Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer.

Philadelphia; a history of the city and its people, a record of 225 years (Volume 4) online

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1906, and 1907 he was lieutenant governor and in 1908 governor of the Society
of Colonial Wars in the state of Vermont.

He was born in Burlington, Vermont, December 2, 1840, the son of Rev. John
Kendrick Converse, who was pastor of the White Street Congregational church
in Burlington and afterwards principal of the Burlington Female Seminary.
John H. Converse's mother, Mrs. Sarah (Allen) Converse, was the daughter of
Hon. Heman Allen, of Milton, member of congress from Vermont 1832-1840.

John H. Converse married, in Bay Ridge, Long Island, July 9, 1873, Elizabeth
Perkins Thompson, who was born in Utica, New York, December 16, 1838, and
was the daughter of Professor James and Mary Johnson (Bishop) Thompson.
Mrs. Converse died in Philadelphia January 19, 1906. Three children were
born to them, namely : Mary Eleanor Converse, a graduate of Bryn Mawr Col-
lege; John Williams Converse, who graduated at Princeton University and is
one of the directors of the Baldwin Locomotive Works; and Helen Prentis Con-
verse, who married Warren Parsons Thorpe June 8, 1905. Mr. Converse was also
survived by three sisters and one brother, namely : the Misses Julia A. and Helen
C. Converse, of Burlington ; Mrs. George F. Simpson, of North Adams, Massa-
chusetts ; and Charles Allen Converse, the historian of the Society of Colonial
Wars. There was also an adopted daughter, Alice Page Converse, who was a
cousin of Mrs. Converse.

Even while a boy, John H. Converse revealed remarkable qualities for even
his amusements were of a practical and useful nature. Railroads interested him
even thus early. One of his first toys was a miniature locomotive constructed
of wood by himself and run on wooden rails in the back yard. About the same
time he printed a small newspaper. He sought the companionship of locomotive
engineers and trainmen, spent his leisure hours about the railroad ; learned to
telegraph in his early teens; when fourteen years old took charge of the telegraph
office at Essex Junction for a month during the regidar operator's vacation ; and
he was the first telegraph operator in Vermont to read by sound.

He fitted for college at the Burlington Union high school and graduated from
the University of Vermont in 1861, receiving the degree of A. B. He ranked high
in scholarship and was elected to membership in the Phi Beta Kappa. He was a
member of the Lambda Iota fraternity. During his college course he became
proficient in stenography, at that time a rarity. He largely paid the expenses of


his college course by vacation work as telegraph operator at Troy, New York,
Burlington and elsewhere, as station agent at Waterbury, Vermont, for three legis-
lative sessions as official reporter of the Vermont legislature and in sophomore
winter vacation as teacher of a public school in Winooski.

After graduation he was for three years connected with the Burlington Daily
and Weekly Times published by George and Lucius Bigelow. Mr. Converse's
position was that of business manager, but such was his versatility that he was
constantly making himself useful in every branch of the work — reporting, taking
night press reports from the war by telegraph, setting type, running the press
or writing editorials. During that time he became a member of the College Street
Congregational church and was secretary of the Young Men's Lecture Associa-
tion. He was also a member of the Ethan Allen fire engine company.

At that time Dr. Edward H. Williams of the prominent Williams family of
Woodstock, Vermont, was superintendent in Chicago of the Galena division of
the Chicago & North Western Railway. One day while in the law office there
of his brother Norman, he incidentally remarked that he was in despair because
he could not find such a clerk as he needed in his office — one who was bright,
clever, educated, responsible and resourceful. A law student there who had re-
cently graduated from the University of Vermont remarked that he knew just
that kind of a young man, namely : "John Converse." So, Mr. Converse removed
to Chicago in 1864 and was in the service of the Chicago & North Western Rail-
way under Dr. Williams until the latter was made general superintendent of the
Pennsylvania Railroad Company, when Mr. Converse went with him to Altoona,
Pennsylvania, to take charge of his office there. Among his associates upon or in
connection with the Pennsylvania Railroad system at that time were a number of
men who afterward became prominent, including Andrew Carnegie, George West-
inghouse, and A. J. Cassatt, president Pennsylvania Railroad Company.

