Native of Lawrenceville, Had Long Been in Public and Business Life of the City.
In the death of Elias D. Bostwick, shortly after 1 o’clock this afternoon at his home at 151 Decatur street, Corning loses one of its foremost citizens and businessmen. For over a quarter of a century he was a member and president of the Wing & Bostwick Company, of this city, owners of one of the leading department stores in Steuben county.
For about two years Mr. Bostwick’s health had not been of the best and on January 14, 1928, he entered Corning Hospital for treatment. A short time later he underwent an operation and his condition improved so that he resumed active management of the store.
A few months ago his health again became impaired and he relinquished his position as active head of the firm and Ewart E. Watson was named general manager.
Since that time Mr. Bostwick had gradually grown weaker with intermittent periods of improvement. Since December it was known that death was only a matter of a short time.
Born in Lawrenceville
Born of humble parentage in the farm lands surrounding Lawrenceville, Pa., April 20, 1865, Elias D. Bostwick, through his own honesty, ambition, shrewdness and business integrity advanced himself from a station boy selling apples and candies to one of Steuben County’s foremost merchants.
Of Corning he was a vital part, assisting in the government of the city through his affiliation with the Police Commission, the Chamber of Commerce and Library Board, stimulating trade and thrift through the operation of one of the finest department stores in the Southern Tier, cheering and aiding the downtrodden of the populace with his quiet philanthropy, and strengthening the religious fabric of the community through his endless activities in the Gospel Tabernacle, which found its beginnings in the parlor of his home.
Mr. Bostwick’s parents, William A. and Rebecca Henderson, were farmers in straightened [sic] circumstances and further handicapped by a family of seven children, and they were able to offer young Elias little in the way of preparation for the higher opportunities of life.
When but six or seven years old he first practiced the art of salesmanship by disposing of wintergreen, apples and other fruit to travelers at the Fall Brook railroad station at Lawrenceville. The wintergreen sold for five cents a bunch and the fruit for a few pennies.
Studied During Evenings
Within a few years his brief schooling was terminated and his whole time was engaged in the day’s work, but he spent the evenings tutoring at the home of Miss Kate Coon, who later married a Mr. Dubin, and also at the home of John Merchant.
As his business grew he became popular with the railroad men, and finally he advanced from his desultory sales about the station to a regular train boy, operating on the trains between Lawrenceville and Geneva. He was a bright, industrious, likeable lad and he prospered. At the age of 11 he was conducting a small fruit, candy and newsstand at the Lawrenceville station.
In those days of fewer travelers and fewer magazines the limits of his business were restricted, and at the age of 13, seeking a field where he could earn more money, he entered the employ of Knapp’s General store. He swept the floor, dusted the stock, cared for the stove in the winter time, cleaned and trimmed the old oil lamps and performed hundreds of odd chores, all for $5 per week. At one time he also was janitor of the Post Office at Lawrenceville for $5 a week.
Works on Section
For a few years the $5 per week satisfied the ambitious Elias, but as his views of life and commerce broadened he recognized the restrictions of the general store, and tendering his resignation he joined the section crew of the Fall Brook railroad at Nelson, where his uncle, Marshall Bostwick, was foreman.
Hard work with a pick and shovel failed to discourage the lad, and his services were so satisfactory that when winter and the dull season approached and layoffs were ordered, it was not Elias Bostwick who was out of a job, but an older hand, John Myers, a man with a wife and several children, a broken, tired man, worn by poverty and now facing starvation.
When Elias saw John Myers trudging homeward at the time the others were starting the day’s work, he asked the reason. When told that Myers had been laid off, he generously surrendered his own job that the old man with dependents might yet find a way to live.
Throughout his entire life, this spirit of generosity and sympathy for the afflicted prevailed, and the weak and hungry were never denied his assistance. In his hands there was always food and money for the needy and often it was so given that those assisted were ignorant of the identify of their benefactor.
Goes To Work In Store
After a brief return to merchandising at the railroad station, he became employed as a clerk in the stores of C.S. Mather, of Lawrenceville. His employer was so impressed with the commercial talent of his assistant that when he retired in 1887, when Mr. Bostwick was 22, he offered to sell him a half interest in the business on trust. The other half was purchased by Charles B. Wing, with whom Mr. Bostwick was afterward associated.
Mr. Mather at this time also sold his house and lot to Mr. Bostwick on trust. The youthfulness and vigor of the two partners, who were ideally matched, stimulated the general store business, and gradually the name of Wing and Bostwick permeated the rural districts until it practically monopolized the trade of surrounding farmers within a radius of 25 miles.
Mr. Bostwick excelled as a salesman and buyer, his genial personality winning each customer who entered his store, and his shrewd foresight and keen analysis of the markets insuring maximum profits and economical operation. Meanwhile his thrift and sound business judgement enabled [unclear] himself of the debt owed to Mr. Mather.
Showed Keen Judgement
As a perfect supplement to complete the organization of his store, Mr. Wing was without a peer as a manager and a collector of outstanding accounts. Frequently skeptical of his partner’s choice of market, he later would voice loud praises when large profits were returned to the treasury.
