|JAMES S. T. STRANAHAN.
True men are the crown jewels of the republic. The very names of the distinguished dead are a continual inspiration and an abiding lesson the name Garibaldi thrills the sons of Italy; the enthusiasm of the liberty-loving Swiss is aroused by the mention of Hofer; Wallace and Bruce are names which inspire every Scot; and in our own land a feeling of veneration and honor is felt as those of Washington and Lincoln are uttered. This is not only true of those who have advanced the spirit of liberty, but of the men who have broadened the realms of thought; who have opened the fields of know ledge and contributed in any measure to the progress of the world, their efforts redounding to the benefit of their fellow men along the lines of material, intellectual, aesthetic or moral development. The work which they perform is a more enduring monument than any which might be erected of stone or bronze, for it wins the enduring love of a grateful people, and the story of their lives is handed down too posterity, and their names are honored throughout time. When the years have become a part of a long vanished past, history throws around the great men of earth an idealization,--in other words, only the resplendent virtues are emphasized; but even in the light of the present, the strong, practical judgment of the day acknowledges the value of the service which James S. T. Stranahan rendered to his fellow men, and the city of Brooklyn largely stands as the visible evidence of a life whose far-reaching influence has affected for good so many of his fellow men.
One of the strongest forces in the psychic world is the association of ideas, and to a student of history the city of Brooklyn can not be mentioned without bringing to mind James S. T. Stranahan, who left the impress of his forceful individuality upon almost every line of progress and improvement that has led to the substantial growth and advancement of the city. His life's span covered nine decades--years of purpose well directed, plans carefully formed an era of splendid achievement.
His life record began on the 25th of April, 1808, at the old family homestead in Madison county, New York, near Peterboro, his parents being Samuel and Lynda (Josselyn) Stranahan. He traced his lineage to Scotch-Irish ancestry of Presbyterian faith--men of strong, rugged, determined character, and women of virtue, diligence, and culture. The first of the name of whom record is left was James Stranahan, who was born in the north of Ireland; in 1699. The orthography of the name has undergone many changes, having been in the following forms: Stranahan, Strachan and Strahan. The name, however, is derived from the parish of Strachan, Kincardineshire, Scotland. James Stranahan, the grandfather of him whose name forms the caption of this review, crossed the Atlantic to the new world in 1725, locating in Scituate, Rhode Island, where he became a prosperous farmer. He afterward removed to Plainfield, Connecticut, where he died in 1792, at the advanced age of ninety-three. years. His namesake and eldest son served as a Revolutionary soldier in the war which brought independence to the nation, and lived and died in Plainfield, Connecticut.
James S. T. Stranahan lost his father when eight years of age, and his happy boyhood days were soon transformed into a period of labor, for his stepfather needed his assistance in the development of the farm and the care of the stock. However, when the work of the farm was ended for the season, he entered the district schools, and there acquired his early education, which was later supplemented by several terms of study in an academy. From the age of seventeen he depended entirely upon his own resources. After completing his academical work he engaged in teaching school, with the intention of later fitting himself for the profession of civil engineer; but the occupation of trading with the Indians in the northwest seemed to offer greater inducements, and in 1829 he visited the upper lake region. He made several trips into the wilderness, and these, together with the advice of General Lewis Cass, then governor of the territory of Michigan, led him to abandon that plan, and he returned to his home.
The elemental strength of his character was first clearly demonstrated by his work in building the town of Florence, New York. From his boyhood he had known Gerrit Smith, the eminent capitalist and philanthropist, who in 1832 made him a proposition according to the terms of which he was to go to Oneida county, New York, where Mr. Smith owned large tracts of land, and found a manufacturing town. He was then a young man of only twenty-four years, but the work was successfully accomplished, and the village of Florence, New York, was transformed into a thriving little city of between two and three thousand. His active identification with things political began during the period of his residence in Florence, for in 1838 he was elected to the state legislature on the Whig ticket, in a Democratic district.
