The Oakes Family
The Oakes Family
Thomas Oakes – The Family Patriarch
The Oakes family originated in Ellastone, Staffordshire, England where Thomas Oakes was born on August 13, 1777. Mr. Oakes, the son of John and Sarah Oakes, emigrated to the United States in 1801. He soon afterwards settled in Bloomfield, NJ. He married Rachel Kingsland, of Belleville, NJ, on April 18, 1808 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Newark, NJ. Thomas and Rachel had five children including: David, Joseph Kingsland, Sarah (Oakes) Stiles, John and Mary (Oakes) Pierson.
Thomas Oakes was an engineer and millwright. As an engineer for the Philadelphia Board of Water Works, he was instrumental in the design of the Fairmount Water Works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was later appointed Principal Engineer of the Schuylkill Navigation Company, which constructed the Schuylkill Canal (originally known as Oakes’ Reach) in Pennsylvania. His work on the canal, however, was cut short due to illness. Working conditions were very poor and many workers, including Mr. Oakes, were overcome by unknown fevers – most likely malaria. Thomas Oakes died from this fever in Reading, Pennsylvania on August 13, 1823 at the age of 46.
Thomas Oakes’ wife, Rachel Kingsland, was born in New York City and was the daughter of Joseph Kingsland and Mary Outwater. Joseph Kingsland, known as a staunch Tory loyal to King George, fled to Nova Scotia where he stayed until after the Revolutionary War. Upon his return he settled in New York City, where he made a living as a carpenter and owner of a lumber yard. Rachel Kingsland Oakes resided in Belleville for a time, but spent most of her life in Bloomfield where she died on April 3, 1878 from paralysis at the age of 88.
David Oakes- The Mill Founder
David Oakes, eldest son of Thomas and Rachel Oakes, was born on January 13, 1809 in a part of Bloomfield later known as Franklin Township, and now known as Nutley. He is the founder of the Oakes Woolen Mill, which operated in Bloomfield, NJ from 1830 to 1945. David Oakes married Abigail H. Baldwin, daughter of Simeon Baldwin and Elizabeth Ward, on January 19, 1831. Their children were Sarah (Oakes) Van Liew, George Augustus and Thomas Oakes. Two of his children died at a young age. Sarah Oakes Van Liew, wife of Cornelius Van Liew, died at age 25 of a ‘nervous fever’ on January 3, 1858 and his son, George, died at age 27 of typhoid fever on December 24, 1861.Thomas Oakes would suffer another loss with the death of his wife, Abigail, on May 26, 1875. He remarried shortly after. On June 21, 1876 he was wed in Newark, NJ to Elizabeth L. Spear from Charleston, South Carolina.
David Oakes was an early Whig and later a Republican. He was a member of the NJ State Legislature in 1860 and 1861. He also was a director of the National Newark Banking Company, a member of the board of managers of the Howard Savings Institution and on the board of trustees of the Bloomfield Presbyterian Church (often referred to as the Church on the Green).
David Oakes died in Bloomfield at age 69 on July 26, 1878 of brights disease, a condition affecting the kidneys.
Thomas Oakes- Bearer of the Familial Torch
Thomas Oakes, the youngest child of David Oakes and Abigail H. Baldwin, was born on June 6, 1838 in Bloomfield, New Jersey. He was educated in Bloomfield schools including the Charles W. Davis Boarding School. At an early age he began working for his father at the Oakes Mill in one of the mill’s early one-story frame buildings. He was married to Juliet Guion Maxfield, daughter of John Gillum Maxfield and Mary Elizabeth Guion, on October 12, 1865 in Bloomfield by the Rev. Charles E. Knox of the Presbyterian Church on the Green. Thomas and Juliet Oakes’ children were David, George Augustus, Harry T. and Mary Guion (Oakes) Boyd.
In addition to running the Oakes Mill for nearly 50 years, Thomas Oakes served as president of the Bloomfield National Bank and was the president of The United New Jersey Railroad and Canal Company for thirteen years. Additional civic duties included membership on the township committee (a predecessor to the Bloomfield township council) for several years and thirty-five years as president of the Bloomfield Board of Education.
Thomas Oakes died in Bloomfield on June 13, 1924 at the age of 86. He left a long and important legacy of entrepreneurship and civic leadership in his hometown of Bloomfield. In the history of the Oakes mill issued after his death in 1930, the author noted, “[Thomas Oakes] took not only an abiding interest but an honorable part in public affairs, giving liberally of his substance and proving his value as a citizen. Out of the experiences of his youth and the achievements of his manhood have grown the things which made his life a real and living factor in the growth of the community of Bloomfield, which he loved, and which he served for so many years.”
