Biography of Silas L. George, Jr.
Jefferson County, NY Biographies





Silas Levi George, Jr. - Among those men who made their mark in the social and industrial life of Watertown, none is more prominently, nor indeed more pleasantly remembered than Silas Levi George, Jr., financier, art connoisseur, sportsman. Although a man of large affairs and a highly successful jeweler (in point of view of actual mercantile connections he was Watertown's oldest merchant), yet it is not for his commercial activities alone that Mr. George is remembered and beloved. He was a friendly man and an interesting one who enjoyed life thoroughly especially the companionship of his fellowman. He entered with interest into the affairs of his home town for over 50 years and throughout all that time he was a valuable citizen. Mr. George began his career early. He was only 14 years old when he came from Theresa to enter a dry goods store in Watertown. It was not long after this that he became connected with the jewelry store of his uncles, Anson R. and Roswell P. Flower, the latter becoming Governor of New York State. He ultimately became owner and proprietor of this store, building up a considerable fortune and extending his enterprises into broader fields of finance. He became an authority on diamonds and rubies and his store became one of the treasure centers of the State, with an art collection not only of jewels but of valuable paintings, and original statuary, as well as articles of gold and silver and the finest of bric-a-brac.

Silas L. George, Jr., came of the finest of the pioneer stock of Jefferson County. He was born in the village of Theresa, N. Y., Sept. 8, 1852, the son of Silas Levi and Caroline (Flower) George. Both father and mother were of English ancestry. The father, Silas L. George, Sr., was born in the town of Lorraine. The original George family came to Jefferson County over 100 years ago and, like so many early settlers, sought out the hill country in order to escape the ague and fever of the lowlands. This fact accounts for the early settlement of Lorraine. It explains why so many pioneers passed over the rich flat meadow country nearer the lake where the soil was black and fertile and sought the rocky farms higher up. Unable to make a living on the barren, rocky soil, many of them left the hill farm country of Lorraine and the George family was one of these. They migrated down to Theresa where Silas L. George, Sr., met and married Caroline Flower, daughter of Nathan Monroe Flower. The Flowers were another Theresa family of exceptionally fine qualities. Caroline (Flower) George traces her ancestry back to Normandy at the time of William the Conquerer. She was a sister of Colonel George W. Flower, the first mayor of the city of Watertown, of the late Governor Roswell P. Flower, and Anson R. Flower, heads of the old Wall Street firm of Flower and Company, made immortal as well as wealthy by their coup on the stock exchange with the Brooklyn Rapid Transit System, which gave them control of the road and saved it. Silas L. George, Jr., of Watertown was on the most friendly terms with all three of these uncles. It was from R. P. and A. R. Flower that he bought the jewelry store with which he was connected from 1868, when at the age of 16 he entered it as an apprentice, until his death in 1926 in his 74th year. Mr. George was the youngest of three sons born to his mother and father. John S., the eldest, was a wealthy real estate and mine owner of Milwaukee, Wis. Nathan M., was a prosperous citizen of Danbury, Conn., and died there a few years ago, the father of Mrs. Harold W. Conde, and Mrs. Edward S. Lansing, of Watertown.

Silas L. George, Sr., was a merchant of Theresa. His youngest son, Silas L., Jr., attended the common schools of Theresa in winter and worked in his father's store in summer until at the age of 14 he left school and came to Watertown as clerk in the dry goods store of Hoffman & Weinberg. He remained there for only a little more than a year when, in 1868, he became an apprentice in the jewelry establishment of his uncles, the late Roswell P. and Anson R. Flower. The original jewelry business of which this store was an outgrowth had been established about a century ago, in the early half of the nineteenth century, by William Harrison Sigourney, who had, in turn, learned the business through his apprenticeship to the late Calvin Guiteau, a talented and artistic Frenchman. After he had been ten years in the employ of his uncles, young Silas L. George bought the business and became proprietor of the store, an office which he held with ever increasing distinction until the time of his death.

During his life time Mr. George gathered together one of the finest collections of cut and uncut diamonds and rubies outside of New York City. He became a connoisseur of precious stones and objects of art. In the basement of his store he had fitted up an art gallery and hung there valuable paintings, original and copies of famous masterpieces as well as a number of excellent pieces of statuary in bronze, marble and alabaster. His stock was valued at more than $100,000. He was regarded as an authority on diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and precious stones in general, and was often consulted in regard to them by experts from all over the State. His store was a jewelry center for his own particular section of the State and he issued an annual catalogue and did an extensive mail order business in jewels, gold and silver, and fine bric-a-brac. But Mr. George's interests were not limited to the jewelry business. For more than 40 years he was secretary of the Henry Keep Home, an office he assumed at the request of Mrs. Keep when she built the memorial to her husband. The board of trustees of the Henry Keep Fund, of which Mr. George was secretary, controlled also the Paddock Arcade, a revenue producer for the Home, the management of the Flower Building, in Arsenal Street and until 1916, the custody of the old American Building leased that year to F. W. Woolworth for 99 years. In these negotiations Silas L. George played a large part. In 1889 he became a stockholder in the old Watertown Gas Company; in 1896 he became its secretary and when it became later the Watertown Gas Light Company and was merged with the Northern New York Utilities, Inc., Mr. George continued as a member of the board of directors. He was also vice president and a member of the board of trustees of the Watertown Savings Bank; he was a charter member of the Watertown Chamber of Commerce and for many years one of its directors. Deeply interested in out door sports, he was internationally known as the donor of the Silas L. George cup, a valuable silver trophy competed for each year by the small Class R sailing yachts of the United States and Canada. This has long been a championship trophy and the race for it is now a classic. Fishing was one of his favorite sports. Above all he loved trout fishing, and there were few mountain streams in New York State which he had not whipped for this gamey fish. Lake trout, muscalonge and black bass were also among his favorites and up until the very summer before his death he spent much time in Sackett's Harbor, where he kept a motor boat during the black bass season.

Fraternally, Mr. George was a member of Watertown Lodge No. 49, F. & A. M.; of Watertown Chapter, No. 59, R. A. M.; of Watertown Commandery No. 11, K. T., and Media Temple, A. A. O. N. M. S. In addition he was affiliated with the old Corona Lodge, No. 705, I. O. O. Fellows. He was a member of the Rotary Club since its organization and attended its meetings regularly. With his family he attended Trinity Episcopal Church.

Silas L. George, Jr., married, in Watertown, Kate Grafton, daughter of the late Dr. John Gilbert Grafton, a native of London, a graduate of Oxford and one of the most distinguished surgeons of New York state. For many years Watertown was the seat of his practice. Two sons were born to Mr. and Mrs. George: Roswell S. and John Gilbert.

From:

The North Country
A History, Embracing
Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Oswego, Lewis
and Franklin Counties, New York.
By: Harry F. Landon
Historical Publishing Company
Indianopolis, Indiana 1932


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