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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Henry Gillette Munger

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[This information is from Vol. IV, pp. 34-39 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]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 Henry Gillette Munger

Portrait: Henry Gillette Munger

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When the great new department store of H. G. Munger & Company at Herkimer was formally opened for business in the spring of 1918 the many employes of that widely known and popular commercial house presented to Mr. Munger, the founder of the business, a beautiful silver loving cup, eighteen inches in height, on which there was engraved the following inscription:

"Presented to Henry Gillette Munger by the Employes of H. G. Munger & Co. In Token of Their Esteem and as a Tribute to Him as a Master Merchant — May 22, 1918."

A fine revelation of the close relation existing between the proprietor of what is said to be the best department store in the Mohawk valley and the employes of that establishment, many of whom have been with Mr. Munger for many years, or almost from the days of the beginning of his mercantile enterprise at Herkimer, more than a half century ago. It was in 1869 that Henry G. Munger began his mercantile career in Herkimer, locating there after several years of mercantile experience elsewhere, and ever since he has been a definite part of the commercial life of the community. Beginning in a small way he gradually has pushed along in his business until the present Munger department store is the natural and logical outcome — a business that has been developed to its present proportions because Mr. Munger has ever kept uppermost in his calculations the needs of his customers and because it ever has been his policy to render the best possible service in behalf of those needs. Satisfied customers are the best advertisment of any business, and it is thus that the Munger department store has come to be recognized throughout the valley as a standard in mercantile establishments.

Henry Gillette Munger is a native son of New York, born in Camden, Oneida county, March 28, 1846, and is a son of Jarius H. and Irene L. (Gillette) Munger, both of whom were also born in New York, in Fenner, and whose last days were spent in Camden. Jarius H. Munger was a son of Jonathan and Mary Munger, farming people of the Fenner neighborhood, and was schooled for the law, a profession he followed to his death. He first established himself in practice at Rome and then moved to Camden, where the remainder of his life was spent, one of the best known lawyers in that section of the state in his generation. For some time he served as district attorney for that district, being elected in 1857 on the first successful republican ticket, and in other ways took an active part in public affairs.

Reared in Camden, Henry G. Munger completed his schooling in the old Falley Seminary at Fulton and as a boy began his mercantile career as a clerk in the Olmstead store at Camden. About eighteen months later he transferred his services as a clerk to a store in Cazenovia, where he remained for two years, at the end of which time he accepted a position as a salesman in the establishment of Edward Price at Syracuse. A year later Mr. Munger became attracted to a proposition that had opened out at Flint, Michigan, and went to that place as a clerk in the establishment of Avery & McCreery, where he enlarged his mercantile experience and where he remained for two years. He then returned east and in the spring of 1867, at Belleville, New York, was married, being then not quite twenty-one years old. Having thus given hostage to fortune, Mr. Munger determined to engage in business for himself and he formed a connection in the general merchandise way in Ellisburg, Jefferson county, this state, doing a partnership business under the firm name of Sterns & Munger. A year later Mr. Sterns sold his interest in this business to Mr. Avery, Mr. Munger's former employer at Flint, who meanwhile had come east, and the business at Ellisburg was continued under the firm name of Avery & Munger. A year or more later, on account of bad credit conditions and other local faults of trade, this business was closed out and a part of the stock was removed to Herkimer, where Avery & Munger became established in business in 1869, having purchased the business of the Taylor Brothers, starting in a small store (nineteen by seventy) in the Fox block, above the Waverly Hotel. Some four or five years later this firm connection was dissolved and Mr. Munger began to carry on the affairs of his growing commercial establishment alone, moving his store into the Herkimer National Bank building, which just then had been completed. There his business expanded and in a few years he found it necessary to seek larger quarters. It was then that he moved his store into the Earl block which also proved inadequate, and soon the large stores in the Masonic block were added to the business. He continued in business there until driven out by the disastrous fire of February, 1917. In the meantime Mr. Munger had long realized the necessity of providing really adequate quarters for carrying on his constantly growing business and when the fire forced him to definite action he set about the erection of the present store building, which was occupied in the following December and formally opened in May, 1918. This building, a thoroughly modern fireproof structure, sixty-six by two hundred feet, was erected at a cost in excess of $150,000. The Graves block adjoining on the north was added to the property at the same time. Even this great building soon proved inadequate and in 1922 the Grogan block, one of the largest structures in Herkimer, was purchased and added to the business. This purchase permitted the establishment of a furniture department, and the entire second and third floors of the Grogan block is devoted to this department. The combined stores represent a frontage of one hundred and forty-eight feet, and contain more than sixty thousand square feet. At the time of the formal opening of this store one of the local newspapers remarked that

"the new Munger store is one of the finest examples of department store construction and equipment that has been erected in New York state. For beauty of architecture, completeness and practicability of equipment, richness and excellence of fittings, it holds a remarkable place among the stores of the state."

