The History of New York State
Biographies, Part 36

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam



No one who knows Ralph Kay Forsyth of Kingston, New York, ails to recognize in him the combination of two faculties which rarely appear together; namely, imagination and practical ability. Mr. Forsyth is a man of unusually varied abilities, and owes his position in the world to success in several widely different fields. He is an accomplished musician, although not using his talent professionally; his inventive genius has made notable contributions to scientific and industrial progress; and finally, in the great American art--that of business administration--he has proved himself a master.

Ralph Kay Forsyth was born in Brooklyn, New York, April 9, 1878, the son of John and Mary Kay. His father, a native of Brooklyn, was a mechanical engineer. Both of his parents dying when he was very young, at the age of four, Ralph Kay entered the home of Severyn B. Forsyth of Kingston, New York. The Forsyth family has long been one of the most prominent in the State. From the time when John Forsyth, the founder, settled in Newburgh, New York, to the present day, the Forsyths have been known as examples of far-sighted, idealistic and intelligent citizenship. Many of the family have been prominent member of the bar, and an even more universal characteristic has been a generous humanitarianism, which has expressed itself in numerous and lasting contributions to the community.

The tender care and loving guidance which he received in the Forsyth home played no small part in the shaping of Mr. Forsyth's career. He adopted the name of his foster-parents and has with filial devotion fulfilled their wishes and carried on their tradition of clean and high-minded living. His education, \including post-graduate and technical courses, was received in the public and private schools of Kingston and in three of the leading universities of the East: Cornell, Princeton, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a member of the class of 18903 at Princeton and 1905 at Cornell. He also received valuable practical training in the Cramp Ship Yards at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the Newport news Dry Dock Company of Newport News, Virginia. Two years in Europe completed an unusually full and well-rounded preparation for life, after which he returned to Kingston to take over the management of the Cherry Hill Farm.

This farm of two hundred and twenty-five acres was owned by the Forsyth family, and had been in their possession for one hundred and fifty years. In connection with it Mr. Forsyth managed the Joy Farm, near Kingston.

Page 198

and another farm of his own comprising one hundred and forty-two acres. The operation of these extensive agricultural interests in the most modern and profitable manner occupied his time for some years. Then he began to perceive the opportunities which lay ready to his hand in the real estate field. The city of Kingston was advancing in prosperity and population, and Mr. Forsyth conceived the idea of subdividing a part of the Joy Farm into house lots and developing it as an attractive suburb. This plan was carried out in 1910, with results which showed how sound had been Mr. Forsyth's judgment and foresight. Since that time he has engineered many projects of suburban development, always with the idea not merely of selling lots, but of building up comfortable and attractive modern communities. Mr. Forsyth set aside seventeen acres known as the "Joy Wood," which he conveyed to the city of Kingston as a memorial to the Forsyth family.

Although for nearly twenty years Mr. Forsyth has conducted a thriving real estate business, his interests are by no means confined to a single field. On the contrary, he is a man of unusually wide knowledge, and no one of his varied talents has been allowed to interfere with the development of the others. A pronounced mechanical bent, inherited no doubt from his own father, showed itself in early boyhood. Most boys like to tinker with machines, but few of them have the skill and patience actually to evolve out of nothing an original, practical device. Mr. Forsyth's fist successful invention was made at the age of fourteen. It was an instrument designed to save labor in pumping up bicycle tires, the pump being operated by rotation of the wheel. When in high school he young inventor became interested in aeronautics, an interest which he has never abandoned. At this early age he designed a dirigible built on the principle of a catamaran, and consisting of two elliptically shaped balloons with complimentary operating devices. A design of this machine is preserved in the archive of the Aeronautical Society of Chicago, of which Mr. Forsyth was a member. In 1893 he designed the first car coupling for railroad cars, an invention the importance of which to modern transportation can hardly be over-estimated. This design was later patented, and forms the basis of all the modern couplings.

Supplemented by the best technical training that the country affords, Mr. Forsyth's mechanical ability developed apace, and his entry into the business world did not dull his interest in machines or check his flow of ideas. Lack of time has no doubt prevented him from working out some of his conceptions, but even amid the complex demands of business he had found leisure to revert now and again to his hobby, and to develop and patent several contrivances of characteristic ingenuity. He is the inventor of the Steam Turn Table, another invaluable contribution to railroad operations. His latest development is the portable clothes closet, rendered moth proof by means of frigid air, an article whose convenience in both large and small households is readily apparent.

Mr. Forsyth is fortunate in the possession of a fine baritone voice, whose natural range and richness of tone quality has been improved by years of cultivation under the best masters. He was accepted as a pupil by Zosati of New York and also by Rosenoff of the Metropolitan Opera Company, who paid high compliments to the quality of Mr. Forsyth's voice. Although he might have succeeded on the opera or concert stage, Mr.. Forsyth has preferred to keep his music as an individual matter, the relaxation and inspiration of his leisure hours, and a source of pleasure to his many friends.

