THE LEADING CITIZENS OF MADISON COUNTY

CONTENTS
Preface
Names Index
Portrait Index


   MRS.ELIZA HIGINBOTHAM, widow of  Niles Higinbotham, lives in a beautiful home on Main Street, Oneida, N.Y., built by her husband at the time of their marriage, where she has seen the magnificent trees which flourish around the mansion, giving an abundant shade, grow from small beginnings to their present grand proportions. She was married to Mr. Higinbotham in 1849, and was the daughter of Judge Nicholas P. and Sybil Dyer) Randall, of Manlius, N.Y. Her father was the eminent lawyer, well known all through Onondaga County; and her ancestry was celebrated among the New England pioneers.
   She is a direct descendant of Mary Dyer, who was executed in Boston for her religious opinions. The children of Mr. and Mrs. Higinbotham are Julia, Louise, and Lily,--all at home with their mother.
   Although this article is more particularly devoted to the memoir of Mr. Niles Higinbotham, we will commence with a history of his father, Sands Higinbotham, who was of English extraction, and the founder, and one might say the father, of the village of Oneida. He acquired all the land on which the village is situated by purchases made in 1829 and 1830, and in 1834 removed to Oneida from Vernon, and, discerning the value of railroad traffic, offered the company which is now the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad free right of way across his property, on condition that a station be erected, and that every train be stopped for at least ten minutes for the refreshment of passengers. The terms were cheerfully accepted by the company, and the station was called Oneida Depot. In the mean time Sands Higinbotham prepared to reap the harvest which his foresight had sown, and, assisted by Ira Hitchcock, erected an eating-house which was highly successful. When he arrived in Oneida in 1834, a settlement was commenced; and, stimulated by his liberal offers, many other settlers came. At this time the place was new and unattractive, except to the far-seeing eye of such men as Mr. Higinbotham. The country was almost a dead level, a complete cedar swamp. Indians were prowling in all directions, and the outlook was not very bright. The canal-feeder was constructed in 1835, and this brought many men to this region for a time. He seized this opportunity to make permanent citizens of them by offering lots at low terms and advancing lumber at liberal agreements from his mill at Vernon, that the new settlers might build their homes.
   Thus the village was started, and its present condition and prosperity are largely due to his generosity and energetic spirit. He was a man of strong character, enthusiastic and sanguine, full of resources, politic and judicious in his business affairs. He lived to see the village flourish and the "waste places made glad," dying, full of years and honor, at the age of seventy-eight, in 1868. He had been a merchant in Vernon, and was associated with a Mr. Granger in a large glass factory in that place. Of his five children four grew to maturity. Mr. Sands Higinbotham was a man of considerable influence, and was intimately connected with the public men of his day, counting as one of his strongest friends the late William F. Seward, Governor of the State of New York.
   Niles Higinbotham, the true subject of this article, was the son of Sands Higinbotham born in Vernon, Oneida County, March 9, 1813. In 1827 he attended the well-known school of Mr. Morse in Hamilton, N.Y.; and, among the many friendships formed there, was a lifelong one with Henry B. Paine, of Cleveland, Ohio. At nineteen he entered the store of his father's old fellow-clerk and friend, Mr. Alexander Seymour, in Utica; and here was laid the foundation of his excellent business qualities. His salary was only fifty dollars per year and his board, but he was often heard to say in later life that he never spent a year to better advantage. At the age of twenty-one he went into the store of his uncle, Isaac Carpenter, of Ithaca, receiving two hundred and fifty dollars for the first year, and the second three hundred dollars, saving one-half of his salary each year. At this time his father presented him with eighteen hundred and fifty dollars; and, with the money he had saved, he started a limited partnership with Mr. Carpenter. With the exception of his early education and boyhood expenses, this was all the direct aid Mr. Higinbotham ever received from his father. When he was about twenty-four years old, he gathered up his little fortune of twenty-seven hundred dollars and with his dear friend, Mr. Samuel Breese, went West, where they bought large tracts of land, which afterward became very valuable.
   In 1840 Mr. Higinbotham and J. P. Manrow took a contract on the old Erie Railroad from Owego to Corning. In. less than two years, the railroad company failed, owing the young men one hundred thousand dollars, of which they received only thirty thousand dollars. With this money they paid off their notes as far as it would go, giving each man a note to pay the balance due whenever the railroad company would pay the contractors. Fortunately, this payment was made in 1849; and the two young men never knew a prouder day than when they inserted a notice in the journals that on a given day every man should be paid in full and with interest added. The year after his marriage with Miss Eliza Randall they settled in the beautiful home where his family now resides, still surrounded by many manifestations and mementoes of his loving and providential care.
   In December of 1851 Niles Higinbotham organized the Oneida Valley Bank. His father, Mr. Samuel Breese, and others were the incorporators; and Mr. T. F. Hand, of Vernon, N.Y., was appointed Cashier. This bank was the first one opened in Oneida, was incorporated a State bank in 1852, and a National one in 1865. Mr. Niles Higinbotham was elected its first President, and was successively re-elected by his fellow-Directors to that position, retaining it until his death. He was eminently fitted to join in and carry out the plans of his public-spirited father, for whom he entertained the most devoted sentiments of filial affection. Hand in hand he worked with him for the development of their beautiful village, and to these wise and discriminating men is largely due the spirit of integrity and honesty which are characteristic of its citizens. Mr. Niles Higinbotham gave the grounds on which were built the Cherry Street school house, the Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, and Episcopal churches, besides that where the park is, at the lower end of Broad Street, his father having given the land on which the Roman Catholic church was built.
   Among the early incidents indicative of the character of these two men was their enterprise in securing a telegraph station in Oneida,--an idea considered by some as foolish, preposterous, and sure of failure. Being confident, however, of the growing necessity, they secured the station by guaranteeing to pay the expense themselves for two years; but it soon became self-supporting. In 1844 Mr. Higinbotham, having bought large portions of land from his father, built a store, and commenced business as silent partner with his brother-in-law, Mr. Goodwin, on Madison Street, where he was interested for many years. Among the many enterprises which were dear to his heart was that Oneida should have the very best facilities for the higher education of its children, and to that effect he spared neither time nor money in having the Oneida Seminary established. He was always the first to aid the seminary when in need, often paying from his own pocket the salaries of thc teachers. He was their friend and adviser, and interested himself in having a good building, library, and necessary equipment for making it a first-class academy. Unostentatious, his charitable works were not heralded to the world; and many were helped in their adverse circumstances quietly and silently.
   He was a Presbyterian by faith, and was all his life a devout reader of the sacred Scriptures. He united with the church March 1, 1874, and ever gave evidence before the world of the beauty of a Christian and well-ordered life. His honesty and uprightness were conspicuous traits in his character; and, while courteous to the opinions of others, he was never afraid, when once his judgment was convinced, to follow out persistently his own undertakings. His life of temperance, purity, and regular habits gave him naturally excellent health; and until the autumn of 1886 he had never experienced any serious illness. In that year he suffered a slight shock of paralysis, and steadily declined until his death, which occurred March 17, 1890. He was the last survivor of five children, and left a widow and three daughters, who in their loss have the mournful satisfaction that the husband and father lived honestly in the face of man, , and that his epitaph may appropriately be, "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace."
   The portrait of Mr. Higinbotham, which accompanies this sketch, will be viewed with pleasure, as being that of one whose genius enterprise, and influence contributed in such a marked degree to the building up of the beautiful and thriving village of Oneida, and whose memory will long be cherished by his many friends, in the hearts of whom he held a warm place.

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