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John McGraw (1815-1877)
Lumber baron and businessman from Ithaca, NY, owned sawmill in Bay City, MI.

Biography (Added July 2008)

Landmarks of Thompkins County, New York
by John H. Selkreg, 1894
Chapter XIV - The Town of Dryden


John McGRAW was born in Dryden May 22, 1815, and in early life entered into business connection with his brother and John SOUTHWORTH. It has been written of him that he was distinguished for his rare business qualities and his comprehensive grasp of large and complicated enterprises. Careful planning, the most minute details were not overlooked in his estimates, and when he once formed his plan no ordinary obstacle could thwart him in its execution. As a merchant he was a success; as an extensive land owner and operator he had no rival. Early engaging, in connection with his father-in-law, John SOUTHWORTH, in the lumber business, he established extensive mills, and they became the owners of a large tract of pine timber lands in Allegany county, N.Y., from which they accumulated a very satisfactory estate for ordinary business me, but John McGRAW's resistless and untiring energy kept pace with his increasing financial prosperity and he invested and handled hundreds of thousands of dollars up to millions with the ease and sagacity and with less fret and wear to his evenly poised and balanced mind than usually attends the investment of a few thousand dollars by other men. He seldom became excited or hurried. He kept his business always in hand, and controlled and directed the largest operation with but slight friction. In a word, John McGRAW was, in military parlance, a financial general, and having formed his plan of battle he moved his troops with the skill of a field marshal, and usually to a successful victory over every obstacle intercepting his line of march. Discomfitures which would have disheartened other men did not seem to divert him or retard his more resolute action in his onward advance.

His marked characteristics were not demonstrative. He was kind, affable, bold, resolute, but cautious, of great force and sagacity, and with it all his heart was as sympathetic and tender as a woman's. Honest, prompt in decision and action, his presence inspired hope. He made few professions, but his fidelity to a friend was the test of a character anchored in truth and honor.

His large investments in Western lands and productive property left an estate at his death (which occurred at Ithaca, May 4, 1877, at the age of sixty-two) of over two millions of dollars. But no tribute to his memory can add to the monument his munificent gifts to Cornell University erected on the campus - the McGraw Building, at an expense of $250,000. So long as a student attends the university, as the long roll of honor receives new accessions, each will bear to his distant home, with fondest recollections of his alma mater, the cherished name and memory of John McGRAW, the donor of that grand library building, within whose alcoves shall be accumulated the best literature of the world, and the fountain from which shall flow the grand streams of knowledge and the highest culture of the land.

Mr. McGRAW married Miss Rhoda SOUTHWORTH, eldest daughter of John SOUTHWORH, a lady of most amiable character, brilliant endowments of intellect, refinement and culture. She died in 1847, leaving an only daughter surviving her, Miss Jennie McGRAW became, at the death of her father, John McGRAW, the sole heiress of a princely fortune, which, during her life, she dispensed in most munificent charities. Of a most delicate and frail constitution, she sought health by foreign travel, and for several years spent a great portion of her time in England on the continent in pursuit of heath, but in all her protracted suffering the warmth of her heart never cooed, nor did she forget her home or the host of friends she left behind her. On her last visit abroad she was married to Professor Willard FISKE, of Cornell University, and after spending a year abroad returned home. It was hoped that her native air would restore her to health, but the fondest wishes of those who knew her best and loved her most were doomed to disappointment, and she died surrounded by the friends of her youth and in the midst of the scenes and associations where in life she most loved to dwell. Her remains repose beside the ashes of her father in Ithaca's sacred keeping.

The munificent gifts of the father and daughter to Cornell University and other charitable bequests will be a grander memorial than marble sculptured shaft or monumental urn. No words can add to their memory, while on their forehead has fallen the golden dawning of a grander day, and though friendship, when it recalls their names, gets no answer from the voiceless lips of the unreplying dead, yet faith sees their risen star, and listening love, standing by their graves, shall hear the flutter of a wing above their silent and honored dust.

