Mayor Hadley Jones – A Saint or a Sinner (Part 1) by Louis Baum

A Star is Born

Everybody enjoys a “rag to riches“ story especially if it involves a local boy or girl. Think about John Riccardo. John was the son of hard-working Italian immigrant parents. His father had a shoe store on John Street in addition to working long hours in a local bicycle factory. John rose to become president and chairman of the board of Chrysler Corporation. His brother, Dr. James Riccardo, was a professor at Utica College. But this story is about another local school-boy, Hadley Jones, who was the son of poor farmers, Dewitt and Maria Grove Jones, of Newville, a hamlet just southeast of Little Falls.

Born on November 12, 1857, Hadley was one of three sons. He must have showed promise as a youngster since he was sent into town to attend the Little Falls Academy; from which he graduated. He continued his education and went on and graduated from Albany Law School in 1882. Hadley then returned to Herkimer County to practice law. He was said to be quite brilliant, a great orator, and skilled in all aspects of the law. He was a mover and a shaker. Much was expected of him, and by shear force of character he was about to make himself into a social and political leader in the community.

A Rise to Power

Jones first read law in Herkimer in the office of Hon. Robert Earl, former Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals. He was a favorite of Judge Earl, and in 1882 he married the judge’s niece Henrietta Wilkinson. That same year, he moved to Little Falls which was fast becoming the manufacturing center in the upper Mohawk valley. He joined with George Crumby to form the firm of Crumby & Jones with offices on Main Street at the current location of Van Meter & Van Meter. The firm was quite successful, and Jones was earning the reputation, not only as a great lawyer, but as being a shrewd real estate investor. His talents were not overlooked by the owners of the major businesses and factories in Little Falls. Hadley also had talents outside the practice of law. In 1886, he was one of fifteen original members of the Elks Club in Little Falls, the first village in the United States to be granted an Elks charter.

Things began to unravel a bit when George Crumby died a premature death in 1887. Jones continued practicing law on his own, retaining the name of the law firm. His marriage to Henrietta Wilkinson ended in divorce in 1888. Jones, now a single man, pushed on with his practice, and met with continuing approval by the aristocracy of Little Falls’ business, social, and political community. He was elected a supervisor in 1889.

As the “Gay ‘90s” arrived, Little Falls was a vibrant place to live and work in. With the arrival of immigrants from Europe to man the factories, the population increased to nearly 9,000 people, an increase of 27% in just a decade. Visitors to Little Falls included former heavyweight boxing champions John L. Sullivan and Jack Dempsey who appeared in plays at the Chronkite and Skinner opera houses. The first hospital opened in Little Falls, Homer Snyder produced his first bicycle, the first automobile went through Little Falls, and David H. Burrell shipped his newly invented dairy processing equipment to New Zealand.

A symbol of Hadley Jones’s increased stature in the community occurred in 1893 when the steam launch “Victor Adams” was set afloat on the Mohawk River renamed as the “Hadley Jones.” The twelve-passenger launch would ferry partygoers on pleasure excursions to picnic grounds up and down the river.

The Sutcliffe Brewery Saga

It is said that Hadley Jones’s money problems began shortly after he was appointed “receiver” to oversee the 1894 bankruptcy proceedings of the Sutcliffe Brewery in Auburn, New York. The property was valued at $150,000 ($4.75 million in 2021,) but on the day the brewery was to be sold he formed a syndicate and bought the property for $60,000 ($1.9 million in 2021.) Expectations were bright since the brewery was a big money maker. He applied his receiver fee of $6,000 toward his share of $35,000 ($1.1 million in 2021) of the purchase price and borrowed the remainder of the money from well-heeled friends in Little Falls.

The business reopened with the former owner, John Sutcliffe, hired as brew master. Having lost his sanity because of the bankruptcy, Sutcliffe placed chemicals in the brewing vats, which was not discovered until 30,000 barrels of beer had been distributed to customers. The good will of the company was destroyed, and the newly formed concern was ruined. However, Jones still owed the money he had borrowed at high interest rates. Although Jones owned significant real estate in Little Falls, all this property was highly mortgaged and could not be turned into ready cash to pay his creditors. As judgements began to accumulate, Jones filed for bankruptcy protection and had to conduct business in his mother’s name.

A Way Out of Debt

As an axiom – it is probably easier to get into debt than it is to get out of debt. Hadley Jones found this to be true. There are several ways to get out of debt. One is to work hard, expand your financial horizons, be frugal and gradually pay the debt down. Jones teamed with Nelson Rust Gilbert, the son of a prominent Little Falls factory owner, to form the law firm of Jones & Gilbert. A venture in Old Forge then put Jones in union with the corporate elite of Little Falls. Business and income improved, but he was still in the need for money.

