The History of New York State
Biographies, Part 55

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

HON. JEREMIAH JOSEPH O'CONOR

The beginning of a biographical sketch of the Hon, Jeremiah Joseph O'Conor takes the chronicler into the compellingly beautiful and incomparable antiquity of Ireland. There was he born, in the loveliest of her vales, by the Lakes of Killarney, County Kerry, on that most beautiful of Christian feasts, Christmas Day, in the year of 1844. This new son of Timothy Joseph and Julia (Sullivan) O'Conor was destined, like his forefathers of the illustrious genealogical lines of the O'Conor and O'Sullivan-Beare ancestry, for enviable conquest and distinction, but in a land other than that in which he was born.

Realizing hat no other nation had more reason to b proud of its history and antiquity than the Irish, Mr. O'Conor was ever a devoted son of the land of his birth, and gave it service and loyalty second only to the distinguished service and fealty characteristic in later yeas of his attitude to America, land of his adoption. Because so many other nations so prominent today, when envisaged historically in the perspective of world history, are so clearly marked with the sign-port of modernity; because even in the light of comparative European historical date, Ireland's story antedates most of the nations of Europe,--the title of Ireland's claim to precedence is manifestly just. Especially is this true regarding the purity of her traditions, the antiquity of her chronology and the nobility of the blood flowing in the veins of many of her sons and daughters. What heraldry more glorious than that of an Irishman, well-born, who may trace his genealogy to princely blood, through nearly a hundred generations. Furthermore, from an authoritative compilation of statistical facts, the conclusion is inevitable that from the most remote antiquity the Irish have been a polished, an educated people. Long before Britain, a Roman province, had received Augustine; when Ireland, peopled by what historians then termed "The Scots believing in Christ" (for so were the Irish then and for centuries thereafter called), had already received, despite their not submitting to heathen Rome, Palladius, sent by Pope Celestin, and later, Magonius, better known perhaps as Patrick; when this same Magonius in the early part of the fifth century received the title of Patrician to dignify his embassy to Ireland, a distinction in which many a king of France gloried thereafter, before and during these eventful occurrence, the Irish were laboring in neighboring states and in their own land to spread education abroad ad to fill to overflowing their own universities. Europe proclaimed the piety and erudition of the sons of Ireland, insomuch that through them the nation, by universal consent--this phrase is used advisedly--was given the glorious and unexampled title of Insula Sanctorum et Doctorum (The Island of Saints and Scholars.)

But not for long were the eyes of this boy to behold his native land, beautiful to view and splendid in the traditions of her ancient ruins. His parents answered the irresistible call of the New World; and when their son was only three years of age, they made their new home in Whitby, Province of Ontario, Canada. The Whitby schools--preparatory, academic, normal--witnessed his entrance and exit, acknowledging their portals blessed by the distinctive achievements of the youth known as an excellent student and sportsman. The opponents of the Whitby cricket team learned to fear O'Conor, crack bowler; and more than once there was public demonstration at his brilliant plays rivaling the thrill of later triumphs in other spheres.

During this time also were laid the foundations of superior mental attainments characteristic of Mr. O'Conor all through his career. Especially was he known as an authority in mathematical science, his kill as a geometrician being heralded afar. Mastery of the English language, and notable facility in its use both in writing and speaking, made him an orator of strong public appeal--a gift of incomparable advantage in his career as statesman, educator and philanthropist. In addition to these mental achievements, there was also the native gifts of shrewd judgment and breadth of vision--gifts which, combined with his admirable mental development with the years formulated a mind and judgment extraordinary for his destined role of capitalist.

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Thus youth passed, and the first problems of manhood arrived. To the Empire State of these United States came young Mr. O'Conor. He chose the city of Elmira, in the county of Chemung, for his abiding place; and maintained residence there until the time of his death, although his diversified career made necessary sometimes long excursions into virtually every important part of the North American continent. Being best prepared at the time for the profession of teaching, he became the first teacher and principal of SS. Peter and Paul's School, in Elmira, a fact to which rectors in later years pointed with gratitude and pride.

