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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Merrill Jesse Brayton

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[This information is from Vol. III, pp. 30-35 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Portrait of Merrill Jesse Brayton

Portrait: Merrill Jesse Brayton

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Merrill Jesse Brayton, senior vice president of the Utica Gas & Electric Company and long a leader in the civic, political and business circles of Utica, was in the seventy-second year of his age when he departed this life on the 18th of March, 1924, at Charleston, South Carolina, while on a winter vacation in the south. He was born in Newport, Herkimer county, New York, on the 20th of July, 1852, his parents being Almond A. and Caroline (Schermerhorn) Brayton. The ancestral record of the family is given on another page of this work in connection with the sketch of Omar R. Brayton, brother of Merrill Jesse Brayton.

In 1860, when a lad of eight years, Merrill Jesse Brayton removed with his parents to Deerfield, Oneida county, New York. He was educated in the old Fairfield Seminary and at Clinton Liberal Institute, then located in Clinton. These schools ranked very high among institutions of learning at that time. His boyhood days were spent on his father's farm. His father was an expert hunter and rifle shot and the son, following in his footsteps and under his guidance, soon became one of the surest trap and wing shots in this section of the state. Mr. Brayton had a natural talent and liking for the law and early decided on a legal career. Upon leaving school he studied law in the office of the late J. Thomas Spriggs, afterward member of congress from his district. Mr. Spriggs was an able lawyer, a strong character and a man of great intellectual attainments. Under such able tutelage Mr. Brayton became well grounded in legal principles. Upon his admission to the bar in 1874 he formed a partnership with the late D. E. Pomeroy, then very active in the practice of law. This partnership was very successful and continued until 1880. Mr. Brayton then practiced alone until his appointment as deputy county clerk of Oneida county in 1883. He was elected county clerk in the fall of 1885 and served for three years from January 1, 1886.

On January 1, 1889, Mr. Brayton became associated with the Utica Electric Light & Power Company, soon after its organization, as director, secretary-treasurer and general manager. One of the serious handicaps was the great distance from Utica at which the only two manufacturers of large electrical equipment were located. In case of trouble several days or weeks were required to get new parts or repairs. Makers of electrical appliances and supplies were also few and far between and besides the need for repairs there was a scarcity of electricians and wiremen. To meet this condition Mr. Brayton purchased a whole manufacturing plant from the Remington Arms Company at Ilion and shipped it to Utica by canal. To handle this new branch of business the Utica Electric Manufacturing & Supply Company was organized in 1890. His connection with the Utica Electric Light Company began at a time when the electric industry was just beginning to take definite form. Its chief source of income was from lighting the city, and suburban streets. Timidity on the part of the people was the main obstacle to the extension of service. They were not familiar with the uses and possibilities of electricity and many refused to have it installed lest their homes be destroyed by fire. The Trenton Falls Power Company was organized in 1899 for the purpose of developing the water power at that point on the West Canada Creek. Mr. Brayton was largely responsible for the location of the dam, the selection of the site, the preparation of plans for the power station and the whole scheme of hydro-electric development. Work was begun on the dam in the fall of 1899 and the plant was placed in operation on April 17, 1901. Besides his usual worries in trying to maintain service from the old plant, the burden of supervising the work at Trenton Falls, in all of its many details, fell largely to Mr. Brayton and kept him under very high tension during the construction period. The opening of the new plant relieved the pressure somewhat and permitted him to devote a portion of his time to finding a market for the surplus power. Anxieties of a financial nature now came to take the place of service worries. Heavy fixed charges were running against the new development and it was imperative that the excess energy should be converted into revenue. The task was not an easy one and required skillful handling and a long period of educational effort. Three factors operated to make power sales difficult a quarter century ago. Lack of understanding as to the effectiveness of electric power; the then low cost of coal; and doubt as to the dependability and continuity of the service. How well these obstacles were overcome the growth of power sales in the succeeding years bears ample testimony.

