Heritage \ Writings \

Hon. Sidney T. Holmes (1815-1890)
Born in New York, practice law, came to to Bay City in 1871.

1894 biography. (Added May, 2010)

Historical Collections of the Michigan Historical Society, 1894.


The late Judge Sidney T. Holmes was born at Skaneateles, N. Y., in August, 1815. His father, Judge Epenetus Holmes, was a prominent attorney at that place, but he removed to Morrisville, a thriving village and county seat of Madison county. N. Y., when the subject of our sketch was but four years old. Here the child attended the village , school and graduated from the village academy, afterwards completing his education at the Waterville seminary. He then engaged in teaching and in the study of the law and civil engineering. He was appointed chief engineer of the Chenango and Black Kiver canal, and afterwards was engaged on the New York and Erie railroad. In 1838 he married and settled in Morrisville in the practice of the law, a profession to which he became greatly attached and in time acquired a great and well earned reputation. In 1851 he was elected county judge, filling that position for twelve years, and in 1864 he was elected to congress from the twenty-second congressional district of New York, receiving the largest majority ever given to any candidate up to that time. He served his term of two years in congress to the entire satisfaction of his constituents, but declined a renomination, preferring his profession to that of congressional life at Washington. Soon after his return home he became associated at Utica in the practice of the law with Hon. Roscoe Conklin, remaining in the firm three years, but their large practice devolving mostly upon the Judge, his health became impaired and he came to Bay City to recuperate his failing health, and to visit friends and relatives, and was so favorably impressed with the push and prospects of the place that he determined to locate in Bay City. He returned to Utica and as soon as possible with so large a practice, dissolved his connection with the firm and removed with his family to Bay City, opened an office in the Watson block, with Mr. Haynes and J. L. Stoddard, a young attorney who had come with him from Utica. Mr. Haynes removing to the west the firm afterwards became Holmes, Collins & Stoddard. But for some years before his death the firm was Holmes & Collins. Judge Holmes' death occurred January 16, 1889. None stood higher in his profession or was better known throughout central New York than Judge S. T. Holmes. He was republican in politics and liberal in his religious belief. Honor and the strictest integrity gave him influence not only at the bar but among the citizens who knew him best.

Judge Holmes was a great lawyer. This was true of him not only as counsel with parties about their business transactions, but also in the preparation and trial of causes. He was an all around lawyer. He had been an engineer in early life. Prior to his coming to Bay City, he had made political speeches from his early manhood all over the country. He was for twelve years surrogate judge of Madison county, New York. He acquired an intimate knowledge of the business affairs and details of the business life of the community in which he lived. He had a great knowledge of human nature. His knowledge of the law was profound He studied hard, earnestly and deeply. His knowledge of New York case law and of the cases governing the general principles of the law was very great. He kept a large library well stocked with text books; kept up his reports and digests and kept abreast of the law as the decision came out. All of this combined, made him an able and wise counselor. When it came to advising about matters of law, particularly in connection with business transactions, his advice and judgment were able and shrewd. Before litigation commenced he was in favor of exhausting all reasonable means to effect a settlement which would avoid litigation, but after litigation was commenced his watchword then was "fight," and from the beginning to the end of litigation he was a zealous, earnest, and able combatant and advocate.

His preparation of causes for trial was thorough and exhaustive. On trial of causes he was alert, vigilant and active. In the examination and cross-examination of witnesses he was very able, and where there were any questions of fraud involved or any question where the motives of parties were in issue, hie cross-examination was wonderfully ingenious and shrewd as well as combative and some of the events in this class of cases are long to be remembered by those who witnessed them.

His presentation of a case to the court was most able, and he analyzed and presented case law with great effect. In arguing cases to the jury he analyzed testimony closely. He argued strongly and made powerful and logical arguments, arguments that were homely and strong. And at the same time from his wide range of reading and study he had tunny apt illustrations and anecdotes at his command which he used with great effect to enforce his points. His antagonists and the witnesses whom he cross-examined very often thought he was entirely too severe and combative, but his own clients seldom have entertained that opinion. His repartee and hits on opposing counsel were sometimes quite caustic and in the heat of argument he was sometimes severe on opposing parties and witness and counsel; but he could take as well as give, and when the contest was over he carried no spite or ill feeling.

In a trial of a cause he contested every inch of the ground and never willingly gave up the contest that was against him until the last decision of the highest court had settled the question beyond recall.

To sum up in a few words, he was wise and able as a counselor in his office, as a trial lawyer he was shrewd, aggressive and strong before court or jury.

And whether in his office or in litigation, he was both honest and honorable and had the strength that a reputation for honor and honesty gives.

