Tag Archives: Theodore Roosevelt

Murder In Western Sullivan County (Part II)


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TheodoreRooseveltOn a bitter cold Sunday morning in December of 1880, Jacob Gerhardt struck his sister-in-law over the head with a crowbar, crushing her skull and setting the stage for one of the most sensational murder trials in Sullivan County history.

The proceedings, held at a special term of the Sullivan County Oyer and Terminer Court beginning on June 13, 1881, featured District Attorney James I. Curtis and former D.A. John F. Anderson for the prosecution and Monticello law partners Arthur C. Butts and Joseph Merritt and former county judge Timothy Bush for the defense. People came from far and wide to view each day of the trial, and major newspapers from New York City, as well as the local weeklies, reported on the case. Continue reading

Essex County’s William Rush Merriam (Conclusion)


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x4A NYHWR MerriamDespite the complexities involved in completing the 1900 census, the only fraud exposed occurred in Maryland, where a male enumerator counted dead people as long as they had expired within the past year. Since other shady circumstances were involved, the man was arrested. Said Census Director William Merriam about the Maryland case: “I have been simply amazed at the irregularities we have discovered. It will be the policy of this office to punish every offender.” And he followed through.

When all the returns were in, statistics provided by Merriam’s team determined the policies and needs that Congress would be addressing. The more data they received, the more impressed they became. From such partisan bodies as the House and Senate, a consensus emerged: Director Merriam had performed brilliantly. Continue reading

The Diaries of Theodore Roosevelt 1877-1886


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Theodore Roosevelt DiariesA Most Glorious Ride: The Diaries of Theodore Roosevelt 1877-1886 (SUNY Press, 2015) covers the formative years of TR’s life, and show the transformation of a sickly and solitary Harvard freshman into a confident and increasingly robust young adult. He writes about his grief over the premature death of his father, his courtship and marriage to his first wife, Alice Hathaway Lee, and later the death of Alice and his mother on the same day.

The diaries also chronicle his burgeoning political career in New York City and his election to the New York State Assembly. With his descriptions of balls, dinner parties, and nights at the opera, they offer a glimpse into life among the Gilded Age elite in Boston and New York. Continue reading

NYS Museum Exhibiting At New York State Fair


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RockefellerLimo-thThe New York State Museum is displaying two historical vehicles at the Great New York State Fair in Syracuse, NY, through September 1, 2014. The two vehicles, a 1932 Packard Phaeton and a 1967 Lincoln Executive Limousine, were used by New York Governors Franklin D. Roosevelt and Nelson A. Rockefeller, respectively.

“The Board of Regents and the New York State Museum are honored to exhibit two historical vehicles from the Museum’s collections at the Great New York State Fair,” said State Museum Director Mark Schaming. “For the first time at the State Fair, thousands of New Yorkers will have the opportunity to see these two historical cars that transported Governors Roosevelt and Rockefeller across New York State.” Continue reading

FDR: The Original Game Changer


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Roosevelts Second Act by Richard Moe.jpgThe famous Riddle of the Sphinx asks, “Which creature has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and then two-footed, and finally three-footed?” To which Oedipus answered: “Man, who crawls on all fours as a child, then walks on two feet as an adult, and then as an elder uses a walking stick.”

This is what crossed my mind as I came across a small sculpture of Franklin D. Roosevelt as the Sphinx, with cigarette holder and all, at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum gift shop. I’d often find myself browsing the store during breaks from my research there, but the oddity of the sculpture stuck with me as I was unable to answer the riddle of FDR as Sphinx until reading Roosevelt’s Second Act: The Election of 1940 and the Politics of War (Oxford Univ. Press, 2013) by Richard Moe. Continue reading

Teddy Roosevelt and Leonard Wood:
Partners in Command


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Teddy-Roosevelt-and-Leonard-Wood-Partners-in-CommandTheodore Roosevelt was a man of wide interests, strong opinions, and intense ambition for both himself and his country. In 1897, when he met Leonard Wood (a physician who served as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, Military Governor of Cuba, and Governor General of the Philippines) Roosevelt recognized a kindred spirit. Moreover, the two men shared a zeal for making the United States an imperial power that would challenge Great Britain as world leader.

