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Emerson family papers

Call Number: WA MSS S-1307

Scope and Contents

The Emerson Family Papers trace the lives of John Louville Emerson, Edwin Ruthven Emerson, Charles H. Emerson, and Joseph W. Emerson of Portland, Maine and central Colorado, focusing on their mining, entrepreneurial, and inventing interests. The papers span the years 1848 to 1929, but the bulk of the material covers the period 1861 to 1921.

The papers are divided into five series: I.Correspondence (Boxes 1-4), II.Diaries (Boxes 5-7), III.Business and Legal Papers (Boxes 8-9), IV.Printed Material (Box 10), V.Family Papers (Box 11). Box 12 holds Oversize materials.

InSeries I,Correspondence , the chronologically arranged correspondence is divided into three distinct segments; 1861-67, 1867-1906, and 1907-21. The 1861-67 part consists primarily of letters between two Maine businessmen, Freeman Bradford and Charles H. Harris, probably an uncle of the Emerson brothers, involved in securing pensions for discharged wounded Civil War soldiers. The letters discuss estate settlements, issuing of status certificates, battles, and related events. In an April 15, 1865 letter, for example, Bradford expressed his fears for the country after hearing of President Lincoln's assassination.

The first Emerson letters in the collection date from 1867; John Louville's first letter to Edwin from Colorado was dated July 29, 1867. The bulk of the letters between 1867 and 1906 are from John L. Emerson to Edwin Ruthven Emerson, although a handful were written to John L. and Charles H. Emerson and to their sister Addie Roberts. John L. Emerson's letters speak of general mining business, engineering of mining shafts, legalities of staking mining claims, and the finances required to work a claim. The three brothers, John, Edwin, and Charles, discussed mining and investment, including the development of a suction device to draw water out of mine shafts and Charles's invention of a boomerang gun. The brothers participated in the development of several mining companies, including the the Sedalia Copper Company, the Colorado Mountain Chief Mining Company, and the Mineral Land Improvement Company. Due to a gap in the correspondence, the organization and development of the Emerson Gold and Silver Mining Company is not covered. The collection also includes letters of several individuals who invested in Emerson mining ventures, the most important being V. D. Upham, J. W. O'Connor, Norvin Green, William S. Eno, and S. J. Spray.

Family issues are addressed by Edwin's wife, Ellen Russell Emerson, who outlined early family genealogy in a letter written from London on July 20, 1888. She also wrote to family members after her father-in-law's death, appealing for help in supporting their mother. Charles described his childhood memories and travels in Mexico.

Correspondence from the period 1907-21 consists primarily of letters from Joseph W. Emerson to his father Charles H. Emerson, although there is a small quantity of additional family correspondence and letters from business associates like E. W. Tisdall and P. M. Culling. The letters from son to father primarily concern such subjects as mining operations, chemical analyses of ores, working conditions during the Colorado winter, and methods of cross-country travel. Father and son also evaluated investment possibilities in tungsten, oil shale, alabaster, and gypsum. Charles H. Emerson's poor health and family news are also mentioned. Helen R. Behrman, of Buena Vista, Colorado, a friend of the elderly widower, wrote Charles about a dozen letters in 1907-08 describing her social life and travels.

Series II,Diaries , contains diaries of John L., Charles H., and Edwin R. Emerson. John's journals chronicle his long mining career and contain references to the many Colorado mines in which he worked: Emerson Lode, Empire Lode, Little Chief, Sappho, Sedalia, Pawnolos, Prinsetti, Garnet, and Caledonia. In his daily records John Emerson described the weather, his work, the people he met, and his reading. Charles Emerson's diaries include an 1880 travel log from Denver to Leadville, Colorado, describing his stagecoach ride through Mosquito Gulch to avoid an Indian attack. A 1907 entry records seeing Maude Adams inPeter Pan.

Series III,Business and Legal Papers , is divided into two sections. The first consists of a variety ofMining Records, including accounts, stock agreements, contracts, reports, and mine location notices of a number of mining companies with which the Emersons were associated. The largest quantity of papers concerns Kuenzel's Process Smelting Company. Agreements, articles of incorporation, correspondence, reports, and other papers document the short history of this firm. Papers related to specific mines come first and are followed by related papers not connected with a named mine. The second section,Reports, contains a variety of reports on mining by Joseph W. Emerson plus one by Edward Ginlett and one jointly authored by S. V. V. Zabriskie and Emerson. The reports concern the nature of ores, mine potential, and smelting processes.

