finding your roots

Singer Sewing Macines in America

Sharon Masters May 2, 2012

When Mr. MacKenzie was three years old his parents moved from Duthal, Iverness-shire Scotland to Kingussie, in the same shire. He came to the US in 1846 and a few years later secured employment with I.M. Singer. George Ross married Rebecca Elsey in 1847. He became Vice-President and General Manager at Singer in 1863. He was known for his acute intelligence and insatiable thirst for knowledge. “He displayed an interest and familiarity with many subjects entirely removed from the sphere of his actual labors.”

The immediate cause of death for George Ross MacKenzie was “sciatic rheumatism”. He suffered from the malady for several years, but always rallied from the attacks until after the death of his wife two years earlier. All members of the family were present when the end came, and Mr. MacKenzie passed away without much pain. His wealth at the time of his death in 1892 was estimated to be three and one-half million. He and his children later changed the spelling of their names from McKenzie to MacKenzie.

The funeral took place on Saturday afternoon, at 1 o’clock at the Scotch Presbyterian Church on Mercer Street, where Mr. MacKenzie attended while residing in his city home. The body was placed in a receiving vault at the Jersey City Cemetery until the following spring, when it was moved to Glen Spey, NY, where Mr. MacKenzie had a country residence. In Glen Spey, NY, George Ross is still remembered with an elementary school called George Ross MacKenzie ES.

Taken from the Saturday Evening Post, August 1951

When George was 14, he had to leave school and help support his mother. He drove cattle to market for the district farmers and sold them on commission. An unbeatable trader, he usually got higher prices than the farmers could. By living meagerly, he was able to buy a small general store; at age 20, he owned 2 of them. His thrift was legendary, even for a Scot.

George might have stayed in Kingussie forever, but for his religious convictions. A rock-ribbed Calvinist, he viewed church organs as inventions of the devil. When the elders of his own kirk bought one, he declared “Install that kist o’ whistles and I clear oot”. They did, and he went, emigrated to America.

But he left his heart in the Highlands. When,with the wealth of his old age – estimated at $3,500,000 – he acquired properties in New Jersey and New York, he named them after the scenes of his boyhood – an apartment house in New Jersey, “Kingussie”, a 3000 acre domain in upstate New York “Glen Spey”. For the original Kingussie, he built a library, a parish manse and a new kirk – without an organ – and every Christmas, he sent money there to regale every soul in the place.

MacKenzie’s devotion to sewing machines was obsessive. To his delight this presently brought him numerous opportunities to work for Singer in Scotland. For Clark (Singer) had convinced his fellow directors that the company must have foreign factories, and in 1867 Kingussie was delegated to supervise the construction of one in Love Loan, a suburb of Glascow. Later he laid the cornerstone of a second one in Clydebank, Scotland. This is still Singer’s largest single property. Later, factories were erected in Germany, Russia, France and Italy.

From “Lumberland – A Gem With Many Facets”

The origin of Lumberland began with the formation of a town, territorial boundaries and government on March 16, 1798. Early occupations included farming, lumbering and quarrying. Much of the land was rough and unimproved until the late 1860′s, when Singer Machine Vice President George Ross MacKenzie established his country estate in South Lebanon, which included major advancements known to mankind.

As years progressed, Mr. MacKenzie enhanced his 3,000 acre estate with the addition of a school (now Lumberland Town Hall), a church, orphanage and cemetery. The addition of elaborate buildings designed and crafted by artisans became evident. By the 1880′s, Mr MacKenzie’s paradise in South Lebanon became known on the map as “Glen Spey”, an area reminiscent of Mr. MacKenzie’s homeland in Scotland. Upon his death in 1892, seven of his children built elaborate summer mansions in Glen Spey, with the youngest inheriting “The Homestead”.

Today, more than a century later, three of the MacKenzie estates remain, hosting “Verkhovynia, a Uranian summer camp; Knights of Pythian Camp and Mike Fraysee’s Sport Resort, the restored Margaret MacKenzie Elkin mansion.

From the Evening Journal of July 19th, 1895


The Beautiful Estate of the MacKenzie Family and its Fine Dwelling.

Glen Spey, the country home of the MacKenzie family, of this city, is perhaps,
the best known and most extensive country seat owned and occupied by Jersey
City folk. “Glen Spey” was established about twenty-five years ago by the
late George R. MacKenzie, who was born and reared in the highlands of
Scotland, and who conceived the idea of establishing an American designed home
among the picturesque mountain scenery of New York State. He accordingly
purchased about 3,000 acres of land in Sullivan county among the Shawaugank
Mountains, 1,500 feet above the level of the sea, and converted what was then
a barren wilderness, into what today is almost an earthy paradise. Mr.
MacKenzie built a stately Castella residence with broad verandas, spacious
halls, large and lofty rooms, and stained glass windows on the slope of one of
the hills facing the view towards the Delaware, and decorated and furnished
the house in the highest art of style. He hung the fine paintings on the
walls, many of them showing scenes in Scotland, such as “Morning on the
Highlands”, the “Interior of a Highland Cottage”, “A Day’s Sport in the
Highlands” and the like. Deer, stag, sheep and goat heads, finely mounted,
similar to those at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, were placed upon the walls.

