The discovery (thanks to the keen eyes of Jason Armijo) of John Packwood’s signature in chalk on a stairway undergoing renovation at the Sherwood Inn is summoning up memories of the man who built the present-day Inn in 1871, and signed his work for a future generation.
John Packwood was born in Bedfordshire, England, on April 2, 1824, the son of William and Hannah Swift Packwood, and immigrated with his parents to the U.S.A. aboard the Courier in May of 1830.
The family settled in Auburn, N.Y. At the age of 18, Packwood apprenticed to a blacksmith in Amber, but after only a few months he moved on to Skaneateles to learn the trade of carriage blacksmith under John Legg. In 1847, Packwood was wed to Amanda King of Niles, N.Y.
In 1855, after learning his trade, Packwood began his own carriage manufacturing business with William Stacey on Railroad Street (now Fennell Street). Stacey retired the next year, and L.S. Worden took his place; the partnership was known as Packwood & Worden until 1859, when Packwood became the sole owner.
In 1865, Packwood bought property on Genesee Street, where Shotwell Park is today, for a new building, as well as the hotel property (today’s Sherwood Inn) across the street.
In 1865, the Syracuse Standard noted:
“In the western part of the village is the carriage factory of John Packwood, a large, three-story brick building. He employs from twenty to twenty-five hands in making carriages, sleighs, wagons and bob sleighs, of all descriptions, and produces from twenty-five to thirty thousand dollars’ worth annually. The pay-roll will average about one thousand dollars a month.”
In 1871, Packwood made extensive renovations to the inn property, at a cost of $20,000, and renamed it “Packwood House.” Just three years later, Packwood sold the inn to Friend A. Andrews and Edward A. Andrews, who kept the name “Packwood House.” (Edward Andrews managed the inn for the next 45 years.)
Packwood’s carriages continued to be shipped to all parts of the country, and the Syracuse Journal of September 8, 1881, reported that Packwood was “filling an order for five buggies for parties in Australia and New Zealand.” Unfortunately, the market for hand-crafted carriages was shrinking as mass production lowered costs.
Nine years later, Packwood’s obituary in the Skaneateles Free Press noted:
“He continued the carriage business with varied success, the property in the meantime passing out of his hands in a series of financial reverses. The brick building was torn down in 1888, and the older buildings removed. After over forty years residence and over thirty years business career in Skaneateles, in 1886 he moved to Syracuse and established a carriage shop in Clinton St., but was unsuccessful, and in 1888 moved to Auburn, where he conducted a shop on Dill St., until his death.
“At one time, Mr. Packwood was the possessor of a modest fortune, which was swept away by business reverses. He was a man of kindly heart and generous impulse, and in his day did a large business in this village.”
John Packwood died on July 12, 1890, at his home on Lawton Avenue in Auburn. He was survived by his wife, Amanda, daughter, Mary Jane (Mrs. D.S. Dillingham), and two sisters. He was buried in Lake View Cemetery, Skaneateles.
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“John Packwood” (Obituary), Skaneateles Free Press, July 19, 1890
Skaneateles: History of its Earliest Settlement and Reminiscences of Later Times, Edmund Norman Leslie, 1901
Pioneers and Prominent Citizens of Skaneateles (1988) by Barbara Bendell Spain and Karen Richards Anklin
“Jason Armijo finds a historical signature while restoring the stairs at the Sherwood Inn.” Photo by Jennifer Carter. https://www.facebook.com/sherwoodinn/