The Utica Electric Light & Power Company was organized in 1899 by consolidation of the Trenton Falls Power Company, the Utica Electric Manufacturing Company and the Utica Electric Light Company. The Utica Electric Light & Power Company and the Equitable Gas & Electric Company were merged on May 26, 1902. The latter company was organized on May 10, 1902, for the purpose of the merger. Mr. Brayton was made a director and general manager of the electric department of the new company. He was elected secretary in 1904 and was made a vice president in 1920. Mr. Brayton witnessed the development of the company from a Utica and suburban institution to its present status as a tri-county utility. In 1907 the Herkimer County Light & Power Company, the Glens Falls Gas & Electric Light Company, the Consolidated Light & Power Company of Whitehall and the United Gas, Electric Light & Power Company of Hudson Falls were acquired by the company. On July 1, 1907, the Herkimer County Light & Power Company was merged with the Utica Gas & Electric Company and since that time has been operated as part of the system. This merger added the Dolgeville hydro-electric station and a small combination steam and hydro-electric station at Little Falls to the system and in 1909-10 the present hydro-electric station at Little Falls was erected. In 1907-08 a six-inch high-pressure gas line was constructed from Utica to Little Falls to provide an adequate supply of gas to all of the valley towns, while the gas generating plant at Utica has been several times enlarged and improved. In addition to his many other duties Mr. Brayton for many years handled all of the ordinary legal business of the company, including the preparation of deeds, contracts, leases, rights of way, public safety commission matters, etc. Taxes and assessments, damages and accident claims were thrown in for good measure.

On the 30th of January, 1884, Mr. Brayton was united in marriage to Miss Cora B. Johnson, a daughter of James A. and Catherine Johnson of Ilion. She passed away in August, 1920.

The following is an excerpt from a review of the career of M. Jesse Brayton, which appeared in the Utica Observer-Dispatch on the day of his death:

"Widely known in business as chief local executive of the Utica Gas & Electric Company and associate companies, Mr. Brayton was equally well known as a stanch and able republican. Leaders of the party today stated that they regarded him a worthy successor to Vice President James S. Sherman as leader of the republicans. As a young man, shortly after coming to Utica, Mr. Brayton identified himself actively with politics. Those were the days of intense strife in the republican party when the supremacy of Roscoe Conkling, the nationally recognized head of the stalwart faction, was contested by the local followers of James G. Blaine. Mr. Brayton, then a young lawyer, was associated with the Conkling followers and, with his natural aptitude for politics, was a valuable asset. The convention system was then in full swing and control of delegations from various wards was essential to the party leaders. It was in the third ward that he fought many successful battles and established his standing in the party. He was also an important factor in the municipal elections which then were held in March. Often the nominations for mayor were not made until the Saturday before the Tuesday election and the intervening days were busy ones for the politicians. With the retirement of Senator Conkling in 1881, there were changes in party leadership in Oneida county and when, in 1885, Mr. Brayton became a candidate for county clerk, he was opposed by those in control. But that did not deter him from making a diligent canvass. It was necessary to drive with horse and buggy through the town to round up delegates. Young Brayton did this quietly but persistently, and at the convention sprung a surprise by walking off with the nomination. He was elected and served efficiently as county clerk until December 31, 1888.

"For some years thereafter Mr. Brayton's business connections demanded most of his time, and while he continued his interest in politics and frequently attended conventions, it was not until 1910 that he resumed active participation; not, however, as a seeker of office. In that year he was chosen member of the republican state committee from the Oneida-Herkimer district and continued a member of the committee until 1918. In the meantime the advent of primary elections had changed the method of electing committeemen, but year after year Mr. Brayton was chosen until he announced that he could no longer serve. With the death of Vice President Sherman in 1912 and the declining health of Thomas Wheeler, with both of whom Mr. Brayton had cooperated during the years that they dominated the republican party in this county, Mr. Brayton came to be regarded as the most powerful individual in the party councils. Modest by nature, he resented the appellation of `boss' or even leader, yet when he sat in the party conferences there, he was at the head of the table. His unfailing good humor and unselfish disposition to serve and to give gained the affection of those who worked with him. His judgment, ripened by years of give and take in the game of politics, was accepted as sound. In the strife which accompanies political rivalries and ambitions harsh words are often spoken, but these never aroused resentment in him nor occasioned vindictive retaliation. He was a good fighter when the fight was on, but when it was over he cherished neither hatred nor bitter feeling. For the last ten years especially Mr. Brayton had the friendship and confidence of the state leaders of the republican party. Whenever conferences were held to decide matters of great moment he was invited. At the gatherings in Saratoga, Albany and New York his advice was sought. In 1917 he was asked to accept the state chairmanship but declined. Between him and Governors Whitman and Miller there existed a warm personal friendship and the amiable qualities which made him so popular and useful at home won for him the esteem of those with whom he was associated in the greater councils of this party."

