By Jane Dieffenbacher, From "This Green and Pleasant Land, Fairfield, NY"

    The arrival of William Mather (1735-1810) and his second wife, Martha Dickinson Mather (  -1809) in the Town of Fairfield around 1794 had a profound effect on the town's history. They came from Connecticut with son Moses (1774-1832) and daughter Anna (1776-1844) and settled on the hill, later known as Bartow. William also purchased land in the Dairy hill area of Norway.

    Anna Mather married Judge Nathan Smith, an early businessman and member of the Board of Regents.

    Moses Mather married Sarah Dresser (c1774-1863) in 1799. His father split the Dairy Hill property between Moses and his sister. Moses cleared his half in 1800-1801. When the Rev. Caleb Alexander came to Fairfield and suggested the founding of an academy, Moses took the lead in fund raising, saw the first building raised in 1802, and served on the first board of trustees with his brother-in-law, Nathan Smith.

    In 1806 Moses Mather moved to Poland where he erected mills and a distillery.

    After serving as a captain in the War of 1812, Moses returned to live in Fairfield about 1815. He purchased land in the Hurricane, Norway, around 1816, and produced maple sugar on a large scale. In 1821, 6000 pounds of sugar were harvested from 1100 trees.

    Four children were born to Moses and Sarah Mather. Young Jacob Dresser Mather (1806-1813) died in Poland.

    The eldest son was Willim Mather (1802-1890), born on Bartow Hill and a student in Fairfield Academy at the age of fourteen. He graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1826, but he chose chemistry as his life's work instead of medicine. For a few years he taught chemistry at Fairfield and from 1828-1838, taught at the seminary in Hamilton. From 1838-1867, Dr. Mather was Professor of Chemistry in Madison University, Hamilton, NY, now Colgate University. He also served in this capacity in the medical college at Castleton, Vermont, beginning in 1841. From 1828-1860, he lectured in over forty New York State communities.

    Dr. Mather served as secretary of the Fairfield Medical College Board, was on the Vestry of Trinity Episcopal Church, assisted new physical science teachers at Fairfield Seminary, assisted Nathaniel Benton in writing the first Herkimer County history, and wrote numerous articles on the history of the schools in Fairfield.

    Moses Mather's third son was Jarius Mather (1819-1893) who married Eliza Jones (1819-1896) in 1844. They lived in the house on the southwest corner of Route 29 and Hardscrabble Road. Jarius began his career by clerking in Alexander Buell's store and became a partner in Buell and Mather in 1850. He was educated at Fairfield Academy and later served as trustee, treasurer, and manager of the Seminary. Jarius was postmaster at Fairfield for twelve years and a deacon in the Presbyterian Church. When this church ceased to function, he became an active Episcopalian. Jarius Mather was also a very successful farmer, owner of several farms in the township.

    Moses Mather's daughter, Martha Ann Satterlee (1813-1836), died while accompanying her husband, Dr. Benedict Satterlee, on the missionary expedition of Dr. Marcus Whitman and his wife Narcissa. Martha Ann wanted to minister to the Indians of Oregon, but took sick on the first leg of the journey.

    In 1836 Dr. William Mather married Mary Ann Buell (  -1874), daughter of Roswell Buell. They lived in a home on Hardscrabble Road, opposite the Fairfield Academy and raised three children. At least Mary Ann did her best, while Dr. Mather spent much of his time traveling and earning a living by lecturing on chemistry and electro magnetism.

    The oldest child of William and Mary Ann was William Alexander Mather (1837-1908). William A. graduated from Fairfield Seminary in 1860. He enlisted in a New Jersey regiment at the outbreak of the Civil War and reached the rank of captain. Following the war, he traveled in the western states before settling down in Fairfield. He was known as an excellent musician and a 'gentleman of lesiure,' a popular fellow who held several town offices.

    The second son, Alonzo Clark Mather, became a multi-millionaire by manufacturing railroad cars to transport cattle.

    Daughter Martha Ann (1840-1927) married Albert Barnes Watkins (1838-1892), a graduate of Fairfield Academy and Amherst College. Dr. Watkins returned to Fairfield as a math teacher, married Martha Ann in 1863, and became Principal of Hungerford Collegiate Institute at Adams, NY, in 1870. In 1882, he was Inspector of Teachers Classes for the NYS Board of Regents and served as assistant scrertary of the Board of Regents from 1885-1892. They had three children, Evaline Mary, Jesse, and Frank Alonzo Watkins.

    Three generations of the Mather Family revolved around the schools in Fairfield.

Alonzo Clark Mather 1848-1941

    Alonzo Clark Mather was born in Fairfield, son of Dr. William Mather and Mary Ann Buell Mather. The "baby" of the family, Alonzo grew up under the guidance of his mother, with brief reunions with his father, when Dr. Mather's teaching duties and lecture tours allowed. There was, however, a voluminous correspondence between Dr. Mather, his wife, and children.

    Alonzo attended Fairfield Seminary and was given a choice - a college education or an opportunity to go into business. Alonzo chose the business world and at the age of sixteen, went to Utica to begin his career. Letters found in the former Mather home provide a glimpse of this period. In a letter dated August 1, 1865, postmarked Utica, Alonzo wrote to "My Dear Father," "... I would have some money. I hate to ask you for it but I must...besides I intend to pay it all back sometime. If you were in my situation you would know how it would be without a cent of money. Now I will tell you what has become of my money, you know you gave me $5.00." In this letter Alonzo told of his expenses - $2.50 for dinner and transportation, paper collars at $.75 a box, and little incidentals. He requested $10 from his father.

    Whatever investment the Mathers made in their son Alonzo was justified by his later success. After working in Utica, he went to Quincy, Illinois, and in 1875, moved to Chicago and started a wholesale mercantile business called Alonzo C. Mather and Company.

    In 1881 he developed a stock car in which livestock could be shipped without being unloaded. Food and water could be provided while enroute, causing the animals no suffering while being transported. This humane stock car caused the American Humane Society to award him a medal in 1883. He also designed a refrigerator car for the shipment of fresh meat and soon thousands of Mather railroad cars were being used in the United States and Canada.

    Alonzo built the 42-story Mather Tower in Chicago and the 10-story Mather Building in Washington, DC. He planned a bridge spanning the Niagara River from Buffalo to Fort Erie, Ontario, but it was not possible to build a structure in international waters without an Act of Congress. However, his plans were used for the building of the International Peace Bridge, dedicated in 1927. The river frontage he owned at Fort Erie was donated to the Queen Victoria Park Commission and became known as Mather Park.

    When the young man who asked his father for a loan of $10 died at the age of 92 in Los Angeles, he left an estate of $5,000,000. About $3,000,000 was bequeathed to erect the Alonzo Mather Aged Ladies' Home at Chicago.

    Remembering his hometown, Alonzo left a $15,000 trust fund to erect a new Episcopal church in Fairfield, a memorial to his parents, with windows to be placed in honor of other relatives. However, the Fairfield Episcopalians were happy with the existing 1807 church and did not want a new building. So funds, that could have been used to repair the old church if so designated, reverted to the Aged Ladies' Home.

    Alonzo Clark Mather married Martha C. Johnson and one daughter was born in 1879, Martha J. Mather. Shortly after the birth, Mrs. Mather passed away. Alonzo's second wife was Louise Eames. Fairfield was never forgotten and Mather supported the activities of the Fairfield Alumni Association.

By Jane Dieffenbacher, From This Green and Pleasant Land, Fairfield, NY

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Created 6/7/02
Copyright © 2002 Jane Dieffenbacher
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