But the horizon of such a life, noble as he admitted it to be, was too l limited for Mr. O'Conor. Still with headquarters in Elmira, he became actively interested in the oil fields of Pennsylvania and also in Elmira real estate. His discernment in both fields as singularly shrewd. However, contact with the rough element of those turbulent times in oil prospecting camps was offensive to this pace-loving nature; and he chose to assume the role of investor merely. Thus he saw to successful conclusion, by financial support, more than one company of prospectors at a time when the Rockefellers were sharpening their wits in the same direction.

Mr. O'Conor's interest in real estate superseded all else at this time. Something of the vastness of his investments inland may be realized from the knowledge that his real estate interests extended from the extreme western coast of the continent to Greater New York. in the latter place he acquired at a most opportune time a portion of land at the Brooklyn entrance to Brooklyn Bridge, realizing that eventually the entrance to the bridge would be enlarged. His expectation was realized and his land was required for the purpose. Litigation finally brought him a notable profit on this investment; and he was always courted as a desirable guest by government officials and consulting engineers whose interest and scientific knowledge had accomplished this span of the East river. one of the greatest engineering projects in history, it is consequently, relatively interesting to note, that the present enlarged entrance to this bridge, on the Brooklyn side of the East river, rest on land once the property of the Hon. J. J. O'Conor.

As early as 1889 Mr. O'Conor perceived the possibility of the rapid development of the city of Seattle, Washington. He made large investments in real estate there, becoming, in an incredibly short time, one of the largest taxpayers. January 29 of that year he made his first investment by the purchase from Cyrus Walker, a wealthy pioneer lumberman of the Northwest, of Lot 5, in block 8, of C. D. Buren and A. A. Denny's plat of the town, now the city of Seattle. One of the first investors to pay one thousand dollars a foot form for real estate in the great seacoast city, he paid for the property, destined for lucrative and extraordinary development, the sum of fifty thousand dollars in cash. The land thereabouts was then a forest region; yet Mr. O'Conor correctly predicted that this property, situated on what is now First Avenue, Seattle, would become the center of business enterprise and population.

A visit to Seattle led to further investments. He next purchased outright or procured options on properties at the corner of Pike and Second streets, and on acreage adjacent to property allotted for the future building of the University of Washington. Later, he invested large sums of money in the promising mineral resources of Idaho, Washington and British Columbia. To Nome, Alaska, where he had already acquired mining interests, he sent supplies in the spring of the year, 1900, thereby meriting the appreciation of many other investors in that region at a crucial time, when relief means salvation. Bills of lading for his shipment of good and equipment at the time record that he paid nearly fifty thousand dollars for carrying charges alone. Records of the cost of materials themselves are unavailable, but it is probably that their value equaled the cost of shipment--a largess of charity indeed.

It was inevitable that a man of such prominence and wealth should be drawn into politics. His influence had become manifest in his own city and elsewhere, his presence sought after in civic and State affairs. A staunch Democrat, he was his party's choice for the office of the first city chamberlain to serve in Elmira. At this time the two former offices of city treasurer and city tax collector were merged in the new office of chamberlain. Gifted with a flair for finance, Mr. O'Conor set in order the financial programs of the city government and originated a system for handling public moneys which has required little, if any, substantial revision since his official regime.

Success in this newly-instituted office of city chamberlain led logically to higher political preferment; and in 1883, Mr. O'Conor was elected by a notably large majority to serve in the New York State Legislature, as Assembly-

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man from Chemung County. He made his record as a legislator an enviable one in the history of politics and government of the time. To make ample reference to the unrolling of the tide of events over which the legislative body of the State of New York presided in the year 1883, and then to record adequately the particular and general participation of Mr. O'Conor in the fashioning of those events, would require so much more space than is available here, that one must, perforce, enumerate rather then elucidate his legislative program.