Mr. Brayton held memberships in the following clubs and organizations: Automobile Club of Utica, American Institute of Banking, Engineers Club of Utica, Elks Club, Fort Schuyler Club, Kuyahoora Rod and Gun Club, Little Falls Country Club, National Republican Club, Old Colony Club, Oneida Historical Society, Republican Club of Utica, Rotary Club of Utica, Utica Curling Club, Utica Golf and Country Club, Utica Maennerchor, Utica Fish and Game Association, Yahnundasis Golf Club, Young Men's Christian Association, Citizens Corps Veterans Association and was also a Knight Templar Mason who had attained the thirty-second degree in the Scottish Rite and had crossed the sands of the desert with the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. Mr. Brayton was also a member of the National Electric Light Association, American Gas Association and other organizations of national scope and for many years regularly attended their meetings. He was a director and the treasurer of the Utilities Mutual Insurance Company of New York, and a director of the Citizens Trust Company of Utica. He was also one of those active in the organization of the Empire State Gas and Electric Association, which he served and promoted with fidelity and skill. He had been a member of its executive committee almost continuously from its organization and always active in its councils. He had been twice honored with the presidency of the association. He was first elected president in 1911 and at the time of his death was serving his second term as president, having been reelected at the annual meeting of the association at Lake Placid in October, 1922.

Mayor Gillmore paid the following tribute:

"With the passing of Mr. Brayton, I feel that I have lost a friend and the business life of Utica has also suffered a distinct loss. He was a high type of citizen with a keon interest in public affairs and ever ready and willing to lend a hand to help any worthy project. Mr. Brayton made an enviable record as a public official of this county, as well as an executive of one of the city's largest business corporations. In short, Mr. Brayton was a type of citizen of which every city has all too few."

Under date of March 23, 1924, the Utica Observer-Dispatch said:

"Eulogy after eulogy was delivered in memory of M. Jesse Brayton, Oneida county republican leader, at a memorial meeting held last night by the Republican Club at the New Century Auditorium and attended by a large number of members and admirers of the deceased Utican. His qualities as a man, a counsellor in city, county and state political circles, and a progressive citizen, together with his many sterling characteristics, were recalled to the minds of the audience by Fred G. Reusswig, for many years personally associated with Mr. Brayton; by Simon L. Adler, republican leader in the assembly, who on many occasions had met and conferred with him; Justice Louis M. Martin of the supreme court, and Dr. R. S. Snyder, pastor of Westminster church, each of whom highly praised him. Telegrams from several politically prominent men of the state, including former Governors Nathan L. Miller and Charles S. Whitman, Lafayette B. Gleason, clerk of the assembly, Congressman Homer P. Snyder, members of the republican state committee, Speaker H. E. Machold of the assembly, William Barnes, former republican state chairman, and George K. Morris, present state chairman, were read by William Ross Lee, club president, who presided. Shortly before the close of the meeting a resolution, prepared by former Senator Charles W. Wicks, Henry D. Williams and Leo O. Coupe, expressing the club's sorrow at the loss of Mr. Brayton, was adopted."

Justice Martin said in part:

"He was an honest man. No breath of suspicion or scandal ever marred his public or private activities. Every man who came into contact with him in his business life, felt immediately that they could trust him; that his word was as good as his bond. * * * He was a loyal friend. No man can achieve leadership in political life who is not loyal and true. This can be said of our departed leader in its strongest sense. Political leaders are not chosen; they are the result of growth. No man can acquire it who is not sincere. No man can acquire it who is not loyal to the men who are associated with him in the stress and strain of political life. Without ambition himself, not desiring public office or public acclaim, he became the leader of his party in this county. Leadership sought him out, insisted on his exercise of power. Why? Because all trusted him; all admired his ability to harmonize our differences; all loved him as a friend and trusted him with absolute confidence in his power to properly direct. We who depended on his guidance and direction, will miss his genial smile, his humorous expressions, and illustrations in discussion, his splendid advice and aid. * * * Yes, Mr. Brayton achieved true greatness. A self-made man, an honest man, a loyal friend — these are the elements that endure; these are the elements of a truly great life, something that will remain as long as memory lasts."

The following resolution was adopted:

"A useful citizen, a trusted counsellor, a recognized republican leader, has passed from us in the death of M. Jesse Brayton. He gave unselfishly of his time and efforts to the cause of clean and reputable politics. His standard for public service was high and wholesome. He believed in honest, efficient government and zealously he labored to achieve it. His contribution to the political and civic life of Utica and Oneida county was substantial. His impress on those with whom he came into contact was abiding. The Republican Club, of which he was an honored member, herewith expresses its deep regret at his loss. We shall miss his genial presence, his ever-ready support, his unfailing interest, his sound and sure judgment, his rugged leadership. We will long cherish the memory of this generous and kindly friend."

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