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John McGraw (1815-1877)
Pioneer lumberman from Ithaca, N.Y., owned lumber mill in Portsmouth.
  • by Marvin Kusmierz (March 2004)
  • Note: This is work-in-progress, unedited update to this history page which was upload by accident overwriting original page. A finish history page will be complete as soon as possible.

    Family Genealogy:

  • John McGraw: 5 May 1815, Dryden Twsp., NY - 4 Sep 1877, Ithaca, NY
  • Joseph McGraw Sr. b. 1792, Newry, Armagh, Ire., d. 17 Feb 1864.
  • Jane Nelson b. abt. 1775, Seaforde, Ire.
  • Nancy (no dates)
  • Thomas b. 1808 d. abt. 1838.
  • Joseph Jr. b. 1812, Dreden, d. 4 Sep 1892, Ithaca, NY
  • 1st: Rhoda Charlotte Southworth: 9 Sep 1819, Dryden - 14 Dec 1847, Dryden, NY.
    --- One child, Jennie: Sep 1849 Dryden, NY - Sep 1881, Ithaca NY
  • 2nd: Nancy Amelia Southworth: (b. ?, d. 1847), sister of Rhoda, no known children.
  • 3rd: Jane P. Turner: b. abt. 1817, CT.

    John McGRAW

    John McGraw wrote himself into local history along with his close friend and partner, Henry W. Sage, by building the world's largest sawmill on wilderness property along the west bank of the Saginaw River across from Bay City in 1865.

    John lived his early years in his hometown of Dryden where as a young adult he worked as a clerk for John Southworth, which is how he where he met his future wife Rhoda, Mr. Southworth's daughter. John and Rhoda left Dryden in 1848 so John could pursue his interests in the lumbering industry. He lived in several places before finally settling on Ithaca which remained his home community for the rest of his life, and from which he would establish his wealth.

    He was a founding trustee of Cornell University to which he devoted a sizeable portion of his wealth. His gift of $50,000 put in place the university's first library. He lived near-by the university and remained close to it's operations throughout his life.

    Partnership between John and Henry Sage.
    It was John's connection with Cornell that led to John meeting Henry W. Sage, another wealthy lumber baron and benefactor to the university. The two developed a close friendship, which led to them partnering on several lumbering businessy, which included a huge saw mill along the west bank of the Saginaw across from the village of Bay City. Together and individually, they held large landholdings of forest in New York, Canada, Wisconsin and Michigan.

    Sage & McGraw Mill.
    When they partnered to build the Sage & McGraw Sawmill, it was Sage, the a hard-nosed negotiator, that did several head-to-head meetings with F.H. Fitzhugh, who along with his sister, Elizabeth (Fitzhugh) Birney owned the property. Elizabeth, was the widow of James G. Birney, a prominent national abolitionist, twice candidate for President, and an important figure in the early growth of Bay City. Apparently, Dr. Fitzhugh's stubbornness was equal to that of Sage -- it took a few years before before an agreement would was reached in 1864. A year later the mill was finally erected.

    1872: View of Henry W. Sage's mill looking West from East bank of river.

    Partners Go Separate Way.
    In 1869 only four years after the opening of the new Sage & McGraw Mill, John sold out his interest in the mill to Henry. He then proceeded to build a new mill of similar size on the east side of the Saginaw River in Portmouth near 40th Street. There was little competition between John and Henry as there was plenty of lumber available and there was a high demand for lumber around the country. Beside these two large mills, there were over a hundred mills along the shores of the Saginaw River during the peak years of the lumber boom.

    Only a few years later, John's new mill caught on fire in 1872 and was burned to the ground. According to a local newpaper article at the time John was in Albany suffering from an illness. However, John went ahead to quickly replace the mill with another on the same spot. When completed it was deemed the largest saw mill in the world..

    New Mill and John's Death.
    John's poor health lingered and in 1877 at the age of 62, he died, leaving a substantial inheritance. The parties most likely to benefit most from John's estate would be his daughter, Jennie, and his third wife, Jane. Cornell University would certainly have received a significant portion as well.