Because of his acknowledged ability, Mr. O'Conor was chosen to serve on three important committees in the State Legislature of 1883. These were the committees on Education, Game Laws, and Civil Divisions. Nearly all of the proposition Mr. O'Conor presented for legislative action were, by virtue of their intrinsic merit a well as by reason of their proponent's own untiring efforts in behalf of the people he represented, eventually written into the statute books of the State. Among these laws, found on the verified files of the State's documental history of laws, are statues governing virtually every department of govermental affairs; education, finance, sanitation, civil procedures, sports, judicial affairs, and personal petitions of the populace the law-maker represented. Not only this, an important program in itself, the State records bear further evidence of his having lent his active support to every constructive measure offered for the general good, even when such support meant courage of conviction rather than too strict political partisanship.

Mr. O'Conor personality and fine ideals attracted many men to him and his friendships included many whose names have become illustrious in the annals of the country's history, as well as emissaries from other lands. Among these were a lifelong intimacy with Theodore Roosevelt, with whom Mr. O'Conor sat in the New York State Legislature, when Mr. Roosevelt was still a young man of only twenty-five years of age. Grover Cleveland, then Governor of New York State, and David Bennett Hill, Lieutenant-governor, were also among Mr. O'Conor's friends, the latter's political endeavors and success being due largely to the strong political support and wise counsel of his friend, Mr. O'Conor. When supported by Mr. O'Conor, Mr. Hill was on the highroads; when political difference lay between these men, it is interesting to observe that Mr. Hill's path was a difficult one indeed.

At the Democratic State Convention in 1882, Mr. O'Conor nominated David Bennett Hill for the office of lieutenant-governor. In 1885, Mr. O'Conor again delivered the nominating speech for Hill, this time placing his name before one of the most interesting political State Convention in the history of the State of New York, for the high office of governor of the Empire State. Arousing the convention to a high pitch of enthusiasm at the time, Mr. O'Conor won for the nominee much of the prestige according him thereafter during a brilliantly successful campaign. The third time Mr. Hill was elected to preside over State affairs, Mr. O'Conor again played the important role of nominator, aiding and abetting by his personal influence and extraordinary political power the cause of the Democratic contest with Republicanism.

Relative tot he association of Mr. O'Conor and Mr. Hill at this time, there is interesting record and history of a political nature, which reveals the surety of vision and shrewd judgment of the former. Mr. O'Conor had been so many times a delegate to county and State conventions that in 1882 in the interesting Democratic gathering assembled to choose nominees for the State ticket, he was an important figure. In preliminary conference with the leaders of the party, Mr. O'Conor became aware of the fact that the opportune hour for his friend, Mr. Hill, was at hand. Assured by the Hon. John Kelly, leader in the Democracy of Greater new York, that if Mr. Hill wished the office of governor, he would have the support of Tammany Hall, Mr. O'Conor was asked as the closest political adviser of Mr. Hill to urge the latter's consent, meanwhile being obliged for obvious political reason, to keep the promise of Tammany support a secret. Mr. O'Conor himself, the soul of honor, kept faith with the leader of Tammany, but brought to bear every kind of pressure possible to force Hill to enter the contest for the nomination of governor, being convinced that Mr. Hill might, if he wished, eventually become Democratic nominee for the Presidency.

It is reasonable to conclude, from the state of political affairs in 1882, that had Mr. Hill followed the advice of Mr. O'Conor, he might indeed have become President of the United State. The leaders of the Republican Party were hopelessly at odds in 1882. United States Senator Conkling and the well-known Thomas C. Platt, leaders of one faction, were opposed to the administration of President Garfield and James G. Blaine, whose influence had ac-

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complished the nomination of Judge Folger for the office of Governor of new York State. This existing breach and contention for personal interests made probably the election of a Democrat; and Grover Cleveland carried off both the nomination for governor and later that for the presidency, the Democratic ticket in both instances--in 1882 and in 1884--sweeping the State and country. These offices just might well have been David Bennett Hill's for he had every assurance of the support of Tammany Hall, the Brooklyn delegation under Democratic leader, McLaughlin, and the certainly of the votes in the interior of the State, where he was extremely popular. Many years later, in rather bitter retrospect of his aftermath of political turmoil, he admitted that he mad made the on serious blunder of his career, and to Mr. O'Conor himself declared his regret for not having followed the sagacious advice of his ally and friend.

