The First Generation
Truman Doud Collins, better known as T.D. or Teddy Collins, was born in Cortlandville, New York on March 7, 1831. His parents were Jabez Collins and Adaline Doud Collins. He was nine years old when his parents moved from the village of Cortlandville to a small farm nearby. Teddy was one of six children, two boys and four girls, and his youth was full of stories and myths. Some say he was plowing a furrow at eight, although that seems a bit far fetched, as he was still living in the village of Cortlandville. Some say he was in poor health as a child, but as that began to improve, he was able to complete a course of study in the Cortland Academy. And some tell the story of a young entrepreneur who was earning money by traveling to neighboring farms buying butter, eggs, and farm produce and shipping them to a buyer in New York City. Whatever the truth may be, Teddy Collins grew into a man with enough gumption, guts, and God-fearing to build what became known as the "Teddy Collins Empire."
Before all the "empire building" began, Teddy left the family farm in Cortland, and with the help of a local judge, took a job with the engineer corps constructing the Binghampton and Syracuse Railroad. It was 1851, he was 20 years old, and he started out driving stakes for the survey. With a natural talent for mathematics and engineering, Teddy was soon running a transit line. Within three years, he became an engineer of a division in Broome County. For most men in 1854, that would have been a plenty good start to a lifetime of railroading, but Teddy Collins was not "most men."
Collins employees pause before the Salmon Creek
lumber Co. in Nebraska, Pennsylvania. Note the
decorative cupola atop the mill.
Teddy left railroading for the dense forests of northwestern Pennsylvania, specifically the Tionesta Valley. With his brother, Joseph Van Halen (J.V.) Collins, and friends John B. Rodgers, Langley Fullager, and J. Scovil Walker, the five ended up in Hickory, Pennsylvania, located on the Allegheny River. They all took jobs as laborers in the woods at 60 cents a day, twelve hours a day.
By July 28, 1855, Teddy had saved enough money, probably from his railroad work and the meager amount he made in the woods, to join his brother and the other three in a partnership to buy John Alexander's steam mill and timber at Turkey Run near Whig Hill, Pennsylvania. The land held the giant hemlock, thought to be useless as lumber, but whose bark was valued by tanners. It also held white pine, the "King of Kings," the source of the mighty ship masts of the great British fleet. The five scrabbled together $3,000 as a down payment, with a mortgage of $17,000 to be paid in three years. On July 28, 1858, three years later, they paid the remaining $17,000 to John Alexander. Teddy's first deal was done.
Nine years after his first mortgage at Turkey Run, Teddy bought out Rodgers, Scovil, and Fullager, and with his brother, J.V. Collins, held full title to the original 1,480 acres and mill at Turkey Run. That was November 25, 1864. But even before that deal was completed, Teddy had extended his operations over to Beaver Valley, Pennsylvania, where in 1860, he bought an interest, along with Sanford S. Holbrook, in a sawmill, grist mill, and store.
Before Teddy Collins died in 1914, he would own, along with others, a handful of sawmills in the Tionesta Valley, including: Nebraska (originally called Lacy's Mill), Beaver Valley, Pine Hollow, Bucks Mill, Old Salmon Creek Mill, New Salmon Creek Mill, and the Mayburg Mill. Add to that mix the Tionesta Manufacturing Company, the Nebraska Box Mill, the Mayburg Chemical Plant, and the Clough Lands in Pennsylvania; timberland in Tehama and Plumas Counties, California, (known as the Curtis, Collins & Holbrook lands); redwood property in California; and timberlands and mills in Washington and timber in Oregon.
The Heisler locomotive #4 worked its days
for Collins' Salmon Creek Lumber Company.
But a man couldn't run all these timber operations in the late 1800s, early 1900s without the rails. The creeks and rivers that used to be jammed with timber gave way to the rails. And there was no doubt that railroads were in Teddy's blood. He had started out by driving stakes for the Binghampton and Syracuse Railroad, and by the end of his life, he owned over 100 miles of logging railroad, 41 miles of main line, and 25 locomotives.
For a man with the gumption of a Teddy Collins, timber, mills, and railroads were not quite enough. There was oil. Now oil could have been Teddy's unmaking. It certainly was a temptation that many a man succumbed to and from which few made a fortune. In Teddy's time, Pennsylvania was virtually floating in undiscovered oil. But Teddy was a tree man. He liked the possibilities of what was on top of the ground, and while he would invest in oil most of his life, it was always secondary to trees.
Colonel Edwin L. Drake was the first to discover a major oil field in Pennsylvania in 1859. By April 7, 1860, Teddy and J.V. were leasing their first oil lands, 38-acres from one Nancy Griffin. It was located along the Allegheny River near President, Pennsylvania. The lease turned into a purchase of the land, but the Collins boys came up pretty empty-handed. No oil was ever found on the property, but that didn't stop them from looking for more.
