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William La Fountaine Fay (1821-1884)
Native of New York, village president and mayor of Bay City.

1890 biography. (Note: Paragraphs added to text) - Aded April, 2011.

Cyclopedia of Michigan Historical and Biographic - 1890


Of Bay City. A worthy ancestry is cause and matter of just and conscious pride. To have lived a useful life, and to have made for one's self, by his own exertions, prominence in his day and generation, regardless of ancestors, is fully as creditable and meritorious. This can be truthfully said of William L. Fay, whose family name is found among the early settlers of New England about the time of the Puritan settlement there – 1630. They seem to have been a hardy, vigorous, energetic, enterprising race, and of great strenght of character – qualities essential in a new and undeveloped country, and in pioneer and frontier life.

William La Fountain Fay was born in Hamilton, Madison County, New York, August 8, 1824. His parents were James R. and Marilla Fay, who were, it is probable, residents of Madison County long before it was taken from Chenango County, in 1806. The early settlers of Chenago County were principally from Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and experience the usual hardships of pioneer settlement. A French settlement was founded at Greene, this county, in 1792; but soon after most them left, owing to defect in their title, thus leaving a native-born American element, keen industrious, thrifty, to plan, shape, build, and settle up the county. Hamilton became a town in 1795, and was named for Alexander Hamilton, at that time one of the most distinguished citizens of the Nation.

Hon. W. L. Fay grew to manhood in the midst of grand, sublime scenery, mountains, all giving zest to life, and from which he seem to have imbibed much of ruggedness and robustness of body and strength and stability of mind and character. In 1854, at thirty years of age, in possession of a strong constitution, perseverance, and energy, with good judgment, good practical sense, and the additional desirable equipment of good habits and correct ideas of life, he left the place of his birth and the home of his youth, with all their associations and endearments, to make for himself a home and business in the comparatively new and unsettled country. His destination was Lower Saginaw, Michigan. At this time (1854) Michigan, after two years' petitioning and knocking at the door of the Federal Capitol, had been admitted into the Union only seventeen years.

With characteristic energy and promptitude, Mr. Fay began to look about him for a business opening, and soon engaged in the lumber-trade, associating himself with Mr. George Lord. Not long after this connection was dissolved, when he formed a relationship in the mercantile business with Mr. B. B. Hart, who afterwards went to Minneapolis In 1860 he began the manufacture of lumber with Mr. C. W. Grant, under the firm name of Grant & Fay. Three years later (1863) their mill was burned, when Mr. Grant disposed of his interest in the business to Mr. S. G. M. Gates, the firm then becoming Gates & Fay. The new firm rebuilt the mill, and actively prosecuted the business for the next twenty years, or until 1883, at which time Mr. Fay retired from this and all other active employment.

Mr. Fay was emphatically a man of business, and it was with many personal regrets that he found it necessary to retire from a field in which he had so long held front rank, and in which he had been prosperous and successful. This became imperative, however, because of ill-health. He had been ailing for some years, probably more than his most intimate acquaintances knew, but yet kept steadily about his own and the public's business, filling to the utmost every engagement, and discharging in the fullest degree and sense every private and public duty and trust.

When he came to Bay City the place had no existence in name, and there was not Bay County until three years after his arrival, vis., 1857. Like the State of which it was a part, its natal day was delayed for two years; but it had many firm and persevering friends, who evinced the same determined and unyielding spirit as did Thomas H. Benton, who declared that he would “encamp on the floor of the Senate until it [Michigan] was admitted.” Among those who took a lively and main interest in its welfare at this period was Mr. Fay. He gave to the enterprise sympathy and encouragement, with far-reaching vision beholding the future in store for it.

It astonishes one as he thinks of the strides the State and some of the towns – notably Bay City – have made within a comparatively short span of time. The first delegate to Congress from the Territory of Michigan was elected in 1819. Up to 1827 Detroit was the only municipal corporation in the Territory. Its State constitution was framed in 1835; its admission was effected in 1837. Bay City was not settled until 1836, incorporated as a village in 1859, and as a city in 1865. It was a part of Arenac County in 1831, later belonged to Saginaw County, and in 1857 became Bay County, at which time it had not more than fifteen hundred inhabitants. In 1889 Bay City alone had thirty-five thousand. Truly its growth has been wonderful. And part and parcel of it all, and closely identified and interwoven with this growth, its improvements, its progress, its material prosperity, its intellectual, educational, social, and moral condition and standing and influence, has been W. L. Fay. It has always found in him a ready, willing, and generous helper and contributor, and has often had the benefit of his experience and advice, and at all times has profited by his example.