In the cause of Ireland, harassed by indescribable oppression at the time, Mr. O'Conor gave generously of his fortune, his energy, his time and the moving force of his oratory. A close friend of Charles Stewart Parnell, Irish leader in Parliament, he accompanied him on a lecture tour of the States. Both Mr. Parnell and his mother, Mrs. Delia Stewart Parnell, daughter of Admiral Stewart of the American Navy, were guests at different times at the O'Conor home. Mr. O'Conor himself organized an important branch of the Irish Land League in America, and later, at the request of John Redmond, another noted Irish leader, became president of the society.

An old associate of Mr. O'Conor, familiar with his intense and effective labor for the Irish cause at this time, when he not only donated thousands of dollars from his own resources, but likewise aroused so greatly the enthusiasm of his admirers throughout the country until he had gathered and forwarded to Irish leaders in Parliament the full sum of half million dollars, has this significant statement to make: "It is my opinion that Mr. O'Conor's fruitful action at the great Chicago convention for the Irish cause had a great share in bringing about the present liberty, peace and prosperity of the Irish nation."

The pressure of his own private business affairs prevented Mr. O'Conor's accepting other public offices offered to him. President Cleveland and Secretary of the Treasury Manning offered him the appointment as collector of the Port of New York, an offer he declined. The office of mayor of Elmira as well as the office of police commissioner of the same city were urged upon him, but these also he declined. However, he gave substantial monetary and moral support to every constructive enterprise in his own city and held memberships there in the Elmira City and the Elmira County clubs, as well as representative and devout membership in the Catholic parish of St. Patrick, in the same city. He was also a member of the Catholic Club of New York, and a life-member of the American-Irish Historical Society.

Mr. O'Conor's home life presented him to the world at his best, a benign and devoted father and husband. He adored his beautiful wife and his children and gloried in them, and they in him. His wife, Mary (Purcell) O'Conor, was the daughter of John and Anne (Veach) Purcell. John Purcell was regarded in the time in which he lived as a substantially successful business man. He was the original purchaser from Colonel William R. Judson, organizer of the famous first company composed of Revolutionary militarists for the Second War of the Rebellion and other purposes, of property still held in the O'Conor family and now occupied by the eldest daughter of the O'Conor family, Mrs. Edward J. Dunn. An ideal mother, inspiring counsellor and perfect helpmate to her husband, and charming hostess to visiting dignitaries and distinguished officials who were guests at her home, Mrs. J. J. O'Conor became noted for the gracious hospitality.

Mr. O'Conor himself was a strikingly handsome man. Of stalwart physique, tall, broad-shouldered, distinguished and serious of mien, his was a commanding figure. A fine head, with a wealth of wavy hair, which in later years became his most noticeable feature because of its snowy whiteness; fine eyes, shrewd but kindly; determined lines about the mouth and chin--these were the physical traits which would arrest and hold the attention of even the casual observer. No constructive movement--civic, political, charitable--was complete without his presence. In Fact, he was the inspiring crusader in nearly every one of them. Literally and figuratively, princely of gesture and with a magnificent zest for accomplishment, he came and went, an unforgettable figure in the life and memory of those who were privileged to know him.

