James Kraus Baker, who died in Utica on the 24th of October, 1899, was interested in the fire department
and military companies to an extent almost unequalled by any other resident of the city. He was born on Washington
street in Utica, his natal day being January 17, 1831. His parents were John and Frances (Conger) Baker, the former
a native of Germany and the latter of Connecticut. John Baker, a tinsinith by trade, emigrated to the United States
in early life and took up his abode at Sacketts Harbor, New York, where he continued to reside until called to
his final rest. His widow afterward married again and came to Utica.
James K. Baker first attended school on Columbia avenue and later eontinned his studies in a school at the corner
of Bleecker street and Park avenue. After putting aside his text books he learned the shoemaker's trade under the
direction of his stepfather, Aaron Thompson. Subsequently he entered the employ of Lewis Brothers, who were at
that time the leading shoe manufacturers and dealers of the city, acting for fourteen years as foreman of the fitting
department. After the close of the Civil war shoe factories began to be established in Utica and Mr. Baker worked
as a laster for many years, being employed by many of the largest and best concerns of the city. In 1880 his health
had become so impaired that he abandoned his trade and opened a saloon at No. 16 Bleecker street, while later he
conducted a grocery store at the corner of Bleecker and John streets for two years. At the end of that time his
health was so poor that he was obliged to put aside active business cares.
In the fire department and also in local military companies Mr. Baker was a recognized and influential factor.
If he belonged to an organization it meant that he was doing all in his power to stimulate its growth and progress
and was furthering its interests to the best of his ability. In 1845 he became identified with the fire department
as torch boy in Hardenbrook Fire Company, No. 2. Later he joined Company No. 8 on Liberty street, from which he
transferred his membership to Washington Engine Company, No. 7. In 1851 the company was disbanded and a paid department
was organized, its members to receive twenty dollars per year. Mr. Baker, however, scorned to belong to a paid
department. In 1857, when the volunteer department was reorganized, he manifested his allegiance by joining Excelsior
Company, No. 2, and was made assistant foreman at its first meeting. In 1862 he joined Company No. 5 on Union street,
having been previously chosen foreman thereof. He served in that capacity until appointed assistant chief, which
position he held for one year and then returned to Company No. 5, remaining therewith until a paid department was
organized in 1874. Mr. Baker was one of the oldest members of the Exempt Firemen's Association and was long one
of the trustees of the Firemen's Benevolent Association, serving as president of the trustees in 1898 and 1899.
He was likewise one of the founders of the Veteran Firemen's Association and served as its chief for many years
after its organization. After 1874 he was frequently sent as a delegate to state firemen's conventions, etc. In
1848 he joined the City Guards, which was the first company organized in the Forty fifth Regiment and of which
Joy H. Ladd was captain,, while Mr. Baker held the rank of first corporal. Subsequently he joined the Flying Artillery,
which, however, existed for only a brief period. He next formed the Johnson Guards, a company of continentals,
serving as first lieutenant for about four years. Subsequently he formed the Regimental Corps, acting as captain
thereof for about a yea.r and a half and resigning about six months prior to the outbreak of the Civil war. He
took part, either as a soldier or fireman, in nearly all the public parades of Utica. During Ephraim Chamberlin's
administration as mayor Mr. Baker served as grand marshal of the 4th of July procession, being elected for that
honor by the workingmen of the City.
On the 29th of October, 1863, Mr. Baker was united in marriage to Miss Catherine Nichols, of Utica, her parents
being Patrick and Margaret (Jordan) Nichols. Her father, a native of Ireland, came to Utica at an early day and
embarked in the grocery business. Both he and his wife died in Utica, passing away in the faith of the Catholic
church. They reared four children to manhood and womanhood. Unto Mr. and Mrs. Baker were born three children, namely:
Theodore A. and James H. both residents of Utica; and Eva K., now Mrs. Keif of Utica.
Politically Mr. Baker was a democrat, believing firmly in the principles of that party. Fraternally he was identified
with the Knights of Honor, being a charter member of the lodge at Utica. He spent his entire life in Utica and
had a host of warm friends, winning the confidence and esteem of all with whom he came in contact.
History of Oneida County, New York
From 1700 to the present time
of some of its prominent men and pioneers.
By: Henry J. Cookinham
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
Oneida County, NY
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