Schoharie County NYGenWeb Site

History of Schoharie County by William E. Roscoe



Hon. John Westover, son of the late Jonah Westover, was born in the town of Egremont, Berkshire county, Massachusetts, on the 8th of July, 1797. In the year 1808 he removed to Schoharie County with his parents, and located where the village of Richmondville now stands, when the grounds and surroundings were covered with the forest. This portion of the County being new and the settlement very sparse, it must be supposed that the pioneer school was of inferior grade, and the chances for a youth to obtain an education extremely discouraging. Yet regardless of adverse circumstances and privileges, many of the best men of our country have loomed up from such positions, through their indomitable will and energy, and became what they were and are.

The subject of this sketch is an example of a self-made man. By studious efforts, he was enabled to enter the school-room at the age of eighteen as teacher, and followed the avocation most of the time to the year 1824, when, with his meager savings, he purchased a part of the farm upon which he still resides, of Governor Yates. The Governor owned a large tract of land lying here, through tax sales, and in 1825 appointed Judge Westover his agent in the sale and renting of the same, which trust he held nearly forty years, to the satisfaction of the Governor and his heirs. It was upon a visit in connection with business relating to these lands. that Mr. Westover enjoyed the pleasing honor of being one of the sixteen that rode upon the first passenger railroad cars in the United States in 1831, between Albany and Schenectady. He sat by the side of Governor Yates in the center seat of the front car, or stage-coach body placed upon truck-wheels. The Governor commissioned him Captain in the militia service, under the old military law, from which he was promoted to Colonel of then 113th Regiment.

He was elected by the people of the old town of Cobleskill, in 1829, justice of the peace, and filled the position in that town and the town of Richmondville for the long period of thirty-eight years. He succeeded in his first election, his brother, Johan Westover, Jr., who held the office twenty-one years, making fifty-nine years the office was held in the family, a case unparalleled in the history of the County.

Under the Constitution of 1821, Governor Marcy appointed him in August, 1838, to the bench of the Court of Common Pleas, as associate with Hon. John C. Wright, Jonas Krum, Robert Eldredge, Harvey Watson, and Nathan P. Tyler.

Upon the election of William C. Bouck, as Governor, the honor was again bestowed upon him, and held to the year 1846, when the Third Constitution took effect, and abolished the office of Assistant Judges. In 1853 Judge Westover was elected to the Assembly, where he turned his attention and labors towards the building of the Albany & Susquehanna Railroad, in which he became a Director, and one of the managing spirits in its construction he was in its inception, in unison with Hon. J. H. Ramsey, Charles Courter, Eliakim R. Ford, and others.

Judge Westover has always, form a youth, been identified with and a strong advocate of public improvements. When the Democratic party, to which through life, he has been attached, divided, as Democrats and Clintonians upon the internal improvement questions, he sided with the Clintonians for a time, and demonstrated his sincerity by favoring every project that had a tendency to the development and progress of the country without extravagant taxation. For several years he bent his efforts to the building of a railroad through the County. The first was by a special charter from the Legislature in 1836, in which he was appointed a director with Jedediah Miller and others, in the construction of a railroad to connect the Catskill & Canajoharie road with the Erie. For that, and other projects of improvement,he was chided by conservative men as extravagant in ideas, but which has proved the far-seeing characteristic of the man whereby profitable results were brought about.

When the building of plank roads engaged the attention of the people, the Judge was among the first to push along the enterprise and build the "Richmondville and Charlotteville road," over which he presided as president for twenty-five years.

Upon completion of the Susquehanna railroad he became interested in the Howe's Cave enterprises, and was chosen president of the Howe's Cave Lime and Cement Company, which position he still holds, beside bearing the same relation to three other corporate bodies. By careful and economical business tact he has amassed a large property. He owns nearly half o the village where he resides, including three hotels, two stores, and the manufacturing interest wholly, or in controlling part. He has expended large sums in the improvement of the water-power of the place, by constructing large reservoirs and conductors for milling purposes, and made the "privileges" of that character found here the best and most extensive in the County.

His large amount of business requires a practical system, which he early adopted, and for near commercial convenience, he organized a banking-house in February, 1881, under the title of "Richmondville Bank," of which he is the president and lending financier. Throughout his official, and in his individual transactions, Judge Westover has exhibited a practical administrative ability that but few possess without extensive culture, and exemplified a temperate life, which gives to him a great age, free from infirmities, and enables him to still personally guide and conduct his business, and presents a worthy example to the youth, of the results of study, earnest thought, industry, and observance of the general laws of nature in the formation of habits.

In 1832 he married Catharine, daughter of Benjamin Miles, of Schoharie, who died without issue in January, 1881, at the age of seventy-six, after an active life passed in sympathy with the husband's tastes and aspirations.

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