    John's Spouses and Family.
    According to the "Goodrich Centennial History of Dryden," John was married three times. His first wife was Rhoda Southworth, with whom he Jennie, his only child. Sarah dies in 1847. His second wife was Nancy Amelia Southworth, who died in 1857. Jane P. Turner, widow of Samuel B. Gates, was his third wife. I found additional information on her in the 1880 U.S. Census, at which time she was living at the home of her brother

    --------------> begin here!

    ane P. Turner, widow of Samuel B. Gates. Clement, with whom he had two children, Sarah Jane (Simpson) and John, both of whom he survived. His second marraige was to Sarah A. Sears, which whom hehave five children, Thomas H., Lettie, Georgie (Curtiss), and Joseph W., and Frank S. Interesting enough, Joseph W. settled in the village of Portsmouth where John's new mill was located. John's third was Jane P. Turner, to What I was able to fine on Janene I found very little on Jane P. Turner, John's third wife. I did find her in the 1880 U.S. Census living in Ithaca, NY at the home of her brother, Ebinizer T. Turner, age 66, born in Connecticut. Boarding here Jane P. McGraw, age 63, and Jennie McGraw, age 40, who at the time is listed as traveling abroad.

    While its not indisputable evidence of this marriage, its sufficient to believe John and Jane were married. The only plausible explanation is this Jane married some other McGraw, and somehow had developed a very close relationship with John's daughter. However, nothing was found to indicate this.

    T.H. McGraw & Co. mill located on Harrison, between 40th & 41st streets.

    The Portsmouth mill was held by the estate of John McGraw, or at least a portion of it was. At somepoint, John's nephew, Thomas H. McGraw, became sole owner of the mill if we are to believe what the listings for the mill in the city directories show.

    What we do know is that the mill ended up in the hands of John's nephew, Thomas H. McGraw (1846-1909). In the Polk Bay City Directory for 1873-74, Thomas listing has him working John's mill, and for the mills listing, he is listed along with John, which is an indication that he may have already become a partner when the new mill was built. In the 1879-80 direction the mill is now named T.H. McGraw & Company with Thomas listed as owner.

    While neither John or Thomas took up permanent residence in Bay City, the evidence is quite clear that some of their relatives did. hat came to work in Thomas' mill did. The data from the Polk directories reveal the following:

  • 1881-82: J.W. McGraw listed as foreman at the mill, rooms cor. of Harrison & Bullock. - This is Joseph, Thomas' brother.
  • 1884-85: Joseph W. McGraw still working at mill but is boarding at Fraser House.
  • 1884-85: Frank S. McGraw now working at mill, boards at Fraser House.
  • 1886-87: Joseph & Frank still at the mill, joined by a Willis McGraw who is a lumber dealer at the mill. - I have not been able to establish the relationship.
  • 1888: A May 2nd newspaper article that year mentions Willis McGraw as buying new home built by D.L. Westover, located at 1214 Center avenue.
  • 1889-90: Joseph is now boarding at Willis McGraw's home at 1214 Center ave., however, he is now a clerk at the Secon National Bank, and Willis is list as J. Willis McGraw and president of the Bay Canning Co. Frank McGraw's occupation is not list but he now has a residence at 814 Center ave.
  • 1890-91: No listing appears for either Willis or Frank McGraw, while Joseph now has residence at 124 Center ave., and his occupation is listed simply as lumber, etc.
  • 1910: Ten years later, Joseph still has residence at 1214 Center ave., but is now involved with Ogemaw Spring Water and timber, working out an office in the Crapo block. At this time living with Joseph is Joseph McGraw Jr. and Will C. McGraw.
  • 1913: Joseph still has residence at 1214 Center ave, and is now working for the Detroit & Mackinaw R.R. Living at this residence are Joseph Jr., Lawrence S. (student), and Will C., including Matilda Lohrke, a domestic servant.
  • he mill owned by John's nephew, Thomas H. McGraw. Thomas was the son of Joseph and Sara A. (Sears) McGraw, and they also had a son name Thomas who was born June 29, 1940 in Bay City. The initials "T.H." might be a brother of John. In the history found on John Southworth, the father of John's first wife Rhoda -- John McGraw is mention along with a Thomas McGraw that married another daughter of Southworth. (see Pictorials/Lumbering for photo of this mill.)

