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Orville Hungerford

Orville Hungerford

Congressman, politician, merchant, banker, industrialist, Free Mason, railroad president
Orville Hungerford
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Congressman, politician, merchant, banker, industrialist, Free Mason, railroad president
Was Politician Businessperson
From United States of America
Type Business Politics
Gender male
Birth 29 October 1790, Bristol, USA
Death 6 April 1851, Watertown, USA (aged 60 years)
Star sign Scorpio
Politics Democratic Party
Peoplepill ID orville-hungerford
The details (from wikipedia)


Orville Hungerford (October 29, 1790 – April 6, 1851) was a two-term United States Representative for the 19th District in New York. He was also a prominent merchant, banker, industrialist, freemason and railroad president in Watertown, New York.

Early years

The youngest of seven children, Orville Hungerford was born in Farmington, Connecticut (now Bristol) on October 29, 1790. His family claims descent from Thomas Hungerford of Hartford, who arrived in the New World some time prior to 1640. In pursuit of greater economic opportunity, Orville's father, Timothy Hungerford, moved his family to Watertown, New York in the spring of 1804. Watertown is located in upstate New York on the Black River, a short distance from Lake Ontario and the picturesque Thousand Islands region. After becoming the seat of Jefferson County in 1805, the city grew to be a renowned manufacturing center.


As a pioneer, needing help with his farm, Timothy Hungerford was only able to send his son to "winter schools", effectively precluding him from going to college; years later Orville encouraged his son Richard E. to attend Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. Not enamored with eking out a living from the land, at age fourteen Orville began working as a clerk in his brother-in-law Jabez Foster's general store in the village of Burrs Mills (also known as Burrville). This business was a partnership between Foster and Thomas M. Converse. When Orville was eighteen, Foster moved the store to Watertown, a busier location. Orville's diligence paid off and he became Foster's partner in the firm known as Foster & Hungerford, which profited handsomely from selling supplies to U.S Army stationed at Sackets Harbor during the War of 1812. In 1813, Foster became a judge in the Court of Common Pleas for Jefferson County, while Hungerford decided to focus on expanding his commercial interests rather than reading law. He set up his own store, eventually partnering with Foster's son-in-law Adriel Ely, only withdrawing his interest upon entering Congress.


On October 13, 1813, Orville Hungerford married Elizabeth Porter Stanley, known as Betsy, from Wethersfield, Connecticut". She was the daughter of George and Hannah (Porter) Stanley. The couple had the following children: Mary Stanley (May 6, 1815-Mar. 13, 1893), Marcus (Aug. 30, 1817-Sep. 3, 1863), Martha B. (Nov. 30, 1819-Sep. 21, 1896), Richard Esselstyne (Mar. 28, 1824-Jan. 5, 1896), Frances Elizabeth (Feb. 8, 1827-Nov. 25, 1902), Grace, and Orville F. (Feb. 25, 1830-Nov. 26, 1902.) Betsy stayed home and raised the children while Orville, ever the hard worker, set his sights on creating financial stability for his family.


Because Watertown, New York was expanding in the early nineteenth century, businessmen there needed greater access to local capital. In 1816, Jabez Foster and others successfully petitioned the legislature to establish the Jefferson County Bank. Foster was chosen to help apportion stock and choose the building location, which was a contentious matter because each community in the area wanted the bank to be located there. The bank ended up being built in Adams, New York and was initially capitalized with $50,000.00, of which half the amount was paid in. However, the bank did not fare financially well in Adams. Pursuant to an act passed on November 19, 1824, the bank relocated to Watertown and the capital fund was increased to $80,000.00. Foster served as the second bank president (1817–1819). Orville, who often followed the lead of his brother-in-law, served as the bank cashier (1820–1833) and later as president (1834–1845). Throughout the entire nineteenth century, the bank, nationally chartered in 1865, never defaulted on its obligations and from 1824 paid its shareholders regular dividends. To put its growth in perspective: in 1821 it had resources of $91,000.00; by January 1, 1916, it had resources of $3,000,000.00. In 1916, Orville's grandson, Orville E. Hungerford, was vice-president of the bank.