In 1870 Dr. Williams left the service of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company
and removed to Philadelphia, where he became one of the firm of Bumham,
Parry, Williams & Company, proprietors of the Baldwin Locomotive Works.
He secured for Mr. Converse a desirable position in that establishment and in
1873 Mr. Converse became a member of the firm. When the firm was changed
to a corporation in 1909 Mr. Converse became the president of the company and
was its president at the time of his death. He was entrusted with the general
business and financial management of the huge plant, as apart from the mechani-
cal departments. How well he mastered these duties is evidenced by the wonder-
ful growth of the plant. In 1866 the output of the works established by Matthias
W. Baldwin was one hundred and eighteen locomotives a year. This capacity
grew to the production of more than two thousand, six hundred locomotives a
year of a vastly improved and enlarged design.

In addition to the successful management of the business affairs of this great
manufacturing establishment, Mr. Converse for many years held directorships
and took an active part in the management of numerous financial and other in-
stitutions, to all of which he gave his active and constant attention, bringing to
all his undertakings a well trained mind and a wonderful aptitude in the conduct of
financial affairs. Among these institutions were the Philadelphia National Bank,
the Franklin National Bank, The Real Estate Trust Company, the Philadelphia


Trust Safe Deposit & Insurance Company, The Philadelphia Savings Fund So-
ciety, the Pennsylvania Warehousing & Safe Deposit Company, the Philadelphia
Manufacturers' Mutual Fire Insurance Company, the Pennsylvania & Northwest-
ern Railway Company, and the Winifrede Railroad & Coal Company. Since 1899
he was a member of the board of directors of City Trusts and as such was one
of the trustees of Girard College.

Though a stanch republican he never sought or held office or took a con-
spicuous part except on such occasions as the gas lease agitation in Philadelphia in
1905, when he lent his name and influence to a public protest. He was a prime
mover in the insurgency movement in 1901 against the alleged bribei-y and corrup-
tion in the state legislature. During die free silver agitation he was president of
the Sound Money League and in 1893 he was chairman of the McKinley &
Hobart Business Men's National Campaign Committee.

Mr. Converse was a lover of music and an amateur violinist. He and his
family constituted a small amateur orchestra. In 1883-85 he was vice president
of the Philadelphia Music Festival Association and since 1901 a director of the
Philadelphia Orchestra Association.

He was also a connoisseur of art. In his country residence was a gallery which
included oil paintings of Corot, Daubigny, Duprez, Dupre, Meissonier, Rousseau,
Richards and other artists of similar rank. For many years he was one of the
directors and vice president of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, one
of the advisory committee of the Art Association of the Union League, member
of the Art Club, president of the Parkway Association and president of the Fair-
mount Park Art Association. In most of these societies are reminders of him
in the shape of valuable paintings which he presented. The exercises over which
he presided at the ceremonies of the unveiling of the Grant monument in Fair-
mount Park in 1899 were the occasion of a distinguished assemblage, which in-
cluded President McKinley and cabinet, foreign ambassadors, Mrs. Grant and
Miss Sartoris. Vermont was represented on that occasion by General Theodore
S. Peck.

Mr. Converse was a member of many clubs and societies, chief among which
were the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Political
and Social Science, The Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, the Historical Society
of Pennsylvania, the Geographical Society of Philadelphia, the Union League of
Philadelphia, the Contemporary Club of Philadelphia, the University Club of
Philadelphia, the Engineers Club of Philadelphia, the Vermont Society of Sons
of the American Revolution and the Pennsylvania Society Sons of the Revolu-
tion. For several years he was president of the New England Society of Penn-
sylvania and in 1896-1898 president of the Manufacturers Club of Philadelphia.

