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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Hon. James Shanahan

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[This information is from Vol. III, pp. 675-676 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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In "Life Sketches of Assemblymen" (1870) [i.e., Life sketches of the state officers, senators,and members of the Assembly of the state of New York], published by the state of New York, there is carried the following interesting review of the service in the legislature of the Hon. James Shanahan, a former well known citizen of Montgomery county and a substantial building contractor, particularly with reference to public and semipublic works, who in his generation was one of the forceful figures here in the Mohawk valley. That official publication said:

"Montgomery county, in 1868, elected a republican assemblyman by nearly two hundred majority. When last fall the democrats of the Fifteenth senatorial district had nominated Isaiah Blood for senator against Truman G. Younglove it was known that the most desperate effort would be made to wrest this district, notwithstanding its two thousand majority, from the republicans. To do this it was first of all necessary that the democrats of each assembly district should nominate their strongest and most popular man. Nor were the republicans ignorant of the nature of the contest into which they were entering and the necessity for a like care in the selection oftheir candidates. In Montgomery county the democratic convention, having in view the necessity for the wisest action and the strongest possible candidate, nominated James Shanahan of Tribes Hill.

"The result justified the selection. Mr. Shanahan received a majority of six hundred over his republican competitor, changing the majority on the state ticket from two hundred republican (as it was in 1868) to nearly four hundred democrat. Mr. Shanahan is an effective worker, a man of cool judgment and remarkable energy; a careful observer of men and things, and is possessed of untiring perseverance. The estimate in which he is held by the House may be judged from the fact that although a new member he has been placed on two of the most important committees, viz: The committee on canals and the subcommittee of the whole. He also is a member of the committee on public printing."

An interesting bit of personal history, well worthy of preservation in this definite history of the region in which for so many years its subject labored so effectively and in which he was so widely and well known.

James Shanahan at the time of his death nearly thirty years ago was a member of the firm of Shanahan, Briggs & Company of Fonda; of the Starin Silk Fabric Company of Fultonville; a member of the contracting firm of Shanahan & Turner; a director in the Fultonville Bank; and also president of the Cayadutta Electric Railroad Company; had rendered conspicuous service as superintendent of public works for the state of New York; and was referred to at that time as having belonged "to a class of men whose talents and energies have advanced and enriched the interests of the Empire state by the construction of works intimately connected with the railroads and canals, trade and commerce". It is thus that as a bit of proper information relating to the men who have helped make the Mohawk valley, some brief review of Mr. Shanahan's life and services should here be set out.

James Shanahan was a native of Ireland, born on February 6, 1829, and was eight years of age when in the late '30s of the past century he came with his parents to America, the family settling in Onondaga county, this state, and it was in this county that James Shanahan received such schooling as was then available to the children of the community in which he lived. He was fifteen years of age when in 1844 the family went to Michigan, settling on a farm in the vicinity of Ann Arbor. The boy was not attracted to the job of helping clear a woodland farm and took up with the building trades, with particular reference to stone-cutting and general masonry. After serving an apprenticeship to this trade he returned to New York, where an elder brother meanwhile had begun working as a contractor in the erection of locks for the Erie & Oswego canal. After working for some time with his brother he went to Lanesboro, Pennsylvania, where he was employed in the construction of the viaduct for the Erie railroad. The experience here gained emboldened him to branch out as a contracting builder and in association with his brother and two others he became engaged quite extensively in railroad masonry work, bridges and viaducts, much of this sort of construction on the New York Central road between Syracuse and Rochester and the masonry on the Oswego railroad having been carried out under his direction. In 1854 he was engaged as the contractor for the construction of the locks in the Sault Ste. Marie canal. In that same year he married and established his permanent home at Tribes Hill, in Montgomery county, this state. In 1859 he was given a special commission by the Dorchester Freestone Company to oversee production in that company's quarries in New Brunswick and for several years he was engaged in special superintendency in that connection, furnishing stone for some of the most extensive construction work being done then by the railroads in New York state, as well as for the great dam at Cohoes and many other jobs of heavy masonry work.

In 1868 Mr. Shanahan was appointed superintendent of section No. 3 of the Erie canal and was retained in that position until his retirement in 1870, when he resumed his work as a contractor, one of the first big jobs he carried out at this time being the furnishing of the stone for the bridge across the Hudson at the foot of Maiden Lane in Albany. It was at this period that in response to the demands of his friends he consented to stand for the assembly, his term of service in that legislative body having begun in 1870. Later Mr. Shanahan built the double tracks for the Hudson River railroad between Fort Plain and Little Falls, the viaduct at Broadway, Albany, and other big masonry jobs, so that he became widely known as one of the leading contractors along this line in the state. In 1878 he was appointed assistant superintendent of public works for the state of New York and in 1883, under the administration of Governor Cleveland, was appointed to the head of that department, a position he occupied for years and in the exercise of the duties of which he did much to standardize public works in this state. Following the termination of this period of public service Mr. Shanahan carried on business not only as a contractor but with interests in several other lines, as has already been set out, and at his death on March 12, 1896, he left quite a substantial estate.

In October, 1854, James Shanahan was married to Ellen Maloy, daughter of James and Ellen Maloy of Ann Arbor, Michigan. A son of Mr. and Mrs. Shanahan, Edward J. Shanahan, a former postmaster of Amsterdam, is now engaged in the ice business at Amsterdam, president of the Hygeia Ice Company of that city, as is set out in a biographical sketch presented elsewhere in this volume, to which the attention of the reader is directed in this connection.

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