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He attended the Western Reserve College and Preparatory School (now known as Western Reserve Academy) and, upon graduation in 1868, he took a job working as a clerk for a wholesale drug company in Cleveland, Ohio.
The building of a fortune
In 1869 he joined the coal mining firm Ames & Co. of which he acquired ownership interest in 1873. The newly renamed James W. Ellsworth & Co. enjoyed enormous success with mines operating in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia and offices in Chicago, New York City and Pittsburgh.
The Ellsworth family
He married Eva Frances Butler on November 4, 1874. They had one son, Lincoln Ellsworth (1880-1951), who was born in Chicago. Lincoln later made contributions to aviation in the Arctic and Antarctica, flying across the continent of Antarctica with Herbert Hollick-Kenyon in 1935. James Ellsworth was vitally interested in polar exploration and donated vast sums of money to Roald Amundsen's expedition to the North Pole in 1925, in which Lincoln was a pilot. He also had a daughter named Clare.
Membership in the Numismatic Society
Ellsworth joined the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society in 1893, reflecting his lifelong passion of coin collecting. Over his lifetime he amassed an incredible 2,000-piece collection including:
- (2) 1804 dollars
- the finest known 1787 Brasher doubloon
- the largest collection of 1792 pattern coins
- many copper coins, including fine cents
His collection of copper coins were eventually sold to George Clapp in 1923 who donated the coins to the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society and were the centerpiece of the "Sheldon scandal" in the 1890s.
His Hudson legacy
Ellsworth returned to Hudson in 1907 to find the town in disarray. A series of fires at the turn of the century had destroyed many buildings downtown and his beloved Western Reserve Academy had closed its doors in 1903 due to financial problems. Ellsworth vowed to restore the town to its former glory by reconstructing downtown, overhauling utilities, re-opening Western Reserve Academy (as an all-boys institution) and beginning construction of new academic and dormitories on campus (including 'Ellsworth Hall'). Ellsworth's strong belief in prohibition led to rather unusual arrangements with the city, such as a 50-year ban on alcohol sales, for which he agreed to upgrade the sewer system throughout the city.
Ellsworth is buried in Hudson, Ohio at the Markillie-St Mary's Cemetery. His grave-marker has the following inscription "His life was like a star....and dwelt apart."