James P. Allaire

Biography of the Founder

James Peter Allaire was born on July 12, 1785 and was a noted master mechanic and steam engine builder, and founder of the Allaire Iron Works, the first marine steam engine company in New York City, and later Howell Works (est. 1822), in Wall Township, New Jersey. He is also noted for building both the first compound steam engine for marine use and the first New York City tenement structure.

At the age of 17, he began working for Francis Elsworth, a brass founder in the city. Allaire would marry Frances Duncan, a distant cousin, two years later, and he continued to advance at the brass foundry. They would eventually have nine children, five of whom lived to adulthood.

By 1806, having learned the brass business, Allaire opened his own foundry. Before the War of 1812, Allaire’s foundry received an order from Robert Fulton to make the brass works for the Clermont, the first commercially successful steamboat. After Fulton’s death in 1815, Allaire leased Fulton’s shop in New Jersey from the estate. Charles Soutinger, Fulton’s chief engineer, became his partner. Under that partnership, Allaire and Stoutinger built the engine for Fulton’s last steamship design, the Chancellor Livingston, as well as the air cylinder for the Savannah, the first steam powered vessel to successfully cross the Atlantic.

By 1820, Allaire was operating that largest marine engine building shop in the United States. He personally held a number of patents for steam engine improvements developed at his shop, which was known as the James P. Allaire Works.

In 1822, after acquiring the property which is now known at The Historic Village at Allaire, building began on what would eventually become the Howell Works – a community of approx. 400 workers and their families. The Howell Works was designed to be a self-sustaining community that would integrate all of the economic components needed to support Allaire’s businesses (production of the bulk pig iron to be shipped and cast into machine parts at Allaire Works in NY, for use in the building of the ships for the (Allaire owned) Steamboat Packet Lines. By 1833 most of the standard features of Village life were in place at the Howell Works. A post office, school for worker’s children, blacksmith shop, carpenter’s shop, carriage house, manager’s house, foreman’s cottage and chapel were in place. The company store (General Store) was completed in 1835. Allaire’s family moved to the site sometime in 1834 (although he often stayed in NYC to oversee the Allaire Works). His first wife, Frances, died in 1836 after a long illness and though deeply affected by her death, he returned to his work. Despite a 26 year age difference, ten years after Frances’s death, he would marry Calicia Allaire Tompkins, a distant cousin who had nursed his first wife during her illness. They had one son, Hal, born in 1847.

The village was at its most prosperous in 1836 (the year we interpret) but began to decline as richer deposits of iron and coal in Pennsylvania made production cheaper and the use of charcoal in the furnaces was not as efficient as coal. By 1848 the production had been in steady decline and the furnace ceased to operate. Although the Howell Works was only one of James P. Allaire’s numerous businesses, it has turned out to be a lasting monument to a man who combined business acumen with a concern for his employees. A true testament to an early industrialist during a time of growth and change in the American landscape.