Biography of Grinnell Burt
Orange County, NY Biographies





GRINNELL BURT was born in Bellvale, Orange County, N. Y., on November 7, 1822. He was a grandson of James Burt, who for twenty years was a prominent legislator of the State. An orphan at fourteen, he was thrown on his own resources. With unusual ability for mechanical construction, and a mind that quickly grasped all opportunities for developing the resources of the country, he became interested in railroad projects. Meanwhile his love for the law prompted a course of reading and study which proved of great value when corporate interests were committed to his charge.

With others he organized, in 1859, the Warwick Valley Railroad. The growing needs of the valley called for various extensions of the line. Mr. Burt's pluck and rare executive ability served his constituents well. By the last consolidation the road was merged into and known as the Lehigh & Hudson River Railway Company. He was its continuous and only president forty two years, dying in office. He was identified with various projects for bridging the Hudson. His was the vision to project the Orange County Railroad - "the missing link" - between the West and Southwest and New England, via the Poughkeepsie Bridge. This dream of his old age he pushed through with indomitable energy, enduring many anxious hours in its consummation, but which today justifies all his sagacious commercial foresight. The record of this Warwick railroad, while under his care, was that it never had a strike, never was in the hands of a receiver, never defaulted in the payment of the interest on its bonds, and no passenger lost his life during Mr. Burt's long administration. He selected his subordinates with rare judgment. At his death the new president retained to a man the entire corps that had served under Mr. Burt. No better choice could be made.

The other roads he served for varying terms as director, reorganizer, superintendent or president, were the Pittsburg & Western; Cincinnati, Van Wert & Michigan (now the Cincinnati, Jackson & Mackinaw); New Jersey Midland (now the New York, Susquehanna & Western); Kanawha & Ohio; New York & Greenwood Lake; Middletown, Unionville & Water Gap, which he brought out of its chaotic condition and placed on a sound footing, and the Toledo & Ohio Central, generally conceded to be one of the most successful reorganizations of a bankrupt company ever effected.

In 1875 Governor Tilden appointed him one of three commissioners to remove obstructions from the Delaware River. The commission served without pay, and after their work was thoroughly done a balance was returned to the State treasury, a result so unusual in the expenditure of public money that it excited no little comment.

No public work was ever dearer to Mr. Burt than the establishment of the Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital. Serving as chairman of the building committee he saved the State much money by his watchful care. He was appointed by Governor Dix on the first board of trustees of this noble institution, and gave twenty seven years of ungrudging service; acting first as vice president, he eventually became president for the eleven successive years before his death. All this he did amid the stress and strain of conflicting business cares in behalf of suffering humanity.

In Warwick his name was coincident with its progress. He was one of the agitators for incorporating it under a special charter; an incorporator of Warwick Institute, serving thirty two consecutive years on the board of education; one of the founders of Christ Church; on the committee of three to bond the town to pay volunteers in the late rebellion; on the first board of trustees of the Warwick Cemetery Association, active in building the reservoir and water works; on the first board of directors of the First National Bank, where he served as vice president for fifteen years.

The American Trossachs trip, which he inaugurated, was one of his many schemes to bring our valley's beauties into a wider recognition. This excursion as planned by him would challenge comparison for varied interest and charm with any one day's excursion taken in any part of the world. Mr. Burt also did much for the development of Greenwood Lake. The artistic station and his own stately home, both built under his direction and out of our native McAfee limestone, are evidence that Grinnell Burt was a man of taste and culture as well. If you would see his monument, look about you in the little village he so loyally loved and served.

In 1849 he married Miss Jane S. Van Duzer, daughter of Isaac Van Duzer, of Warwick, by whom he had one son and four daughters: Frank Howard, who died in infancy; Kate V. D., who married Charles Caldwell, of Newburgh; Lily, wife of Frederick Halstead, of Brooklyn. Jane, who died in 1903, and Mary Herrick Burt, who resides in the old homestead. Mrs. Burt died in 1870. In 1886 he married Miss Louise Pierson, daughter of Samuel V. Pierson, of Middletown, N. Y. By this marriage he had twin sons, Grinnell, Jr., and Howard Pierson. Mr. Burt died August 3, 1901.

Surely a few words of tribute should be added in honor of this man whose unfaltering honesty, ability and enthusiasm called to his side noble helpers and the capital necessary to carry out these difficult public works. Personally he was possessed of most genial social traits to see him in his home was to see him at his best. Here he dispensed the widest hospitality. He held high national ideals free from party lines. He was capable of long hours of unremitting physical and mental toil. He did not waste his energy talking about things he would like to do, he did them. He was acknowledged to be a winning and witty public speaker, and, when occasion demanded, a formidable antagonist, as he was absolutely fearless and not to be shaken from his convictions; and yet he was so fair withal that his warmest personal friends were among those with whom he differed on many occasions. In every walk of life he was a man.

When death came it seemed only a momentary interruption and to point back triumphantly to his long and honorable life of service.

From:
The History of Orange County New York
Edited by: Russel Headley
Van Deusen and Elms, Publishers
Middletown, N. Y. 1908


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