Having made his house as attractive as possible, Mr. MacKenzie turned his
attention to the extensive grounds about, and with the aid of landscape
gardeners and skilled workers, rendered them beautiful. The grounds around
the mansion were laid out in terraces and planted with rare shrubs, vines and
flowers, along rows of silver maples were set out on either side of the
winding walks. Artificial lakes and ponds were made, and in the center of the
lakes, on a small island, was built a swan house, about which many of the
graceful birds floated. Upon the other lakes and ponds were dainty rowboats,
and the waters were filled with fish. A picturesque pavilion was erected at
the foot of a terraced walk and filled with Venetian furniture, easy chairs,
sofas, hammocks, etc. to make a delightful resting place. A velvety lawn,
with ribbon like borders, running here and there, was laid out, with stone
flagged walks and driveways covered with fine pebbles. A fine garden was
planted with every variety of vegetables, and the house was supplied with fine
sparkling water from mountain springs. The forest part of the estate was
divided into parks for deer, elks, sheep and oats, several hundreds of which
were placed in the enclosures. The farm was well stocked with horses and
cattle, and the seven large barns supplied with all farming implements and
vehicles without number, from a pony cart to the finest carriage. Croquet,
lawn tennis, archery and baseball grounds were laid out, and settees, seats
and swings placed around and under the arbors and trees.

Mr. MacKenzie, who was a staunch Presbyterian and a Christian gentleman built
a very attractive church in Glen Spey, furnished it nicely and opened its
doors to all denominations who desired to worship there. He also erected as
schoolhouse for the children, and established a post-office for the use of
all. Carpenter and blacksmith shops, tool houses, granaries, etc. were also
added until Glen Spey, like all landed estates, became a little village, with
homes for the tenants, and religious and educational privileges. Year by
year, Mr. MacKenzie added new beauties to his country home until it became the
most attractive in America. He spent a great deal of money on it, and was
continually devising some new plan to make it as perfect as possible. He
built and extended roads in every direction and made them the delight of those
who passes over the land. He opened new vistas of beauty on every hand. A
few years ago he constructed a tower on the highest point of his estate,
similar in structure to the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris. He called it
“Highland Tower” and from the top of the flag-staff floats the stars and
stripes. Splendid views to a distance of sixty or seventy miles were revealed
from the upper balustrade of the tower, and Mr. MacKenzie was more than
pleased with it.

There were grottos and waterfalls on the estate, and art brought forward to
assist nature to make them as beautiful as possible,. The waterfall and
rapids down the mountain side to about 1,000 feet, is similar to Inversnaid,
Scotland, in Rob Roy’s country, only it is more extensive when the stream is
high. It is a great sight and is much relished by tourists and those in the
neighborhood. A deep valley called “Glen Roy”, which resembles Glencoe, in
Scotland, is also one of the natural beauties of the place.*


Every summer, M. MacKenzie and his family spent the heated terra in a sort of
delightful reunion in this enchanting region. Since his death about thirty
years ago, the family has continued to go gather at beloved Glen Spey and to
add to its beauties. The family has grown so large that a second house, built
on the same lines as the first, has been added and improvements made. The
above picture represents the house as it was originally built, but now it is
twice as large, or in other words, the shores exactly alike are joined
together to form a single one. A new deer park, much larger than the old one,
has been laid out so as to accumulate the large herd of deer, which like the
elks there, are among the finest in this country There are many birds about
Glen Spey, among which is an eagle which is supposed to have made his home
there for fifty years. Glen Spey is only a hundred miles from New York City
and three miles from Pond Eddy Station, on the Erie Railroad, and is in the
heart of the country that is famous for its beauty. It is truly a magnificent
estate, and a fitting tribute to the energy, skill and taste of the late
owner, who converted it into a garden of delight and made it “blossom as the

Glen Spey is truly an American highland home, and proves beyond question that
the beauties of our own fair land have only to be developed to vie with those
of other countries. The MacKenzie country home is one of which the family has
every reason to be proud.

* This is the property of the Alexander MacKenzie “Homestead”.

The following obit of George Ross MacKenzie is a reproduction of the obit from The Jersey City News, January 7, 1892. It also appeared in the Journal of Domestic Appliances, February 1, 1892.


George R. MacKenzie died at his home, 46 Mercer Street, at 1 o’clock yesterday afternoon. The immediate cause death was sciatic rheumatism. He suffered f from the malady for several years, but always rallied from the attacks until after the death of his wife, nearly two years ago. Since that time his health has been precarious, the disease gained strength, and he was weaker after frequent relapses. it was not until a couple of weeks ago that it assumed an alarming form, and only a few days that his condition became critical. He was attended throughout his illness by his son-in-law, Dr. Burdette P. Craig, and Dr. McGill of this city, and Dr. Janeway, of New York, as consulting physician. All the members of the family were present when the end came, and Mr. MacKenzie passed away without much pain.

