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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Henry H. Fish

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[This information is from Vol. III, pp. 90-93 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

Contents | Portraits | Illustrations | Maps

Portrait of Henry H. Fish

Portrait: Henry H. Fish

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When Henry H. Fish died at his home in Utica in the spring of 1887, one of the local newspapers referred to him as "a gentleman of the old school, refined, polished, dignified and courteous at all times." That was nearly forty years ago. The memory of Henry H. Fish is still kept green here in the valley, and it is thus a pleasure to speak of him in this definite history of the region in which he had so long been a conspicuous and influential figure, for it is but proper that for the information of coming generations there should here be carried a story relating to his useful life and career.

In 1791 Walter Fish came into the Mohawk valley from Bozrah, Connecticut, and settled on the German Flats, which later took on the name of Herkimer. This Walter Fish was a bridge builder and had come here to superintend the construction of heavily timbered covered bridges at certain points across the Mohawk river, and he thus became one of the real pioneers of what has developed into the flourishing and progressive city of Herkimer. In 1793 Walter Fish was married to Jane Whitney, who had come here with her parents from Petersham, Massachusetts, and established their home at Herkimer. He and his wife had nine children and the descendants of this family in the present generation form a not inconsiderable connection. The eldest son of Walter Fish, who was given the name of Walter, made his way into what was then the wilds of Michigan and became a pioneer of the settlement which later became Jackson, Michigan. The subject of this memorial sketch was the youngest son of this family and he clung to the valley, where he found a wide field of usefulness.

Henry H. Fish was born in the then straggling village of Herkimer, in October, 1813, and there spent his childhood, receiving such meager local schooling as the community afforded at that time, supplemented by the excellent home training received from his thoughtful parents.

It was in connection with his years of service in behalf of the Utica Gas Light Company, however, that Mr. Fish was best known in the community and by which he perhaps is better remembered hereabout, for he was the real "mainspring" of that company for many years. This company was organized in 1851. Mr. Fish was one of the most influential factors in that organization and six months after it was organized he was made the treasurer of the company and the general manager of the plant and its affairs, a position he maintained for a period of more than thirty years. Under his prudent management the company's plant was developed from its "day of small things" on through the years, keeping constant pace with the continually growing demands of the city's expansion program and thus ever held its own among the corporations of a similar character in this state. Mr. Winslow Fish, the son, also studied closely the details of improvements being made from time to time in the gas business and mastered these details. When electric lighting began to seem more than a dream of a visionary he had the foresight to discern in this new process a revolutionizing step in advance and began his preparations for the acceptance of the new light as an accomplished fact. Even before the means for utilizing to advantage the new light had been worked out and properly tested by usage and time, he introduced the electric lighting system to the people of Utica.

It may be said of Mr. Henry H. Fish, in the true sense of that much abused term, that he was essentially "a self-made man". He also was self-educated. Although in his earlier years he had but few educational advantages he made the most of those he did have. In fact, he may be said to have been a student all his life. What he once learned he never forgot and he always seemed to be able to apply his knowledge. He was a great reader and became well versed in English literature. He wielded a facile pen and the articles which he sometimes wrote for the local newspapers were marked by elegance of diction and evidences of scholarly ability. Mr. Fish took a deep interest in the affairs of state and nation, studying closely the broader questions of the day, and was able to discuss them intelligently and in an interesting manner. He was a whig and became a republican upon the organization of the latter party and ever took a good citizen's interest in local civic affairs. In 1855 he was elected mayor of Utica and it is recalled that he filled that executive position with honor to himself and benefit to the city. As a public speaker Mr. Fish possessed considerable ability and his language at all times, even in ordinary conversation, was that of a careful, thoughtful man. He traveled extensively and profited by what he saw on his travels. He was public-spirited and always took an active interest in what pertained to the welfare of the city or state, and it also is remembered that he dispensed charity with a liberal hand, yet so unostentatiously that few if any besides the recipients were aware of it. The employes of the gas company were all greatly attached to him.

A marked trait of Mr. Fish's character was his love of home. His domestic relations were most happy and although he was a kind and indulgent father he seemed more like an elder brother to his sons. The strong affection which existed between parents and children is perhaps best shown by the fact that all of his children remained under the paternal roof. He was an attendant at the Dutch Reformed church for forty years. In religious matters he thought and believed for himself, yet so tolerant was he and so kindly disposed toward all mankind that he never gave his opinions on religious subjects unless they were asked and studiously avoided all religious controversies. He sought to benefit and elevate mankind and did not think it necessary in order to accomplish this to assail the cherished views of any. Mr. Fish died on April 1, 1887, and there was sincere mourning throughout the community at his passing.

In 1842 Henry H. Fish was married to Cornelia Phelon, daughter of Dr. Thomas Phelon of Litchfield, Herkimer county. To that union were born three sons: Winslow Phelon Fish, Henry Fish and William A. Fish, all of whom are deceased; and a daughter, Miss Grace A. Fish, who is still making her home in Utica.

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