Orville Hungerford played an important role in the industrialization of the Watertown, New York area. For example, Hungerford helped establish the Sterling Iron Company, Black River Woolen Company, and the Jefferson County Mutual Insurance Company. The Northern State Journal reported that the State Agricultural Society appointed Hungerford as one of the judges for "domestic manufactures" at the New York State Fair, which would take place in Saratoga Springs, New York on September 14-16, 1847.


Orville Hungerford's home on 336 Washington Street.

One of Orville Hungerford's goals was to earn enough money from his ventures to build a grand home. In 1823, he began to construct the largest house in Watertown on a piece of property that he purchased in 1816 for $500.00 from Olney and Eliza Pearce. On November 11, 1825, he opened the six-paneled door with a brass eagle-knocker at 336 Washington Street and moved into his mansion, made out of native limestone with 10 fireplaces and a carriage house. The English ivy-covered residence eventually passed to Orville's daughter, Frances E., a spinster, whose estate conveyed it to her niece Helen Hungerford (Mrs. Leland G. Woolworth). After Helen died, ownership of the house transferred to her sister Harriet Hungerford, another spinster. Harriet had been living next door in her father Marcus Hungerford's house at 330 Washington Street. She moved into the Orville Hungerford mansion in 1946 and lived there until her death on October 26, 1956. By this time most of the family had moved out of the Watertown area and no one wanted to return. The Watertown National Bank bought the property from Harriet's estate and sold it to Joseph Capone, a developer. In turn, John R. Burns, purchased the structure and reassembled the house minus the left-wing several blocks away on Flower Avenue West, where it still stands. The house is in remarkably good shape today due to the loving care and modernization efforts of its recent owners. At present, the old Hungerford homestead on Washington Avenue is the site of a Best Western Carriage House Inn, attached out back to the original carriage house.

Militia cavalry

What is known about Orville Hungerford's military career is minimal. In 1821 he succeeded Captain Jason Fairbanks and was also on the staff of Major General Clark Allen Another source lists Orville as the Quartermaster of the Twelfth Division of infantry in 1822.


Orville Hungerford became enamored with Freemasonry because many of his mentors and friends were involved in the fraternal organization and perhaps because it gave him a sense of belonging to a collegial group that he lacked by not going to college. In 1826, Hungerford along with his business partner, Adriel Ely, and others applied for a dispensation to establish a local Encampment of Knights Templar. On February 22, 1826, the Deputy Grand Commander of the Grand Encampment, Oliver W. Lownds, granted the dispensation. Hungerford presided as Grand Commander from March 24, 1826, until April 17, 1829, during which time twenty-nine men had the Order of the Temple conferred upon them. However, the 1826 disappearance of William Morgan, who threatened to publicize the secrets of Freemasonry, caused the public to lash out at the secretive organization. In 1829, a Boston Masonic newspaper, citing the Watertown Freeman publication, reported that a mere 69 people marched through the city to protest the abduction of Morgan when hundreds were expected. Due to public condemnation of freemasonry, however, Sir Orville's encampment would go dark in 1831. In February 1850, after the furor abated, Hungerford and others successfully petitioned the Grand Encampment of New York to reissue their former warrant, thereby establishing Watertown Commandery No. 11.

On January 16, 1826, Hungerford bought from Hart Masey a three-story brick building on Washington Street in Watertown, which housed the Eastern Light Lodge No. 289. The deed to the building had a covenant to secure the use of a 40 by 42.5 room on the third floor for the Masons. During the height of the Morgan affair uproar, the Lodge operated in secret, communicating to members by placing a lighted candle in certain windows. In 1834-35 the Lodge failed to hold annual elections; the concomitant failure to collect dues resulted in forfeiture of the charter, which was reinstated in 1835 upon a successful petition to the Grand Lodge. The Washington Street building was destroyed in a fire on January 27, 1851, and the Lodge moved temporarily to an Odd Fellows Hall and then to several other locations.

Hungerford continued his involvement with freemasonry while serving in Congress. Diarist Benjamin B. French stated: "As a Freemason, [Hungerford] was a constant visitor to our Chapters and Lodges in the District, and never declined any duty that he was asked [to] perform."