1877 Death, NY newspaper: (Added Jul. 2008)

The Cortland County Democrat - May 11, 1877

Death of John McGraw

One by one the older citizens of this county are taking their departure. In the death of John McGRAW, which occurred at his residence in Ithaca, last Friday morning, this county loses one of its foremost citizens. Having shrewdness and sagacity vouchsafed to few men, Mr. McGRAW has been able, by bending his whole energies to the task, to acquire a large amount of property. The McGraw building on the Cornell University grounds, donated by him to that institution, will be an enduring monument to his name and generosity.

The funeral services were attended at the residence in Ithaca yesterday, many of our citizens attending. The remains were deposited in the Cornell vault.
-- Dryden Herald

1877 Remarks by friend, Henry W. Sage. (Added Dec., 2008)

Proceedings of the 14th Anniversary of the University Conovocation of the State of New York. (1877)

(Page 129.)

The following tributes were paid to his memory. His intimate and life-long friend, Hon. Henry W. Sage, said of him:

“Always in feeble health, he was physically unable to attend to the minor details of business, and remitted them wholly to others. He dealt with principles and ideas; boldly grasping the outlines of important projects which commanded his attention , and , his judgment once convince of their soundness and utility, followed up with all the force of his character any enterprise once entered upon. As he was ripened by years and experience, the results of his great industry were represented by a large accumulation of wealth, no inconsiderable portion of which has been devoted to the benefit of mankind. He was an early and life-long friend of the late Ezra Cornell, and in full sympathy with his ideas in founding of Cornell University, and one of the earliest trustees. His clear, practical head has always been a power in the management of its interests, and is noble gift of the Library Building at a cost of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars is an enduring monument to his generosity and desire to promote the interests of education. In all his relations with men he was kind, affable and sympathetic. In his business , he combined great force and boldness with great caution and sagacity. He was upright, prompt, true, sensitive to the nicest shade of honor.”

1877 Statement by Directors of Second National Bank. (Added February 2007)

Bay City Observer -- Thursday, May 10, 1877

The Late John McGraw.

The Directors of the Second National Bank at a meeting held May 4th, to take action on the death of the Vice President of the institution, resolved to send Wm. Westover, President, and W. L. Plum, cashier, as representatives of the bank, to attend the funeral of John McGraw, which was held at Ithaca, N.Y., on Sunday. The following resolution was also adopted:

Whereas, It has pleased Almighty God to call from earth our late associate director and Vice President, John McGraw, be it

Resolved, That in his death we have sustained the loss of a man whose energy of charcterer and prompt business habits were only equaled by his clear, good judgement and kindness of heart. This in his position as Vice President of our bank his counsels and efforts have ever been directed towards the advancement of its best interests, and that he not only obtained, but retained the respect and friendship of the Board of Directors. That while deeply deploring this dispensation of Providence, we extend our heartfelt sympathies to the bereaved family, with the hope that “He who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb” will mitigate this heavy stroke of affliction.

Resolved, That the Cashier be requested to record these proceedings, and present a copy of the same to the family of the late deceased, and also request that they be published in the city papers.

A. J. Cook,
D. C. Smalley,


1883 McGraw mill. (Added July 2008)

History of Bay County, Michigan with Illustrations & Biographical Sketches
(1883) H.R. Page & Co.


This firm are the present proprietors of the McGraw Mill, one of the most noted mills in all the lumbering regions. The late John McGraw, who was so widely known in connection with Cornell University, and as one of the most extensive lumbermen of his time, was first engaged in the manufacture of lumber with Mr. H. W. Sage, at Wenona, where in 1863-64 they built a mill of monster proportions. In 1868 Mr. McGraw sold his interest in that mill, and built one at Portsmouth, which was destroyed by fire in 1872. The mill was immediately rebuilt on a much larger scale. It was said to be the largest mill in the world. It cut in one season 55,260,000 feet of lumber. The mill site covered about one hundred acres, which has been thickly dotted with buildings of various kinds, until quite a village is gathered there. The cut of the mill last season was about 40,000,000 feet of lumber. The product of the two salt blocks is about 125,000 barrels. After the death of John McGraw, Mr. Thomas McGraw, a nephew living in Poughkeepsie, New York, was interested in the settlement of the estate, and in 1878 the firm of T. H. Mcgraw & Co., succeeded that of John McGraw & Co., and continued until the Summer of 1882, when the firm of Birdsall & Barker became proprietors. Mr. T.H. McGraw is still concerned in the property, and does an extensive business in pine lands, logs and lumber. His residence is at Poughkeepsie, and a portion of his time spent in Bay City, as his interests demand. The firm of Birdsall & Barker is composed of Benjamin Birdsall and C. C. Barker, both of whom had been connected with the mill for several years. Mr. Barker has been connected with the mill since the first on was built in 1869.