In 1861 he was president of the village, and was elected mayor of the city in 1868. In both of these important positions he brought to bear upon public affairs the same strong, practical good sense and judgment that characterized all his business matters. All the public interests were closely guarded and watched and under his administrations wise legislation prevailed, and sound and substantial prosperity was apparent. There was nothing of mere show or shoddy about about Mr. Fay. Large in physical structure, his mind thoughts were correspondingly large broad, and enlightened, and partook of like elements of strength. He was of a courageous nature, but not hasty or reckless in disposition or action or conclusion, rather submitting all questions o weight and import to the test of good reasoning powers; and when he had once made up his mind, and determined upon a certain course of procedure, no obstacle could deter,or to any great degree retard him in his undertakings. It was these characteristics, these qualities, that me him a man of rank in the community, and of indispensable usefulness and value to the public. It had confidence both in his judgment and ability. His nature and surroundings necessitated or created resources, the unfolding and developing of which demanded that they be utilized and devoted to the public good. Withal, he was a man of deep and strong domestic relations, sociable, obliging, and neighborly.

In the course of his long business career he had many employes and workingmen about him, with whom relations were always pleasant; and it is a fact worthy of remark in this connection, that many of them commenced working with him at the outset of his business life, and continued with him as long as he remained in business, a period of twenty years or more. This shows the kind of man he was, and the regard and estimation in which he was held. There is another thought of importance and interest in contemplating the life of Mr. Fay; his educational advantages were limited, and he must have possessed uncommon native ability and worth to have met the success he did in life, and to have attained and filled with so much usefulness and credit, hign and responsible public positions. This is surely incentive and encouragement for any man in any day and generation. And thus do such men still live, though they have passed away from earth. He died February 14, 1884, in the sixtieth year of his age. His religious sympathies and proclivities were of the Universal order. In politics he was a Democrat. He married, in 1847, Arvillla E. Cushman, daughter of Benjamin Cushman, of Earlville, Madison County, New York, and had one daughter – Ella, wife of Mr. Frank Tyler, of Bay City.

1884 obituary. (Added Nov., 2008)

Pioneer Collections, Report of the Pioneer Society of Michigan, Vol. VII, 1884


William L. Fay departed this life at 1:30 o'clock yesterday afternoon, February 14, 1884, at his residence on Center street, opposite the court house, aged fifty-eight years. Mr. Fay had been ailing with Bright's disease of the kidneys, and some time ago was so seriously afflicted that his life was despaired of; but, rallying, he became stronger, and was able to drive about the streets. About three weeks since, he had another attack, which terminated in his death. The announcement of his death spread rapidly through the business portion of the city, and was received with sincere regret.

William L. Fay settled in Lower Saginaw in 1854, coming from New York State. Upon coming here he took an interest with George Lord in the lumber business, but in a short while went into the mercantile business with B. B. Hart. In 1860 he engaged in the manufacture of lumber with C. W. Grant, the firm name being Grant & Fay. This firm continued until 1863, when the mill burned. S. G. M. Gates then purchased Mr. Grant's interest in the real estate, and the firm became Gates & Fay. The mill was rebuilt and the firm continued until about two years ago, when Mr. Fay, having accumulated considerable wealth, retired, investing a portion of his money in the celebrated McGraw farm and the Munger block on Center street. He also retained his interest in the real estate and pine lands of Gates & Fay.

Mr. Fay was one of Bay City's respected and honored citizens. He was president of the village in 1861, mayor of the city in 1868, and had held several other local offices of trust. He took the first census of Bay County when the shore territory and cities were included therein. He was a native of Hamilton, Madison County, New York.

Deceased leaves a widow and one daughter, Mrs Frank E. Tyler, Of his family, two brothers and two sisters survive him, the latter being Mrs. George Lord, of this city, and Mrs. Gilbert, of New York State. His relatives have been telegraphed for and will arrive in time for the funeral, an announcement of which will be given to-morrow.

Additional Notes:

    Family Genealogy: James Robinson Fay and His Descendants.

  • William LaFontine Fay b. 8/8/1824, d. 2/14/1884,
    married Emily Arvilla Cushman b. 9/11/1827,
    children: Ella Fay b. 10/6/1852, d. 911/1931; m. 12/1/1875 Frank Elliott Tyler b. 4/4/1852, d. 6/13/1921.

    1890 - Genealogy of all Torreys in America: (Added July, 2009)

  • William La Fontaine Fay, a lumber dealer, born August 8, 1824, in Hamilton, N.Y., died February 14, 1884, in Bay City, Mich., married December 27, 1847, in Earlville, N.Y., Emily Arvilla Cushman, born September 11, 1827, in Hamilton, N.Y. living, April, 1890, Bay City, Mich., daughter of Benjamin and Emily (Emery) Cushman. They had one child born in Madison County, N.Y., Ella Fay, born October 6, 1852.