For the remainder of their lives, the careers of T.R. and Wood would intertwine in ways that shaped the American nation. The late John S.D. Eisenhower’s Teddy Roosevelt and Leonard Wood: Partners in Command (University of Missouri Press, 2014) is a revealing look at the dynamic partnership of this fascinating pair and will be welcomed by scholars and military history enthusiasts alike. Continue reading

In North Creek Theodore Roosevelt Rides Again


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tedd-rides-again-450pxTeddy Roosevelt is not available to recreate his historic 1901 ride from the North Creek Train Depot, but nationally recognized Roosevelt reprisor Joe Wiegand will be on hand to fill those famous shoes.

On September 14-15 the Saratoga/North Creek Railway (SNCRR) is providing historic train rides, recreations and special excursions surrounding the theme of Teddy Roosevelt’s famed ride from Tahawus to North Creek. Continue reading

Northern NY’s Frank Billings Kellogg, Trust Buster


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01 FB Kellogg (ca 1900)The Potsdam area of St. Lawrence County is home to many citizens of great accomplishment. The achievement list is extensive: a US Secretary of State; a Nobel Peace Prize winner; a judge on the World Court; an attorney known as the “Trust Buster” for defeating multiple gigantic corporations, including Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company; and a man who was the force behind the historic Kellogg–Briand Peace Pact of 1928.

There’s more, including a senator from Minnesota and a US Ambassador to Great Britain. By any standard, that’s an impressive list. What makes it truly mindboggling is one other fact: those are all the accomplishments of a single North Country native. Continue reading

James Hazen Hyde: A Gilded Age Scandal


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Théobald Chartran (French, 1849 –1907), James Hazen Hyde (1876-1959), 1901. Oil on canvas. New-York Historical  Society, Gift of James Hazen Hyde, 1949.1This portrait has captured the imaginations of New-York Historical Society visitors. Who was this dapper man, with his seductively villainous good looks? Why this dashing, bold pose for what seems to be an official portrait?

The man is James Hazen Hyde, though that name may not ring a bell these days. The son of Henry Baldwin Hyde, the founder of the Equitable Life Assurance Society, James was famous for his social and financial success, and the dramatic scandal that caused his downfall. Continue reading

Thomas William Symons: ‘Father of Barge Canals’


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The first 20 years of Keeseville’s Thomas William Symons’ work as an engineer were incredibly successful. A list of his achievements reads like a career review, but he was just getting started. After a second stint in the Northwest, he returned to the east in 1895, charged with planning and designing the river and harbor works at Buffalo. He was named engineer of the 10th Lighthouse District, which included Lakes Erie and Ontario, encompassing all the waterways and lighthouses from Detroit, Michigan, to Ogdensburg, New York.

Among his remarkable projects was “a very exposed, elaborate lighthouse and fog signal” on Lake Erie, near Toledo. Grandest of all, however, was one of Thomas Symons’ signature accomplishments: planning and constructing the world’s longest breakwater (over four miles long). Built along the shores of Buffalo, it was a project that earned him considerable attention. Further improvements he brought to the city enhanced his reputation there.

Another major project talked about for years came to the forefront in the late 1890s—the possibility of a ship canal spanning New York State. The 54th Congress in 1897 commissioned a report, but the results disappointed the powerful committee chairman when Symons’ detailed analysis named a barge canal, not a ship canal, as the best option.

In 1898, New York’s new governor, Teddy Roosevelt, assigned Thomas to personally investigate and report on the state’s waterways, with emphasis on the feasibility of a barge canal to ensure it was the correct option. A concern on the federal level was national security, which was better served by Symons’ plan to run the canal across the state rather than through the St. Lawrence River to Montreal, up Lake Champlain, and down the Hudson to New York City.

Thomas’ route across New York kept the structure entirely with America’s borders. (This and many other projects were requested by the War Department, which explains the security factor.) His additional work for Roosevelt reached the same conclusion, and after extended arguments in Congress, $100 million was appropriated for canal improvements. The decision was affirmation of Thomas’ judgment and the great respect in Congress for his engineering capabilities.