Community service

Orville was actively involved in his community, making a point to give back and help those less fortunate. One of the big problems then and now was poverty. As a result, Jefferson County established a poor house system paid for by appropriations from each town. In 1826, Hungerford was appointed as one of the first superintendents of the poor house located on the 150-acre Dudley Farm in Le Ray, New York. People sent to the poor house would have a place to live and would be provided with food and rudimentary medical care in exchange for some work, usually tied in with farming, e.g., picking oakum.

On August 1, 1828, a man by the name of Barney Griffin, who had travelled from Syracuse to the Village of Sackets Harbor several days earlier, ended up dying in the Jefferson County Poor House. Orville went over to investigate. Upon searching Griffin's clothes, he found the cash sum of two hundred and twenty-two dollars and fifteen cents - more than enough money for Griffin to pay for a hotel. Hungerford put an advertisement in the a paper to see if a relative would claim the money. No one did. He then turned the money over to the County Treasurer for use of the Poor House, deducting a dollar for the advertisement money that came out of his own pocket. Understanding the nature of greed, he asked the County Board of Supervisors to indemnify him for his actions, which it agreed to do.

Orville also played a key role in incorporating the Watertown Water Company to supply fresh water "by means of aqueducts" to the village of Watertown.

In 1833, Hungerford's brother-in-law and former business partner, Jabez Foster, sold the County some land near Watertown for $1,500.00 on which to build a new poor house. Hungerford and two others were tasked with setting up the new establishment.

Orville also contributed towards the education of the young women of the Jefferson County, New York area by working with Dr. John Safford to promote the Watertown Female Academy in 1823. Dr. Safford and Orville's own daughters were the beneficiaries of this effort as both Susan M. Safford and Martha P. Hungerford were early students of the school taught by Gen. "Fighting Joe" Hooker's sister Sarah R. Hooker.


Orville's friendship with local politician and judge, Perley Keyes, piqued his interest in politics. Keyes was a stalwart of the Democratic party and led its political machine in Jefferson County, New York. Orville looked upon Keyes as his mentor and would take over the reigns of power. One of Keyes primary lessons was that a successful candidate needed to be supported by a newspaper. In 1824 until his death in 1833, Keyes supplied the financial backing to publish the Watertown Freeman. That newspaper evolved into the Eagle and Standard, whose editor Alvin Hunt, enthusiastically endorsed the political ambitions of Orville Hungerford and his Democratic ticket throughout northern New York.

Orville Hungerford started his political career at the local level and worked his way up the governmental ladder. In the first Village of Watertown, New York election in May of 1816, Hungerford, 26 years old, was elected as one of three assessors. By 1823, Hungerford was elected President of the Village of Watertown Trustees. He continued to be elected President of the Village of Watertown Trustees in 1824, 1833, 1834, and 1835 as well as serve as one of the five Village of Watertown Trustees in 1840 and 1841.

Furthermore, Orville Hungerford served on the Board of Supervisors for the Town of Watertown, New York (later becoming the City of Watertown by legislative act on May 8, 1869) for the following terms: 1835-37, 1841-42, and 1851 until his death.

In 1836, Hungerford served as a presidential elector.

In 1842, as a Democrat, Hungerford was elected to the 28th and two years later to the 29th U.S. Congress. In his second term he served on the powerful Committee on Ways and Means. He supported a tariff on imported goods, which earned him the enmity of Southern Democrats, who were in favor of free trade. His fellow party members offered to nominate him as Vice President of the United States if he would switch his vote on protectionism. However, Hungerford could not be swayed because he wanted to shelter the emerging manufacturing sector from the cheaper wares of Great Britain and other more industrialized European countries.

Hungerford was unafraid of voicing his opinion. On February 21, 1846, the U.S. House of Representatives deliberated whether to break for two days in honor of George Washington's birthday. A voice demurred. Representative William L. Yancey, the Southern secessionist and duelist, was so enraged that he shouted out for the dissenter to make himself known. Hungerford retorted: "I show my face, and I object. Are you satisfied?" Yancey backed down.

In 1846, Hungerford lost his Congressional seat to a Whig party candidate.

