Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Benjamin L. Fairchild of Pelham Heights -- A Notable Pelham Personage

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Benjamin Lewis Fairchild, was a notable figure in the life of the Town of Pelham. He served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and developed much of the land that became today’s Pelham Heights. His brother, John Fairchild, participated in the development of the area and created an Atlas of Mount Vernon and Pelham that was published in 1899 and was revised and reprinted in 1908.

Benjamin Fairchild was born in Sweden (Monroe County), New York on January 5, 1863. Because the father of Benjamin and John Fairchild “lived retired in Washington” until his death in 1897, Benjamin – like John – was raised in Washington, D.C. where he attended public school, business college and law school at George Washington University. See French, Alvah P., History of Westchester County, NY, Vol. III, pp. 173-74 (1925). Eventually, Benjamin L. Fairchild became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Pelham and surrounding areas for several terms.

Following grade school, Benjamin Fairchild took a course at the Spencerian Business College in Washington, D.C. According to one account, at about this time “the way was opened for him to gratify his desire to enter the employ of the Government” and, at the tender age of fourteen “he was given a position in the drafting department of the Patent Office.” Id., p. 173.

A biographer notes that within a short time, he was:

"Promoted to a clerkship in the Treasury Department. Having selected law for his profession, he further pursued his studies by entering George Washington University, whence he was graduted with the degree of LL. B. in 1883, and with the degree of LL. M. in 1885. He was admitted to practice before the bar of the District of Columbia in 1885, and in that year he came to New York City, where he became connected with the law office of Henry C. Andrews. In 1886 he was admitted to the bar of the State of New York, and soon afterward he attached himself to the law firm of Ewing & Southard. In 1887 he was received into the firm as a partner, the style then becoming Ewing, Southard & Fairchild. Mr. Southard died about 1905, and [for several decades thereafter] Mr. Fairchild . . . carried on his law practice alone [with] offices . . . at No. 280 Madison Avenue, New York City. His general practice of law, together with his specialty, real estate law, and his holdings in valuable New York real estate, combined with his long tenure of office in Congress [established] for him a wide and enviable reputation.” Id., p. 174.

Benjamin Fairchild used his law degree and his specialty in real estate law to singular advantage. He purchased land in what we know today as the Pelham Heights area and became a successful real estate developer. His wealth and success gained him an impressive reputation and, in 1894, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican representing the Sixteenth New York Congressional District. He served a single term in the Fifty-Fourth session of the U.S. House of Representatives. Id.

Benjamin Fairchild did not return to Congress until voters of the Twenty-Fourth New York Congressional District elected him in 1916 for the Sixty-Fifth Congress (1917-19). He also served in the Sixty Seventh (1921-23), Sixty-Eighth (1923-25), and Sixty-Ninth Congresses (1925-26). Id., p. 173.

Benjamin Fairchild was an ardent Republican and a powerful member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. He served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Pelham National Bank before it entered receivership and was involved in litigation over the bank’s failure for a number of years. He died on October 25, 1946.

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