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Erie County (PA) Genealogy

Family Histories & Biographies

William L. Scott

In May 2016, Beth Simmons sent an email with an article from an 1891 engineering magazine that she had been researching for other matters. The article was a short obituary for William L. Scott. After having the email in the "To Post" folder for several months, I attempted to scan biographies of the Honorable Scott from the various Erie County history books. Being unsuccessful, I solicited help through the mail list. Former contributor and site visitor Susan Smith stepped forward and provided transcribed scans from two different Erie County history books. The material is being presented below. Somewhere, William Scott's middle name is listed as Lawrence. However, this name does not appear in any of the referenced material. This page is being posted without contribution, although special thanks go to Susan Smith for providing the bulk of the material, and to Beth Simmons for the article that prompted the page in the first place.

. . . . . Bill Klauk . . . . .

Here is the email from Beth Simmons:

Obituary of William L. Scott 1891
The Colliery Engineer, V. 12 #2, p. 63, October 1891

Hon. Wm. L. Scott, of Erie, Pa., one of the largest individual owners of coal land in the world, and heavily interested in other business enterprises, died at Newport, R.I., shortly after midnight on the 20th ult.

Mr. Scott was a typical self-made American, and his rise from poverty to great wealth and prominence in both the business and political world was marvelous, and was due entirely to his great mind and his aptitude to foresee chances that are evident to most men when such chances become things of the past. In our November issue we will publish a portrait of Mr. Scott, and a synopsis of his life more in keeping with his character as a man, a patriot, and a philanthropist than is possible in the limited space at our disposal in this issue.

As provided by Susan Smith from A Twentieth Century History of Erie County, Pennsylvania : a narrative account of its historical progress, its people and its principal interests, by John Miller. Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1909, Volume II, pages 453-455.

WILLIAM L. SCOTT. There are some characters in the world whose very atmosphere stamps them as destined to perform great deeds, whether of material achievement or of sturdy virtue. No one who has ever had the felicity to come in association with the last William L. Scott, of Erie, could fail to see plainly stamped upon his intense personality the highest traits of ability and nobility. The firm chin, the splendid contour of his forehead, the determined furrows between the eyes, and, above all, the eyes themselves, with their serious penetrating and yet reassuring expression, were all marked indexes of a man who seemed pushed along by almost preternatural forces to vast performances. Mr. Scott has been conceded to be, on the whole, the most distinguished citizen whose fame was achieved, in Erie, and in the minds and hearts of the mass of its people the title "honorable" would have been enthusiastically attached to his name had he never seen Washington or the halls of Congress.!

At the height of his railroad career, not long before his death, he controlled more miles of railway than any other man in the field; he enjoyed the distinction of being one of the pioneers of rapid transit in New York City; was at the head of the largest coal company in the world; yet was an unwilling leader of the Democracy, the oldest popular party in the country's history, and was idolized by thousands of people who owed to his unostentatious assistance their relief from trouble, their advancement and their happiness. In these almost silent manifestations of his kindly and helpful spirit, William L. Scott was far greater than the works which have given him worldly fame; and, in reviewing his bewildering activities, when it is remembered that he was a man of almost delicate physique, the wonder over his achievements increases to a degree which borders on awe.

Mr. Scott was a southerner, his birthplace being Washington and the day, July 2, 1828. He is of ancient Scotch-Welsh lineage and, as blood undoubtedly tells, it is not difficult to account for the patience and pertinacity which he displayed in the midst of the most brilliant of his campaigns. Rev. James Scott, his great-grandfather, graduated from Aberdeen University, of Scotland, was ordained in the Church of England and licensed to preach in Virginia by the bishop of London in 1735. The grandfather, Gustavus Scott, was also educated at Aberdeen: completed his law studies in London in 1771, and upon his return to the colonies resided and practiced either in Annapolis or Baltimore. He was also a member of the Continental Congress, held many other offices of distinction in Maryland, and in 1794 was appointed by President Washington a member of the board of commissioners who laid out the city of Washington. After performing his share of the assigned duties, Mr. Scott built the noted Kalorama residence on the site of the future national capital and occupied it until his death. Major Robert L. Scott, his son, became the father of William L. The former, who was a graduate of West Point, served with distinction in the War of 1812, and died when the latter was quite young, leaving six children. Of these Robert Wainright Scott entered the United States Navy, served through the Civil war, was promoted to be a commander and is deceased. Miss Ann Eliza Scott, long a resident of Erie, is also deceased.