Teddy and J.V. shifted their oil interests to Walnut Bend, also along the Allegheny River. There they built and operated a small oil refinery. By 1865, Teddy sold his share of the land and refinery to the Collins Oil Company of Syracuse, New York for $100,000. The oil company was now owned by six men, one of whom was J.V. Collins. That didn't mean Teddy was through with oil. As late as May 19, 1892, he and a partner, Orion Siggins, purchased what became known as the Cook Oil Lease lands in Pennsylvania.
If you met Teddy Collins, you could have easily mistaken him for a woodsman. He was a small man with chin whiskers, most often seen around in a blue work shirt, slouch hat, and frayed jeans that had brushed by too many trees and were punched unevenly into his old leather boots. He seemed to have one other dress option, and that was a frock coat with tails and the same old leather boots and old slouch hat. He was known around Tionesta, Kellettville, and Nebraska, Pennsylvania as the man who talked about this and that to his cart horse, McGinty, in between singing good old Methodist hymns day after day, year after year, even horse after horse. "Well, McGinty, what 'ya think about buyin' that piece down by the river?"
When cars came into fashion in the early 1900s, he stuck with McGinty and his two-wheeled cart. And when he spoke or wrote in his journals, he referred to himself in the third person as "T.D." He was a bit crusty and frugal. And while he became a millionaire lumberman whose holdings would eventually make him the largest private landowner in Pennsylvania, he was at his core "simple in garb, simple in manner, simple in heart, and cordially impatient with inefficiency." He worked his whole life as if every hour counted and it was his job to use every last one of them. Perhaps his wife, Mary Stanton, summed him up best: "I have long realized Teddy Collins can never be really happy until he owns every pine tree there is to buy."
Teddy Collins may have been a man driven to own every pine tree in Pennsylvania, with a little oil and some railroads thrown in for good measure, but he was also a man smitten with a red-haired school teacher by the name of Mary Stanton. Now while he may have been smitten, she was not. So he pursued her. And she avoided him. But by April 26, 1864, all that pursuing and all that avoiding came to an end when they were married in Freedom, Pennsylvania. Mary was a devout Methodist and Teddy was soon to follow, both of them adhering to a rigid lifestyle that defined not only their lives, but the lives of generations to follow.
Everell Stanton Collins
Teddy and Mary had one son, Everell (E.S.) Stanton Collins, born March 30, 1866 in Cortland, New York - Teddy's old hometown. Mary had convinced Teddy that they had more than enough money and it was time to retire to Cortland, where their son could be born and they could live among Teddy's family. That idea lasted just long enough for Everell to claim Cortland as his birthplace, but not much longer, because within a year, 1867, they had returned to Beaver Valley, Pennsylvania. It wasn't the money calling Teddy, it was the trees.
Now, if folks thought that E.S. (Everell) Collins, the son of this millionaire, was going to grow up spoiled in the luxuries wealth can provide, they didn't really know Teddy Collins. E.S. grew up spending days, weeks, and months at nine and ten years old packing shingles for 34 cents an hour. This was no childhood of easy money, maids, and private education. There was no traveling abroad with nannies, tutors, and toys. He didn't dine with silver, he wasn't waited on by servants, and he was never once seduced by a sense of privilege and class. E.S. grew up a serious man, some even called him taciturn, and his life was so far from soft that it probably ended up killing him. His father, Teddy, was an inflexible, relentless, strong-willed father who could have broken a lesser man, but he didn't break his son. It wasn't for lack of trying. No child of Teddy Collins' was going to be spoiled.
Everell's early years were spent in Beaver Valley, Pennsylvania, but by 1882, Teddy moved his family to Nebraska, Pennsylvania. It was here that Teddy and Mary would live until their deaths. Mary died on October 28, 1908 and was followed six years later by Teddy Collins, who died April 15, 1914.
There were a number of things that characterized the career of T.D. Collins. He freely engaged in partnerships to take advantage of investment opportunities, often buying out his partners over time. He got in on the forefront of new developments. Those included the discovery of oil, the advent of the steam locomotive, the change from circle saws to band saws, and the development of new markets for a wide range of forest products. He was also innovative in improving operations and adapting them for specialty markets. And last, but not least, he saw the value in land ownership.
Teddy Collins may have built himself an empire, but what he really built and what he really left for future generations was a set of values. Very few family-owned businesses of wealth are intact and functioning into the fifth generation. What Teddy Collins and his wife, Mary, bequeathed were the tools for that survival. It was characterized by an integrity of spirit - to do the right thing; a belief in self-discipline - to work hard and live simply; a respect for those who labor with and for you; an unshakable conviction that thrift is a prized value; a resolve to be scrupulously honest in all your affairs; and a sense of gratitude to God - that if you've been given more, then more is expected of you.