A bit over 120 years ago, a man with strong local roots occupied the position of Mayor of New York City. He was a reformer and set out to improve a corrupt system, a task which did not result in success.
His name was William Lafayette Strong.
1812Blockhouse shares posts in our “Richland Roots” series to reveal stories of the less-commonly known people born here, or who lived here, and then went on to make significant contributions to state, regional, or national history. Other posts in the series are available here.
William Strong’s remarkable career began at an early age. Born in 1827 near Loudonville, he found himself supporting his family after his father’s untimely death in 1840.
Having attended the Vermilion Institute in Hayesville, a building which still stands thanks to a local preservation-minded businessman, Strong turned to the world of commerce to make his mark. He spent a short time in Wooster, then moved to the largest city in the area – Mansfield.
In 1850, William Strong and his family were living on East Market Street (Park Avenue East) in Mansfield, where he was listed as a “merchant” in that year’s census. The proprietor of a small store, he became associated with an aspiring young lawyer by the name of John Sherman, and also became a business partner with future US Congressman Amos Townsend.
In 1853, at the age of just 26, William set out for the most important commercial center in North America – New York City. He worked at the L.O. Wilson and Company dry goods firm, then moved to another company during the so-called “Panic of 1857.” In 1866, Strong married Mary Aborn from New Jersey, with whom he had two children – Putnam Bradlee Strong and Mary Strong.
By 1870, he had his own dry goods company, called William L. Strong and Company. It was very successful, opening branches in many cities and eventually making Strong a millionaire. In 1890, Strong became president of the First National Bank.
Strong was associated as well with Mansfielder Homer Lee, son of former Richland County Treasurer John Lee. At the time of his election, Strong was President of the Homer Lee Banknote Company in New York.
William Strong was Mayor of New York City from 1895 to 1897, having been elected as a Republican with some reform-minded Democratic support. During his tenure, he established the Board of Education, and was known as the “father of the Department of Correction.” Perhaps his best-known action was appointing Theodore Roosevelt as Police Commissioner, a stepping-stone position for the soon-to-be US President.
William Strong died on November 2, 1900, and is buried in The Bronx.
The photo above shows the 200-plus year old New York City Hall
Sources: Wikipedia, Ancestry.com, Find-a-Grave, American Economist, November 9 1900, others; Photo: Public Domain, Creative Commons License