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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
The Sayre Family in Utica

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[This information is from Vol. III, pp. 457-459 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

Contents | Portraits | Illustrations | Maps

Many of the families now living in the Mohawk valley can claim for the family a residence of one hundred years and there are a large number for over one hundred and fifty years. These are the families who cared for the young towns in their infancy, helped them doff their swaddling clothes and romped with them in their pinafores and then grew up with them when they became modern cities and towns. The first of the name of Sayre to settle in Oneida county was James Sayre, who came to the village of Utica in 1818. He was the son of Moses and Phoebe Berrien Warner Sayre and was born in Milton, Saratoga county, New York, on the 25th of January, 1799. For many generations the Sayre family resided in Bedfordshire, England, the earliest mention of whom is in a royal grant given to one of them in the time of Edward II, in 1309. The arms of the family are; Gules, a chevron ermine between three seagulls argent; the crest — A cubit arm erect proper holding a dragon's head erased argent. Motto — Saie and doe.

Thomas Sayre, the first of the name to come to America, was born at Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, in 1597. His baptism and the marriage of his parents are in the records of the ancient church of that place. He migrated to America, coming on the ship Lion in 1630, and settled in Lynn, Massachusetts. In 1638, in company with a number of Puritan Colonists, he decided to settle on Long Island. They asked Abraham Pierson to become their minister, who with eight others entered into a church covenant before they left Lynn to found their home on Long Island, which they called Southampton, in 1639. Thomas Sayre became a prominent man among the founders, holding many offices. The home which he built in 1648 was standing until quite recently, the oldest English home in New York state, remaining continuously in the same family until its destruction. During the Revolution it was occupied by British officers. The descendants of Thomas Sayre were early settlers in the central and western states. Many fought in the War for Independence, others became well known in business, professional and civil life.

The first of the family to come into New York state was Benjamin Sayre, born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on the 3d of February, 1743, and who married Sarah Littell, born on July 7, 1736. He was a soldier of the Revolution from Essex county, New Jersey, serving six months of each year during the entire period of the war. After the close of the Revolution he moved with his family to Saratoga, New York. Here his grandson, James Sayre, was born in 1799, seventh in line of descent from Thomas Sayre, the founder of the Sayre family in America. James Sayre was a prominent merchant in Utica and one of its pioneer business men. He founded the hardware business carried on by himself and afterward by his two sons for more than sixty years. The first place of business was where the Western Union building now stands, which was then considered on the outskirts of the village. Part of this property was sold to the state when the Erie canal was built and the firm then moved to Nos. 119 and 121 Genesee street, where the Sayre building now stands, which is still in the possession of the family. James Sayre was a director in the United States Bank, the Ontario Branch, and for over thirty years a director in the Oneida National Bank and for seventeen years its president. He was vice president and a director in the Black River Railroad from the time of its organization, and for many years trustee and treasurer of the First Presbyterian church. For a time he was the prudent and judicious head of the Utica Cemetery Association. He was interested in and connected with many of the business and manufacturing enterprises founded in his time. A friend said of him:

"The richest and noblest heritage he left to his children was his spotless reputation and his unsullied honor."

On the 11th of August, 1824, James Sayre married Amelia Van Ranst of New York city, daughter of Cornelius Willett and Ann White Van Ranst. Her ancestors were among the earliest Walloon Dutch and English settlers of New Amsterdam. James Sayre and Amelia Van Ranst were the parents of the following children: Charles Henry; Anna, who married George Eggleston Byxbe; James; Caroline A.; and Theodore Sheldon. James Sayre, the father of the above named, departed this life on April 22, 1877.

Charles Henry Sayre, his eldest son, was born on September 5, 1825. He was for nearly fifty years a prominent citizen and business man of Utica, being associated with his father in the well known hardware firm of James Sayre & Sons. He was a director of the Oneida National Bank and took an active part in its management. He was a trustee of the First Presbyterian church and very active in church work, and was a charter member of the Fort Schuyler Club and of the Oneida Historical Society, and vice president of the Half Century Club. He took a deep interest in public affairs but never sought public office, consenting once to serve his ward in the common council. His life was spent in Utica, where he had a circle of friends which was coextensive with the number of his acquaintances.

He was married to Miss Nora F. Guinguinier, who was born in New York city, on February 28, 1834. Seven children were born of this marriage, three sons and four daughters: James Sayre, who wedded Miss Ida L. Piper, passed away on November 25, 1919; Charles Lansing Sayre, who was graduated from Yale University as a member of the class of 1883, died in Los Angeles, California, on December 17, 1912. He married Amanda G. Lytle of Cincinnati, Ohio, and they had one son, Lansing Lytle Sayre; George Sheldon Sayre married Miss Anna L. Buckingham and has one daughter, Jane Buckingham Sayre. The four daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Sayre were: Caroline A.; Anna L.; Leonora, who became the wife of Samuel Ball Platner of Cleveland, Ohio; and Amelia Van R. Sayre.