He had a deep and constant affection for his native state and his alma mater.
His annual visits to Burlington and his attendance at the commencements of the
University of Vermont were among his chief delights and most valued associa-
tions. He was a trustee of the university since 1885 and was a constant and lib-
eral benefactor of that institution. Besides two residences for professors which
he presented to the college, he built and donated to the university in 1895 the large
handsome dormitory known as "Converse Hall." In 1899 he founded and en-
dowed the department of economics and commerce in the university. For sev-


eral years he was president of the Alumni Association and vice president of the
Phi Beta Kappa. In 1898 he gave the oration before the Associate Alumni and
in 1904 he presented one of the centennial addresses. In 1897 the board of con-
trol recognized his eminent ability by conferring on him the degree of LL. D.

Mr. Converse was also a trustee of several other educational institutions, in-
cluding Princeton Theological Seminary, Moody Institute, Pennsylvania Museum
& School of Industrial Art and a vice president of the department of archzeology
of the University of Pennsylvania. He was also a member of the board of edu-
cation, Philadelphia.

During all the years of his life since youth he was ardent and devoted in works
of philanthropy and religion. For fifty years he continuously taught a class in
Sunday school. He was an elder in the Presbyterian church at Bryn Mawr, Penn-
sylvania, and president of the board of trustees of Calvary Presbyterian church,
Philadelphia. He was a member of the citizens permanent relief committee of
Philadelphia, treasurer of the Christian League of Philadelphia, treasurer of
the Playgrounds Association, president of the Presbyterian Social Union, one of
the vice presidents of the American Sunday School Union, a member of the
Presbyterian Board of Publication, a trustee of the Young Men's Christian Asso-
ciation, and during the war with Spain he was president of the National Relief
Commission, organized in Philadelphia in aid of the soldiers and sailors called
into service by the exigencies of war.

At the time of his death it was said that among Presbyterians he was long
regarded as a prince of laymen, not only for his liberality in financing church en-
terprises but also for the personal service he gave the church and its institutions.
He gave the church his best, not only of his fortune but also of his talents. For
many years he was one of the trustees and the secretary of the Presbyterian Hos-
pital in Philadelphia, and for that institution he built and donated the large cen-
tral building known as the administration building. In connection with the mis-
sionary work of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian church he built and donated a hospital
at Miraj, India, and it is due largely to his eflforts that the Bryn Mawr and Cal-
vary Presbyterian churches have for years supported missionaries in Japan,
Korea, Alaska, the far western states and elsewhere. Among his many other
large donations were a dormitory for Westminster College, Salt Lake City, Utah,
and a dormitory marked "Converse Hall" for the Presbyterian College and
Theological Seminary at Coyoacan, Mexico. His contributions to church and
philanthropic work during the last ten years of his life amounted to a very large
part of his income and for a number of years he largely supported evangelistic

In 1901 Mr. Converse was vice moderator of the Presbyterian general as-
sembly and at the time of his death was president of the board of trustees of the
general assembly, and chairman of the general assembly's evangelistic committee
and also of the world's evangelistic committee. During the last years of his life
the Presbyterian tent and open air work in Philadelphia received much of his at-
tention and, chiefly through his efforts, it was very successful, so successful that
the movement spread to other cities. This led to the three hundred thousand dol-
lars endowment by Mr. Converse for the furtherance of a world-wide evangeli-
cal movement under the ministration of Rev. Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman.


The universal love and esteem in which Mr. Converse was held and the value
of his life work is perhaps best expressed in an editorial in the Philadelphia
Ledger at the time of his death, as follows :


It is seldom the men who make the most stir, the self-assertive or the com-
bative men, who gain the first place in the universal regard of their fellow citi-
zens. In any community like ours there is nearly always some one man to whom
we gradually learn to look for counsel and example, whether in peaceful times
or in times of stress, and whose character and forceful energy and whose unself-
ish public spirit win for him, without his seeking it, a silent recognition as the
"first citizen." Such was the recognition accorded in late years to John H. Con-
verse. Though he had somewhat passed the summit of his activity, there is no
one who will not feel today that the city has lost immeasurably by his death.