Mr. Forsyth has always been a man of great energy, a sportsman in the best sense, taking a keen delight in physical activity, and particularly enjoying the sports which develop a spirit of magnanimity and fair play. Throughout his school days he was a football enthusiast. He was both captain and manager of the Kingston Academy football team; played on the scrub team at Princeton; and was captain of the scrub team at Cornell. In later years his favorite sport has been tennis, at which he is powerful and accurate player.

Mr. Forsyth is a Republican in his political faith and a member of the First Reformed Dutch Church. He was a charter member of the Princeton Engineering Association. As a member of the Farm Bureau he is prominent in the affairs of Kingston, and many of his suggestions for civic improvement have been adopted by the community. His interest in scientific and cultural movements has led to his membership in the Museum of Natural History of New York City and in the National Geographic Society. Mr. Forsyth has taken special pride in perpetuating the memory of the distinguished family of which, by every tie of youthful attachment and lifelong identity, he is counted an honored member. In addition to the preservation of "Joy Wood" as a memorial to the family, Mr. Forsyth has made in his will

Page 199

Provision for an Historical Room in the Kingston Senate House, dedicated to the memory of the Forsyth Family. This famous and historic building, built in 1676, which was the first home of the New York State Legislature, is a fitting home for a memorial to the family which has been so long and so prominently identified with the history of the Empire State.


Today, when charitable institutions abound in every town, when the science of social service holds a leading place in every college curriculum, when thousand of trained workers and millions in money are dedicated yearly to the suffering and destitute, we are apt to forget that all this was made possible by the generous vision and untiring energy of a few pioneers. Such a one was Mary Isabella Forsyth of Kingston, New York, founder of the Industrial Home at Kingston, a women whose life, dedicated to the service of her fellow-beings, was an inspiring example of devotion to the Christian ideal.

Mary Isabella Forsyth was born January 3, 1840. She was the daughter of the Hon. James Christie Forsyth, a prominent lawyer and judge of Ulster County, and his wife, Mary (Bruyn) Forsyth, daughter of Severyn Bruyn. Miss Forsyth was the sister of Jennie Forsyth, John and Severyn B. Forsyth. All were active in philanthropic work for town, county and State. On both paternal and maternal sides she was descended from distinguished families, and she took pride in an ancestry which included Colonial pioneers, Revolutionary heroes, and leaders of public affairs. Her great-grandfather, Lieutenant-Colonel Jacobus Severyn Bruyn, was a member of the Society of the Cincinnati organization composed of officers of the American Army of the Revolutionary War. Miss Forsyth was responsible for the organization, in 1893, of the Willtwyck Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, of which she was the first regent. One might say as a matter of course, she became regent for the State of New York and later on, one of the vice-presidents-general of the National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution. She was also a member of the Society of Colonial Dames. She was well known in all philanthropic and religious work, being a devout supporter of the First Reformed Church of Kingston and a tireless worker for social betterment.

While still a young woman Miss Forsyth was aroused by the need for some kind of institution to care for poor and friendless children. She immediately set about interesting others and raising funds for such an institution. When enough yearly subscriptions had been secured to place the venture on a sound financial basis, a house was taken and an appeal made to the entire community for assistance in fitting it out. The response was an overwhelming testimony to the public's faith in the success of Miss Forsyth's enterprise, and to the extent to which she had inspired the town with her own spirit of generosity. The first response came from a colored man and his wife, who offered their services for cleaning. Other contributions of labor, furniture, etc., came from high and low, and at the close of December in the year 1876, the sixteen children who had been waiting in the public almshouse found a new and far more homelike refuge in the new institution.

The place was given the name of "The Industrial Home," in reference to the fact that one of its chief aims was to cultivate habits of industry in the children under its care, and to give them such training as would enable them to lead happy and useful lives. Even more, however, was the Industrial Home interested in securing for its children good homes in private families, and many of its wards have been adopted by foster-parents. The original purpose was to provide for aged persons also, but the work with children has proved to be the principal activity, and has grown and widely extended its sphere of usefulness. Children from all walks of life have found good homes or, in exceptional cases, have been given the proper treatment to fit their needs. No distinction of creed, color or nationality has ever been made, though the Christian religion has at all times dominated the life of the Home.

Miss Forsyth continued to head the supervisory board and to be the leading figure in the affairs of the home until her death in 1914. An account written by her gives in graphic and touching style some details which bring out as no general statements can the real significance of the home's work. A few paragraphs from this are quoted:

A brother and sister were abandoned in midwinter by their mother, while their father was in the penitentiary--the mother, having left them to live with another man. The children were found by the poormaster, half starved and nearly frozen. After being about a year in the Home they went out for adoption in families, living ten or fifteen miles apart. The brother and sister exchange visits--the families having become friends--and are growing up intelligent, well educated and well principled. The managers

Page 200

of the Home had to undergo two lawsuits brought for the recovery of the children by the parents and their companions in vice. But the Court decided that the children must remain under the guardianship of the Home.

