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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
James Conkling

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[This information is from Vol. III, pp. 722-723 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Nearly half a century of successful practice as an attorney at law entitles James Conkling to especial mention in a work of this character as one of the leading professional men and prominent citizens of Ilion. Although he had completed his allotted span of threescore years and ten, when called to his final rest on November 5, 1924, Mr. Conkling was still active in professional and business circles, for the years had left his vigor unimpaired and added wisdom and experience to his learning. There were few men in Ilion who were more highly respected, or whose advice was more eagerly sought in matters of grave importance. He was a native of Troy, New York, born May 22, 1854, and one of a family of six children of John and Mary (Conkling) Conkling. Born in Ireland in 1826, John Conkling came to America as a young man and located in Troy, where a brother, William, was then living. He was married in Troy, but subsequently moved to Litchfield, New York, where he resided the rest of his life, devoting his energies to agricultural pursuits. His death occurred in June, 1879, at the age of fifty-three. His wife was also a native of Ireland, County Limerick being her birthplace. She survived her husband for many years and passed away in Ilion after living to celebrate her eighty-sixth birthday. Three of the children of this union are living: Dr. John B. Conkling, a practicing physician of Cooperstown, New York; Charles F. Conkling, who is associated with the Underwood Typewriter Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Miss Mary Conkling, who resides in Ilion, at the home of her brother, James, of this review.

James Conkling received his early education in the Winfield Academy and the Whitestown Seminary. After graduating from the latter he continued his studies in Hamilton College. Following his college course he took up the study of law in the office of the Hon. Francis Kernan of Utica, where he remained for three years. Mr. Conkling successfully passed his examinations and was admitted to the bar in March, 1880, immediately after which he came to Ilion, where he "hung out his shingle" and set about building up a practice that has since become one of the most important in this vicinity. For over thirty years he was attorney for the Ilion Permanent Building & Loan Association, while his legal learning and sound business judgment have made him a welcome member on the board of directors of more than one commercial enterprise. He was vice president of the Giblin Coal Company, director of the Manufacturers Bank of Ilion, and director of the Herkimer County Milk Dealers Association. In civic affairs Mr. Conkling had been no less active. For eight years he served the town of German Flats as supervisor, and in 1889 was president of the village of Ilion. He was also a member of the board of trustees for the Ilion Free Library. Mr. Conkling was a democrat in his political views and had always strongly supported the principles and candidates of his party. In 1891 he ran as his party's candidate for member of assembly, but was defeated by his republican opponent. His religious faith is that of the Roman Catholic church, and fraternally he is identified with Ilion Lodge, No. 1444, B. P. O. E.

On February 11, 1885, Mr. Conkling was united in marriage to Miss Eva J. Beckwith. Mrs. Conkling comes from a family that has been actively connected with the political life of New York for three generations. Her father, the Hon. E. D. Beckwith, was a tanner at West Winfield and at one time represented his district in the assembly at Albany. Prior to his death he made his home in Little Falls. He was the son of the Hon. John W. Beckwith, who was also an assemblyman of this state and a grandson of Abijah Beckwith, a United States senator from New York. [Editorial note: he appears to have been a state senator.] Mrs. Conkling's mother was Ermina (Robinson) Beckwith. Mrs. Conkling was born in Herkimer county in 1860, and died in January, 1892, at the untimely age of thirty-two. Mrs. Beckwith's family also enjoyed political distinction. Among its members who held important public offices was one of her cousins, Buren R. Sherman, who went west to live and was elected governor of the state of Kansas. Mr. Conkling passed away at his home in Ilion, as the result of a paralytic stroke, on November 5th, living but three days after the attack. He was buried in Ilion.

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