    Jennie (McGraw) Fiske

    After John McGraw's passing in 1877, his only child, Jennie McGraw, inherited his wealth. She remained single until 1880 when she married Daniel Willard Fiske, the first librarian at Cornell University. A year later she died of a long-standing battle with tuberculosis. A legal struggle ensued over the McGraw estate between Cornell University and her husband, Dan Fiske. The court decision went in favor of Fiske, and this upset Henry Sage who believed he friend John McGraw ultimately intended the estate to fall in the hands of the university.

    He also believed that this was Jennie's desire even though she didn't legally provide for it. Jennie herself had donated the bells for the new tower being build on the university's library.

    Typical of Sage, he reached into his own pocket to complete the tower in which the bells were installed. He also wrote the dedication for the plaque:

    "The good she tried to do shall stand as if 'twere done GOD finishes the work by noble souls begun. In loving memory of JENNIE MCGRAW FISKE whose purpose to found a great library for Cornell University has been defeated this house is built and endowed by her friend

    Ultimately, as fate would have it, Fiske upon his death in 1904, bequest the estate to the university.

    Regarding the passing of John McGraw, Sage penned these words on behalf of his friend:

    "Among the most active and useful forces of a nation's life is a large class of the higher ranges of business men-those who originate the enterprises of the period, and direct and control the industries pertaining to them. From these, result a nation's prosperity and the foundation of its growth in wealth, commerce, and the elevation and refinement which accompany them. Eminent among this class of men was Mr. McGraw. He dealt with principles and ideas, boldly grasping the outlines of important projects which commanded his attention, and he followed up with all the force of his character any enterprise once entered upon, when his judgment was once convinced of its soundness and utility. His clear, practical head was always a power in the management of the interests of the university. He was upright, prompt, true, sensitive to the nicest shade of honor. His active, practical life, was a living exponent of that within, which abounded with faith, hope, courage, fidelity-the qualities which make up and stamp the noble man."
  • Related Notes & Pages
    Related Pages:
    1894 Bio,death notice.
    McGraw Mill
    McGraw Mill fire, 1872.
    Sage, Henry W.
    People Referenced
    Birney, James G.
    Birney (Fitzhugh), Elizabeth
    Fiske, Daniel W.
    Fitzhugh, F.H.
    McGraw, Jennie
    McGraw, John
    McGraw, Thomas
    Sage, Henry W.
    Southworth, John
    Southworth, Nancy A.
    Southworth, Rhoda C.
    Subjects Referenced
    Bay City
    Cornell Unversity
    Dryden Twsp., NY
    Ithaca, NY
    Lumbering industry
    McGraw estate
    New York
    Sage & McGraw Sawmill
    Saginaw River
    T.H. McGraw & Co.
    Willow Glen Cemetery
    Related Images

    McGraw Tower - Cornell Univ.

    Thomas H. McGraw

    Wife, Pauline Urborhorst

    D. Willard Fiske
    Spouse of Jennie McGraw

    1880 Census
    Poughkeepsie, NY
    Thomas H. McGraw age 32, b. NY, lumber
    Pauline F. McGraw age 21, b. Can., housekeeper
    Thomas H. age 2, b. MI
    Frank W. age 1, b. MI
    Christy Uborhorst age 25, b. Can, at home
    Elizabeth Newman age 23, b. Ger., servant
    Liza Luzenbrugher age 21, b. Ger., servant
    Johanna Galvin age 30, b. Ire., servant
    George Furguson age 18, b. MI, coachman
    Article Sources
    Family images of Thomas H. and Pauline McGraw and their genealogy courtesy of great-grandson, Thomas McGraw III.
    Cornell Unversity McGraw Tower image courtesy of John Sun.
    [-] John McGraw - Landmarks of Thompkins County, N.Y.
    The Bay County Story - from Footpaths to Freeways, book by Leslie Arndt.
    [-] Living in Dryden, ref. on John Southworth and daughters that married John McGraw. (www.simonstl.com)
    [-] Thompkins County, NY - Biographies, John McGraw. (www.rootsweb.com/~nytompki/)
    [-] The McGraws of Dryden. History includes John McGraw's father and his family, including marriages and children.
    [-] Southworth Library Association, ref. to Jennie McGraw and Southworth family. (www.twcny.rr.com)
    Newspaper micro-films - Bay County Library System.
    Butterfield Library - Bay County Historical Society.
    Internet Resources
    McGraw Family in Dryden
    - Includes John McGraw and photo.
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