It was something that he had come to be the head of the greatest industrial
establishment in Philadelphia, one of the greatest in the world, which has carried
the fame of the city and of its industries everywhere, and in itself represents
the best and highest traditions of this industrial community. But it was not as
a representative manufacturer or employer that Mr. Converse was generally
known; it was rather in the broad range of his interest in whatever made for the
progress of Philadelphia, for social, educational and esthetic advancement, for
philanthropic endeavor, for commercial and civic integrity, for the generous un-
building of the city. He was always on the side of the builders, never of those
who would tear down. He gave more freely of his time and energy to the public
service than to his own great business, but always with a self-abnegation, a
modest deference and quiet helpfulness that, while never shirking any respon-
sibility, seemed to leave all the credit of achievement to some one else.

Only those who have been associated with Mr. Converse in one or another
manifestation of his varied usefulness can know the full beauty of a character
that was superficially simple almost to austerity. Strong in his religious convic-
tions, he made no public exhibition of them, save as his helpfulness found ex-
pression in its fruits. Unstinted in his generosity, his own right hand scarcely
knew what his left hand did. He gave his aid in countless efforts of public better-
ment with the same invincible modesty with which he directed vast enterprises.
Yet in spite of himself the comnumity learned to recognize and to honor him, and
to honor itself in the recognition of a type of citizenship so worthy to be held in
reverent memory.


The produce commission business has grown to large proportions in the
great cities and has attracted many capable men who are among the leading
citizens and exercise an important influence in public and private affairs.
Among the produce men of Philadelphia who deserve special mention is James
K. Hurff, who for twenty-five years has devoted his talents and energies to a
branch in which he has gained a goodly measure of success. He is a native of


Camden county, New Jersey, born February ii, 1854, and is a son of W. Burris
and Elizabeth (Goldie) Hurff, both of whom were born in Camden county.
The father engaged in farming all his life and died at the age of eighty-three,
the mother being called away at the age of about seventy-seven years.

James K. Hurfi" received his early education in a private school of Camden
county and after laying his books aside assisted his father upon the home farm,
continuing there until about thirty-one years of age. Being attracted to mer-
cantile pursuits, he came to Philadelphia and engaged in the produce business.
His first location was at the corner of Second and Brown streets, where he con-
tinued until 1906, when he removed to No. 138 Dock street, his present place
of business. He is one of the well established and reliable dealers of the city
— a thoroughly trustworthy man whose word is accepted as inviolate wherever
he is known.

In 1880 Mr. Hurfif was united in marriage to Miss Elizabeth Taylor, a
daughter of W. E. and Elizabeth C. Taylor, of Burlington county. New Jer-
sey. He is not identified with any religious denomination, but his wife is an
active worker in causes of benevolence and charity and is one of the valued
assistants in the affairs of Calvary Methodist church. In politics he gives his
support, as did his father, to the democratic party. He is a man of large ex-
perience in business, genial and pleasing in address, and he possesses the faculty
of making and retaining friends, of whom he has many. He has no cause to
regret establishing his home in Philadelphia.


When Mayor Reyburn created in his own office the new bureau of con-
tracts and statistics in line with his policy of bringing to the solution of munici-
pal problems principles approved in modern business practice he chose as the
head of this new department George W. B. Hicks, who came to it well pre-
pared by training and experience, as he had formerly served as the statistician.
This office was the only one of its character in any municipality at that time.
Mr. Hicks was especially qualified on all municipal questions, having been
closely allied with city legislation for more than fifteen years. His present
position is a unique one but very important, as Philadelphia is now facing its
most important crisis since the days of Penn and the days of the Revolutionary
war. The responsibility of carrying into execution the comprehensive plan
rests almost entirely on his shoulders and much credit will be due him for the
final consummation of the plans of the city beautiful.

The son of a soldier and successful and resourceful contractor, Mr. Hicks
was given as a supplement to home training an education in the public schools,
a college preparatory school and a polytechnic institute; a knowledge of law
and legal practice, a practical experience in the real-estate business and in the
direction of a public service corporation and finally a term in the legislature,
which enacted legislation of import to city and commonwealth.

GEORGE \V. li. lIIClvS


It was on these resources which Mr. Hicks drew to meet the manifold duties
which fell upon him in preparing for and carrying to successful result the great
Founders Week celebration, of whose various committees he was secretary,
and again the development of the comprehensive plan for Philadelphia, de-
signed by the mayor to lay deep and secure the foundations upon which a
greater Philadelphia may be reared in decades to come.