Mr. and Mrs. O'Conor's children included the following: 1. Frederick J., deceased. 2. Julia, who became the wife of Edward J. Dunn, banker

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and capitalist, a review of whose life accompanies this biography. 3. Francis J., deceased. 4. Purcell J., deceased. 5. Anna M., who became the wife of Judge John J. Crowley. 6. Teresa M. 7. Florence, who resides in Washington, District of Columbia, and who is the widow of the late Hon. Alexander C. Eustace, an eminent lawyer, who attained nation-wide prominence. 8. Marie L., wife of Matthew E. Kennedy, president of the Kennedy Valve Corporation of Elmira. 9. Charles R., attorney, now a junior executive of the Goodrich Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio, and who married Gertrude Cushing, of Elmira, a direct descendant of General Carpenter of Revolutionary fame. 10. Justin V., also a resident of Washington, District of Columbia, and prominent there among business men as an importer, manufacturer and merchant. The last named, the youngest and last of the immediate family of the Hon. J. J. O'Conor, married Marie A. Chapman, a native of Washington, a daughter of J. Edmund Chapman, a Virginian by birth, but now a wealthy resident of high estate in the nation's capital city. There are also in the present generations many charming grandchildren of the late Mr. O'Conor.

Mr. O'Conor's lamented passing occurred November 29, 1913, and that of his equally lamented wife April 22, 1928. Of unimpeachable honor and integrity, this distinguished citizen and legislator of the Empire State took justifiable pride in his fidelity to his fellow-man. Whatever the just cause committed to his care, large or small, from the great or the lowly, he gave magnanimously of his powerful aid and influence. True to every trust, the name of Hon. Jeremiah Joseph O'Conor shall remain a benediction, an example, an inspiration, to youth that, like him, seek and fine fulfillment of ideals in America, the Land of Promise.

DR. George JOSEPH RYAN

Has been a distinguished and familiar figure in New York City affairs for many years. He has been equally well known for his success in the business world and for his marked service in the public interest.

Dr. Ryan was born in Long Island City, New York, on July 7, 1872, a son of George and Julia R. Ryan. He received his education in the public schools of Long Island City. He subsequently attended St. Gabriel's Academy and the College of St. Francis Xavier. In recognition of his voluntary and self-sacrificing labors in the educational field, the Fordham University conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.

Before most men had finished their educational training, Dr. Ryan had begun his business career. From position of minor responsibility he gradually ascended to places of the greatest confidence and trust. His persistent and consistent display of effort and loyalty were the merits that won his advancement. He entered the real estate field in Long Island City and soon became an outstanding factor in local transactions. As broker and as independent realtor he bought and sold numerous important properties for long-term investments.

In addition to his real estate interests, Dr. Ryan is now trustee and vice-president of the Long Island City Savings Bank; director of the Long Island Finance Corporation; member of the advisory board of the Corn Exchange Bank of Long Island City. From 1917 to 1919 inclusive, Dr. Ryan was president of the Chamber of Commerce of Queens--a period during which all the war activities required administrative and business acumen. He is also a member of the Rotary Club.

In political life, Dr. Ryan has been a devoted supporter of both Democratic principles and Democratic candidates. He was a member of the State Constitutional Convention in 1915. He was fuel administrator for the Borough of Queens during the World War. He was created Chevalier of the Order of the Crown of Belgium.

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He is a member of the National Democratic Club and has rendered valuable aid in the advisory and executive capacity of the New York administration on numerous occasions.

Dr. Ryan has indelibly written his name in the public mind through his voluntary and self-imposed labors in the field of education. His love of his own son and daughter widened to embrace an enduring affection for the childhood of his treasured city. As president of the Board of Education, he has been a leader in the establishment of politics that have been followed by progress and efficiency in educating the one million children of the city's schools. Because the educational system has developed such effective work under the aegis of his various administrations as president he has held that office continuously for seven years.

His work in education extends beyond the ken of the board of Education. He is trustee of Hunter College; trustee of the College of the City of New York; member of the New York Botanical Gardens; vice-president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, of Queens; trustee of St. John's Long Island City Hospital; trustee of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation; trustee of Roman Catholic Orphan Society.

On November 4, 1903, at flushing, Long Island, George Joseph Ryan married Annie Fitzpatrick. Two children have been born of this marriage, 1. William H., and 2. Mona A. The family residence is maintained at No. 236 Lincoln Street, Flushing. Dr. Ryan's office are located at No. 46 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City. Dr. Ryan is a member of the Catholic Club; the Oakland Golf Club; the Lido Club.

 

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

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