While Judge Holmes was a very great lawyer, careful, studious, and able, he was hampered by natural deficiencies of a very serious character. He was totally deficient of imagination. His speeches to court and jury were strong, direct, and logical, but he had not a trace of fancy. His earnestness lent some interest to his speechts, but he was not an orator, or even a good debater. While he showed greater familiarity with the New York reports than any man I ever saw, being able to turn to the book and page where almost any case was reported in an instant, he was totally unable to extract from the authorities the philosophical reasons on which they were founded. The case was presented by him to the court stripped of all interest, except the bare point of the decision. Here was a decision in his favor, and that was all there was of it. The reason or the rule laid down in the case seemed of no consequence to him. The decisions and the facts on which they were founded were put fairly and fully before the courtr and such reasoning as followed was from the decision as a point established and not to sustain the reason and principle of the case.

These difficulties were apparent to those with whom he practiced law. He was conscious of them himself, but he overcame every obstacle by work. He supplied the place of qualities he lacked by work; work, work, till he became the great and learned lawyer that he was. Judge Holmes, outside of the contentions of the bar, was an amiable and sociable man, and the extent of his information about the public men of the country was astonishing.

One fall I went hunting with him for about a week. In the evenings he used to tell anecdotes about nearly all of the public men of the country. Of Lincoln, Seward, Marsey, and about Kent, Walworth, and the other judges of the state of New York. Also about Seymour, Conklin, Tilden, and Charles O'Connor, and he had a marvelous amount of knowledge about them. His fund of anecdotes seemed inexhaustable. Besides this he had a great fund of knowledge of the inside or secret history of decisions of the courts and in regard to public measures. His mind was stored with this unwritten history more fully than any other man I ever met with the one exception of General Cass.

To the young man aspiring to eminence at the bar no better example could be set before him than the achievements of Judge Holmes which show that careful and continued study will make the good lawyer and overcome all obstacles and personal deficiencies.

In his manner, when out of the court room and out of his office, he was simple as a child. He was a man of simple truth. He had no vein for romance or exaggeration. His conversation was modest, chaste and delicate, yet highly interesting from the fullness of his store of information.

Additional Notes.

    1850 Census: Eaton, Madison, New York.

  • Holmes, Sidney T., age 34, lawyer, b. New York
  • Delila P., age 34, b. New York
  • Wentz, Parmelee, age 19, b. New York

    1870 - Census: Easton, Madison, New York.

  • Holmes, Sidney, age 60, lawyer
  • Delila, age 55, keeping house
  • Van Deusend, Sarah, age 30, at home
  • Smallwoods, Flora, age 20, domestic servant

    1887 - Directory: Bay City, Mich.

  • Holmes, Miss Julia, bds 1114 6th street.
  • Holmes, Sydney T. (Holmes & Collins), res 1114 6th street.
  • Holmes & Collins (Sidney T. Holmes, Chester L. Collins, Lawyers, Room 408 Phoenix block.

    1890 - Died at Bay City, Mich., but he was buried in Cedar Lake Cemetery, Morrisville, NY.

    1900 Census: Bay City, Mich.

  • Residence: 1110 Sixth St.
  • Holmes, Dilila P., b. Jul. 1816 New York
  • Wentz, Seba P., sister-in-law, b. Mar. 1825 Mass.
  • Holmes, Julia, sister-in-law, b. Jun. 1817 New York
  • Chesny, Margaret, border, b. Jan. 1866 Canada
  • Jackson, Tilla, servant, b. May 1880 Michigan
Related Pages/Notes

Related Pages:
Collins, Chester L.
People Referenced
Cass, General
Chesny, Margaret
Collins, Chester L.
Conkling, Roscoe
Haynes, Mr.
Holmes, Delila P. (wife)
Holmes, Epenetus (father)
Holmes, Julia
Holmes, Sidney T. (subject)
Jackson, Tilla
Kent, Mr.
Marsey, Mr.
O'Connor, Charles
Seymour, Mr.
Smallwoods, Fora
Stoddard, J.L.
Tilden, Mr.
Van Deusend, Sarah
Walworth, Mr.
Wentz, Parmelee
Wentz, Seba P.
Subjects Referenced
Bay City, MI
Bay Co., MI
Cedar Lake Cemetery, NY
Chenango & Black River
Eaton, NY
Holmes & Collins
Holmes, Collins & Stoddard
Madison Co., NY
Morrisville, NY
New York & Erie RR
Phoenix block, Bay City
Rensselaer Co., NY
Skaneateles, NY
Utica, NY
Washington, DC
Waterville Seminary, NY
Watson block, Bay City
WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.