The first Cheney to settle in Connecticut
was Benjamin, who purchased land in East Hartford in 1723. His
son Timothy built the Cheney Homestead in what later became Manchester
in 1757. The house was inhabited by Cheney family members from
1757 until 1970.
Timothy's son George was the father
of eight sons. Together several of the sons founded Cheney Brothers
silk mills, once the largest silk weaving company in the nation.
Part of Cheney Brothers' early success was due to brother Frank
Cheney's (1817-1904) invention of a machine for making silk thread,
which he patented in 1847. Cheney Brothers was not just a company,
but a world of its own. The Cheney compound in Manchester included
not only the mill buildings, but also about twenty-five Cheney
family homes, schools, churches, meeting halls, a fire station,
a library, and boarding houses for Cheney Brothers employees.
As the company grew, so did the
prolific Cheney family. Most of the photographs featured in Connecticut
History Online show descendants of Charles Cheney (1803-1874).
Charles' son Frank Woodbridge Cheney (1832-1909) became the director
of the mills in 1854 and ran the company during its heyday from
the late 19th-early 20th century. Frank traveled to China, then
the world's leading supplier of silk, and later became one of
the earliest American businessmen to travel to Japan in search
After Frank W. Cheney's death in
1909, his son Horace Bushnell Cheney (1868-1936) took over as
general manager of the company. In addition to managing the mills,
Horace B. wrote extensively on silk and the silk industry, served
as Manchester selectman in the early 1900s and as chairman of
the legislative committee of the National Federation of Textiles.
Horace B. and his wife Mary Pierson Cheney (1874-1949) had five
children: H. Bushnell, born in 1899; Antoinette, born in 1901;
Stephen, born in 1903; Roger, born in 1907; and Hannah, born 1912.
In the children's generation there were forty-three first cousins,
most of them growing up on the family land in Manchester. Most
of the Cheney men were employed in the family business.
Trouble started for Cheney Brothers
with the invention of rayon in the 1920s. Rayon, a man-made fiber,
had a more consistent quality than natural silk and was much cheaper
to produce. Cheney Brothers suffered significantly from the new
competition in the textile industry and the onset of the Great
Depression in 1929. The Cheney mills began to close in the 1930s.
Despite a small resurgence during World War II, when the company
produced parachutes for the war effort, the company never recovered.
The last of the Cheney mills closed in the 1980s, although the
descendents of this silk-manufacturing dynasty live on in Connecticut
and around the country.
Of the children of Horace B. Cheney,
H. Bushnell died young, at the age of thirty. Stephen was placed
in a mental hospital, where he died in 1968. Antoinette wrote
a Cheney family memoir, published in 1977. Roger became an artist
and designer. After working for several years at Cheney Brothers,
he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his wife Susie. There he
designed and supervised the construction of weaving equipment
in New Mexico and started his own weaving studio. He died in 1990.
Hannah became the keeper of her father's photographs and donated
them to the Connecticut Historical Society in the 1980s.