After receiving a common school education in Washington, William L. Scott was appointed a page in Congress when he was about thirteen years of age. In that capacity he attracted the attention of General Reed, representative from the Erie district, who, in 1844, induced the youth to locate in his home city. The boy was then in his seventeenth year and his mature friend was at the height of his commercial career, having at his command a fleet of lake craft and an army of clerks and agents. It was in one of General Reed's numerous warehouses that young Scott found employment, thus obtaining his first lessons from the man who was then one of the masters of the lake commerce. Such an example was contagious in the propagation of independence and ambition, and in 1850 Mr. Scott showed that he had become a victim by associating himself with Hon. Morrow B. Lowry and making his first venture in the coal and shipping business. A year afterward he formed a partnership with John Hearn, and upon the death of the latter the business was resumed under the style of W. L. Scott and Company. This was the commencement of Mr. Scott's kingship in the great coal fields of the country. His company eventually controlled mines of vast production in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Iowa and Missouri; its operations covered upward of seventy thousand acres of coal lands and employed more than twelve thousand people, altogether representing the largest business of the kind in the world. With John F. Tracy, his brother-in-law, he became identified with the building of the first elevated railroad in New York City, and in 1884 he was also one of the constructors of the New York, Philadelphia & Norfolk Railroad, which was the pioneer line to enter the peninsula of Virginia. He was one of the early directors of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad, and in 1861-4 built that portion of the Erie & Pittsburg line which extends from Girard to New Castle and thence to its connection with the Fort Wayne Railroad. He was president of the former system until his death and during the Civil war located and constructed the Pittsburg docks in Erie. In 1862, with John F. Tracy as his associate, he built the first railroad to the Missouri river by extending the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific from Grinnell, Iowa; aided in developing the Canadian Southern and Canadian Pacific railroads and was a director in the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Company, Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis and Michigan Central railroads. At his death Mr. Scott has become president and director of twenty-two thousand miles of railroad and was the Railroad King, as well as the Coal King of the United States. As to the details of his interests in the coal business, they are so numerous and involved as to be both ponderous and unenlightening. The local evidences of his ceaseless activities and his abiding love for Erie as his home city are many, imposing and beautiful. In 1872 he erected the Scott block, on the northwest corner of State and Tenth streets; his own home was elegant and commodious, and the residence which he designed and built for his daughter, Mrs. C. H. Strong, was one of the most graceful and magnificent in that section of the country. But the most striking evidence of his taste and of his affection for Erie is found in his artistic development of his estate of two thousand acres, the nucleus of whose beauties is Massassauga Point. The result of this munificent improvement of his private property has been permanently beneficial to the city and those who seek rest and recreation on and around the beautiful bay which is now so richly adorned by Massassauga Point.

Aside from the mayoralty of Erie, Mr. Scott held no political office until his election to Congress in 1884. He had served as mayor in 1866 and 1871; was a delegate to the Democratic conventions of 1868, 1876, 1880 and 1888; was a state representative on the national committee from 1876 to 1884, and had been nominated for Congress in 1866 and 1876, but took no part in the campaigns and was not elected. In 1884, however, in the face of his inactivity his friends so rallied to his support as to send him to Washington and to keep him there for four years. Once in Congress, his strong influence was so manifest both with the president and the speaker of the house that it is doubtful if any member of the cabinet stood higher in the public eye. The Chinese exclusion and the oleomargarine bills, which became laws, were fathered by him; he took a leading part in the preparation and defense of the Mills revenue bill; his speech upon the silver question is still pointed to as a remarkable prophetic utterance borne out by events which have since transpired; and the official appointments made upon his recommendation were high testimonials to his good judgment, as well as to the loyalty of his friendships.

