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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
James P. Olney

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[This information is from Vol. III, pp. 168-171 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]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 James P. Olney

Portrait: James P. Olney

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Trained for the profession of the law and for some years engaged in its practice, James P. Olney abandoned the law for commercial life, and for many years was the head of one of the large industries of Rome, Oneida county, New York, and Rochester, New York, until he retired in 1921. Mr. Olney comes from one of the oldest families in the Mohawk valley and represents the ninth generation of the original family founded by Thomas Olney of England, who came to America in 1635, and a little later was one of the Roger Williams group which started the city of Providence, Rhode Island. William Olney, the great-grandfather of James P. Olney, settled at Western, twelve miles north of Rome, in 1793. Mr. Olney of this review was born in Western, Oneida county, New York, on August 6, 1856, the son of William R. and Sarah M. (Salisbury) Olney, both natives of New York. William R. Olney and H. T. Fowler were the originators of the canning industry in Rome, beginning business in 1881 under the name of Olney & Fowler and the Rome Canning Company. The former, who passed away in 1889, was survived for more than a third of a century by his wife, whose demise occurred in 1924.

James P. Olney obtained his elementary education in a district school of Western and in the public schools of Rome. Following his graduation from the Rome Free Academy in 1875 he spent one year in Hamilton College at Clinton, New York, but on account of his health had to discontinue the course. He later received from that college the degree of Bachelor of Arts. He commenced the study of law with J. S. Baker of Rome, New York, in the fall of 1876, and then attended the law school of Columbia University at New York city and was admitted to the bar at the old general term of the supreme court at Rochester, New York, in 1879. Mr. Olney began the practice of law in Rome in association with O. P. Backus, as Backus & Olney, and was in general practice for twelve years altogether, the last legal firm with which he was connected being composed of himself and the late Hon. H. C. Wiggins. The partnership of Olney & Wiggins continued in existence until 1891, when Mr. Olney was obliged to give his undivided attention to the canning business. He entered the canning industry in 1890 by the purchase of his father's interest in 1889, later buying that of his father's partner, and became president and treasurer of the Rome Canning Company, which was incorporated and afterward merged with the Fort Stanwix Canning Company of Rome, in 1894. He was for several years treasurer and subsequently, from 1902, served in the dual capacity of president and treasurer until 1919, when the company, consisting then of seven plants, merged with five other companies under the style of the New York Canners, Incorporated, operating twenty plants, since increased to thirty, with headquarters at Rochester, New York. At the time of the merger Mr. Olney was made president and held that office until 1921, when he resigned and retired from active business, but still remains on the board of directors of the corporation.

Mr. Olney has other interests in Rome besides the canning business. He is a trustee and first vice president of the Oneida County Savings Bank, a director of the Farmers National Bank, and is president of the Olney-Williams Coal Company, Incorporated. He is a director of the Rome Chamber of Commerce, and a trustee of the Rome Cemetery Association, and of the Central New York Institute for the Deaf. He is also a member of the Rome Club, the Teugega Country Club, the Royal Arcanum, and for a number of years was president of the New York State Canners Association. Mr. Olney is a republican in his political ideals and was a member of the nonpartisan commission that built the Utica courthouse. In 1890 he ran for special surrogate and was elected, although the only republican of six or seven on the county ticket. He resigned the special surrogateship in 1901 on account of the canning business requiring his entire time. In his religious belief Mr. Olney is a Presbyterian and was a trustee of the church for twenty years, and for much of that time was its president. He is fond of golf and horseback riding.

On the 2d of February, 1887, in New York city, Mr. Olney was married to Miss Adele Rogers, stepdaughter of John H. Selms. Mrs. Olney died on December 14, 1918, leaving two daughters. Florence A. is now the wife of W. R. Lambert of Cedarhurst, Long Island, and New York city, and the mother of three children: Barbara, Elinore and Louise. Marian O., who is the wife of S. M. Stevens, Jr., of Hackensack, New Jersey, and New York city, has two children, Adele and Catherine.

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