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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Hon. Cornelius Van Buren

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[This information is from Vol. IV, pp. 64-68 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]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 Hon. Cornelius Van Buren

Portrait: Hon. Cornelius Van Buren

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In his generation there were few personal factors in the commercial and civic life of the city of Amsterdam and of Montgomery county generally that exerted a wider influence than did the late Hon. Cornelius Van Buren, a former representative in the general assembly of the state of New York from Montgomery county, a former member of the board of aldermen for the city of Amsterdam, a banker of large holdings, a one-time president of the local board of education, for years president of the board of trustees of the Amsterdam City Hospital and for many years one of the leading merchants of Amsterdam, engaged there on an extensive scale in the general grain and coal business. No history of that section of the Mohawk valley in which he so long and so effectively labored would be complete therefore without some fitting mention of his career and of his service to the community, for in his personal activities he touched many lives and there are many interests in and about Amsterdam today that still bear the impress of his strong and attractive personality.

Cornelius Van Buren was a native son of Montgomery county, born in the village of Glen, on January 25, 1840, the firstborn of the five children of Peter P. and Rachel Van Buren, members of old families here in the valley. Peter P. Van Buren was a substantial farmer and until he was fourteen years of age Cornelius Van Buren took his part in the labors of the farm. He then became attracted to commercial lines and as a clerk in one of the village stores directed his ambition to preparation for a business career. His father gave him the advantages of good schooling and after leaving the neighborhood district school he had two years of study in the Johnstown Academy, a year at the Amsterdam Academy and a year of finishing work at old Claverack College, Claverack, New York, where he gave special attention to commercial forms. It was in 1858 that his commercial career was begun as a clerk in a grocery store at the old canal station of Auriesville, where he remained, with time out for the pursuit of his studies, for a couple of years, or until 1860, when he went to Fultonville, where he became engaged as a clerk in the offices of the old Fultonville & New York transportation line, of which the old firm of Voorhees, Van Antwerp & Company were then proprietors. This was in the days before the railroad had reached Fultonville and transportation methods were quite different from those with which the present generation is familiar. For three years the young clerk continued his service with this transportation line at Fultonville and so efficient did these services prove that his firm sent him to the city of New York to act as its factor or agent there. Three years more did Mr. Van Buren give to this employment, tense years, years of stress and turmoil and of fierce commercial rivalries during the period of the Civil war, and then he determined to go into business on his own account. With that end in view he returned to Montgomery county in 1866 and in association with John C. Putman became engaged in the general grain, feed and coal business at Port Jackson, a canal suburb which later became annexed to the city of Amsterdam and is now the fifth ward of that city. This business was carried on with judgment based upon wide experience and proved very successful, giving Mr. Van Buren his start in the various enterprises with which he in time became associated in and about Amsterdam. In 1881 the old partnership existing between Mr. Van Buren and Mr. Putman was dissolved and Mr. Van Buren then carried on the business alone, expanding also in other directions along the lines of commercial activity.

Mr. Van Buren was one of the organizers of the Merchants National Bank of Amsterdam and served as its vice president. He also took an active part in the organization of the City National Bank in 1890 and was elected a member of its board of directors, as well as a trustee of the Amsterdam Savings Bank. He also was a member of the directorates of various other enterprises about town, his energy finding an outlet in many directions, his interests thus gradually coming to cover pretty much the whole commercial structure in his home community. No less active was Mr. Van Buren in civic affairs and he was for many years recognized as one of the real leaders in the republican party throughout that section of the state, though it has been truly said of him that the intelligent and hearty support he brought to that party was based solely upon his ardent belief in the principles the party represented and not in any way as an avenue to whatever private advancement might come through his interest in the general political activities of the community. In 1878 Mr. Van Buren was elected to his first political office, that of supervisor of the town of Florida, and by successive reelections held that office for three years. In 1881 he was elected to represent Montgomery county in the general assembly and thus had the honor to represent his constituency in that body during that memorable session of the assembly that held on into July. In 1887 Mr. Van Buren was elected to represent his ward on the board of aldermen for the city of Amsterdam and in this capacity rendered some very efficient service, some of the measures he helped to put through at that time having proved of lasting benefit to the city. For years also Mr. Van Buren rendered effective service as a member of the board of trustees of the city schools, of which for many terms he was the president, and during that incumbency did much to create a new standard in the local educational field. He also was one of the most active promoters of the Amsterdam City Hospital and for years was the president of the board of trustees of that admirable institution. Upon the organization of the Merchants National Bank of Amsterdam, Mr. Van Buren was elected vice president of that institution and as a member of the board of directors exerted his influence in the way of creating a sounder local financial situation and in stabilizing local credits, a community service that has not been forgotten to this day. He also was one of the organizers of the City National Bank in 1890 and was on the directorate of that institution. He gave like service to the Amsterdam Savings Bank when it was organized and was one of the original directors of that fiduciary institution. It thus may be seen that when Mr. Van Buren died in September, 1921, his passing was felt, for he had given of himself largely to the community and his impress thereon was a very distinct one, not only in financial circles but in the more general social and cultural activities of the place in which he so long had lived. In lodge and club circles his loss was distinctly felt, for he was an active and useful member of Artisan Lodge, No. 84, F. & A. M.; Amsterdam Chapter No. 81, R. A. M.; of the Elks lodge, and of the popular Antlers Country Club.

On February 24, 1867, Cornelius Van Buren was united in marriage to Miss Marion B. Grove, who passed away in 1899. To that union were born two children: A son, George G. Van Buren, concerning whom further and fitting mention is made elsewhere in this work; and a daughter, Grace, wife of Karl Isburgh, concerning whom mention also is made elsewhere in this work.

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