Making Good in America


It is difficult to imagine two places more diverse than burgeoning New York in the late 19th century and Chale village on the Isle of Wight.  New York was already a bustling metropolis. Chale was virtually unchanged since medieval times. Both  were skirted by the Atlantic ocean. Both relied on the sea, New York for commerce and shipping, Chale for fishing, but there the similarity ended.  James Arnold Hearn

Linking the two places is James Arnold Hearn born on the Isle of Wight on November 5 1810..In 1821 his brother George had arrived in Philadelphia and in 1827 became a clerk in a firm run by his uncle Aaron Arnold in Canal St, New York. The store was named Arnold, Constable and Co

By 1834 James had joined his brother in New York and the pair set up in business together selling dry goods. They called their establishment Hearn Bros. As their good fortune increased they moved further upmarket.until in 1879 they settled in 14th Street, now owning the biggest department then in New York,

Hearns Store

The family business continued to thrive and by the time that a younger George A Hearn inherited his father James’s property, he was a millionaire. George was a generous man and an art lover.  His passion was acquiring works of art, not only for his private pleasure but to donate to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  A trustee of the gallery he donated 130 paintings to their collection.

Several times George returned to England and visited the family home of Chale. Here he was equally generous and showered the church with gifts.  Apart from money, George presented stained glass windows to the church in memory of his father. They were commissioned from probably the finest stained glass maker, Charles Kempe.


In 1899 George offered to supply the church with a new organ. In November of that year his daughter Grace celebrated her marriage to George D Wheeler in Manhattan but tragically three days after the wedding, she died. George asked that the organ should be dedicated to her and a plaque was duly displayed.


The church tower was greatly enhanced by a gift of two bells making a peal of six. The first was cast in the 14th century and the latest in 1946, while the clock, still in working order adorns the exterior wall.

Chale church clock
Chale church clock


One final donation was a parcel of land to enlarge the burial ground so that today there is plenty of room for present day parishioners

James Hearn died in New York in 1886 and his son George on December 1 1913. Between them they enriched the small parish church that served their ancestors. Their department store finally closed in 1955

3 thoughts on “Making Good in America

  1. I wish I knew were you find all the fascinating characters you dig up, Jan Toms, and these are as interesting as the others. Well, maybe not as good as my favourite, the boxer Jem. I loved your last photograph of the cemetery looking over the sea. Was this one of your own. I enlarged it for better viewing – it really benefits from that.

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