The partners continued their successful business in Lawrenceville for 16 years, ever becoming better known and ever growing richer. Then suddenly on Christmas eve, 1903 [sic], when a wave of incendiarism was sweeping Lawrenceville, the store of Wing and Bostwick went up in smoke and flames.
Too young to be disheartened by disaster, and yet old enough to canvass thoroughly the field before rebuilding in the old location, Mr. Wing and Mr. Bostwick analyzed the situation and decided to locate in Corning, a nearby city which was growing, a city where they could attract additional trade and yet retain much of their Tioga county business. Thus did the partners find in adversity the basis for their later supreme success.
Bought Smith Store
In Corning they purchased the store of Benjamin Smith at 77 Bridge street, and again the firm of Wing & Bostwick was serving merchandise to the public. For only a short time, however, was the structure at77 Bridge street of sufficient size to house the growing business.
Looking into the future, Mr. Wing and Mr. Bostwick planned a concrete business block at Bridge and Pulteney streets, the first in the Southern Tier. They had their difficulties. Premature winter froze the concrete of the rear wall before it was set, and one morning that portion of the structure caved to the ground. The contract was given to a new company, and the construction of the present home of Wing & Bostwick was completed, with the largest floor space of any store in Steuben county.
During the building of the block, one department of the store was located on West Market street near Pine, and the other at 77 Bridge street. All was now housed under one roof, and in a few years the partnership was abandoned and the business incorporated as the Wing & Bostwick Company.
An Able Business Student
On one occasion in Lawrenceville, Mr. Bostwick purchased a large quantity of glassware much against the will of Mr. Wing, who believed that the investment would result in a large loss. But through the advantageous price of the wholesale purchase, and distribution of the goods to many stores within the radius of Corning business, a handsome profit was realized.
Again through a shrewd prediction of price fluctuation, Mr. Bostwick invested in a carload of pork, when Mr. Wing pessimistically considered the transaction to be unwise. The market shift as Mr. Bostwick had foreseen and additional profits lined the treasury. Mr. Bostwick was forever a thorough student of economics and an able general in merchandising, and his keenest delight was to triumph with a comfortable balance over investment.
The two young partners realized that their energy and business ability must find some contact with the consuming public, and they became active advertisers, using thousands of inches of advertising space annually to aid in increasing their sales.
Mr. Wing died December 19, 1929, after he had lived to see the tribulations of his youth blossom into prosperity and happiness, and the general country store of his initial business venture blossom into a profitable modern department store.
Since his partner’s death, Mr. Bostwick has been burdened with the cares of the entire business, and has continued actively at its head until illness forced him to his bed a few weeks ago.
Unselfish with himself and his services as he was with his generosity, Mr. Bostwick was one of Corning’s most dependable and patriotic citizens. Early in his career he became a member of Corning Business Men’s Association, and later joined the Corning Chamber of Commerce, with which he was actively affiliated since its formation in 1914.
Served As Director
He has served as a director on numerous occasions, and has been a member of many of the most important committees of the organization. At the recent election of the Chamber officers he was elected a director for a three year term.
The Gospel Tabernacle, one of Corning’s religious organizations, held its early meetings in the parlor of Mr. Bostwick’s home, and he has been a treasurer, trustee and a deacon in the church since its inception in 1906. Few men have ever held more than one of these important offices in the organization. Because of ill health, however, the treasurership was recently resigned.
For many years he was superintendent of the Tabernacle Sunday School, and until his death was teacher of the Bostwick Bible Class, composed of about 50 women.
He was greatly interested in missions, and in addition to his regular contribution to the missionary activities of the church, he has personally spent hundreds of dollars each year for they support of missionaries in the field.
On Library Board
He served for two years on the City Library Board and resigned his position in 1928 to accept his appointment by Mayor William H. Tew to the Police Commission. City officials with whom he worked have characterized him as one of the most dependable and conscientious men with whom they ever had contact.
In the early days of the Prohibition faction, he was an ardent supporter of the party, but in general he has always been a Republican, and on several occasions has refused the request of party leaders that he become a candidate for mayor.
He was vice-president of the Northside State Bank, a director of the Corning Trust Company and a member of the Corning Rotary Club, where he had many warm friendships.
On October 20, 1884, he was married to Miss Etta May Rhodimer, of Lawrenceville, Pa., and they had six children, five of whom survive. Two sons, Charles E. Bostwick and DeWitt J. Bostwick, are managers in the firm of Wing & Bostwick, and three daughters, Mrs. Alfred Novak, Mrs. Ernest C. Dates and Miss Luella Bostwick, all reside in Corning. A fourth daughter, Mrs. Esther Webster, is deceased.
In addition to his widow and children, he is survived by two sisters, Mrs. Fred J. Brisco, of Corning, and Mrs. Charles Hill, of Caton; and two brothers, Truman Bostwick and William Bostwick, of Lawrenceville, Pa. His other two brothers, Hiram Bostwick and John Bostwick, are deceased.
Source: Corning Evening Leader, February 7, 1930.