Yet Hungerford still yearned for political power. In 1846, the amended New York Constitution allowed the New York State Comptroller, who was responsible for auditing the state books, to be elected by the citizenry as opposed to being appointed by the legislature. Hungerford saw this office as a stepping stone to either the governorship or the U.S. Senate before seeking even higher office. In October 1847, the bitterly divided delegates known as Barnburners and Hunkers gathered at the Democratic State Convention in Syracuse and nominated Orville as the "Hunker" candidate for the state office of comptroller. His barnburner opponent was Azariah C. Flagg, the current New York State Comptroller. At the next general election in 1847, future U.S. President Millard Fillmore received 174,756 votes for Comptroller while Hungerford only received 136,027 votes. It is ironic that Millard Fillmore twice interacted with the Hungerford family and in both cases the outcome was less than satisfactory for the Hungerford family. Hungerford grew tired of the partisanship in Washington, D.C. and the stress from being away from his family and business interests. He decided to return to Watertown, New York to complete his railroad project.

Railroad President

After his shot at higher political office ended, Orville Hungerford began focusing his energies on establishing the Watertown & Rome Railroad. On April 17, 1832, the New York legislature incorporated the Watertown & Rome Railroad, naming Hungerford as one of its commissioners charged with promoting the line. Although, the initial act called for track to be laid within three years and the line to be completed within five years, a shortage of capital forced the promoters to seek extensions of the charter in 1837, 1845, and 1847 at which point Orville was elected its first president. He played a key role in raising the necessary capital. Unfortunately, he never got to see a train complete a journey because he died shortly before the inaugural run on May 29, 1851, covering the 53-mile stretch between Rome to the hamlet of Pierrepont Manor (originally called Bear Creak). The Hon. William C. Pierrepont, who owned the property where the railroad initially ended, followed Orville as president. At 11:00 p.m. on September 5, 1851, the first train steamed into the temporary passenger station on Stone Street in Watertown. The railroad named its fifth engine, the Orville Hungerford, in his honor. Delivered to the railroad, on September 19, 1851, this engine, built by William Fairbanks in Taunton, Massachusetts, was twenty-one and a half tons in weight.

The "Orville Hungerford" Engine

By December of 1856 the railroad stretched 97 miles, "terminating at Rome upon the Erie Canal and N.Y. Central R.R., and at Cape Vincent upon the St. Lawrence River, in good order, with ample accommodations at each end, in the way of storage ground, docks, warehouses, elevator, and with sufficient equipment for a large and profitable traffic." For the year ending 1856 the Railroad earned $440,290.63 and dispersed $219,218.34.


Hungerford's primary interests consisted of making money so that he could support his political aspirations as well as fund his many philanthropic endeavors. Along with his Watertown, N.Y. business partners Adriel Ely and Orville V. Brainard, Hungerford was a member of the American Art Union, which established an admission-free art gallery at 497 Broadway in New York. Among other benefits, the annual dues of $5 entitled subscribers to receive a copy of an engraving of an American painting. Hungerford's nephew and business understudy, Solon Dexter Hungerford, was an honorary secretary of the organization.


After a 12-day illness starting out as bilious cholic, Orville Hungerford died on April 6, 1851. His funeral service was held in the First Presbyterian Church, which he helped fund and rebuild, across the street from his house. He was buried several miles away in Brookside Cemetery. Dozens of family members would be buried or interred in this beautiful cemetery. His wife, Betsy, the matriarch of the family, died on September 17, 1861 and was interred alongside her husband in the Hungerford mausoleum in Brookside Cemetery.


In many respects, Orville Hungerford, known for his honesty and industriousness, epitomized the self-made man of the nineteenth century. Decades after his death, a journalist aptly stated that "[Orville] had rare financial talents, and was a first-class business man." Alas, as time has gone by, Hungerford's achievements have faded along with the pages of old history books.

Most of Hungerford's descendants moved away from Watertown in the twentieth century when industrial malaise struck the region. His memory, however, is still kept alive by some of his scattered family members. Through his granddaughter's progeny - Helen Mary Hungerford Mann - he is honored by having his name bestowed on four generations of males.

In July 1908, Jeannette Huntington Riley noted in a letter written for a history of the Adriel Ely family that "Orville Hungerford was a dignified and some might have said a cold, stern man; but to me, only a young girl, he was always exceedingly kind. I am always proud to say I had an uncle who went to Congress when it meant something!" She also noted that his wife, her "aunt Betsy, [was] the sweetest--no other word would express her character."

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 06 Jun 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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