The Crooked Lake Review

Winter 2002

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A Biography of John Magee

Conclusion - Chapter Nine


Gary M. Emerson

Introduction, Chapter One and Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four
Chapter Five, Chapter Six, Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight

The Magee Legacy

Throughout his life, John Magee had been a pious, conservative man who valued education and the rewards of hard work. Magee's conservative ideals were expressed in his thinking and the way he lived. The home he purchased in Watkins was Greek Revival, a style that was outmoded by 1860. That he clung to old ways was evident in his dislike for national banks, and his desire to require property ownership as a qualification for voting.

Although he was a Democrat all his life, he greatly mistrusted party leaders. This probably had roots in the political prank that victimized him in his bid for re-election to Congress in 1830. In both the State Senatorial election in 1861 and the State Constitutional Convention in 1867, he cautioned the electorate about scheming, self-centered party chiefs.

Magee was said to have often told the story of a person giving two bushels of wheat in exchange for a yard of narrow ribbon to adorn the hair, denouncing it as unwarrantable extravagance, saying they did not know the value of a dollar, that the wheat was worth $3 per bushel, and the ribbon a pittance in intrinsic value.355 Magee certainly understood the value of a dollar. He cautiously shared his wealth late in life. His wealth created the Glenwood Cemetery, the Presbyterian Church in Watkins, and he donated large sums to religious groups. He expected his children to know the value of a dollar and how to manage their financial affairs cautiously. One of the provisions of his will stated that any heir who had fallen $10,000 in debt without written permission of the trustees, and who depended on his share of the estate to pay the debt, was not to receive any inheritance.356

Education also was highly valued by Magee, since it helped him achieve so much. While living in Bath in 1848, Magee attended a meeting concerning the building of a school, and made a motion that one thousand dollars be voted to complete the school.357 At Fall Brook, the Fall Brook Coal Company paid the expense of operating a free school.358 In Mansfield, Pennsylvania, the State Normal School received a loan of $6,500 from John Magee to help it through financial difficulties. On January 1, 1867, he made a gift of $3,332.50 to the school, which was the unpaid balance of the loan.359

While few benefitted from the generosity of Magee, many profited due to his industry. He distinguished himself as a public servant having served as constable, census taker, sheriff, Congressman, and delegate to a state constitutional convention. His stage coaches carried passengers and mail throughout Western New York and into Pennsylvania at a time when transportation and communication were sorely needed. The New York and Erie Railroad brought further improvements when it reached completion, thanks to the significant help of Magee. The Fall Brook Coal Company and its railroad lines gave employment to hundreds in Fall Brook, Corning, and Watkins Glen.

Planned by John Magee before he died, the Corning, Cowanesque, and Antrim Railroad to the Magee coal interests in Antrim, Pennsylvania, opened in May, 1872. At the opening ceremonies, one of the speakers, William E. Dodge, said: "I do not suppose that noble and truly great man John Magee built this railroad to gratify Wellsboro. No. He built it for an object. He might have got out his coal by a tram road behind the hills, but he preferred to build a passenger and freight road and ask you to support it."360 However, the various endeavors of John Magee were not entered upon under the pretense of altruism. He saw opportunities to make money and he took advantage of them. Some business ventures of Magee did not always cause the public to rejoice. The mail contract for Magee and Company was inflated at the taxpayer's expense. The failure of the Buffalo and Conhocton Valley Railroad caused many to lose their investment, and some even lost their homes. The miners' strike crushed at Fall brook in 1865, was a setback to the unions that had made some progress during the Civil War.

The wounds of the people healed quickly, however, and after Magee's death, grateful communities paid tribute to him. In Wellsboro, a monument was dedicated to Magee. Unveiled on December 1, 1886, the nearly fourteen foot high monument still stands at the north end of the village park. The base and shaft are made of Quincy granite, and at the top is a bust of John Magee that is over four and a half feet tall and weighs one thousand pounds.361 Four bronze tablets are affixed to the sides of the monument, depicting various accomplishments of Magee. The workers of the Fall Brook Coal Company had contributed the money to erect the memorial.362

In the Fall Brook Office in Watkins, a bust of Magee was placed in the reception room. The bust was "of full size, mounted on a handsome pedestal of superior design and workmanship—it is faultlessly chiseled from the whitest and purest marble and marvelously true to the original."363 Magee Street in Watkins was named in his honor. The Magee plot in the Glenwood Cemetery took on monumental appearance. Surrounded by a fence, a tall marble shaft towers over the site where the Magee family rests.

Monuments to Magee are lacking in Bath. Magee did little to share his wealth with that community, where he spent much of his life. It is understandable why Bath went to no great expense to remember Magee. However, the Magee residence in Bath has become a reminder of him. In 1885, the mortgage to the house, then owned by Ambrose Howell was foreclosed by Daniel Howell, one of the trustees of the Magee estate.364 In 1893 it was sold to Ira Davenport who allowed it to be used as a library.365 [Today it houses the Steuben County Historical Society and the Steuben County Historian's Office and is called The Magee House.]

Duncan Magee continued living in the Magee home in Watkins as he presided over the coal and railroad companies. His inherited task was cut short at age 38 when he died in Europe on May 8, 1869.366 His wife and two daughters continued living in the home, until she re-married. As Mrs. Angel, she moved to Geneseo and later to New York City, and leased the Magee house to William Pinch, who converted it into a hotel called the Magee House.367 In April, 1881, Mrs. Angel sold the house to Daniel Goodsell and his wife, forcing William Pinch out of the hotel business.368 The Goodsells continued running the place as a hotel, as did others who later bought the place. The hotel, by then known as the Glen City Hotel, burned down on January 1, 1906.369 The site was purchased, the charred structure demolished, and a new home built on the site by Herman Lybolt.370 The house erected by Lybolt occupies the Magee mansion lot today. Surrounding it is the ancient iron fence that once guarded the Magee mansion, and possibly once adorned the grounds of the Magee home in Bath.