A beautiful memorial font was placed in the Sayre Memorial church in memory of Charles H. and James L. Sayre by their sister, Anna Sayre Byxbe, who also presented this church with two memorial windows — one in memory of her husband and child and the other in memory of her sister, Caroline A. Sayre. After the death of Mrs. Byxbe a beautiful window was placed in the church by Theodore L. Sayre in memory of his sister. Charles Henry Sayre passed away on the 27th of April, 1894.

Utica had no better beloved citizen than Theodore Sheldon Sayre, a native son, former mayor, business man and eminent citizen, whose years — seventy-nine — were spent within her borders and whose life was dedicated to her interests. It is a fine commentary upon the character of Mr. Sayre that his last active hours were spent, as so many previous ones had been, in the service of others less fortunately situated than himself. Theodore Sheldon Sayre, youngest of the children of James and Amelia (Van Ranst) Sayre, was born in Utica, New York, on the 25th of April, 1837, and there died on December 5, 1916. The house in which he was born was built by his father in 1825 and was occupied by the family for sixty-five years. He was educated in Utica schools and Delancey Institute at Westmoreland, but school days ended in his eighteenth year, when he became a clerk in his father's hardware store, then located at Nos. 119 and 121 Genesee street. In 1859 he was admitted a partner, an association terminated only by the death of James Sayre in 1877. The business was then conducted by Charles H. and Theodore S. until 1879, when Theodore S. Sayre retired from the partnership, Charles H. Sayre continuing until the store was destroyed during Utica's great fire. Mr. Sayre inherited considerable property, which he greatly increased by wise investment. He was interested in the Utica & Black River Railroad and was a member of its board of directors. For years he was a director of the Utica Willowvale Bleaching Company and of the Oneida National Bank. His judgment in business matters was excellent and he gave his counsel to many enterprises which brought him no remuneration. Among these was the Savings Bank of Utica, of which he was first vice president at the time of his death. The bank issued a memorial at the time of his death and among other things said:

"For many years Mr. Sayre examined almost every piece of real estate which was offered to the bank as security. The knowledge of land values which he possessed, and his unselfish willingness to devote his time to the routine work of appraisal, were of inestimable value to the institution and to his associates on the board."

Although Mr. Sayre's active business career covered two decades, he was best known through his public services and philanthropies. Though hampered by a physical disability, he gained prominence in politics, wielded a strong influence in local financial circles, was a wise and stanch leader of many charities and social betterment projects and was a lifelong worker and contributor to the church of his choice. When twenty-six years of age, in 1863, Mr. Sayre was elected alderman from the third ward of Utica on the republican ticket and through successive reelection held that office for eight years. In 1874 he was elected mayor of Utica and most unwillingly allowed his friends to name him for reelection. He was defeated at the polls but in 1875 was elected state senator by a generous plurality. In the senate he served on several important committees and won general commendation by his attitude toward public questions which he was called to pass upon. He was appointed to fill out a vacancy on the board of police and fire commissioners and in 1886 was reappointed to serve a full term. That board was established as part of the city commissioners in 1874, while Mr. Sayre was mayor, and he was keenly interested in its work. He also served his city as a member of the civil service commission. Many organizations claimed his services in the management of their affairs. He was president of the Utica Bible Society during its existence and furnished Bibles for every room in the hotels of Utica. He also served as trustee of the Home for Aged Men and Women, the Woman's Christian Association, the Utica Cemetery Association and gave liberally to the Young Men's Christian Association and many other organizations. In his youth he was an enthusiastic volunteer fireman and most useful in building up the old department to a plane of usefulness, although physically unable to run with his company to the fires. In 1871 he became a member of the Presbyterian church in West Utica, organized in 1868. In 1880 a lot was secured at the corner of State street and Sunset avenue, and there Mr. Sayre built and furnished a suitable church edifice of stone, beautiful in design and proportion, which he presented to the Presbyterian Society of West Utica without any cost to the society. This church was dedicated on January 25, 1884, on an anniversary of the birth of Mr. Sayre's father, and in recognition of the generosity of the son and in loving remembrance of the father, the name of the church was changed to Sayre Memorial Presbyterian church. Home and foreign missions also profited by his generosity. He was a life member of the Oneida Historical Society and a member of Fort Schuyler Club of Utica. He never married. Many beautiful tributes were paid Mr. Sayre by his fellow citizens and also by his pastor, Rev. Dana W. Bigelow, pastor of the Sayre Memorial Presbyterian church, a close friend of Mr. Sayre for many years.

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