Mr. Hicks was born September lo, 1864, at the Burnside Barracks, Indian-
apolis, Indiana, the son of Captain Robert Campbell Hicks and of Sarah A.
Hicks. The family history on his mother's side is intertwined with that of the
nation and in the annals of the revolution his great-grandmother is mentioned
for the service she did inr carrying salt to the patriots encamped at Valley
Forge. His father, of • ScOteh-Irish parentage, served during the Civil war,
was wounded at Ball's Bluff, Virginia, and was compelled to retire to the
Veteran Reserve Corps. It was while Captain Hicks was stationed at Burn-
side Barracks tliat George W. B. Hicks was born. Captain Hicks was a pall
bearer of the bier of Lincoln at the funeral in Indianapolis in 1865. Mrs.
Hicks gave her crape veil to be tied to the camp flag until the regimental
mourning emblem was furnished by the government.

At the age of two George W. B. Hicks was brought to Philadelphia by his
parents; was educated in the public schools, the Brown Preparatory School
and the Philadelphia Polytechnic College. The young man read law and after-
ward engaged in the real-estate business. In 1895 and 1896 he was sent to Har-
risburg as a representative of the seventeenth district and during the session
was particularly active in legislation affecting the public schools. The interest
then first manifested has never grown less. After a service in the legislature
his experience won him the position of superintendent of the pneumatic tube
service, which installed conduits through which mails were transported by
air pressure. During most of his term of service with the company Mr. Hicks
was stationed at Washington and was instrumental in securing important legis-
lation on the pneumatic transmission of mails.

When Mayor Reyburn assumed office Mr. Hicks was chosen first as statis-
tician and subsequently as chief of the bureau of contracts and statistics. When
his honor conceived a Founders Week celebration to mark the two hundred and
twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the city and also as a further step
toward unifying all the interests of a great city to the end that there might be
comprehensive development as outlined in the first annual message, Mr. Hicks
was charged with many duties. He became secretary of the several committees
which brought the celebration to success. And when finally his honor laid down
more definitely the basis for a comprehensive plan and appointed on committees
representatives of the business and professional life of a great city, Mr. Hicks
was appointed a member of the various committees charged with the duty of
perfecting the details and later elected secretary of each committee.

On the 1st of June, 1891, Mr. Hicks was united in marriage to Miss M.
Emma Smith, a daughter of William and Elizabeth Smith, of Delaware county.
Pennsylvania. They have one son, G. Warren, who was born in 1892. He is a
graduate of the Manual Training high school and is now preparing to enter the


Pennsylvania State University in the electrical engineering department. Mr.
Hicks has long been active in the affairs of the Methodist Episcopal church and
is also a member of the Masonic fraternity, the Manufacturers Club and dther
organizations — business, social and benevolent.


The school of homeopathy finds a worthy representative in Philadelphia in
Dr. John R. Gillette, who for nineteen years past has practiced in this city,
meeting with a success which is almost invariably the reward of conscientious
and wisely directed application. He is a native of Washington, D. C., born
March 24, 1867, a son of John and Elizabeth Jane Gillette. One of the earliest
ancestors of the family of which there is authentic record was Daniel Judd,
of Danbury, Connecticut. His daughter, Althea Judd, married David Gillette,
January 22, 1810, and they had five children, one of whom was also named
David. He married Eunice Fairchild and they had five children, of whom
Captain John Gillette, the father of our subject, was the youngest.

Captain John Gillette was born in Connecticut, February 22, 1826, and after
graduating at Yale University engaged in teaching. In his early manhood he
became connected with the passenger department of the Pennsylvania Railway
and was with this company at the outbreak of the Civil war. He enlisted in
■ the Union cause and was commissioned captain, but owing to his railroad
experience was assigned to special duty by the government in the transporta-
tion of troops and made use of his knowledge to the advantage of the northern

Online LibraryEllis Paxson OberholtzerPhiladelphia; a history of the city and its people, a record of 225 years (Volume 4) → online text (page 49 of 62)