properties, completely unused and even unvisited by MacKenzie heirs. Our task was immense, due in large measure to the scattered locations of the numerous MacKenzie heirs. We also experienced a special difficulty, when the lawyer, who from the outset had handled the legal/real estate details for us, died, causing us to need to seek new counsel through his former partner.
Aware that heirs of a valuable estate expect to receive a financial bounty in what has been bequeathed to them, we were cognizant of these expectations regarding Glen Spey. Personally, I am tremendously impressed with still another consideration. I have just observed the careful, thoughtful way in which at least a portion of the Glen Spey properties are currently being operated. In my opinion the former Elkin home and Metauque Lake are fine examples of stewardship at its best.
I hope that each of you one day will get the opportunity to visit this place of your roots. I promise you a meaningful day!
Until the next journey…