Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Human History Behind a Hudson House

Yesterday, I received an email from someone interested in the work of Hudson builder and architect Henry S. Moul. At the Columbia County Historical Society, she'd been looking at Modern Buildings by Henry S. Moul Architect, in which houses are identified not by address but by the names of the people for whom they were designed and built. Using city directories and census records, she had located most of the houses, but one was causing a problem. It was this one, labeled "Residence of the Late Hon. Elbert Payne, Hudson, N.Y." She asked if I could tell her where the house was located.

I didn't immediately recognize the house, but knowing when it might have been built gave me a pretty good idea of where it would have been built, so I printed out the picture and headed out in search of it. It didn't take very long at all to find it, at the top of McKinstry Place.

Finding the house piqued my curiosity about the person for whom it was built: the Late Hon. Elbert Payne. So, combining the information from city directories and census records provided by the person who asked about the house with what I could discover in old newspapers on Fulton History, I was able to put together this brief account of the brief life Elbert Payne.

Elbert Payne was born in Hudson in 1874 and was educated in the public schools. He graduated from Hudson High School in 1891, at the age of 17, and took a job as a bookkeeper with the National Hudson River Bank, then located in this building at 231 Warren Street.

Over the next nine years, Payne worked his way up to assistant teller, but in December 1900, he resigned his position at the bank to become deputy county clerk. This little social note, discovered in the Hudson Daily Register on March 2, 1898, when Payne was 24, reveals something of his character and reputation:
Elbert Payne the popular bookkeeper at the Hudson River bank was among Hudsonians in attendance on a swell wedding in New York last evening.
On June 2, 1901, the "matrimonial engagement" of Elbert Payne and Grace Parker was announced in the Hudson Evening Register. Grace was the daughter of Byron Parker, the plumber. Elbert and Grace would marry on December 16, 1901, but between the engagement and the wedding, Elbert, then 27, was elected to the State Assembly.

Payne was the Republican candidate for assemblyman, and his nomination met with great derision from the Hudson Daily Register, which was the Democrats' newspaper at the time. The Register considered him too young, too inexperienced, and too much under the influence of Louis Payn, the boss of the Republican "machine." Here's some of what the Register had to say about him in October 1901.
Even if Mr. Payne were fitted by experience for the office for which he was been nominated, he should be squelched because in accepting the nomination he has placed himself under obligations to perhaps the most dishonest and the most unscrupulous politician that this country has ever known. 
However, even if the shadow of the unprincipled political mountebank were not hovering over the youthful and inexperienced Elbert, there would still be reason for voting for this opponent, J. Clarence Rightmyer. Mr. Rightmyer is a man of affairs, a taxpayer, who has had experience in the world, while Elbert Payne is a boy scarcely out of his "teens," a recent high school graduate who knows as little about legislation as a brindle cow knows about the science of gastronomics. . . .
Nothing has been said in favor of Elbert Payne by the Republican press except that he is a good bookkeeper. This the Register is willing to concede. You know Goldsmith said that a man who was a good bookkeeper was good for nothing else, and years seem to have proven the logic of this assertion. . . .
Despite the efforts of the Hudson Daily Register to discredit him, Elbert Payne was elected to the New York State Assembly in November 1901. In December, he and Grace Parker were married, and in January he took his place in the State Assembly representing Columbia County. On February 4, 1902, a little item appeared in the social notes in the Hudson Register, reporting that "Assemblyman Elbert Payne is occupying his new residence on McKinstry Place." 

His life seemed perfect--new wife, new home, new career in politics, and (although he may not have known it at the time) there was a baby on the way. But tragically, on March 4, 1902, Elbert Payne died of pneumonia. On March 5, the Albany Evening Journal reported the response in the Assembly to his untimely death.

House To-day Passes a Resolution on 
His Untimely Demise.
Before the Assembly adjourned, Mr. [William] Bennet [21st District New York County] offered a resolution on the death of Assemblyman Elbert Payne of Columbia county. The death of Mr. Payne, the preamble to the resolution declared, had removed an honorable and highly conscientious representative, who filled the position to which he was elected with faithfulness and credit to his district and who, during this brief career as a legislator, had won the esteem and regard of his associates.
The speaker was directed to appoint a committee of seven members to attend the funeral of Mr. Payne.
Mr. Bennet said the duty he performed in offering the resolution was the saddest one he was ever called on to perform. The death of this colleague seemed cruel and unnecessary. He was but 28 years of age. No man was held in higher esteem.
In a list of legislative appropriations reported in the Albany Evening Journal on August 28, 1902, this item appeared:
For Grace Parker Payne, widow of the late Elbert Payne, member of assembly, to pay in full his salary, fifteen hundred five dollars and sixty cents, said amount to be paid from the appropriation made by chapter six hundred forty-four of the laws of nineteen hundred and one, for compensation and mileage of officers and members of the legislature.
It is not known how long Grace continued living in the house on McKinstry Place after her husband died, but the Hudson city directory for 1902 lists Grace Parker Payne as living at 436 Warren Street--her father's house, over the plumbing business--and ten years later, the Hudson city directory for 1912 also gives her address as 436 Warren Street.

Grace Parker Payne survived her husband by little more than a decade. She died on November 19, 1915. Her obituary in the Hudson Evening Register, which appeared on the day of her death, was explicit about the circumstances of her death and abundant with praise.

Mrs. Grace Parker Payne died at her house in this city at about 10 o'clock this morning.  She had been troubled with a growth for a year, being in a hospital in New York for five months undergoing serum and X-ray treatments, but she gradually kept growing weaker. She did not suffer any pain, and was able to be up until this week. She was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Byron Parker, of this city, and the widow of Elbert Payne, who died while serving in the legislature as an Assemblyman. They were married December 16, 1901, and the death of Mr. Payne occurred in the following March of pneumonia. She is survived by a son, Elbert. . . . 
She grew up to womanhood in this city and her pleasant temperament and her happy ways made her many friendships. She was a woman respected by all for her many fine traits of character. She was a member of the Presbyterian church, and until her health became impaired she was the assistant librarian at the D.A.R. library, serving about seven years in this position. She was a member of the Hendrick Hudson chapter, D.A.R., and also a member of the Woman's club, being ever active and interested in those things which tended toward the city's and its people's betterment.
An item on the same page of the Register that day announced the funeral arrangements: "Funeral from her late residence, 436 Warren Street, on Monday [November 22] afternoon at 2 o'clock."


  1. Carole,

    This is an astounding report. Thank you!

  2. Really interesting article, thanks. I'm curious what 231 Warren Street looks like today.

    1. Sad to say, that building no longer exists. In 1907, the bank moved upstreet to its new building: 520 Warren Street, now City Hall. The Elks Club took over the building at 321 Warren Street but moved on to 601 Union Street in 1936, after a fire damaged 321 Warren Street. The building was then purchased by an early Hudson "developer" who demolished it and built in its place what is there now. http://gossipsofrivertown.blogspot.com/2012/12/right-story-wrong-site.html