Thomas A. Knickerbacker
City of Troy

This biography is from Troy and Rensselaer County, New York, Volume III, by Rutherford Hayner, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., New York and Chicago, 1925. It was submitted by Debby Masterson.

THOMAS A. KNICKERBACKER—On [this] page is shown a portrait of the late Thomas Adams Knickerbacker, of Troy, New York. Few of the prominent business men of Troy have been better known or more highly esteemed than he. Mr. Knickerbacker was a descendant of the family of that name which settled in Albany early in the seventeenth century. Born in Waterford, New York, March 2, 1838, son of John and Caroline (Chester) Knickerbacker, (the latter a native of Hartford, Connecticut), he was on the maternal side of pioneer New England stock. Thus from sturdy Dutch and stalwart English forebears he inherited qualities which enabled him to achieve a notably successful and honorable career.

His great-great-grandfather, Johannes Knickerbacker, was born in Albany, New York, March 16, 1679, and moved in 1709 to the vicinity of Schaghticoke, which was then on the frontier. His uncle, Hon. Herman Knickerbacker, sometimes called the Prince of Schaghticoke, member of Congress, 1809-1811, was a friend of Washington Irving, who referred to him as "Cousin german" of the pseudonymous author of his Knickerbocker's History of New York. It is interesting to note that in the first volume of "The Knickerbocker, or New York Monthly Magazine," of date 1832, the name is spelled "Knickerbacker."

His father, John Knickerbacker, son of Colonel John Knickerbacker, of the town of Schaghticoke, was born December 7, 1784. He was one of the incorporators of the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad Company, running from Troy to Saratoga Springs, and was a director of the company for over thirty years, up to the time of his death, October 17, 1862. In 1830 he was one of the incorporators of the Saratoga County Bank, of which he was president. He was one of the incorporators of the Bank of West Troy, and a member of the board of directors. The Bank of West Troy commenced business. May i, 1852.

At the age of fourteen, his son, Thomas A. Knickerbacker, entered the employ of the Bank of West Troy, which in the course of time has become the National Bank of Watervliet, and for sixty-five years he steadily worked for the advancement of its interests, rising to the position of chief executive. Shortly after his resignation as president, he laid the corner stone of the new bank building- at the junction of Broadway and Nineteenth street, Watervliet, New York, formerly known as West Troy.

This long connection with the National Bank of Watervliet, however, represents only a part of Mr. Knickerbacker's business activities. He was president of the old Troy and Albia Horse Railroad Company, which was subsequently purchased from him as the basis for the consolidation of the railway system of Troy into the Troy City Railway Company, which company was later absorbed by the United Traction Company. When the use of electricity for the operation of street cars became a possibility, Mr. Knickerbacker, in association with a group of businessmen from Albany, organized a company and acquired the Watervliet Turnpike and Railroad Company, which then operated street cars between Albany and West Troy. He was also one of the incorporators of the Waterford and Cohoes Railroad Company. He was for many years president of the West Troy Gas Company prior to its purchase by the Municipal Gas Company of Albany. For many years also he was a member of the board of directors of the Maryland Coal Company of Virginia, and later he became director of the Maryland Coal Company of West Virginia. In the early eighties he became one of the directors of the United States Electric Light Company of Washington, District of Columbia.

In following Mr. Knickerbacker through his various enterprises and activities, special mention must be made of him as one of the pioneers in the valve and hydrant business of the country. In 1875 he and others associated with him purchased from George W. Eddy the manufacturing plant at Waterford, New York, where Mr. Eddy made the straight way gate valve invented by him. The plant was erected by Mr. Eddy in 1849. When purchased by Mr. Knickerbacker and his associates, it seemed to them that an appropriate name for incorporation would be "The Mohawk and Hudson Manufacturing Company," as the plant was situated near the place where the Mohawk river flows into the Hudson river. At the expiration of the charter period, the business was incorporated as the Eddy Valve Company. Mr. Knickerbacker, during his connection with the company for a period of over forty-seven years, as secretary and treasurer, saw the plant grow from one of small size to a large manufacturing concern, known throughout the United States.

But every great captain of industry has some distinguishing line of activity which easily fastens itself in the minds of men and stirs their imagination. Mr. Knickerbacker was perhaps most widely and popularly known in connection with the bridges which span the Hudson river at Troy. He was the president of the Union Bridge Company of Waterford, whose original charter was granted by the State in 1803; and when the old picturesque wooden bridge was destroyed by fire in 1909, he immediately began the work of erecting the present steel structure. The frame enclosing the picture shown of Mr. Knickerbacker was made from a piece of the old timber taken from the wooden bridge. He organized and was president of the Cohoes and Lansingburgh Bridge Company which built and owned the bridge, opened in May, 1880, at the foot of the present 112th street, Troy, New York. With a number of associates he organized the Troy and West Troy Bridge Company, April 23, 1872, to construct a bridge across the Hudson river between the city of Troy, at the foot of Congress street, and what is now the city of Watervliet. He was a director of this company at the time of his death. Mr. Knickerbacker was a man of commanding presence and marked personality. He was genial, companionable, sympathetic, and generous—a winner of friends. His sound business principles, his desire to give a "square deal," his straightforward and unmistakable sincerity, impressed all who came in contact with him. Though extremely serious in his application to business and devotion to hard work, there nevertheless ran through him a vein of sportsmanship, in the clean, old-fashioned sense of the word. He was fond of horses and belonged to the Park Club, the members of which used to drive their steeds on the avenue in Lansingburgh, now a part of Troy, and known as Fifth Avenue. He was a charter member of the old Troy Club, and was at one time vice-president of the Holland Society for Rensselaer county. He was, withal, of an artistic temperament and loved objects of art, of which he was a collector. As the years went on his home became a veritable museum of beautiful paintings, engravings, statuary, bronzes, and interesting and valuable curios.

On June 25, 1862, Mr. Knickerbacker was married to Helen L. Jones, daughter of Ebenezer Backus and Lucy A. (Judd) Jones, of Penn Yan, New York, and on June 25, 1922, was celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of his marriage. There were living at that time his wife, Mrs. Helen L. Knickerbacker; his son, John Knickerbacker; his daughter, Caroline Chester Porter; her two daughters, Helen L. K. Porter and Caroline Knickerbacker Curtis; and two great-grandchildren, Thomas Knickerbacker Curtis and Nathan Todd Porter Curtis. He died on the following eighth of November, and was buried on Armistice Day amid the flags which symbolized the recompense of peace and rest which he had earned.

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