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, May 04, 2007

Biography of Silas H. Witherbee Who Helped Develop the Village of Pelham Manor

Silas H. Witherbee was born in 1815. He lived for many years in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan at 228 Madison Avenue. He was the father of Mary Witherbee who married Robert C. Black of the internationally-renowned jewelry firm Black, Starr & Frost. Although he never lived in Pelham, he had an important influence on the area that became the Village of Pelham Manor in the 1870s and 1880s.

On Tuesday, February 21, 2006 I posted to the Historic Pelham Blog an item entitled "Silas H. Witherbee and His Influence on the Village of Pelham Manor". In it I provided biographical data regarding Silas H. Witherbee. Today's Historic Pelham Blog posting provides a portrait of Witherbee and a biography of him that appeared in a book published in 1895. As always, a citation to the source follows the quoted material.

"SILAS HEMINWAY WITHERBEE, manufacturer, born in Bridport, Vt., not far from the shore of Lake Champlain, Jan. 27, 1815, died at his home in New York city, June 8, 1889. Of the large family of his father, Jonathan, a farmer, the subject of this memoir was next to the youngest child. The Witherbees are of English descent, and their ancestors were rewarded by the crown for valiant services during the Cromwellian period, receiving recognition by the gift of a title. Some of the family removed to New England in the earliest days of settlement.

Mr. Witherbee received a common school education, such as most farmers' sons began life with at that time, and as soon as he was old enough to work engaged as apprentice to a blacksmith. While his first experience was not without influence in determining his subsequent career, he did not like blacksmith's work. After a year or two, he accepted a position as clerk in the store of his brother in law at Port Henry, N. Y., just across the lake from his former home. Here he remained for several years until he took a position as clerk with The Bay State Iron Co., whose furnaces were [Page 731 / Page 732]

[Page 732 / Page 733] located in Port Henry. About this time, June 23, 1842, he married Sophia C. Goff of Orange county, N. Y., and began housekeeping on a salary of $600 a year. After a few years with The Bay State Iron Co., he was removed because of the jealousy of the superintendent. Mr. Witherbee had been making himself too valuable to the company and people had come to prefer dealing with him, rather than with the man actually in charge. He then went to Westport, N. Y., remaining for a while at the blast furnace located there, but The Bay State Iron Co. soon sent for him and gave him the place of the superintendent who had dismissed him.

After a few years, he formed an alliance with his nephew, J. G. Witherbee, to engage in a small way in the transportation business on Lake Champlain, and a little later they bought an interest in the iron ore mines near Port Henry, which, largely through their exertions, became famous as iron properties. Successiveyl, the firms organized were S. H. & J. G. Witherbee, Lee, Sherman & Witherbee, and Witherbee & Fletcher; and finally George Sherman and he, having bought all other interests, they organized the firm of Witherbee, Sherman & Co., which has always had the highest standing for integrity and financial soundness, not only in the iron trade, but throughout Northern New York. At his death, Mr. Witherbee was yet at the head of this copartnership. He was vice president of The First National Bank of Port Henry; director of The Port Henry Iron Ore Co., and president of The Lake Champlain & Moriah Railroad, besides being interested in other business ventures, local and otherwise. He became, in 1887, president of The Port Henry Furnace Co., successors of the original company, from which he had in his early life been dismissed by the superintendent.

In 1868, Mr. Witherbee removed to New York, and in the following year bought the house in which he lived until his death. He early joined the Union League club, and was one of its regular although unostentatious supporters, and a member and trustee of the Brick Presbyterian Church. In the '70s, he became interested in property in Westchester county, near New Rochelle. Largely through his instrumentality, the attractive suburb of Pelham Manor came into being. Part of his property was taken by the city for the Pelham Bay Park. He never held public office, being of an unobtrusive nature, but was always a staunch supporter of the Republican party. Of a most generous disposition, many men were helped by him in a quiet way. It was a boast of his early life, that, if he ever had more than $20,000, all sums above that should go towards educating young men; and while this was not literally fulfilled, many young men and boys had reason to thank him for their start in life and his continued encouragement. Mr. Witherbee had three children, Elizabeth V., wife of the Rev. Lewis Francis; Mary G. W., wife of Robert C. Black, and Walter C. Witherbee."

Source: Hall, Henry, ed., America's Successful Men of Affairs - An Encyclopedia of Contemporaneous Biography, Vol. I, pp. 731-33 (NY, NY: The Tribune Association 1895) (published by The New York Printing Co. The Republic Press for The New York Tribune).

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