In 1895, a group of Little Falls tycoons, headed by Victor Adams, purchased significant parcels of land in and around Old Forge and the Fulton chain of lakes under the name of “The Old Forge Company.” They named Hadley Jones as the secretary of the conglomerate. Others involved included J. J. Gilbert, H. P. Snyder, Albert Story, Capt. John Crowley, and Titus Sheard, all familiar names in Little Falls. To cement their interest in the venture, the group appointed two Little Falls cronies as general business manager and superintendent to run everyday activities. The Old Forge investors thought so much of the Little Falls people that they named streets in their village after Adams, Gilbert and Sheard. It is interesting to note that Hadley Jones did not issue any reports for the annual meetings of the company in 1897, 1898, and 1899. Was he hiding something? Despite a step upward in status, Jones was still in need of money.

Another way to get out of debt was to marry into money. In January 1897 Hadley Jones became engaged to Emily E. Neff from Philadelphia. Emily was the daughter of Seymour Neff a wealthy Philadelphia merchant. Her mother Sarah Story Neff had ties to Little Falls – Sarah’s father was Albert J. Story Sr. the long-time president of the National Bank of Herkimer County. Quite possibly the couple had met during a visit by the Neff family to Little Falls.

Emily’s mother died in 1893 and left her $40,000 ($1.25 million in 2021) including shares of stock in both the National Bank of Herkimer County (70) and the Little Falls National Bank (24.) She was an extraordinarily rich young lady. Emily was a fixture on the society pages of the Philadelphia newspapers, and made trips to Europe.

Hadley and Emily, fourteen years his younger, were married on June 2, 1897 at St. Mary’s Protestant Episcopal Church in Philadelphia with his law partner, Nelson Rust Gilbert, as best man and J. J. Gilbert II and Lorenzo Bucklin, Little Falls friends, as ushers. Nelson and J. J. were sons of J. J. Gilbert possibly the richest man In Little Falls. The married couple made their home in Little Falls where they were quite popular.

In 1898 the Republican party drafted an increasingly popular Hadley Jones to run for mayor of Little Falls. The party was quite hopeful since the strong Republican districts in the city had shown the greatest gains in registration since the last election. On November 7, 1898, Jones was elected mayor defeating Dr. Charles H. Glidden, local physician and Health Officer, 1137 to 986. At that time, Little Falls mayors were elected for a one-year term.

Unrelated to his public service, in the same year he constructed a building at the southwest corner of Albany and Second streets to house the Little Falls police and fire departments under a long-term lease agreement with the city. To get the money for construction he committed his first forgery. Hadley forged the names on mortgages of several elderly, wealthy, female clients who lived in distant cities throughout New York State.

His term in office seemed to be otherwise uneventful. It was reported that Jones spent much of his time in New York City, involved in the settlement of the various claims against Alfred Dodge. In 1900 he returned to his law practice and married life, living with Emily at 616 East Gansevoort Street.

The Film Flam

From outward appearances everything seemed to be going quite well with the Joneses. However, what was being seen by the public was the tip of the iceberg. What was not seen what was “below the surface.” Hadley Jones, for various reasons, was greatly in debt. Later reflections showed he liked to gamble, play the ponies, and had made bad investments. In order to get out from under this debt he had speculated, and then invested heavily, in coal mines and oil fields in West Virginia which proved to be worthless. At this point in time, Jones was essentially penniless.

The question was how to get out of debt and still have the appearance of affluence? His solution was with his wife’s stocks which they had on deposit in both the National Bank of Herkimer County and the Little Falls National Bank. He did not want to use the money from the stocks deposited in the banks, but he had an ingenious ruse. Taking the good certificates, he had a fake stock certificate book made by a printing house in Buffalo, New York. It was exactly the same as the original, including the stock numbers.

Hadley then used seventeen of the fake certificates as collateral for loans from banks from Providence, Rhode Island to Ashtabula, Ohio, and several small banks throughout New York State. On these fake certificates he forged the names of William G. Milligan [President] and Albert Story Jr. [Cashier] who was Emily’s uncle. When these banks called the Little Falls banks they were told “Yes, we do have these stocks in our possession as collateral.” The cash loan from the Rhode Island bank alone was for $8,000 ($250,000 in 2021,) and a Troy, New York bank another $5,000 ($155,000 in 2021) both backed up by bogus stock certificates. All told, the value of the forged certificates was estimated to be as high as $100,000 ($3.1 million in 2021.) It is interesting to note that none of the forged certificates were against the two Little Falls banks. So, in one sense, the people of Little Falls were not directly hurt by Jones’s bank transgressions.

However, there were still another scam. Upon investigation, it was found that Hadley Jones had issued fraudulent mortgages for many properties in and around Little Falls which he controlled in various ways. Jones took out second mortgages, issued with forged names, on property to obtain cash without the property owners being aware until they received payment requests from the city treasurer’s office. Property owners blamed the county clerk’s office in Herkimer for not noticing the forgeries on the second mortgages filed by Jones.

Jones was also a heavy debtor to many individuals including those who had loaned him money going back to the failed Sutcliffe Brewery days. He continued to pay interest on the “loans” and mortgages promptly to all holders of the numerous notes so as not to cause alarm. These false mortgages, and Jones’s personal loans amounted to another $20,000 ($620,000 in 2021.) Unlike the forged certificates for loans from distant banks and personal loans from friends, these misdeeds did hurt a small number of people in Little Falls. In unescapable debt, what to do next?