Mills Ely; Binghamton’s Most Benevolent and Charitable Citizen & Ely Park GC’s Namesake!

Samuel Mills Ely, Benefactor of Ely Park Golf Course. Photo Credit: Broome County Historical Society

Samuel Mills Ely, Benefactor of Ely Park Golf Course. Photo Credit: Broome County Historical Society

Samuel Mills Ely—For nearly half a century Samuel Mills Ely was a resident of Binghamton, New York, and during that period there were few who contributed more largely to the life of the city than did he. Founder of one of the most important wholesale grocery houses of the city, and identified with various business interests, he demonstrated the often disputed fact that large business success and strict adherence to the principles of the “Golden Rule” are not incompatible. He gave to the community not only the economic advantage accruing from the establishment of a large and important business enterprise, but the inspiring example of a man who, even in his business connections, remains staunchly true to the principles of Christianity.

Samuel Mille (S. Mills) Ely was born in Chester. Connecticut, at the Ely homestead, October 24, 1837, son of Richard and Caroline (Buck) Ely, the former a descendant of the early settlers of Lyme, Connecticut, but born in Essex, Connecticut, August 6, 1798, who was a farmer and prominent in the local public affairs of the town, holding various offices, and the latter born May 5, 1799.

Letterhead of S. Mills Ely & Company. The building is still standing at the corner of Prospect Ave, and N. Depot St. across the railroad tracks from the Kilmer Building in downtown Binghamton. Photo Credit: Broome County Historical Society

Letterhead of S. Mills Ely & Company. The building is still standing at the corner of Prospect Ave, and N. Depot St. across the railroad tracks from the Kilmer Building in downtown Binghamton. Photo Credit: Broome County Historical Society

Samuel Mills Ely received his education in the public schools of Chester, and later became a student in a grammar school at Deep River, Connecticut. When his school training was completed, he began his active career in the employ of his uncle, Hon. Charles McKinney.

In 1865 he formed a partnership with S. & E. P. McKinney and engaged in the grocery business in Binghamton, which connection he maintained until 1873, when he withdrew and established the wholesale grocery and importing house of S. Mills Ely & Company, of which he was president at the time of his death.

Three years after the founding of the business, in 1876, he formed a partnership with E. F. Leighton, and that connection remained unbroken for a period of thirty-two years, at the end of which time it was terminated by the death of Mr. Leighton, which occurred in 1908.

S. Mills Ely Tower on summit of Mount Prospect stood from 1894 to 2007 when a windstorm knocked it down.

S. Mills Ely Tower on summit of Mount Prospect stood from 1894 to 2007 when a windstorm knocked it down.

The business was a very prosperous one and conducted according to the highest standards of fair dealing, recognizing moral obligations and standards as well as those which are legal. Just one instance serves to illustrate the sincerity with which Mr. Ely made his business adhere to his moral convictions. He did not use tobacco in any form because he believed it to be injurious to health. Therefore, he refused to handle it in his wholesale business even though that article was then one of the large and profitable items of that trade.

Along with the business known as that of S. Mills Ely & Company, Mr. Ely, in association with Roswell J. Bump and Mr. Leighton, organized the Binghamton Chair Company, one of Binghamton’s most successful manufacturing concerns.

Tower Brand table syrup distributed by Mr. Ely features the Ely Tower!

Tower Brand table syrup distributed by Mr. Ely features the Ely Tower!

Always deeply interested in the highest development of the community in which he lived, Mr. Ely did not hesitate to devote time and energy, as well as financial aid to the furtherance of the public welfare. He rendered valuable service valuable service as a member of the Binghamton Board of Education, and was a member of the Binghamton Club.

His religious affiliation was with the First Presbyterian Church of Binghamton, in which he was an office holder for many years, continuing his service to the time of his death in Binghamton, May 5, 1909. More than fifty of his seventy-two years were spend in “good works” in the truest sense of the word. Consistent in all things, his business affairs, his church life, and his home and social life were lived in accordance with the same principles of uprightness, and he refused to sanction or engage in any business deal not in accordance with his religious convictions.

 

No greater benevolent and charitable work was ever carried on by a private individual in Binghamton, than was accomplished by Mr. Ely. The Fresh Air Movement and the Humane Society were the recipients of his most generous aid; the Presbyterian Church and the Young Men’s Christian Association found in him a friend that never failed.

Close up of the tower in the Tower Brand.

Close up of the tower in the Tower Brand.

In memory of his father and mother he gave a library building to Chester, Connecticut, and his summer home, located on Mount Prospect, Binghamton, he gave to the city as a public park, before his death, hoping that this donation would form the beginning of a complete park system.

In his will Mr. Ely remembered nearly every public charity in his city, and made the Presbyterian Church trustee of a fund for carrying on two benevolent enterprises, the care of the poor in Binghamton, and home missionary work among the foreign-born element of the city. Besides these bequests there were generous legacies to ten other organizations of the city, and perhaps one of the most important parts of his unusual will was the generosity with which he remembered his employees, and his recommendation that they take the value of their bequests in stock of the business which he had developed from a small beginning to a strong enterprise.

Original 1929 plan of the Ely Park 9-hole golf course that opened in 1933. Original routing was today's Nos. 8, 9, 10, 11, 17, 18, 1, 2, & 7!

Original 1929 plan of the Ely Park 9-hole golf course that opened in 1933. Original routing was today’s Nos. 8, 9, 10, 11, 17, 18, 1, 2, & 7!

Few have lived more worthy and helpful lives than that of Mr. Ely, and both his moral influence and his works are still living and growing in the city to which he gave so generously.

S. Mills Ely married, at Binghamton, New York, October 10, 1867, Mary Hart Hawley, of Binghamton, daughter of Elias and Adaline (Hawley) Hawley, and they were parents of two children: Richard Hawley Ely, who was born July 29, 1868 and died October 8, 1869. 2. Clara May Ely, who was born December 19, 1876, who, with John R. Clements, general manager of the S. Mills Ely Company, was one of the executors of Mr. Ely’s estate. She is a resident of Binghamton.

Gratitude and all credit to William Foote Seward, Editor-in-Chief and Librarian of the Binghamton Public Library for the three-volume series—Binghamton and Broome County, New York, A History—published and copyrighted in 1924 by Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc. New York and Chicago. Mr. S. Mills Ely is found in Volume III, Historical and Biographical on Page 30.

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