In 1902, the senate noted “the conspicuous services of Major Thomas W. Symons regarding the canal problems in New York,” and that he had “aided materially in its solution.” A senate resolution cited “his able, broad-minded, and public-spirited labors on behalf of the state.”

During the canal discussions, his life had taken an unusual turn. Teddy Roosevelt had won the presidency in 1902, and in early 1903, the decision was made to replace his top military aide. Keeseville’s Thomas Symons was going to the White House.

It was sad news for Buffalo, Thomas’ home for the past eight years. At a sendoff banquet, the praise for him was effusive. Among the acknowledgments was that his work in Buffalo’s harbor had brought millions of dollars of investments and widespread employment to the city. From a business and social perspective, one speaker professed the community’s “unbounded love, affection, and admiration.” The comments were followed by an extended ovation.

For a man of Symons’ stature, some of the new duties in Washington seemed a bit out of place. Officially, he was the officer in charge of Public Buildings and Grounds of the District of Columbia, a position for which he was obviously well suited. (And, the job was accompanied by a pay raise to the level of Colonel of Engineers.)

However, Thomas was also the president’s number one military aide, making him the Master of Ceremonies for all White House functions. Every appearance by Teddy Roosevelt was planned, coordinated, and executed by Symons, his close personal friend. Depending on whom the guests were, Thomas selected the décor, music, food, and entertainment.

He became the public face of all White House events. In reception lines, it was his duty to be at the president’s side. No matter what their stature, he greeted each guest as the line progressed, and in turn introduced each guest to Roosevelt. Everyone had to go through Roosevelt’s right-hand man before meeting the president (though he actually stood to the president’s left).

He also played a vital diplomatic role by mingling with the guests, ensuring all were seated and handled according to their importance, and allowing the President and First Lady to feel as secure as if they had planned each event themselves.

He was also the paymaster general of the White House, seeing to it that all funds appropriated for expenses were spent properly. The media regularly noted that in Teddy Roosevelt’s home, Symons was the most conspicuous person except for the president himself.

With so many responsibilities, the job of top aide to the president seemed impossibly busy, which is why Roosevelt expanded the staff from one to nine aides, all of them placed under the charge of Symons, who could then delegate much of his authority.

The only sense of controversy to arise during Thomas’ career was related to the development of New York’s barge canal, and it had nothing to do with him personally. He was the designer of the proposed system, and many felt it was critical that he stay involved in the project. But the new duties in Washington kept him very busy. Because Congress approved additional engineering employees to work under Symons, some felt it was wrong to allow Thomas to spend some of his time working on the canal project, away from his regular job.

Symons even agreed to forego the higher pay he received from the White House position in order to help with the canal. There was considerable resistance, but Roosevelt himself stepped forward, telling Congress that as governor, he had hired Thomas Symons to closely examine New York’s waterways. Thus, there was no man better suited for overseeing the $100 million expenditure.

The legislators relented, and by authority of a special act of Congress, Symons was allowed to work on the creation of New York’s barge canal system. After Roosevelt’s first term, Thomas left the White House and focused his efforts on the canal work.

In 1908, when the Chief Engineer of the Army Corps was retiring, Symons, by then a full colonel, was among the top candidates for the job. His strongest advocate was President Roosevelt, but after 37 years of service, Thomas submitted his name to the retirement list.

He remained active in the work on New York’s canals, which he monitored closely, and despite suggestions of excessive costs, the project came in well below the original estimates. He also served on the Pennsylvania Canal Commission and continued working and advising on other engineering projects.

His role in the building of America is undeniable, from New York to Washington State; the border with Mexico; the Mississippi River; Washington, D.C.; and so many other places. The world’s longest breakwater (at Buffalo) and New York’s barge canal system stand out as his major career accomplishments. And Roosevelt’s first administration took him to the highest echelons of world power for four years. He shared the president’s gratitude and friendship.

Thomas Symons, trusted aide, the man Teddy Roosevelt called the “Father of Barge Canals,” died in 1920 at the age of 71. In 1943, a Liberty ship built in Portland, Oregon was named the SS Thomas W. Symons in his honor.

Photos: Colonel Thomas Williams Symons, civil engineer; a portion of the breakwater in Buffalo harbor.

Lawrence Gooley has authored 11 books and more than 100 articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 24 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.