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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Hon. Martin Walrath

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[This information is from Vol. III, pp. 585-586 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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When death called the Hon. Martin Walrath to his final rest the village of St. Johnsville sustained one of the greatest losses in its history. As was remarked at the time by one of Mr. Walrath's contemporaries, community wealth is not always measured in property values and one of the chief assets of any place is the human element. In measuring the human wealth of St. Johnsville, the possession of such a man as the late Hon. Martin Walrath is a distinct blessing.

Martin Walrath lived to be seventy-eight years old and his long life was packed full of eventful happenings and services to his fellow citizens. Until a comparatively short time before his death he was permitted to enjoy good health and vigor of mind that enabled him actively to maintain his place in the village life as leading citizen, community builder and counselor to scores of clients and friends. He was born at the Walrath homestead about a mile north of the village, February 13, 1845, the son of Martin and Julia (Flanders) Walrath and twin brother of Eugene Walrath, deceased, one of the well known manufacturers of Little Falls.

Martin Walrath spent his boyhood on the paternal farm and he obtained his early education in the near-by country schools. Later he attended the Clinton Liberal Institute of Fort Plain. For two terms he taught in the district schools, but at the age of twenty-two he had plunged into the business and civic life that was to employ his talents for more than half a century. He began as a clerk in Fort Plain, where he was also engaged in the lumber business. For four years he was superintendent of the St. Johnsville Agricultural Works, then in 1881 he started a plant for the condensing of milk, which he sold in 1885. The ensuing six years he was postmaster in this village.

A little earlier Mr. Walrath had entered official life as a member of the state assembly from Montgomery county, having the distinction of being the second St. Johnsville man to represent this district in Albany, the first being the Hon. Hezekiah Baker who sat in the chamber in the early 'fifties. Although his experience at the state capital covered but one term, it was memorable for the fact that his term was contemporaneous with the term of Theodore Roosevelt. The two men came from different sections of the state and represented very different interests, but to the end of his life Mr. Walrath cherished his memories of association with the fiery young man who later became one of the nation's best beloved presidents. Mr. Walrath was a stanch democrat and always held a high place in party councils. No doubt his public services in high elective positions would have been more extensive had his party enjoyed a greater majority in this section. When in 1910 Mr. Walrath ran for county treasurer he had to face a heavy republican majority, but he ran up an imposing total of votes, although he lost the election. His own home town supported him strongly, regardless of party affiliations, and there his majority of over five hundred was the greatest on record. In local affairs he was ever active. He was a member of the municipal commission and the town board and for years had acted as justice of the peace. Perhaps his greatest single service was on the board of education, where he held the position of clerk and unsalaried legal advisor for years. He was a firm believer in the benefits of education and held tenaciously that the best bequest the older generation could make to the new was a modern school system run along progressive lines. Three times he led a strenuous fight to obtain a new school building for the community and after three defeats, in 1915 he relinquished his position along with the rest of the board, and turned the work over to the younger men, with the brave hope that a new line of attack would succeed where he and his colleagues had failed. Unhappily he was not spared to see the fruition of his ambitions for the boys and girls of the village.

In later years a great deal of Mr. Walrath's time was devoted to the study of law. He never was admitted to the bar, but he was recognized as a local authority on surrogate and realty matters and built up a large practice, which was chiefly before the board of claims. It is said that he knew more of the intimate affairs of property and bequeathment than any other man in the village, while his long experience in legal circles, coupled with a keen judgment of both human and economic values, fitted him especially well for the task of advising and counseling in many matters of estate and settlement. He enjoyed the confidence of hundreds of people and it was a confidence that was never betrayed.

Mr. Walrath was past master of St. Johnsville Lodge, A. F. and A. M.; a Knight Templar, and one of the men active in building the Masonic Temple in the village. One of the original members and builders of Grace Christian church, he maintained his affiliations with that congregation throughout his life. It was characteristic of the man that although he had a large clientele and did an enormous amount of business, he died a comparatively poor man. The accumulation of riches was never one of his ambitions and his generosity was limited only by his means. At the time of his passing it was written of him, and well:

"Kindly, courteous, a keen analyst of human nature, always enlisted on the side of progress, a charitable disposition, a peacemaker, a diplomat — such were some of the characteristics of the man who has left us. He was of the old school, harking back in character when hospitality and neighborly interest were predominating characteristics of the community. He had the happy faculty of bringing men together and smoothing them out. He never counseled violent methods until all peaceful measures had been tried, but when it came to a contest he was as good a fighter as any… He typified the true American as we like to think of Americans. That he represented a type fast dying out in our American village life is not to be denied, and Irving Cobb realizes this fact when he portrays his famous character, Major Priest, who is to his Kentucky home village a remarkable prototype of the Hon. Martin Walrath of St. Johnsville."

Mr. Walrath was married in 1877, on the 13th of June, to Miss Celestia E. Haskins, daughter of Dr. Leonard G. and Elizabeth (Brown) Haskins. Mrs. Walrath's grandfather was Stephen Brown of Oppenheim, New York, a large landowner and one of the men who contributed to the success of the old Erie canal enterprise, furnishing supplies for the building of the "big ditch". Two children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Walrath: Leonard G. Walrath of St. Johnsville; and Elizabeth May, now Mrs. Burton Baus of Gloversville. Mr. Walrath was twice married. His second wife was Mrs. Mary Van Wormer before her marriage.

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