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Who Was Thomas Sutton?

For many years one of the foremost businessmen in Indiana Borough was Thomas Sutton. He was a noteworthy lawyer, prominently identified with banking interests, and had a long running connection with the Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

He served as a member of the Board of Trustees for over 56 years, 39 of those as president, 14 as secretary, and 2 as treasurer. He was the fourth generation of his family to reside in Indiana County.

Sutton was born in Indiana on May 3, 1854 to John and Mary Agnes Walker Sutton. You may recognize his father, as he was one of the founders and the first president of the Board of Trustees of IUP. John Sutton’s legacy was held in such high esteem that the main building on campus is named after him.

As a young man, Thomas received his education through the public school, then went on and graduated from Princeton in 1873. Upon returning home, he took up the study of law with John P. Blair, afterward president judge. Sutton was admitted to the Indiana County bar during the spring term of 1876.

In the fall of 1876, he entered Columbia Law School in New York to take a special course of studies, from which he was called home a year later due to his father’s illness.

Shortly after his father’s death, he began the practice of law, which he engaged in until his own death. He spent about a year in the office of Silas M. Clark who was later elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

In addition to his law practice, he was very progressive and aggressive in his connection with the business interests of the community.

In 1878, he became a member of the Chilled Car Wheel Manufacturing Company, which later changed its name to Sutton Bros. & Bell in 1883. The name later changed again to the Indiana Foundry Company, Limited, of which he became the president.

Along with his brother, John W. Sutton, he owned the strawboard mill, the one in which his father was formerly interested; this partnership was known as John W. Sutton and Brother. John W. Sutton was also a very active Indiana citizen becoming interested in banking, real estate, various business enterprises, and serving over 40 years on the Board of Trustees of the Indiana State Normal School (later becoming IUP).

Dining Hall on IUP Campus named for Thomas Sutton. It has since been demolished, but John Sutton Hall behind it remains.

Additionally he was a member of the Indiana Chemical Company, Limited, which was organized in 1887. He served as secretary of the business, whose works were located on the Indiana branch railroad until it went out of business.

Fifteen men were employed in the manufacture of wood alcohol, acctate of lime and charcoal in large quantities.

He was also a stockholder in the First National Bank, and served as a director from 1881 to 1887, president from 1886 to 1887, and served as its attorney from 1884 to 1888 and was elected as director again in 1911.

He was also involved in companies located outside of Indiana as well including president of the Keystone Printing Co. of Pittsburgh, incorporated in 1911, and vice president of the Roanoke Valley Orchards, Inc. of Salem, Va.

His property holdings included valuable real estate located in the city of St. Paul, Minnesota.

In spite of his numerous personal interests, Thomas Sutton found time to interest himself in local affairs, serving the borough as a council member and auditor; he also took a deep interest in the progress and welfare of the normal school serving as treasurer from 1878 to 1883, secretary of the board until 1899, at which time he succeeded A.W. Wilson as president of the board which he retained until 1936.

A long-time member of the Presbyterian Church, he was one of its most effective workers, taking an interest in the Sunday School, and serving as ruling elder from 1879 to 1890.

He was one of the organizers of the Shakespeare Club in 1879, which was one of the leading social and literary societies of Indiana, and was its permanent president for many years.

Thomas Sutton married Ella P. Hildebrand, daughter of Edward P. Hildebrand, on October 22, 1878 and the couple had two children: Edward H. and John S. Sutton.

Thomas Sutton Residence, South Sixth Street

As mentioned above, Thomas Sutton had a long family heritage in Indiana County; his great-grandfather, Peter Sutton was one of the pioneer settlers in what is now Indiana Borough sometime between 1790 and 1806. Peter Sutton had a log hotel on Philadelphia Street. Thomas’ grandfather, Thomas Sutton, was involved in the mercantile business and was a prominent man in the early days of the county, being twice appointed as sheriff, a position he held from 1809-1812 and 1815-1818.

Thomas Sutton died on December 27, 1942, but his accomplishments can still be seen around Indiana today.

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