In a wretched tenement ina forlorn, outlying district beyond the city limits, a mother died leaving five children, the youngest an infant about a week old. The father was a drunkard. The family had been chiefly supported by the mother's efforts. To protect the little ones from worse than want they were brought to the Home, and soon--very soon--all found excellent homes. Two of them in our own city--a bright little lad who is the delight of a young carpenter and his wife; and the oldest, a young girl of modesty and refinement, who is an active worker in the church, Sunday school and Christian Endeavor Society.

It must not be supposed that all Home inmates are of degraded or even ignorant parentage. Death, illness, sudden misfortune have sent children to this temporary shelter whoa re of thoroughly respectable surroundings. One such was left in our care when three months old. The father was a German organist and music teacher who had lost his sight. Through influence secured by one of the managers of the Home he was admitted to the Blind Asylum, where he died. The mother with her own children returned to her parents. The care of the infant was a serious burden at the Home in those early, struggling days. At three years of age, the little one went from us to a childless family ina neighboring state. Within a year from the time of her arrival, a child--long despaired of--was born to the young couple, who have continued to cherish the adopted daughter as tenderly as their own children, now three in number. The family is one in affection and interest. The adopted child, now entering womanhood, is beloved by all who know her.

Altogether, the experience of all these years leads us to believe that small temporary Homes of this kind solve many problems and should be established in every county. They should not be permanent homes for the young, except where some unusual infirmity of body or mind makes them require care that can be given only there, but should serve as stepping-stones for wider and more natural conditions, such as are supplied by family life of the best kind. This is the theory upon which the Industrial Home was organized and had been carried on……..

Words fail to express the gladness that fills the heart of the visitor who finds a child--once rescued from poverty or evil conditions--thoroughly rooted and thriving ina happy new home. It recalls the words "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth."

In literature Miss Forsyth showed marked ability in prose and verse. Much of her work was published in the leading magazines. The visitor to Kingston find the desire for a short local history supplied in her "The Beginnings of New York, Kingston the First State Capitol." Her verse is pleasing and instructive; several follow:

They are coming! They are coming!
Put your car upon the ground.
You can feel a far vibration,
Hear a strangely solemn sound.
Lo! The steps of homeless children,
Who in helpless suffering seek
The pity and protection
That the strong should give the weak.
From the homes of honest labor,
Where the head was stricken down,
From the haunts of degradation,
In the slums of every town.
From the highways and the byways
Of remoter hill and plain
They are coming, surely coming--
Shall we let them come in vain?

O, the lives that go to ruin--
That before my eyes are wrecked
In the tides of deep corruption
We allow to roll unchecked.
"Lend a Hand" to save the children,
Standing shivering on the brink!
You may free the prisoned angel
Far, far oftener than you think!
Let us share with them our treasure,
Be it time, or wealth, or home,
In a love that knows no measure
"Let the little children come."
"In His name," who gently gathered
Such of old upon his knee,
Saying "Whosoe'er receiveth
One such child receiveth me."


Along the wandering river
Amidst the greenwood trees
The silver birches quiver
With every passing breeze
Like a wistful mourning maiden
They lean above the stream
With snow-white arms out-reaching
To grasp - a vanished dream.

At nightfall in the forest
The traveler with a start
Beholds it wave and beckon
While wildly beats his heart
For all the older stores
Of drayad, phantom, fay
Come thronging into memory
When the white birch bars his way.

A faint perpetual murmur
It's sole pathetic speech,
 Does it sign o'er mortal sorrows
No mortal help can reach?
Does some lonely spirit, shiver
With a chill no warmth can stay
When besides the wandering river
The silver birches sway?


A young backwoodsman, tall and strong of limb
We find him in the wilds of Illinois;
So brave, so patient, oft men said of him
"A man, while yet a boy."

A man indeed, while climbing upward still,
They gazed at his advance with wondering eyes,
And saw his lofty aims, his steadfast will,
With glad surprise.

He reached the summit ina crucial hour,
When clouds and darkness hung above the land,
And proved himself to all a man of power
Who could command.

He loved his country--not some special part
More dear than others--but the glorious whole,
He gave--to save the Union--all his heart
His brain, his soul.
In one brief respite from the awful strain,
The foul assassin's bullet--then the end.

And all the wide world mourned and mourned in vain
The nation's friend.
But was it all in vain when proudly waves
The flag he loved--full starred from shore to shore;
When North and south clasp hands o'er heroes' graves,
Would he ask more?
Would he ask more?


The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie Axtman

You are the Visitor to this USGenNet Safe-Site™ Since September 5, 2004.


[Index][Book Index][NY][AHGP]