Box 10 housesSeries IV,Printed Material , which is composed primarily of brochures, flyers, magazines, and newspapers on mining, innovations in ore treatment, and business developments. Also included, however, are such things as a business guide to Old Orchard, Maine, beekeeping supplies papers, and a program for a 1920 production of "Way Down East: A Simple Story of Plain People," starring Lillian Gish.

Series V,Family Papers , is arranged alphabetically by individual. Most of the Charles H. Emerson material concerns his boomerang gun invention and patents for a game apparatus and question answering device. The Edwin R. Emerson papers include cancelled checks, a scrapbook of 1893-95 newspaper clippings from Cripple Creek and Leadville, Colorado newspapers, and a fraternal membership. The collection contains smaller quantities of papers related to John L. Emerson, Joseph W. Emerson, and Charles M. Harris, plus two folders of miscellaneous papers and photographs.

Oversize business and legal papers, printed material, and family papers are housed in Box 12. Of particular interest are documentation on three Colorado mines, copies of several Colorado newspapers, and a handful of maps.


  • 1848-1929


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research. Box 13: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Emerson Family Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Emerson Family Papers were purchased in 1960 with proceeds from the William Robertson Coe Fund for Western Americana.


6.5 Linear Feet (13 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers contain correspondence, business and legal papers, diaries, and other papers documenting the mining interests and family history of John Louville, Edwin Ruthven, Charles Harris, and Joseph Wilson Emerson of Portland, Maine and Colorado.


John Louville Emerson, probably the eldest of three brothers from Portland, Maine, moved to Central City, Colorado, around 1867 to pursue a mining career. In 1880 he returned to Maine to organize the Emerson Gold and Silver Mining Company with his brothers, Edwin and Charles, and with Norvin Green, president of the Western Union Telegraph Company. He later returned to Colorado where he managed the Sappho Mining Company. By 1902 his mining interests included the Pawnolos, Sedalia, Caledonia, and Garnet mines. John Louville Emerson died at Salida, Colorado, in 1905.


Edwin Ruthven Emerson, brother of John Louville Emerson, married Ellen ("Nelly") Russell, the ethnologist, in 1862. He served as chief railroad engineer for the Knox and Lincoln Railroad of Bath, Maine, 1867-76 and later underwrote many of his brother John's mining operations, including those in the Sedalia Copper Company, Prinsetti Gold Mining Company, and the Colonial Dames Mining Company. After living in Buena Vista, Colorado for several years, he returned to the Northeast to reside at Pigeon Cove, Massachusetts. His wife died in 1907 and Edwin Ruthven may have died around 1912.


Charles Harris Emerson, the third brother, was both a mining entrepreneur and an inventor. His mining career began in Colorado in 1871 and in 1884 he organized the Mineral Land Improvement Company. During the 1890s he ran the Emerson Boomerang Gun Company in Whitehall, New York. Charles was also associated with the Sedalia, Cripple Creek, and Boulder mines; was an officer in the Kuenzel's Process Smelting Company; and helped underwrite his son's mining ventures. Charles H. Emerson spent his final years in Portland, Maine and probably died at the end of 1921.


Joseph Wilson Emerson, son of Charles H. and Flora Wilson Emerson, resided in Salida, Colorado, with his wife Elizabeth ("Bess"). He began his mining career in 1907 as general manager of the Garnet Hill Copper Company. Later that same year he became manager of the Ores and Metals Extraction Company. In 1916 Joseph joined S. V. V. Zabriskie in a survey, assay, and consulting partnership and invested heavily in the North Fork, Colorado region. With the financial assistance of his father, he operated gypsum, alabaster, and tungsten mines, hoping to provide clay-like bricks and capture a large share of the tungsten market. He also speculated in oil shale and Colorado real estate.

Guide to the Emerson Family Papers
Under Revision
by Heather L. Holeman
December 1986
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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