Mr. MacKenzie was born in Rothiemurchis, Parish of Duthal, Inverness-shire, Scotland, on May 12, 1820. When he was three years of age his parents moved to Kingussie, in the same shire, taking him with them. There he attended the village school for a time, but his opportunities for obtaining instruction were limited and his remarkable fund of general information was obtained by diligent study in later years.

He was early brought face to face with the serious problems of life, and while a mere boy he not only supported himself by his own exertions but contributed to the support of his widowed mother. When still a boy he engaged in the business of for- warding game to the London market, displaying a talent for trade quite remarkable in one of his years.

He came this country in 1846, and a few years later secured employment with I. M. Singer. He held a subordinate position at first, but his ‘business capacity was soon recognized. By diligence and a strict attention to business, he raised himself from one position to another until he became President of the Singer Manufacturing Company. When he was made Vice-President and General Manager in 1863, the affairs of the company were in a deplorable state. It had a large indebtedness which could not be met, its credit impaired, and its sales were extremely limited. By his energy and good judgment, Mr. MacKenzie revolutionized the business within a year. The debts were paid, dividends were paid to the shareholders, and the business established and extended in such a in manner that it has been a continually increasing source of wealth ever since. Branches of the parent works were established under his direction in every civilized county in the world, the factories and other buildings required were all erected under his supervision, and many of them from designs drawn by himself. In pushing the foreign trade he made many tours to distant lands. He crossed the Atlantic fifty-five times, nearly every trip being made for business. A few years ago he retired from the presidency of the company, after holding it for many years, but he still retained his interest as one of its largest stockholders.

Mr. MacKenzie was married in 1847 to Miss Rebecca Elsey, who died about two years ago after a married life of about forty-two years. Mr. MacKenzie had then completed the three score years and ten and her loss preyed upon his mind. The two years of borrowed time he has lived since then has been one of frequent suffering from the malady which at last overcame his hardy constitution. The union was more than ordinarily blessed. Twelve children were born, six sons and six daughters. The surviving children, in the order of their ages are: Grace (wife of Mr. John Ewing, druggist), James G., Alexander, Hugh R., Margaret (wife of Mr. Charles Elkin), Edward E., Jessie (wife of Mr. Peter Alexander, lawyer, New York), Isabella (wife of Dr. Burdette P. Craig), and Rebecca E.. Mr. MacKenzie had natural abilities of a high order. His intellect was acute, and he had a remarkable memory. He had an insatiable desire for knowledge, and displayed an interest in and familiarity with subjects far removed from the sphere of his active labors. He possessed a knowledge of human nature that was almost intuitive, and it proved of incalculable value to him in his long and successful business career. He was simple and unostentatious in his life and manners, and the wealth which resulted from his business made no change in his conduct among men. The friends of his younger and less prosperous days were still regarded with affection, and those of them who survive are among the friends who mourn their loss in his death.

Mr. MacKenzie was very liberal both in private and public charity, though he was averse to having his good deeds known. Many of gifts were made anonymously; others were known only to the recipients and himself. Some of his more notable gifts were of such a character that they could not be hidden. He paid off a debt of more than $20,000 that was crushing the life out of the Scotch Church on Mercer Street, and built 2 handsome manse which together with the cancelled mortgages was presented to the congregation. He built a church, manse and library in Kingussie, the home of his boyhood, and only a month ago conveyed to the trustees of the John Knox Church in this city the deeds for the church and manse clear of debt. When the Y.M.C.A. wanted a hall he gave $5,000 as a present and advanced the remainder of the money required to complete the purchase. These were known to all who were directly interested and obtained publicity or they would have been like many other good deeds on which he stamped a seal of secrecy.

Mr. MacKenzie was a firm believer in a great future for this city which was his home for a half century. He invested in real estate here and improved his property, thereby benefiting the property owners in his neighborhood. He was a quiet, good citizen and the whole city loses by his death.

The funeral will take place on Saturday afternoon, at 1 o’clock, from the Scotch Presbyterian Church in Mercer Street, which church Mr. MacKenzie attended while residing in his city home. The services will be conducted by Rev. Dr. Mitchell, pastor of the church, assisted by Rev. Mr. Houston), pastor of the John Knox Church The bearers will by John Young and Martin Rouse, of this city; Alexander Kennedy of Bayonne; and David Mitchell, Peter McCullom, John McCullom, James Stone and Robert Eastoan of New York.

The body will be placed in the receiving vault of the Jersey City Cemetery until spring, when it will be removed to Glen Spey, where Mr. MacKenzie had a country residence.

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The basic drive to discover who we are and where we come from is at the core of the new 10-part PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the 12th series from Professor Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Filmed on location across the United States, the series premieres nationally Sundays, March 25 – May 20 at 8 pm ET on PBS (check local listings).

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