Like most busy men Mr. Munger has not confined his operations to the one line but has found time for expansion along other lines. For years he has been a tower of strength in local financial circles as the president of the First National Bank of Herkimer, which he helped to organize. He was also one of the organizers of the First National Bank at Frankfort in October, 1886, and was president of that institution until he disposed of his holdings and retired about a year or more ago. He is the president of the Horrocks Desk Company of Herkimer, which is one of Herkimer's largest manufacturing industries; vice president of the McMillan Book Company of Syracuse, an important industry of that city; an active and influential member of the Herkimer Chamber of Commerce; and is otherwise interested in the general commercial and industrial affairs of the community, a community in the expansion of whose material interests he has been so vital a factor for more than half a century. He is an ardent republican and was a delegate from this district to the national convention of that party which in 1924 nominated Calvin Coolidge for president. He also was a member of the convention which in 1892 re-nominated President Benjamin Harrison. For several years he rendered particular service to his party by acting as chairman of the Herkimer county committee, and often has been urged to accept public office, but has ever resisted these suggestions, not feeling inclined to accept public trust while deeply engrossed in his own personal business affairs. He is the president of the Pine Crest Sanitarium Association and has been the chairman of the board of trustees of that institution (located at Salisbury) since its organization. Mr. Munger is a member of Christ's Episcopal church at Herkimer and was long a member of the vestry of that parish. He was also named a trustee of the Herkimer Public Library by the founder, the late Judge Robert Earl, and served many years as a member of the board of education. During his service the first modern school building in Herkimer was erected. He is a member of the Down and Out Club of Herkimer, of the Republican Club of New York city, of the Fort Schuyler Club of Utica and of the Little Falls Country Club. During the time of this country's participation in the World war he was one of the most active factors in promoting the local distribution of Liberty Loan bonds and in other ways did valiant service in local war work.

It was on November 6, 1867, in Belleville, Jefferson county, this state, that Henry G. Munger was united in marriage to Miss Ellen A. Searles, who died at Winter Park, Florida, in February, 1924, being then in the seventy-sixth year of her age. Mrs. Munger became a resident of Herkimer in 1869, when her husband engaged in business there, and she thus for more than fifty years had been as intimately connected with the general social and cultural activities of that city as any one of that now fast passing generation. As one of the local newspapers so justly said, following the passing of this estimable woman:

"Endowed by nature with a keen intellect and a forceful yet winning personality which endeared all who came in touch with her, Mrs. Munger had long been a leading spirit in the patriotic and philanthropic organizations with which she was associated. Her counsel and advice were sought by many of her friends who recognized her high abilities. Sadness pervades the atmosphere of kindly happiness which during her life she shed about her. * * Mrs. Munger's home life was particularly beautiful and her children and grandchildren may well call her blessed. During her lifetime Mrs. Munger's hospitality was known throughout the region for its pleasant warmth. Many now living here, accustomed to enjoy the genial light of her personality, will remember the musical accomplishments with which Mrs. Munger entertained. She was an excellent musician, playing and singing with marked skill."

Mrs. Munger was one of the organizers of the Old Ladies Home at Mohawk and was president of the board of directors of that institution for many years and until her elevation to the honorary post of president emeritus of the home in the year preceding her death. She also was one of the charter members of the General Nicholas Herkimer Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and for eleven years served as regent of that patriotic body, serving also as vice state regent. Among the other patriotic organizations with which she was affiliated were the Mayflower Society and the General Nicholas Herkimer Homestead Association, being a member of the board appointed by the governor, and was serving at the time of her death. In the affairs of all of these organizations she took an earnest and helpful interest. For many years a leader in the activities of the congregation of Christ's church (Episcopal), she was ever active in good works and as the above quoted newspaper comment so well said, her counsel and advice in matters of the common good have indeed been missed. Mrs. Munger was born in Belleville, November 8, 1847, and was a daughter of William T. and Lucinda (White) Searles, the latter of whom was the daughter of a clergyman who was widely known throughout that section of New York in his generation. William T. Searles was for many years engaged in the mercantile business, with stores both at Ellisburg and Belleville, and was also the head of a local railroad and connected with various other enterprises. Mrs. Munger's schooling was completed at Cazenovia Seminary and she was a sympathetic and useful helpmate to her husband during the years of his rise to local mercantile eminence.

To Henry G. and Ellen A. (Searles) Munger were born six children, a son Frederick Searles, and five daughters: Mabel Irene, Bertha Ellen, Mary Elizabeth, Frances Lillian, and Alice D., all of whom are living save the last named. Frederick S. Munger, treasurer and manager of the Horrocks Desk Company of Herkimer, married Miss Florence Eddy, daughter of Frank Eddy, a prominent business man of Detroit, Michigan, and has two children, Barbara and Janet. Miss Mabel I. Munger married Robert E. Steele (now deceased), a prominent lawyer, who served as deputy attorney-general of the state of New York, and was controller of the General Electric Company of Schenectady for several years until his death. Mrs. Steele has two children, Eleanor and Bruce Steele, the latter of whom was graduated from the Boston School of Technology and is now associated with the General Electric Company. Miss Eleanor Steele is a graduate of Smith College at Northampton, Massachusetts. Miss Bertha Munger married George P. Simmons, vice president of the Horrocks Desk Company of Herkimer, and has a son, Henry Munger Simmons, who was graduated from Yale and is now advertising manager of the big department store of his grandfather at Herkimer. Miss Elizabeth Munger married G. R. Jewett, who now is connected with the Manufacturers Trust Company of New York city, and has three children, Elizabeth, Guernsey and Henry. Miss Frances Munger married Montgomery H. Johnson, a Utica manufacturer, and has three sons, Montgomery, Francis and Gregory.

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