He fostered a strong familial environment in the Oakes Mill and was regarded by his workers and their families, mostly of German and Irish decent, as a personal friend and counselor. In his obituary appearing in a 1924 edition of the Independent Press the newspaper writes, “When in 1855 the Germans undertook the organization of a church society of their own Mr. Oakes gave aid to the movement and helped support the society in its early and struggling years. When in 1878 the Catholics of Bloomfield undertook the establishments of a Bloomfield parish they found in Mr. Oakes a supporting friend .”
Thomas Oakes is buried in Bloomfield Cemetery in the Oakes family plot along with his wife Juliet, who died a little over a year later on September 14, 1925 at the age of 83.
David Oakes – The Next Generation
David Oakes, the eldest child of Thomas Oakes and Juliet Maxfield, was born May 21, 1869 in Bloomfield. He attended public school in Bloomfield and graduated from the Newark Academy in 1888. He followed in his father’s footsteps and began his career at the Oakes Woolen Mill at an early age.
David married Jean Doswell on January 12, 1910 in Hanover County, Virginia. For several months the young couple lived at the David Oakes estate at 249 Belleville Avenue until they moved into 240 Belleville Avenue, which would eventually become the Oakeside Bloomfield Cultural Center. At Oakeside, David and Jean would raise three daughters and one son: Eleanor (Oakes) Skinner, Juliet Guion (Oakes) Eeels, Jean Wortham and Thomas Oakes. All four children were born in the Oakes mansion.
Management of the Oakes mill was transferred to David and his brother George A. Oakes several years prior to his father’s death in 1925. The author of the 1930 history of the Oakes Mill believed David and George “had borne the burden [of running the mill] well” and that they had ensured the high quality of the mill’s woolen products.
David Oakes continued his father’s commitment to civic projects by serving as a director in the Bloomfield Bank and Trust Company as well as memberships in the Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Wool Manufacturers, the New York Athletic Club, Bankers Club of America, the Essex County Country Club and the New Jersey Automobile and Motor Club.
David Oakes retired from the presidency of the Oakes Mill in December 1943 having served in this capacity for almost 21 years. Four short years later he died at Newark Presbyterian Hospital on July 9, 1947 at the age of 78. He died the same day his beloved mill would reach its end through public auction. Next to David Oakes’ Obituary in the July 11, 1947 edition of the Independent Press is the following headline: “Oakes Mills Sold in Pieces as Auction Sales Conclude – Famous Institution Ends 117 Year Life.” As David Oakes’ obituary notes, he was well liked by his former employees and was a well respected and regarded citizen of Bloomfield.
David Oakes’ wife, Jean, would continue to live in the Oakes Mansion until her death in 1980 at the age of 92. She also was a prominent citizen of Bloomfield having volunteered at Mountainside Hospital in Glen Ridge for 50 years. She belonged to the Bloomfield chapter of the American Red Cross for over 30 years and served as the chairwoman of the Public Health Nursing Service of New Jersey from 1928 to 1946. She also was a member of many local groups including the Bloomfield Historical Society, Bloomfield Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Friends of the Bloomfield Public Library and the Bloomfield Women’s Club. In 1939 she was presented with the first Citizens Award of Bloomfield for her service to the town.
With the death of Jean Oakes, Bloomfield Township assumed control of the Oakes Mansion to preserve it as a historical and cultural site. In the ensuing months the Oakeside Bloomfield Cultural Center was born to spearhead this mission.
The many generations of the Oakes family who called Bloomfield Township their home were a vital component to the growth and evolution of this town and their gift of the Oakes Mansion to the township serves as a prominent legacy to their dedication and love for Bloomfield and its history.
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Additional Family Pictures & Images
Sources: The Turn of the Century: The Record of the House of Thomas Oakes and Company as Their Centennial Anniversary is Celebrated, Prepared and Printed for Thomas Oakes and Company by The American Historical Society, Inc., 1930; Biographical, Genealogical and Descriptive History of the State of New Jersey, William M. Brown, editor, published by New Jersey Historical Publishing Company, 1900; Bloomfield and Montclair and their leading businessmen, John Austin Williams, published by Newark Mercantile Publishing Company, 1891; the Schuylkill Canal Association website – www.schuylkillcanal.org; the Kingsland Manor Restoration Trust website – www.kingslandmanor.org; along with articles from The New York Times and The Independent Press.