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Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs:
Blessing

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[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 90-93 of Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs, edited by Cuyler Reynolds (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1911). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 929.1 R45. Some of the formatting of the original, especially in lists of descendants, may have been altered slightly for ease of reading.]

Of that type of man which makes the esteemed citizen was Albany's mayor, Hon. James H. Blessing. In him were well combined certain opposing traits which gave a peculiar and a pleasing balance. He was a fighter of the war of the rebellion, an active participant therein, yet his disposition was decidedly humane; although he rose to the greatest height of honor his city could possibly bestow, its mayor, yet never was he in the least degree vaunted; by nature he was retiring, and while skilled as a scientist and an inventor of repute, he was also able to turn his ideas into practical service, and unlike many of this sort was highly successful in his business. For either one or all of these qualities, he was both respected and admired by those within the wide circle of his acquaintance. Even his severest political critics and enemies never thought to breathe the least suspicion touching his character, or thought to assail his honesty, for they well knew that such an intended wrong could not have injured him, and having the fullest confidence of the people such a reprehensible act would simply and surely hurt their own cause.

For fully fifty years he was actively engaged in business in Albany, although not born there, and he was known more or less intimately by business men and others from the South End, where his plant had been and thrived for a great many years, to the North End, where later was his establishment with office, and from the river to the Pine Hills section, for his political life had brought him into contact with people outside the business centers of the city. To all of these people he was much more than a common friend, for they regarded him as a man of sterling integrity and business principles, as one possessing uprightness of character and actuated by the noblest purposes. Frequently they sought him for his sound advice, often for genial and generous encouragement, and at times for charitable help. They never went to him in vain. It was not uncommon for him to offer.

James Henry Blessing was born at French's Mills, near Sloan's, in Albany county, September 14, 1837. His father was Frederick I. Blessing, and his mother was Lucinda (Smith) Blessing. When he was about five years of age his parents moved into Albany, and he was able thus to attend the city's schools near where they lived. At the age of twelve he secured a position as a clerk in a grocery store, but this did not prove to his liking. It was so uncongenial that he cast about for something else to do, in which, with his heart in his work, he might the better count upon success to reward patient effort. He abandoned the position in 1853 and became an apprentice in the machinist trade, which evidently well suited his natural inclination and accounts for his success all through life. The new position was with the large and well-known firm of F. & T. Townsend, and there he completed his term of instruction in 1857, but remained with this firm until 1861. This was at the time when Albany was cast into excitement over the outbreak of the civil war. It was a place where recruiting was going on beneath tents erected in the broad streets, and a drummer upon the outside kept people's patriotism at a glow. With the late General Frederick Townsend, he worked hard over the invention of a novel form of a breech-loading rifle which they intended for army use. From its improvement over older mechanical devices, they contemplated great results and their endeavors were induced largely through patriotic motives, for General Townsend shortly recruited a regiment in Albany with which he departed for the front, while Mr. Blessing likewise entered the service in defense of the Union, but applying his ability in his individual field.

Mr. Blessing entered the United States service in the navy as an acting assistant engineer. He was very acceptable, for he was an expert and thoroughly interested in his line. He participated in both battles of Fort Fisher. His enlistment dated under Commodore Porter, March 29, 1864, and he served continuously, receiving promotions. From 1862 to 1864, he was connected with the construction department of the New York Navy Yard at Brooklyn. No matter what honors came to him afterward, he cited that period of his life with greatest pride, for its scope was the nation's existence, the later honor a city's advancement. Following the close of the war, he was engineer in charge of the steam machinery of the Brooklyn City Railroad Company.

He returned to Albany, in 1866, to accept the position of superintendent of the extensive foundry and machine works of Townsend & Jackson, located in the southern part of the city and upon the Hudson river front. It was in its day the most important works of this character for many miles around, having succeeded to the firm with which he had served his apprenticeship, and the management had fullest confidence in his ability. In the year 1870 Mr. Blessing invented the "return steam trap," which has become well known and is used generally in nearly all parts of the globe. It was regarded as a great step in advance, and his friends, perceiving this, were willing to back him financially. Leaving the Townsend & Jackson firm in 1872, he, with General Frederick Townsend, engaged in the business of manufacturing and selling steam traps under the firm name of Townsend & Blessing. The business proved a success, and in 1875 the Albany Steam Trap Company was formed, with three stockholders, General Townsend, the late Henry H. Martin and Mr. Blessing.

