Charles Elliott Tilton

Charles Elliott Tilton, son of Hon. Samuel Tilton, was born in Sanbornton, September 14, 1827, and in that part set off and incorporated as the town of Tilton. He received his early education in the common schools, and at the age of fifteen was put under the instruction of Prof. Dyer H. Sanborn of Sanbornton Academy. Later he was admitted into the Norwich University (a military school), where he remained three years.

When war was declared with Mexico, Gen. Ransom, the president of the university, was commissioned to raise a regiment, and induced nearly every student to enlist, offering young Tilton the command of a company, which honor, through the influence of his father, was declined. About this date he left home, going to New York, where he remained with his brother a short time.

He then sailed for the West Indies and South America in pursuit of a fortune. At this point a business career was inaugurated which for thirty years called for untiring labor. He visited all the islands, prospected the Orinoco and Amazon rivers to their head waters, went overland to Caracas and La Guayra, thence to Maracaybo, St. Martha, Carthagena, and Chagres. Here he heard of gold discoveries in California, and proceeded at once to San Francisco via Panama. A hasty survey of the outlook satisfied him that "merchandising" rather than digging for gold afforded better chances for success, and on this foundation determined to build his fortune. In 1850 he went to Oregon, and in the succeeding year formed a copartnership with W. S. Ladd. Esq., for general mercantile pursuits, which continued until 1859. That his operations were diversified and on a large scale, the public prints of that era are ample evidence. He was interested in establishing a line of vessels to run between Oregon and China, one of which, the "C. E. Tilton," had made the quickest passage from New York to Oregon on record to the present time. She was subsequently sold to the Japanese government and by them converted into a man of war, and was finally sunk in an encounter with the U. S. ship "Powhattan." In 1859 the banking-house of Ladd & Tilton, Portland, was organized, so favorably known and generally advertised during the settlement of the presidential vote of that state in 1876. He remained a partner in this institution twenty-one years, retiring in 1880.

In all this period Mr. Tilton was interested in many other enterprises on the Pacific coast and frontier. Among these may be mentioned the navigation of the Columbia and Willamette rivers. He was one of five who controlled what has developed into the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company, with a capital of $24,000,000. He had an interest in the banking firm of Ladd & Bush, Salem, in the First National Bank of Portland, and First National Bank of Walla Walla, W. T. At the same time he was largely engaged in transportation across the plains. He fully understood the requirements for merchandise in Utah, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. He furnished and dispatched large trains from San Bernardino, Cal., to Utah, and from St. Joseph, Mo., to Colorado, and from there to Montana, giving his personal attention to them all. This was no pastime twenty years ago. A country largely held by hostile Indians had to be traversed, and few trains reached their destination unmolested. Desperate encounters frequently occurred, resulting in more or less loss to life and property, and once ending in the capture of an entire train by the "Red Devils." Other obstacles had to be met, incident to such undertakings, like storms, swollen rivers, and break-downs, which would have seemed insuperable to any one of less force of character. Realizing what the great West might be, he purchased land in all the territories, which investments have proved advantageous. He engaged in many other transactions which his keen perceptions led him to believe would be remunerative, so that, in fact, there were but few enterprises of importance connected with the growth and development of the Pacific slope, whether pertaining to its finance, internal improvements, or its foreign and domestic commerce, in which the cool and sagacious subject of this sketch was not a participator.

To organize and direct successfully such varied and extended operations, outlined here only in part, required a mind strong in perception and purpose. A union of these qualities, with that adventurous spirit which led the youth of eighteen to the sources of the Orinoco and the pampas of the Amazon in pursuit of wealth, constituted a mental alliance which could well measure the possibilities of a new country and avail himself of their fulfillment.

In all this time Mr. Tilton enjoyed excellent health and immunity from serious accident. After living amidst the steaming malaria of tropical lagoons, sleeping by the side of his mustang on the plains, blockaded by the storms of the Sierras, assailed by the hostile Apaches, he returns to his native hills unscathed, with a sound constitution and the early purpose of his will fully accomplished.

Mr. Tilton's munificence has manifested itself most liberally to his townsmen within two years. In that time he has erected and conveyed to them a town hall finished in an elegant and substantial manner. It contains a market and town office, a store and post-office, all commodiously arranged, no expense being spared which would add to convenience. They return to the treasury a handsome rental. The hall proper is easily approached, is finished in hard wood, as is all the interior of the building. It is artistically frescoed in water-colors and gilt, lighted with gas, has a stage fitted with drop-curtains, changes of scenery, a beautiful proscenium, proper furniture, a Steinway piano, all after the most approved styles. The building, with its appointments, is the admiration of visitors and the pride of towns-people. He has placed an iron bridge, the present season, from Main street to Island Park, costing over eighteen hundred dollars. The public are allowed at all times to use and occupy this delightful resort. Its airy summerhouse, built after an European model, surrounded by works of art, is unmatched in loveliness. For remodeling one of the village churches he contributed more than three thousand dollars; and donated five hundred towards an iron bridge between Tilton and Northfield, which act results in two by the towns named. He expended a large sum in the purchase of land and improving it for a public park near by the village, and, including the gift of the fine town hall, January 4, 1881, must have appropriated forty thousand dollars for the pleasure and benefit of his townsmen. During this period he has paid thousands of dollars for improvements on his own premises, giving employment to a large force of laborers and mechanics.

Mr. Tilton's elegant and spacious residence is situated on an eminence commanding a magnificent prospect, and overlooks the village that bears his name. When built, a few years since, it was deemed one of the best in central New Hampshire. In the last two years it has been materially improved, while large additions have been constructed, consisting of an extensive conservatory and aviary on the one side of the main building, and a spacious drawing-room on the other; it is unequaled in its appointments, perhaps, in New England. It is twenty-eight feet by thirty-eight feet in area, and twenty-two feet in height. Seven thousand five hundred feet of mahogany were used to complete it. To the height of four feet the most elaborate work in wainscoting is produced, while pilasters in the same wood, ornate in their design, extend from the floor on either side and meet in the ceiling above. This arrangement in finish running at right angles leaves the walls and surface overhead checked into panels, either square or oblong, each of which is filled with an individual conception of the artist, but collectively form a general design. An exquisitely designed gablet holds the porcelain tiled fire front, its three sides partly filled with French plate mirrors, and a Swiss styled hooding covers the apex which contains the clock. Carpets and rugs, drapery and furniture, mirrors and chandeliers, were manufactured for the room. We know the owner is averse to anything that attracts attention to himself. The public on proper occasions have had the pleasure of seeing these premises; and what we have here recited has been gathered from sources that have been open to all.

Mr. Tilton is cordial and pleasant in his intercourse with his neighbors and acquaintances, and in feelings and tastes one of the people. The steel portrait is an excellent one. He is in the prime of manhood and intellect.

Through life, so far, he seems to have been conscious that his capacity was for business and not politics. He has never sought or held public office, and says he never will. The frequent mention of his name in political circles and sometimes in the press, in such connection, is not inspired by him.

He comes back to a common welcome after thirty years of incessant labor, from amidst surroundings, which, if detailed, would seem stranger than fiction.

Mr. Tilton was married December 29, and sailed in the "Gallia" from New York for Liverpool, January 4, 1882. We understand it is the intention of the happy pair, if Providence permits, to stay abroad as long as pleasure or profit can be derived from their trip.