from the Middle Island Mail
January 28, 1936
One advantage a columnist has over a straight news reporter is that he does not have to wait for news to "break." And, in addition, he can take his time, select his subjects and display them in a word picture when the occasion demands.
For some time the writer has heard the name of James Coomes, who might well be called the Sage of Yaphank, down in his memorandum book marked "good for a story anytime" and January 5 circled as Coomes' seventieth birthday. And so, last Sunday we called on him. If there ever is a "Who's Who" of Yaphank written, the names of Coomes, the, late Justice Frederick P. Marchant and that practical Joker, John Ed Davis, will be liberally used. It's not the lot of every man and woman to celebrate the passing of three -score-and ten milestone in the pace of life of this age. Congratulations, "Jim," old timer.
Our subject might well be used for separate stories. First, because he just celebrated his seventieth birthday; and next Saturday he will present a historical Bible to Suffolk County Camp, No. 113, United Spanish War Veterans; secondly because he was baptized by and remembers the late Henry Ward Beecher; and thirdly because he may be the only living man who could manufacture a pair of spectacles beginning with the melting of virgin gold and silver to form frames to grinding the lenses. He still has the first pair of spectacles he ever made and has carried one penknife for 50 years! Why go on? This is enough for today.
Coomes was born on Orange Street, Brooklyn, Heights, opposite the historical Plymouth. Church of which the celebrated minister, Henry Ward Beecher was pastor. This was in the days when the "Heights" was the bonton section of the old City of Brooklyn, the city's "Park Avenue." Only a dozen of the original families of the section remain there today.
Coomes was baptized by Beecher and his last recollection of the famous preacher and abolitionist was the night of November 27, 1880, when his father, the late 0. B. Coomes, took him to the evening services in Plymouth church because on the rnorrow Coomes was to leave for Long Meadow, Mass., to become an apprentice to his uncle, W. W.Coomes, head of the Coomes spectacle manufacturing company to learn the trade. While he was away Dr. Beecher died.
The Coomes factory was started about 1820 by a man named Stephen Colton. Coomes" uncle worked for the latter and when he died purchased the plant. In those days there were no pressed spectacle frames. Raw gold and silver were melted and drawn into the desired thickness for frames. There were 14 distinct pieces in a frame. In addition to making the frames the factory ground its own lenses felt so capable of turning out a pair without any other assistance that he manufactured a silver frame. Fearful lest he break an expensive lens and thereby arouse the ire of his uncle, he ground a set from ordinary windowpane glass. The common glass did. not crack.
He never put genuine reading lenses in their places but kept the spectacles as a souvenir. Another of his numberless souvenirs (he is quite a collector of antiques) is a penknife that was presented to him as a gift when he was 20 years old, and as stated above he has carried it for 50 years (aside from a few months when it was stolen from him) and says: "It's not quite as sharp as it used to be and neither am I, but we are still cutting up."
At next Saturday night's meeting of Suffolk County Camp, No. 113 U. S. W. V., to be held at Patchogue, Coomes will present it with a Bible that once belonged to his uncle, Elias Coomes, of Long Meadow, Mass., after whom he was named, James Elias. He was prompted to do this upon reading of a similar presentation to an American Legion post. The Bible in question was presented to his uncle by the latter's mother in 1852. On its flyleaf is written the vow his uncle took upon receipt of the Book to live up to its teachings. Ellias Coomes, on June 21, 1861, enlisted in Company F, 10th Massachusetts Infantry and was killed in action at Fair Oaks, Va., in 1862. Among his few belongings that were forwarded home by the Union forces to his mother, was the Bible in question. The dead soldier's mother later presented it to the boy who was named after her deceased soldier son. When Coomes enlisted, at the outbreak of the Spanish-American war, in the 14th Regiment, Brooklyn, he took the Bible with him. After the war Coomes took a posi-tion with the late John Lewis Childs, horticulturist, of the then village of Hinsdale which was later changed to
Floral Park, because of the large nursery plant operated there by Childs. Coomes has always been a great lover or flowers and when in 1904, his father purchased the former
Gardiner farm of 40 acres located on the west shore of Swezey Pond, Yaphank, he was in his glory. He could raise all the flowers he wished and up until last spring, when he sold the farm, it was a riot of color from spring until late fall. The former Coomes farm was purchased by Mrs. Kremer for the Friends, of New Germany who have named it Camp Siegfried.
In digging up some ancient history of Brooklyn, Coomes brought for from one of his souvenir filled trunks a scrapbook of his mother's. It was originally a ledger used by her father, the late, Henry Edwain Morre of Orange street, Brooklyn, who was a former superintendent of the Plymouth Church Sunday school. The book showed daily entries by the doctor prior to 1850 and carried the names of some of the families that figured in the history of the City of Brooklyn and ancestors of those in that of the Greater City.