Control of the businesses that generated the Magee wealth fell to George Magee after the death of Duncan. Under the direction of George, the office and transshipment works of the Fall Brook Coal Company, were pulled out of Watkins and moved to Corning. Towing the coal in canal boats up Seneca Lake was too slow. To remain competitive, the coal had to be moved faster. The answer was a new railroad. In 1877, the Syracuse, Geneva, and Corning Railroad running north out of Corning was completed.371 In 1878, twelve more miles of track were laid from Geneva to Lyons.372 Corning became the new center of the Fall Brook Coal Company.

The land and buildings of the Fall Brook Coal Company in Watkins were sold. Much of the property was purchased by Henry Lembeck, who used the facilities to operate a brewery.373 The Watkins office building of the Fall Brook Coal Company became the Lembeck residence. The house is owned today by his descendant, Henry Lembeck and his wife.

George Magee continued to live in Watkins in a fabulous home he built called Glenfield. Each morning he took a forty-five minute train ride in his own private locomotive coach to his office in Corning, and returned at the end of the day.374 Under his leadership, the Magee business interests continued to profit and grow. The coal company and railway lines continued to be operated together as one business until 1892, when the Fall Brook Railway Company was created organizing all of the various Magee railroads into a separate company.375

Europe proved just as fateful for George Magee as it had for Duncan. George Magee died at Nice, France, on March 11, 1897, at the age of fifty-seven.376 In his will, the annual interest on a $15,000 investment was to be given to the poor of Corning and Watkins.377 The various churches of both towns were to decide how the money would be used to help the poor. It was a thoughtful but small donation for a man of his wealth. His presidency in the Fall Coal Company, Morris Run Coal Company, the Chest Creek Land and Improvement Company, the Tioga Improvement Company, and the Syracuse, Geneva, and Corning Railroad went to his son, John Magee.

John Magee leased the Fall Brook Railway for 999 years to the New York Central Railroad on May 1, 1899. The coal companies and other interests he continued to manage. Like his father and grandfather, he sometimes used his wealth to help others. He gave $10,000 to Corning Hospital in memory of his father. In the Twentieth Century, the Magee interests became national and international through the guidance of George's son.378 When John Magee died at Pebble Beach, California on July 15, 1942, there was no heir to take his place, since his marriage was childless.379

George's wife Emma Stothoff Magee, continued living at Glenfield until her death on July 26, 1927. Her children gave Glenfield to the village of Watkins Glen, which leased it to the Newark State School in 1936.380 The school moved out by 1941, and in 1946 the place was sold to Charles Richtmeyer for $10,100.381

He leased the carriage house and sold the residence to Reverend Charles H. Evan in April, 1947.382 The house was converted into a youth hostelry, until the Koran War necessitated its use as housing for married Air Force personnel. It was sold again and used as apartments, until it was demolished in 1961.383

The monuments grow tarnished and weathered. The memories have long grown dim and vanished. But, the achievements of John Magee should not be forgotten. His contributions are a part of history, a memorial that perpetuates an understanding of their importance, and offers glimpses of the man who carried them out . He was a self-made multi-millionaire, an early version of a "Robber Baron," who was as conservative with his wealth as he was in his thinking. His business ventures provided much needed services to the public, but he sometimes used the public to make profits and avoid losses. The Magee legacy for Western New York and Tioga County, Pennsylvania, was economic growth. For the Magees, the legacy was wealth.

© 2002, Gary M. Emerson
Introduction, Chapter One and Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four
Chapter Five, Chapter Six, Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight

Notes to Chapter Eight

355 History of Schuyler County, 1879, p. 55.

356 Schuyler County Surrogate court, Book 2 of Book of Wills, p. 365.

357 W. W. Clayton, History of Steuben County, p. 175.

358 Schuyler County Historical Society, Magee folder, newspaper clipping "Latter Part of Life of John Magee."

359 History of Tioga County, 1897, p. 583.

360 History of Tioga County, 1883, p. 42.

361, 362 History of Tioga County, 1897, p. 349.

363 Schuyler County Historical Society, Magee folder, Watkins Express reprint of a Feb. 10, 1870, Watkins Express news item.

364, 365 James Hope, History of the Davenport Library, p. 2.

366 Schuyler County Historical Society, Magee folder, reprint of a June 12, 1869, Watkins Express article.

367 Watkins Express, "Historical Picture of the Week," Nov. 4, 1970.

368 Schuyler County Clerk's Office, Book 29 of Deeds, p. 385.

369 Watkins Express, "Village Fires From 1872 to Present," Nov. 12, 1941.

370 Schuyler County Historical Society, file folder on hotels.

371, 372 Thomas Dimitroff and Lois S. Janes, History of Corning Painted Post Area, p. 82.

373 Mr. and Mrs .Henry Lembeck, interviewed in their home in Watkins Glen, August, 1982.

374 Chemung County Historical Society, Scrapbook Number 97, article titled "Discovers Rare Picture of Famous 'Little John' Former Fallbrook Railroad Locomotive-Coach," dated May 1, 1938.

375 "A Short History of the Fall Brook Railway Co." by Joseph C. Boyd.

376 "Glenfield" by Robert Hartman, p. 21.

377 Schuyler County Surrogate Court, Book 14 of Book of Wills, p. 63.

378, 379 "Glenfield" by Robert Hartman, p. 21.

380 Watkins Express, "Historical Picture of the Week," August 9, 1978.

381, 382, 383 "Glenfield" by Robert Hartman, p. 23.

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