Mr. Scott's domestic relations were harmonious and affectionate. Soon after his arrival in Erie, as a youth; he met Miss Mary M. Tracy, daughter of John A. Tracy and granddaughter of Daniel Dobbins, the latter an early lake navigator and one of the commanders of Perry's fleet, and the former one of Erie's leading citizens. The result of this friendship and final love was the marriage of September 19, 1853. The children of this happy union were Mary Tracy, now the wife of Richard H. Townsend, Jr., of Philadelphia, and two children have been born of this union, Matilda Scott Townsend and Annie Scott Townsend, deceased ; Annie Wainwright, married C. H. Strong, of Erie, and became the mother of Matilda Thora Wainwright Strong who is the wife of Reginald Ronalds, of New York, and they have one daughter, Thora Scott Ronalds. William L. Scott, the tender father and the great man of affairs passed away September 19, 1891, at Newport, Rhode Island, whither he had gone to recuperate those energies which had been too severely taxed by the many and great burdens of his life. His remains were brought to his "dear Erie," as he fondly called it and not only did thousands of its citizens, both distinguished and humble, pay the honor of their deep respect and tears, but the president of the United States, Grover Cleveland, who was a personal friend of the deceased, the governor of Pennsylvania and leaders in commercial and state affairs throughout the country, bowed their heads in acknowledgment of the departure into the future of a man who had made a noble use of the talents entrusted to him.

As provided by Susan Smith from Nelson's Biographical Dictionary and Reference Book of Erie County, Pennsylvania; Erie, PA, 1896, S.B. Nelson, Publisher, page 546-548.

Hon. William L. Scott. The busy and eventful life of Hon. William L. Scott was spent in Erie. Here were his home and family, and here his affections were centered. To him it was "dear Erie," as feelingly expressed in one of that series of masterly and statesmanlike addresses made in his Congressional campaign of 1886. He sought to make it "beautiful Erie," and his efforts towards its embellishment in their wide scope (worthy of a Baron Haussman or Christopher Wren) embodied not only the city with its blocks and mansions, its churches, parks and avenues, but the construction, development and adornment of Massassauga Point, and the improvement of the cluster of highly cultivated farms, which, with their elegant surroundings, ample approaches and unexcelled roads, surprise and delight those who spend their summers on the shores of Presque Isle Bay. Mr. Scott's life was one of wide activity. It was characterized by methodical and systematic planning, intense thought, alert action and energetic living. These enabled him to accomplish those vast results, which in a review of his life so amaze, when an attempt is made to comprehend the extent of his plans, the directness of action, and his dazzling success in the execution of that which only genius could have originated and an inexorable will performed. William E. Scott was of ancient lineage and of Scotch-Welsh descent. His great grandfather, Rev. James Scott, of the Church of England, graduated at Aberdene University, and was ordained and licensed to preach in Virginia by the Bishop of London in 1735. His grandfather, Gustavus Scott, was educated at Aberdeen and completed his law studies in London in 1771. Returning to America he resided in Annapolis or Baltimore. He was a member of the Continental Congress and held many offices of distinction in Maryland. The family name is indelibly associated with the illustrious Virginians whose patriotic deeds in Revolutionary days are interwoven with the brightest and most honored pages of American history. In recognition of this sentiment, in 1794, President Washington appointed Gustavus Scott one of the first board of commissioners to lay out the City of Washington. Accepting this trust, Mr. Scott built and occupied until his death the noted "Kalorama" residence at the site of the future Federal City. Maj. Robert E. Scott, son of Gustavus, was a graduate of West Point, and served with distinction in the war of 1812. He was the father of William E. Scott, and died when the latter was quite young, leaving six children. Of these William E. Scott achieved a commanding position in public affairs; Robert Wainwright Scott (deceased), entered the navy, served through the late war, and was promoted