James Terry, Jr. (1844 – 1912)

Terry Monument at Cedar Hill Cemetery

James Terry, Jr. was born in Terryville, Connecticut on August 5, 1844 and was the great-grandson of clockmaker Eli Terry. Eli Terry was a mechanical genius who devised a way to use waterpower at the turn of the 18th century and, with a few assistants, commenced mass producing clocks 10 to 20 at a time. Eli Terry introduced interchangeable parts, mass production methods, and became the leading clock maker and seller throughout New England.

Eli Terry’s son, Eli Terry, Jr., carried on the clock making tradition in what is now Terryville, Connecticut, which is named after Eli Terry, Jr. Eli Terry, Jr.’s son, James Terry, turned from clocks to locks when he began to manufacture cabinet locks in what became the Eagle Lock Company. The Eagle Lock Company had a monopoly on locks for a while, was known worldwide, and at its peak employed 1,800 people.

When James and Elizabeth Miles (Hollister) Terry had their son James Terry, Jr., James Sr. was the leading manufacturer of the town. As a young man, James Jr., was an executive at the Eagle Lock Company, however, his real passion was archaeology. When his father resigned, James Jr. was elected secretary and treasurer of the company and remained in those positions for several years. With the sudden death of the then acting president, all the executive duties of this large corporation fell upon James. While he proved successful, his real passion was in scientific research and development not the manufacturing of locks.

Eventually, James left the business and took up a line of anthropological research in search of prehistoric man to which he devoted 25 years of investigation and study. In his search, James visited every one of the 45 states and territories at least once and many of them two or three times. He was often accompanied by his wife Elmira who, in fact, became the first female tourist to Alaska in 1882.

Through his anthropological research, James became associated with the American Museum of Natural History and in 1891 he was named Curator of the Anthropological Department. Due to a clash between him and the then president of the museum, James left the institution in 1894.

James and his wife Elmira had one daughter, Mira. Of his wife, Mr. Terry said, “Our fathers were associated in business. We were born in the same village, rocked in the same cradle, reared side by side; she is the wife of my childhood, my boyhood, my manhood! Purest and highest type of a Christian mother, I honor her. Devotee! I love her with all the strength, with all the soul of human love.” Elmira died on November 13, 1911 and James Terry died less than a year later on October 17, 1912. Their memorial – the Terry Cross – has a base weighing 30 tons and a cross weighing 20 tons. The carving of these two pieces is so precise that the cross is not attached to the base in any way.

Goodspeed, William R.  (1908).  Men of Mark in Connecticut: Ideals of American Life told in Biographies and Autobiographies of Eminent Living Americans.Vol. IV. 
http://books.google.com/books?id=Nv41YGdCFaoC&pg=PA255&lpg=PA255&dq=men+of+mark+in+CT+-+James+Terry&source=web&ots=UtFBlXOib1&sig=olpIfveZj56e0tL1rcgX83BT3II&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result#PPA1,M1.  Retrieved June 25, 2008.
Plymouth Town History.  “History of Plymouth.” 
http://www.plymouthct.us/history.htm.  Retrieved June 25, 2008.

Photo Credit: Terry Monument at Cedar Hill Cemetery, Cedar Hill Cemetery