Mr. Blessing's mechanical training had developed many novel and useful inventions, among them steam engines, steam pumps, steam traps, steam boilers, valves, steam packing, pump governors, steam and oil separators, friction clutches, boiler purifiers, water filters and many other useful contrivances which the firm manufactured. The breadth of his training and experience led many persons busily engaged upon inventions to come to him, and it was often the case that his assistance, freely given, helped to bring about the perfection of a mechanical appliance which had failed to work until he gave it his attention. Often people came to him, that at his word credence would be placed in their work.

Before his election as mayor of Albany, he had held but one public office, that of supervisor. He represented the fifth ward on the board in the years 1894-95, and during the latter year was the president of that body. After the mayoralty term he retained an interest in politics; but having declined to accept a second nomination, because of the time demanded from his business and through impaired health, he sought no other office, yet continued as vice-president of the Fifth Ward Republican organization, and was a delegate from his ward to the convention nominating Mayor McEwan. He was elected the sixty-first mayor at the election held November 7, 1899, heading the Republican ticket, and was the first man of that party to be elected mayor for a period of some twenty years. The significance of this is that he accomplished what a dozen other leading Albany Republicans had failed to achieve. Out of the total of 22,848 votes cast, he received 12,364, and Judge Thomas J. Van Alstyne, Democrat, 9,995 votes. He had turned a continuous Democratic majority into a handsome Republican victory, and took office on January 1, 1900, officiating through two full years. He was the first mayor to serve under the new charter granted to cities of the second class, and while experimental in some ways, his administration has gone into municipal history as one of the most successful and satisfactory.

During his term, among many important civic events were the city's endeavor to cope with the serious strike of the traction line, Public School No. 12 was completed, the first public bath opened, the city draped in mourning for McKinley, reconstruction of the Central railroad's bridge across the Hudson, the chamber of commerce organized, an enormous ice gorge at Cedar Hill threatened the business interests, the freshet being the greatest in forty-three years, and being twenty feet above the normal required city relief by the police navigating the streets in boats, the Pruyn Library given to the city and accepted in a speech by him, the Albany Institute united with the Albany Historical and Art Society, a children's playground inaugurated in Beaver Park, the cruiser "Albany" placed in commission, reconstruction of the Central railroad's viaduct crossing Broadway, coal famine because of the strike in Pennsylvania fields, Albany County Bar Association incorporated, curfew law advocated at common council hearings, the new and costly union railway station opened, Albany connected with Hudson by an electric line, Chinese Minister Wu Ting-fang, LL.D., a guest of the city, the John Marshall centennial ceremonies held in the assembly chamber, annexation of Bath to Rensselaer, Dana Park opened and dedicated by Mr. Blessing, the Schenectady railway running its first electric cars into Albany, statistical record at the filtration plant inaugurated, completion of the resurfacing of Madison avenue with asphalt, the Humane Society acquired its own building, and improvements instituted in many of the schools. These constitute the affairs with which he was directly concerned, either because of his advocacy and consideration in some form as the city's executive, or through his personal solicitude, and they go to show the advancement of the city's interests in various directions as affected by his connection therewith, while in many minor ways there was a steady improvement in which all citizens benefited. In these ways his term will remain memorable.

Mr. Blessing was a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, of the Albany Institute, and the Capital City Republican Club. He was an attendant of the Baptist church, and resided at No. 107 Eagle street.

Mr. Blessing married (first) at Albany, September 15, 1857, Martha Hutson, who died July 17, 1866; children:

  1. Martha, married Charles W. Backus, and died in New York City, January 5, 1907;
  2. Lucinda, died in infancy.

Mr. Blessing married (second) at Pittsfield, Massachusetts, November 9, 1870, Mrs. Mary (Gilson) Judd, residing in Albany in 1910. County Treasurer John W. Wheelock married Miss Judd, a daughter of his second wife, and both residents of Albany. Mr. Blessing had also two sisters living in Albany, Miss Lucretia Blessing and Mrs. Sarah J. Laning.

Mr. Blessing was not a man of robust health, although active in attention to business, and after suffering for a little more than a week with an attack of grip, at the end sank rapidly and died early in the morning of February 21, 1910. Having always lived a quiet, domestic life, the funeral was held at his home to avoid public demonstration, the Rev. Creighton R. Storey, pastor of the First Baptist Church, officiating, and Mayor James B. McEwan issued a proclamation, ordering: "As a mark of appreciation of the impress made by him upon the life of our city, it is ordered that the flags be placed at half staff upon all the city's public buildings, until after his funeral, and that the heads of city departments and members of the Common Council attend his funeral with the Mayor in a body."

The bell in the tower of the City Hall tolled, and as the solemn cortége moved slowly through the streets, the people stood in throngs with uncovered heads, showing all possible honor to one whom they had unreservedly respected and who had served them well as their executive.

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