to be commander; and Miss Ann Eliza Scott, a resident of Erie, is now sole survivor of the family. Hon. William E. Scott was born in Washington City July 2, 1828. He received a common school education. He was first appointed a page in Congress about the year of 1840. While serving as such he attracted the notice of Gen. Reed, representative of the Erie District of the Twenty-eighth Congress, by whom in 1840, at the age of 16 years, he was brought to Erie. Gen. Reed was then in the zenith of his commercial career, with his fleet of steamers and vessels on the lakes, his numerous clerks, agents and warehouses. In one of the latter the young southerner was placed, to receive those first lessons in commerce and modes of transportation, which, then in their infancy, were yet to be so vastly developed by the master mind of Gen. Reed's youthful protege. The celebrated Howell Cobb, afterwards Secretary of the Treasury under President Buchanan, served in the same Congress with Gen. Reed from 1843 to 1845. At that time it was a question whether the young page would go with Mr. Cobb to his Southern home to imbibe his fiery idea of Southern rights, the assertion of which drove him from President Buchanan's cabinet into the Rebel army, or to the care, the tuition and patronage of Gen. Reed, the noted capitalist, steamboat owner and master mind of lake commerce. A destiny was involved. Fate decided, and William E. Scott came to Erie. It was the pivotal point in the orphan's career. To him the commission house and office of Gen. Reed, with their network of transportation, was as important a school as was the Military College at Brienne in the career of the Corsican orphan who there commenced the studies the fruits of which were developed at Marengo, at Austerlitz and at Jena. Mr. Scott's progressive steps were rapid. In this sketch but the merest mention can be given of them. In 1850 he made his first venture in the coal and shipping business with the late Hon. Morrow B. Lowry. This firm continued in business but one year. In 1851 he engaged in the coal business with Mr. John Hearn, the firm continuing until Mr. Hearn's death, when it was succeeded by W. E. Scott & Co. This company, eventually, did the largest business of its kind in the world. It controlled mines in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. Mr. Scott owned upwards of 70,000 acres of coal land. He gave employment to 12,000 people. He was the controlling owner of the stock of the Youghiogheny Coal Company of Pennsylvania, Spring Valley Coal Company of Illinois and Union Coal Company of Pennsylvania. If his coal investments were large, his railroad interests were on an equally grand scale. In 1861 Mr. Scott built that portion of the Erie & Pittsburg R. R. which extends from Girard to New Castle, and in 1863-64 constructed the completing link from New Castle to the Fort Wayne R. R., becoming a large owner of the same. He was president of the Erie and Pittsburg R. R. Company up to his death, and during the war located and constructed the Pittsburg Docks at the mouth of Cascade run, in Erie. In 1862 he and his brother-in-law, John F. Tracy, extended the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific R. R. from Grinnell, Iowa, to the Missouri river, being the first railroad built to that waterway. Prior to his death he was the president and director of 22,000 miles of railroad, being more miles of track than any one man has been the central figure in operating. He was one of the pioneers in rapid transit in New York City, and with John F. Tracy was interested in building the first elevated road in that city. Mr. Scott was one of the builders of the Philadelphia and Norfolk R. R., in 1884, which was the first railroad on the peninsula of Virginia. He aided to develop the Canada Southern and Canadian Pacific Railroads. He was at his decease the oldest director of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern R. R., director and member of the Chicago and Northwestern R. R., director in the Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis and New Castle and Beaver Valley Railroads; Michigan Central R. R. and Albermarle and Chesapeake Canal Company. He was a manufacturer of iron in the Shenango valley and in Missouri. He was the controlling owner of the Northwestern Fuel Company of St. Paul, and had interests in the Missouri Iron and Coal Company of Missouri, the Sligo Furnace Company of Missouri and the What Cheer Coal Company of Iowa.

