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.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Biography of Benjamin Lewis Fairchild, a Founder of Pelham Heights

Benjamin Lewis Fairchild was a principal founder of Pelham Heights.  He was instrumental in the development of the neighborhood as well as its incorporation as the smallest village in the State of New York known as the "Village of Pelham."  Fairchild was born in Sweden, New York (part of Monroe County near Rochester) on January 5, 1863.  His father, also named Benjamin, was wounded badly during the Civil War in the Wilderness Campaign.  His father's poor health and financial straits after the war required the family to move to Washington, D.C. where Benjamin L. Fairchild attended the public schools and a business college.  

From 1877 until 1879, Fairchild worked in the draftsman division of the United States Patent Office and then took employment in the draftsman division of the United States Patent Office where he worked from 1877 until 1879.  During the early 1880s, Fairchild attended what then was called the "law department of Columbian University" (now known as George Washington University Law School) and graduated with an LL.M. in 1885.  He was admitted to the Washington, D.C. bar in 1885, but shortly thereafter moved to New York City and was admitted to the New York bar in May, 1886.  He entered the law office of Ewing & Southard in New York City and became a member of the firm in 1887, under the firm name of Ewing, Southard & Fairchild.

On August 28, 1889, Fairchild was a tourist on a trip to Alaska on the Pacific Steamship Company’s steamer “Ancon.”  That day the Ancon cast off from the little village of Loring located on Naha Bay in Alaska.  Within minutes disaster struck. The steamer ran on the rocks nearly amidships.  Within a short while, it broke apart.  Fairchild was among the passengers who scrambled off the stricken vessel onto shore where they later were rescued by a ship named the "George W. Elder."  When Fairchild later developed much of the land that became Pelham Heights, he named several of the streets based on his shipwreck experience:  Ancon Avenue (after the steamship Ancon), Loring Avenue (after the place where the Ancon wrecked), Monterey Avenue (after Monterey, California which he visited on his ill-fated trip), Corona Avenue (after another steamship on the route) and Elderwood Avenue (after the steamer George W. Elder which rescued him and the other passengers of the Ancon).

Fairchild was married in February, 1893 to Miss Anna Crumbie (who died nine years later in 1902).  The couple moved to the Town of Pelham the same year where Fairchild began to assemble tracts of land in the area known today as Pelham Heights.  Shortly after moving to Pelham, Fairchild was elected as a Republican to the Fifty-fourth Congress and served from March 4, 1895 until March 3, 1897.  He lost his seat in the next election to Democrat William L. Ward.

While a member of Congress, Fairchild was instrumental in gaining the incorporation of Pelham Heights as a village.  Although the population of Pelham Heights was too small to permit its incorporation as a village, Congressman Fairchild was instrumental in getting passage of special legislation to authorize incorporation of the tiny little area as the smallest village in the State of New York.  When incorporated in 1896, the village had about twenty residents and only about 14 eligible voters.  

After losing his seat in Congress, resumed the practice of law in New York City.  He later ran for Congress again and was elected to the Sixty-fifth Congress where he served from March 4, 1917 until March 3, 1919.  He lost the seat in the next election but was again elected to the Sixty-seventh Congress (March 4, 1921-March 3, 1923). 

While serving as a member of Congress during the Sixty-seventh Congress, Fairchild married a second time.  He married Elinor Parsons on April 21, 1922, in Washington, D.C. (See photograph taken on day of their marriage below.)

Fairchild yet again lost his Congressional seat in the next election, but was subsequently elected to that Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the death of James V. Ganly.  Fairchild was reelected to the Sixty-ninth Congress and served from November 6, 1923, to March 3, 1927.  He lost the election seeking to return to Congress during the Seventieth Congress and resumed the practice of law in New York City. 

Fairchild died in Pelham on October 25, 1946.  He was interred in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York City.

I have written before about Benjamin Lewis Fairchild.  For a few of the many examples, see:

Tue., Mar. 29, 2016:  Photographs of, and More Biographical Information About, Pelham Heights Founder Benjamin L. Fairchild.

Mon., Oct. 05, 2015:  A Brief History of the Founding of Pelham Heights, Once the Village of Pelham.

Thu., Jun. 11, 2015:  Two Pelham Brothers Lost Their Only Sons in Eerily-Similar Early Aviation Incidents.  

Thu., May 14, 2015:  When School Board Balked, Pelham Heights Resident Donated a School, Furnishings and Paid Teachers With His Own Money.

