was a two-term United States Representative for the 19th District in New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...
. He was also a prominent merchant, banker, industrialist, Mason and railroad president in Watertown, New York.
The youngest of seven children, Orville Hungerford was born in Farmington, Connecticut
Farmington is a town located in Hartford County in the Farmington Valley area of central Connecticut in the United States. The population was 25,340 at the 2010 census. It is home to the world headquarters of several large corporations including Carrier Corporation, Otis Elevator Company, and Carvel...
(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
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...
. 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, 1817), 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 sites 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 area. For example, he helped establish the Sterling Iron Company, Black River Woolen Company, and the Jefferson County Mutual Insurance Company.
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, her will transferred the house 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 1846 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.
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 Free Masonry 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 Masonic targets. Due to this public condemnation of secret societies, which were deemed to corrupt the body politic, Sir Orville's encampment went 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.
Orville Hungerford became deeply involved in community affairs. He served as village trustee of Watertown, town supervisor for Watertown, and Superintendent of the County Poorhouse. His friendship with local politician and judge, Perley Keyes, piqued his interest in politics. Keyes, a fellow Free Mason, encouraged him to publicly stand up against the anti-Masonic fervor that was sweeping the country in the aftermath of the Morgan affair. As a result, he joined as the local Democratic party, effectively becoming Keyes's understudy.
In 1842, as a Democrat
The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. The party's socially liberal and progressive platform is largely considered center-left in the U.S. political spectrum. The party has the lengthiest record of continuous...
, Orville Hungerford was elected to the 28th
-House of Representatives:Following the 1840 United States Census, Congress reapportioned the House to include 223 seats . During this congress, one House seat was added for the new state of Florida .- Senate :*President: Vacant...
and two years later to the 29th
-House of Representatives:During this congress, two House seats were added for each of the new states of Texas and Iowa.-Leadership:-Senate:* President: George M. Dallas * President pro tempore: Willie P. Mangum...
U.S. Congress. In his second term he served on the powerful Committee on Ways and Means
The Committee of Ways and Means is the chief tax-writing committee of the United States House of Representatives. Members of the Ways and Means Committee are not allowed to serve on any other House Committees unless they apply for a waiver from their party's congressional leadership...
. In 1846 he lost his seat to a Whig
The Whig Party was a political party of the United States during the era of Jacksonian democracy. Considered integral to the Second Party System and operating from the early 1830s to the mid-1850s, the party was formed in opposition to the policies of President Andrew Jackson and his Democratic...
party candidate. In 1847
The 1847 New York state election was held on November 2, 1847, to elect the Lieutenant Governor, the Secretary of State, the State Comptroller, the Attorney General, the State Treasurer, the State Engineer, three Canal Commissioners and three Inspectors of State Prisons, as well as all members of...
, he ran for New York State Comptroller
The New York State Comptroller is a state cabinet officer of the U.S. state of New York. The duties of the comptroller include auditing government operations and operating the state's retirement system.-History:...
on the Democratic ticket, but was defeated by future U.S. President Millard Fillmore
Millard Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States and the last member of the Whig Party to hold the office of president...
174,756 votes to 136,027 votes.
After his political career ended, Orville Hungerford began focusing his energies on establishing the Watertown & Rome Railroad
The Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad, commonly known as The Hojack Line, operated along the south shore of Lake Ontario, from Niagara Falls, New York to Oswego, New York. Different segments of the line were abandoned at different times...
. 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.
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, and he was buried in Brookside Cemetery in Watertown. 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." In politics, he learned the ultimate lesson: rectitude will kill a career trying to serve the people. He was unafraid of voicing his opinion though. 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?" 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."