    1898 - Fay Genealogy by Orline Prentice Fay: (Added July, 2009)
    Family of James Robins Fay & Marilyn Izzi:

  • CALPHURNIA, b..., m. George Lord of Bay City, Mich. 3 chil.: Fred H., res Chicago; William, res B.C., Mich.; Jessie, m. Henry W. Jennison, res. B.C. Mich.
  • JAMES LA ROY, b..., m. Maria O. Pearl. 3 chil.: Adela F., res 20 West ave., Buffalo, NY; William, b...; Carrie Maria, b....
  • WILLIAM LA FOUNTAIN, b..., m. Arvilla Cushman, res. Earlville, NY. 1 dau.: Ella, m. F.E. Tyler of Bay City, Mich.
  • ZENAS LA FLUER, b.... m. Sarah Cushman, res. Earlville, NY. 3 chil.: Jay R., Abram, Mary M., res. Earlville, NY.
  • MARGARET CLEOPATRA, m. Joseph P. Wittemore of Detroit, Mich. Chil.: Joseph P., Jr.; Ada Frances; James, res. 37 Congress St., Detroit, Mich.
  • CLORA MARILLA, m. Theodore Bligh, M.D. of Bay City, Mich.
  • HENRY LA MOTTE, unm.
  • CORDERA D., m. William H. Gilbert. 1 son: Jabez
  • GAIN LA FITTE, m. Maria Peck, res 14 Lansing St., Utica, NY. 2 chil.: Irving; James N.

    1915 - History of Michigan, Charles Moore: (Added July, 2009)

  • Daughter, Ella, was married to Frank Tyler, they had three children, one of whom is deceased: L. Fay Tyler; Jessie Arvilla, wife of W. D. McVay, now deceased.


  • Mr. Fay was mayor of Bay City in 1868. (Added July, 2009)
  • Calphurnia (aka Cleora) D. Fay, sister of William, married George Lord in Feb., 1840. She was born in Feb., 1820, at Hamilton, Madison county, N.Y., came to Bay City in 1854 and died June 12, 1886 at Bay City, MI. (Added July, 2009)
Related Note & Pages

William L. Fay

William's wife was Arvilla E. Cushman, born in 1828 at New York, and living at time of William's death. [Source: 1880 Census, Death Certificate.]
Related Pages:
Bligh (Fay), Cleora Mrs.
Fay, (Lord) Calphurnia D.
Gates & Fay Mill
People Referenced
Benton, Thomas H.
Bligh, Theodore
Cushman, Arvilla E. (wife)
Cushman, Benjamin
Cushman, Sarah
Emery Emily
Fay, Abram
Fay, Adella F.
Fay, Calphurnia (sister)
Fay, Carrie C.
Fay, Cleora D. (dau.)
Fay, Clora M. (sister)
Fay, Corder D (sister)
FAy, Ella (dau)
Fay, L. Fay (g-son)
Fay, Gain L. (bro.)
Fay, Henry L. (bro.)
Fay, Irving
Fay, James L.(bro.)
Fay, James N.
Fay, James R. (father)
Fay, Jay R.
Fay, Jesse A. (g-son)
Fay, Margaret (sister)
Fay, Mary M.
Fay, William
Fay, William L. (subject)
Fay, Zenas L. (bro.)
Gates, S.G.M.
Gilbert, Jabez
Gilbert, William H.
Grant, C.W.
Hart, B.B.
Izzi, Marilyn (mother)
Jennison, Henry W.
Lord, Fred H.
Lord, George
Lord, Jessie
Lord, William
McVay, W.D.
Pearl, Maria O.
Peck, Maria
Tyler, Frank E. (s-inlaw)
Tyler, Jessie A.
Tyler, L. Fay
Whittemore, Ida
Whittemore, Francis
Whittemore, James
Whittemore, Joseph P.
Whittemore, Joseph P. Jr.
Subjects Referenced
Bay County, MI
Bay City, MI:
- Gates & Fay Co.
- Grant & Fay Co.
- Lower Saginaw, MI
- Mayor
- McGraw farm
- Munger block
- Village president
New York
- Chenago Co.
- Earlville
- Greene
- Hamilton
- Madison Co.
- Arenac Co., MI
- Connecticut
- Detroit, MI
- Massachusettes
- Minneapolis
- Saginaw Co., MI
- Vermont
WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.