1884 Estate. (Contributed by Alan Flood - Jul. 2008)

Bay City Tribune - Sunday Morning, August 3, 1884 (Page 3)

The McGraw -- Fiske Will Suit

Stenographer W. B. Estabrook, of Ithaca, N.Y., is expected to reach the city this week, accompanied by attorneys to take the testimony of the heirs of the McGraw estate. Bay City is sort of the "half-way" station in this matter, as witnesses from Manitoba will come here to give their testimony. Prof. Fiske is now basking in the sunshine of Italy, where he has been sojourning for several months. The heirs here are confident that their case is a good one, and that the will of the late Jenny McGraw Fiske will not be disturbed.

1884 will contested. (Contributed by Alan Flood - Jul 2008)

Bay City Tribune, Friday Morning - August 22, 1884 (Page 5)

The McGraw -- Fiske Will Contest

The taking of testimony in the McGraw-Fiske will contest case was continued and concluded before stenographer Estabrook at the Fraser house yesterday.

W. H. Tousey, F. E. Tyler and others testified as to the valuation of the McGraw farm, on Center street, placing its worth at $20,000.

Benj. Whipple, of Detroit, testified that the value of timber lands on the AuSable river was $330,000.

Several witnesses agreed that the West Bay City property was worth $60,000.

E. Everly testified as to lands in Ontonagon county.

This ended the case in Bay City and the attorneys and stenographer left last evening for Detroit where the testimony of other persons will be taken. The property in the upper and lower peninsulas, so far as brouth to light show the following valuations:

Lands in Ontonagon, Chippewa and Schoolcraft counties -- $200,000
Timbered lands on AuSable river -- $330,000
Farm on Center street -- $20,000

Total: $610,000

Related Notes & Pages

John McGraw
John McGraw primary business was in lumbering, which is what brought him to Bay City where along with his friend, Henry W. Sages, alto from Ithaca, built the world's largest mill in Bay City in 1865. John a few years later sold his interest in that mill to Henry and built a new mill on the opposite side of the Saginaw River. See his bio. for further details.
Related Pages:
Bio: McGraw, John
McGraw Mill
Bennett, Germond F.
Fire: McGraw Mill
Sage, Henry W.
People Referenced
Barker, C.C.
Birdsall, Benjamin
Cooke, A.J.
Cornell, Ezra
Estabrooook, W.B.
Fiske, (Professor)
Fiske, Jenny (McGraw)
McGraw, John
McGraw, Thomas H.
Miller, Albert
Plum, W.L.
Sage, Henry W.
Smalley, D.C.
Tousey, W.H.
Tyler, F.E.
Westover, Wm.
Whipple, Benj.
Subjects Referenced
AuSable river
Bay City
Birdsall & Barker mill
Chippewa Co., MI
Cornell Univ., NY
Cornell Vault
Cortland Co. Democrat
Detroit, MI
Dryden Herald
Fraser house, Bay City
John McGraw & Co.
John McGraw estate
Ithaca, NY
Manitoba, Canada
McGraw bldg (Cornell U.)
McGraw farm
McGraw-Fiske will
Ontonagon Co., MI
Portsmouth, MI
Poughkeepsie, NY
Schoolcraft Co., MI
Second National Bank
T.H. McGraw & Co.
Wenona, MI
West Bay City, MI
Internet References
[ - ] U.S. Supreme Court Reports, 1890.
Page 431 - Record of proceedings on estate of Jennie McGraw Fiske, daughter of John McGraw.
WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.