The memorials of his presence in Erie are abiding. He built the Scott Block, on the northwest corner of State and Tenth streets, in 1872, costing about $180,000. His elegant home residence was ample and luxurious. Seemingly averse to change from his original residence, he had enlarged and adorned the old homestead until its size, commodiousness and elegance were in keeping with his position. The vast and imposing three-story mansion erected for a residence for his daughter, on West Park, at a cost of four to five hundred thousand dollars, for which Mr. Scott was so long in consultation with architects, will continue to manifest his grandeur in design and munificence in execution. He owned 2,000 acres of land in Erie county. The utilization of this land for use as stock farms, and the creation of beautiful Massassauga Point, with its approaches and surroundings, involved the exercise of artistic judgment and the expenditure of vast sums. The result has been the addition of a permanent attraction to Erie and a wider use of the bay as a pleasure resort, which before was but imperfectly realized.

His civil and political career was remarkable; especially so when the great influence he exerted upon the counsels of his party and the moulding of its policy are concerned; for aside from his service as mayor of Erie, he never held a political office until his election to Congress in 1884, a position he held but four years. He had become one of the trusted leaders of the Democratic party and his influence in their National conventions was most potential and sometimes irresistible. He was mayor of Erie in 1866 and again in 1871, serving two full terms. He was nominated for Congress in 1866 and in 1876, but took no part in the campaign. He was a delegate to the National Democratic Conventions of 1868, 1876, 1880 and 1888. He was representative of Pennsylvania on the Democratic National Committee from 1876 to 1884. He was in 1884 elected to Congress from the Erie district. In Congress his surroundings were most congenial and agreeable. They could hardly have been more so. It was his lot to have the fullest confidence and personal friendship of the President and Speaker of the House during his successive terms of service; with very much of influence in shaping the course of the administration. In this respect it is doubtful if any member of the cabinet had more fully the confidence of the President. He introduced and put upon their passage the Chinese Exclusion bill and the Oleomargarine bill, both of which were enacted. His position in the modification of the Tariff was in advance of that of many of the Pennsylvania Democrats; a position to which many of the party came. He took a leading part in the preparation of the Mills bill, in the Fiftieth Congress, in 1888. After its passage by the House and its amendment by the Senate, he prepared a masterly article for a leading publication, calling in question and assailing the constitutional right of the Senate to modify a bill for "raising revenue" which by the Constitution was required to originate in the House. His speech in Congress upon the silver question was most elaborate and exhaustive, indicating remarkable study and research and involving a mass of facts and array of figures and tabulated statistics not often placed together. Later events have shown its predictions to have been prophecy. While his views and wishes on the revenue, owing to the adverse action of the Republican Senate, were not then enacted into laws, yet the large number of appointments made upon his recommendation evinced his sagacity in selection and his consideration for friends, which was one of his most pleasing characteristics. His domestic relations were of the happiest character. Soon after his arrival in Erie he made the acquaintance of Miss Mary M. Tracy, daughter of John A. Tracy, one of the most substantial and public-spirited citizens of Erie, and grand-daughter of the noted Captain Daniel Dobbins, whose fame as an early lake navigator and one of the commanders in Perry's renowned fleet has connected his name with history. With tastes so congenial, and purposes so much in unison, their marriage, September 19th, 1853, became a union of hearts and of hands. It was more: for the large experience of Mr. John A. Tracy in railroad construction and the bent of mind of his son, John F. Tracy, destined to so much of distinction, in the extension of Chicago's great system of railroads, doubtless tended materially to encourage and develop the early efforts of Mr. Scott, in the commencement and prosecution of his railroad career, which assumed such large proportions. Mr. and Mrs. Scott had two children: Mrs. Richard H. Townsend, of Washington, D. C, and Mrs. Charles H. Strong, of Erie. His personal appearance was striking, and in social intercourse his manners were bland and winning. Of blonde complexion and penetrating glance, his voice was soft and his utterance rapid, earnest and emphatic. His movements were quick. His mind was active and his examination of any subject in hand most exhaustive. He had a large and valuable library in which his investigations of any matter under consideration were studiously concentrated. As a result his after treatment of his subject was masterful. It was his habit to make most thorough investigation of a matter in hand, and it was this comprehensive preparation that made his influence in conference or in public meetings so great. During the war he equipped and fitted out at his own expense Capt. Miller's battery of artillery and sent it to the front. Many residents of Erie in widely separated walks of life were gladdened by the flow of charity emanating from himself or his household; this was further manifested in substantial aid to worthy religious and charitable organizations. These it would be impracticable to specify at length, as his giving was as unostentatious as it was generous. Yet these may be mentioned: A gift of $10,000 in interest bearing bonds to St. Vincent Hospital; a like sum to the Hamot Hospital, Home for the Friendless, St. Joseph's Orphan Asylum, and a church organ to St. Paul's Episcopal Church of Erie, while all through the community in which he dwelt there were perennial streams from the same inexhaustible source. But Mr. Scott, never physically strong, was unequal to the great strain involved in the conduct of so much business. He sank under his arduous labors, in the Fiftieth Congress. Repeated attacks or shocks continued to remind him of his waning strength. Finally under most eminent medical advice, he sought rest and recuperation in the pure air and sea breezes of Newport. But his heeding was too late. He was never to see Erie again. On the 19th of September, 1891, while still at the seaside, he sank into his final sleep. His death was a startling and sad event for Erie. His funeral was most notable. Distinguished men gathered from various parts of the country, from Chicago to New York, magnates of civic, of political and of railroad celebrity. These with all classes of the community gathered at the darkened home. The President of the United States (then in the interim of his exalted service), the Governor of Pennsylvania, railroad magnates and Erie's best citizens, stood around the bier containing the honored dead, to bid a last farewell to him who lay in the calm repose of eternal sleep. On the beautiful afternoon of the Thursday following his death, a typical September day, amid crowded streets and masses of sympathetic friends and townsmen, reaching from his home to the cemetery, the remains of Erie's most honored and distinguished citizen were borne to their last resting place, the President and Governor heading the pall-bearers. The casket was placed in the splendid mausoleum, designed for the resting place of Mr. Scott and his family.

Photo of W. L. Scott scanned by Bill Klauk from "Nelson's"

William L Scott

This page was last updated on  Thursday, November 22, 2016 .

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