Wed., Mar. 11, 2009:  Benjamin L. Fairchild's Congressional Campaign in 1894

Fri., Dec. 7, 2007:  Another Biography of Congressman Benjamin Fairchild of Pelham, a Founder of Pelham Heights

Tue., Aug. 15, 2006:  Another Biography of Benjamin L. Fairchild of Pelham Heights.

Fri., Apr. 22, 2005: Benjamin L. Fairchild of Pelham Heights -- A Notable Pelham Personage

Bell, Blake A., Pelham and The 1889 Wreck of the Steamship Ancon, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIV, Issue 7, February 18, 2005, p. 10, col. 1.

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes the text of another detailed biography of Benjamin L. Fairchild published in 1900.  It adds some interesting information about why he was not unable to maintain his seat in the House of Representatives after his first term as a United States Congressman.  The text appears immediately below, followed by a citation and link to its source.  

"FAIRCHILD, BEN LEWIS, lawyer, ex-member of congress, and a prominent resident of Pelham, was born in Sweden, Monroe County, N. Y., January 5, 1863, being a son of Benjamin F. and Calista (Schaeffer) Fairchild.  On his father's side he comes from New England ancestry, and on his mother's from German stock.  His father was a soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War, and was severely wounded in the Wilderness campaign.  At the close of the war, much shattered in health and with but slender financial resources, he settled with his family in Washington, D.C., where the son was reared and educated.  

Leaving school at the age of thirteen, young Fairchild was for the nine succeeding years employed in the government departments.  For two years he held a position in the draughtsman's division of the Interior Department, and subsequently he was a cerk in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing of the Treasury Department.  While thus occupied he took the night course of the Spencerian Business College, being graduated from that Insitution, and in 1885 he was graduated from the Law Department of Columia University with the degree of Master of Laws, having already taken that of Bachelor of Laws.  He was admitted to the bar in Washington, and thereupon resigned his clerkship in the Treasury Department and came to New York, where, after continuing his studies for a year in the office of Henry C. Andrews, he was admitted to practice in May, 1886.

In 1887, he entered the New York law firm of Ewing & Southard, whose style was changed to Ewing, Southard & Fairchild.  Upon the retirement of General Ewing in 1893, he formed with Mr. Southard the partnership of Southard & Fairchild, which still continues.  He has enjoyed a successful professional career, pursuing a general civil practice.

Mr. Fairchild has been a resident of Pelham since 1887.  In 1893 he was nominated on the Republican ticket for delegate to the constitutional convention.  At the resulting election he obtained a majority in Westchester County, which, however, was overcome by the Democratic  majority in the portion of the district belonging to New York City.  In 1894 he was elected to congress from the 16th district, embracing Westchester County and the present Borough of the Bronx, his majority being 5,500 over an opponent who, at the last previous election, had carried the district by 6,500.  As a member of the 54th congress, Mr. Fairchild served on the committees on patents, and coinage, weights, and measures.

In 1896, he was unanimously renominated for congress by the regular Republican convention.  A bolting convention ws held, however, which put up another candidate.  The certificates of nomination being filed by the rival candidates, it was decided by the secretary of state that Mr. Fairchild ws the legal Republican nominee, and that his name should appear on the official ballot as such.  His opponent then carried the matter before a judge in a distant section of the State, and obtained an order directing the removal of Mr. Fairchild's name and the substitution of his own.  This order was ultimately declared by the Court of Appeals to have been granted without warrant of jurisdiction; but meantime the election had been held, with the result that Mr. Fairchild's name did not appear in the official Republican column, he was deprived of the party votes which according very peculiar circumstances, his service in congress was limited to a single term.

Mr. Fairchild is largely identified with real estate interests in Pelham and Mount Vernon.  He was married, in February, 1893, to Anna, daughter of the late James Crumble, of an old New York family."

Source:  Spooner, W. W., ed., Westchester County New York -- Biographical -- Compiled by W. W. Spooner, pp. 141-42 (NY, NY:  The New York History Company, 1900).

Benjamin Lewis Fairchild in Photograph Published in 1912.
Source:  Smith, Henry T., Westchester County In History Manual
History -- 1683-1912, Vol. II, Plate Between pp. 120-21 (White Plains, NY:
Henry T. Smith, Publisher, 1912).  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Benjamin Lewis Fairchild in Photograph Taken on December 31, 1916.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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