A broader field of labor soon engaged the attention and energies of Mr. Stranahan, who in 1840 removed to Newark, New Jersey, and became an active factor in railroad-building. In 1844 he came to Brooklyn, and from that time until his death he was a most potent factor in the commercial life, the political interests and the general upbuilding of the city. He found it a municipality with but fifty thousand inhabitants. He went to the city a comparative stranger. For some decades prior to his death he was known as "the first citizen of Brooklyn." Therein is found an expression of the high regard in which he was uniformly held. It is also an indication of the part which he played in its public affairs, the title being a free-will offering of a grateful people, who recognized his merit, his ability, and the wonderful work which he had accomplished for Brooklyn.
The public, however, is a discriminating factor, and not at once did Mr. Stranahan gain his exalted position in public opinion. His first official service was as alderman, to which position he was elected in 1848, and in 1850 he was nominated for mayor, but his party was in the minority and he was defeated. His personal attributes at that time were not so well known as they were in later years, and thus he could not overcome the party strength of his opponent. However, his nomination served the purpose of bringing him before the public, and in 1854, when the country was intensely excited over the slavery question, he became a candidate for congress, and, although he was a strong anti-slavery man and the district was Democratic, he was triumphantly elected. In 1857, when the Metropolitan Police Commission was organized, he was appointed a commissioner, and he was one of the most active members of the board during the struggle between the new forces and the old New York municipal police force of New York, Brooklyn and Staten Island, who revolted under the new leadership of Fernando Wood, then mayor. Mr. Stranahan had joined the ranks of the new Republican party on its organization, and in 1864 he was a presidential elector on the Lincoln and Johnson ticket. In 1860, and again in 1864, he had been sent as a delegate to the Republican national convention, and at both times supported the Illinois statesman, Lincoln, for the presidency. During the Civil war he was president of the War Fund Committee, an organization formed of over one hundred leading men of Brooklyn, whose patriotic sentiment gave rise to the Brooklyn Union, a paper which was in ful1 accord with the governmental policy, and upheld the hands of the president in every possible way. Its purpose was to encourage enlistments and to further the efforts of the government in prosecuting the war. Mr. Stranahan had an unshaken confidence in the ultimate triumph of the Union cause, and his splendid executive ability and unfaltering determination were of incalculable benefit in promoting the efficiency of the committee. His labors, too, were the potent element in carrying forward a work in which this commission was associated with the Woman's Relief Association, of which Mrs. Stranahan was president. This work was the establishment of a great sanitary fair, which has become historical and which was the means of raising four hundred thousand dollars to carry on the work of the sanitary commission in connection with the war. Mr. Stranahan never sought public office for himself except in the few instances mentioned, and then his nomination came as a tribute to his ability. In 1888, however, he was an elector for Benjamin Harrison, and being the oldest member of the electoral col1ege, was honored by being appointed the messenger to carry the electoral vote from the State of New York to Washington.
It is almost impossible to give in a brief biographical sketch an accurate record of the great work which Mr. Stranahan did in connection with the upbuilding of Brooklyn. His name is a familiar one in the city on account of his labors in behalf of the park system. Under the legislative act of 1860 he became president of the Brooklyn Park Commission, and he remained in office for twenty- two years, a period in which the growth of the city made demands for a park system that under his guidance was developed and carried forward to splendid completion. Prospect Park is an everlasting monument to him. He was also the originator of the splendid system of boulevards, the Ocean Parkway and the Eastern Parkway, which has provided in Brooklyn a connection of the city with the sea in a system of drives unsurpassed by any in the world. The concourse on Coney Island also resulted from his instrumentality. The element which made Mr. Stranahan's work different from that of all others, was that he could foresee possibilities. It was this which led to the development of Coney Island, for to him it seemed that the natural boundary of Brooklyn on the southwest was the Atlantic ocean, and he took steps to secure the rare advantage of an attractive highway from the city to the sea. It seems that every work with which he was connected proved of the greatest value to the city.
The enterprises which he managed were gigantic in volume and far-reaching in effect. For more than forty years he was a director of the Union Ferry Company, and under his guidance were developed the great Atlantic docks. Brooklyn .... (for remainder, see pages 3-9 in source noted below).
Source: A history of Long Island: from its earliest settlement to the present time. Ross, Peter. New York: Lewis Pub. Co., 1902, Volume 2, pp. 1-9.
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