Born in Yarmouth, England, Mingay migrated to America with his parents, four brothers and two sisters in 1850. James was 6 years old. His father and his older brother were both boot makers; at 13, James took a different route, becoming a clerk in a drug store owned by Franklin Hill.
Only 17 when the Civil War broke out, Mingay waited a year and enlisted in the 115th New York Volunteers in a tent that had been erected at the site of the current entrance to City Hall. Although he was young and inexperienced in military matters, he was immediately made a sergeant in Company F. Mingay’s administrative skills were recognized by the army, and in early January of 1864, he was made the steward of a military hospital.
After being discharged from active duty in July of 1865, James returned to Saratoga and the apothecary business. In 1874, he purchased the drug store, renaming it Mingay & Co. At the same time he moved the business to the corner of Broadway and Lake Avenue. It was a time when druggists still mixed their own prescriptions from raw materials. Mingay Apothecary gained a reputation for accuracy in its compounds and the freshness of its products. Mingay himself developed his own line of products, including Mingay’s Cough Balsam and Mingay’s Magic Relief. A true entrepreneur, Mingay expanded the business to include toilet articles (fragrances, soaps, makeup) from France and England, along with products from American businesses. In 1884, Fred Menges became a partner. By 1889, Mingay’s financial interests had grown sufficiently and he sold the business to Menges.
At almost the same time, G. F. Harvey and Company (Saratoga’s pill manufacturer) was being organized. G. F. Harvey had a patent on the process of converting powdered medicine into pill form. For the first time there was the ability to control dosage and improve the storage of medicine. A man of vision, Mingay invested in the new company and was considered a principal stockholder. In addition to being a director of the company for the rest of his life, at various times Mingay held the positions of Secretary and Vice President of the G. F Harvey Company. At a time when directorships were usually given to those with substantial interest in the company, Mingay was also a director of the Adirondack Trust Company and the Citizen’s Bank, both of Saratoga.
In 1873, when he was 39, Mingay married Louisa Hill of Malta, age 34. Louisa was an only child of farmer/carpenter Benjamin Hill. She and James provided for her parents in their home on Broadway until their passing in 1884 and 1888. Louisa and James would not have children of their own.
The Mingays were among Saratoga’s most experienced travelers. Over the course of their marriage, the Mingays vacationed in virtually all the states and territories of the United States. In 1908 they traveled around the world. Mingay often claimed that he had visited virtually every country in the world.
Louise was an avid historian with a great fondness for literature. She was the great-granddaughter of General Samuel Clark of the Revolutionary War. Her lineage made her eligible for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution. In 1901 she was a Regent of the Saratoga Chapter.
Mingay was a member of the Rising Sun Masonic Lodge, where he would serve as the Master and District Deputy. He was also a member of the Knights Templar. In 1908, when the local lodge celebrated its centennial, Mingay compiled its history and, at his own expense, had it published with copies to every member.
James Mingay died on Jan. 6, 1918, after an illness of less than a week. His wife, Louisa, who had been an invalid for several years, died August 10th of the same year. Both are interred with their parents in the old section of Greenridge Cemetery.
When the Mingays passed, the house would first be lived in by a family member. By the 1920s the number of automobiles was increasing rapidly, pushing doctors to move from their downtown offices to offices in the larger homes on Lake Avenue. The Mingays’ grand home became a doctor’s office and residence. Still later it became apartments and the butler’s pantry became the kitchen of the main apartment. Today its owner, Maureen Maloney, occupies the main apartment, and the house has regained the status it so richly deserves.
Asked how she feels about the house, Maureen said, “The work is endless, but so are the rewards.” She paused before adding, “Her timeless beauty deserves to be pampered.”
Two interesting side notes on the Mingay family:
His brother Henry served in the Civil-War then moved to Los Angeles. Henry became a friend of Walt Disney, who portrayed him as a one hundred year old soldier in cartoons.
In 1909 James joined Spencer Trask and forty other business associates to form the Aeroplane and Dirigible Balloon Racing Association. Their plan was to hold races at the track during July and September of 1910.
Books by Hollis Palmer, “See and Be Seen: Saratoga in the Victorian Era,” and “Mahogany Ridge” are available at Crafters’ Gallery and The Saratoga Springs History Museum.