Charles Wardwell Scofield, Railroad Builder

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This page was last updated on April 15, 2022.

(Return to Charles W. Scofield's Railroads)

By Joshua Bernard, April 6, 2016

Railroads made many people famous. Anybody who has taken a U.S. History class probably has heard of Theodore Judah, the father of the Central Pacific; or Grenville Dodge, chief engineer of the Union Pacific and Credit Mobile co-conspirator; or Jay Gould, railroad monopolist and American public enemy. If one delves a bit deeper they might learn about the Vanderbilts or General William Palmer's eccentric narrow gauge frenzy. Not all of the railroad barons became famous though, even though they left their mark on the country's history just as much as the others. One of these forgotten investment wizards is Charles Scofield.

Scofield was responsible for several railroads in Utah, three of which were built and a few that weren't. He was also president of a bank, invested in transportation companies in Nevada and Ohio, and was married three times, once to a rich California actress. His financial dealings were as complex and as shady as any Gould or Vanderbilt, his bankruptcies not uncommon, and scandals far-reaching. Yet any biographical information about him is scarce - his name appears dozens of times on genealogical chat forums asking for information, but the only responses link Don Strack's Utahrails.net page (see the first source at the bottom of this page) about his railroad interests. Nearly all of the information available about the man was found there on that one page, just enough to hint at this man's story but not enough to tell it completely. Naturally I had to fix that.

Armed with Utahrails.net as a starting point and the unlimited access to military, state and national census, and vital records that Brigham Young University's library offers, I started searching down Charles W. Scofield. However, I was disappointed. Hours of searching brought up very few new details. The surname of his first wife still remains unknown, and most of his Civil War service (he marked "veteran" on the 1870 and 1880 censuses) remains to be discovered. I could not find a picture of him anywhere, which is strange considering the 19th century aristocratic habit of paying to have your portrait included in state and local histories. The majority of the available information details the last 20 years of his life as his swindles and schemes began to catch up with him. Regardless, here is the biography that I was able to compile:

Charles Wardwell Scofield was born on 9 February 1834 in Samford, Connecticut. He married Amanda M. in 1856 (no record has yet been found confirming her maiden surname). Around 1857 he and Amanda had a son, who they named Charles F. Scofield. Charles Sr. fought in the Civil War in the 126th Regiment, New York Volunteers. He was elected Regiment Sutler on December 14, 1862, while stationed at Union Mills, Virginia,[1] and after the war ended became a fairly successful hardware merchant in New York and by 1865 owned a brick home valued at $15,000, where he employed three servants.[2]

While retaining residence in New York he quickly became involved in several financial investments in Utah. He headed up the organization of the Bingham Canyon & Camp Floyd and Wastach & Jordan Valley in 1872; by 1874 he was president of the Salt Lake City National Bank, which lasted only four years (1872-1876),[3] and in 1875 he founded the Utah & Pleasant Valley Railway. During this period he met Brigham Young, and was apparently so impressed by the prophet that later, upon returning to New York, collected a considerable sum of money from some friends and donated it to the Salt Lake City temple fund. In 1880 he lived at 110 Montague St., New York, and was still married to Amanda although his son was not listed on the census.[4] Later Amanda apparently died, and he remarried on August 13, 1884 to Lillian Edna Austin Stowell,[5] an actress from California who went by the stage name of Libbie Stowell. She had made considerable money in mining in California (perhaps through a previous marriage), and was visiting New York for the production of the Passion Play. The play was prohibited before she could perform, but she stayed in New York with Charles. They were married for eight years.

Although his original three Utah railroads had been bought up by William Palmer's Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, Charles continued the heavy involvement in other railroad companies in state, including the Utah & Nevada Railway (never built) in 1883. The Wasatch & Jordan Valley Railroad turned into a major scandal for which he was arrested in New York on January 8, 1885 on the grounds of "obtaining money on false pretenses." He also dabbled in shipping petroleum products from Ohio, for which his firm Schofield, Shurmer and Teagle was involved in an Interstate Commerce Commission case in 1887 through 1888.

On May 7 1888 he surprised Nathaniel Hatch, a broker, in his apartment with his wife. Hatch, upon hearing Scofield ascend the stairs, jumped from the bathroom window and fell to his death. Charles was arrested to investigate Hatch's death but later acquitted; he and Libbie estranged themselves from each other from then on. Despite the separation he considered himself to still be married. Judge Brown of New York discharged his $103,640 bankruptcy debt on February 28, 1900. His bankruptcy did not deter him because in October 1906 he had returned to Salt Lake City to promote a proposed railroad connecting Salt Lake City with the copper mining center of Ely, Nevada. This project never got off the ground despite his idea to use excessively light rail in construction to save initial costs.

In 1910 he lived at 115 Waverly Place.[6] Apparently in his old age he gave up railroad investments for real estate, and a land investment partner introduced Charles to his sister, Jean Fitzsimmons, a nurse. In 1912, Libbie died and left Charles with a $40,000 inheritance. By then Charles developed a romantic relationship with Jean, and despite the excessive age difference (Jean was 29, Charles 79), they were engaged, but had to wait for Libbie's death certificate to come from California before marrying. It arrived almost too late, as he contracted pneumonia in late January 1914. On February 2, 1914, they were married in the Hotel St. George dby the Reverend Father F.X. Ludeke of the Church of St. Francis Assissi. Charles fell unconscious soon after the ceremony and died two hours later. His foreign investments must have been considerable as his death was important enough to be reported in British newspapers only two days later.[7] He was buried in the Woodland Cemetery of the city of his birth.[8]

Sources

Strack, Don. Utahrails.net: Charles W. Scofield's Railroads. Web. Accessed 5 April 2016. https://utahrails.net/utahrails/scofield.php

"New York State Census, 1865." Database with images. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : accessed 2016. Citing Secretary of State. State Library, Albany.

1910 U.S. National Census

"New York Marriages, 1686-1980," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:F649-2TD : accessed 5 April 2016), Charles Wardwell Scofield and Lillian Edna Austin Stowell, 13 Aug 1884; citing reference ; FHL microfilm 1,570,289.

Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General, Main Series, 1861-1870, National Archives.

Salt Lake City National Bank Promissory Note No. 1, January 15th, 1874; private collection, posted on stampcommunity.org http://www.stampcommunity.org/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=23593

Liverpool Evening Press

New York Times

Deseret News

Salt Lake Daily Herald

Footnotes

[1] Letter from James M. Bull to S. Thomas, Adj. General U.S. Army, December 15, 1862

[2] 1865 New York census

[3] Salt Lake City National Bank Promissory Note No.1

[4] 1880 U.S. Census

[5] She apparently had another alias as upon her death her name was reported as Lilian D. Austin.

[6] 1910 U.S. Census

[7] Liverpool Evening Press, 4 February 1914

[8] There is evidence, however, that the Charles W. Scofield buried in the Woodland Cemetery was not the Charles W. Scofield of the Utah railroads. The headstone lists the date of death as 1910, four years earlier than his final marriage and death; in addition, the 1880 and 1900 U.S. censuses show that another Charles W. Scofield, unrelated, was also born in Stamford CT in 1834 and lived a less-glamorous life. A thorough analysis of cemetery records, if available, would be ideal but impossible for me to do.

Also, there are some discrepancies about his actual age in the different sources cited; some say he died at age 80 and that Jean was 28. His age in this work was determined by his actual birth date. The year of his death is disputed to be 1913 although all published obituaries are from February and March 1914.

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