Biography of John Schoonmaker
Orange County, NY Biographies





JOHN SCHOONMAKER, for nearly half a century the foremost dry goods merchant in Orange County, was born in the town of Gardiner, Ulster County, N. Y., January 25. 1830, and died at his home in Newburgh, N. Y., January 1, 1904.

The Schoonmaker family is one of the oldest in this section of New York State. The progenitor of the family in America was Hendrick rochemsen Schoonmaker, who came to America in 1654, in the military service of the Dutch West India Company. The records show he loaned money to Governor Stuyvesant "in time of need," and was active in the military duties made necessary by the troublous times. His grandson. Captain Frederick Schoonmaker, was one of the patriots and soldiers of the Revolution, who gave himself and his property to his country in its struggle for freedom from the British yoke.

John A. Schoonmaker, father of the subject of this sketch, was a son of Major Abraham Schoonrnaker of Revolutionary fame (Fourth Regiment, Ulster County Militia). He married Rachel, eldest daughter of Gustavis and Maria (Terwilliger) Sammons. Ten children were born to them, of whom John was the tenth in order of birth. He was educated at Amenia Seminary, Dutchess County. He began work upon his father's farm and continued until he was twenty two, teaching school at Gardiner for the last winter that he remained at home. In March, 1852, with his brother Jacob, he opened a general store at Tuttletown. Soon afterward his brother lost his life in the Henry Clay disaster on the Hudson, and in a short time the Tuttietown store was sold, Mr. Schoonmaker moving to Newburgh in the fall of 1853. His first employment was with Stephen Hayt, on Water street, for his board. In three months he took a clerkship with Isaac Wood, Jr., fcr three years, after which he had a position for a year with Mr. Parmalee, and again returned to the store of Isaac Wood, Jr., where, under Mr. Wood's guidance, he received and acquired experience that was invaluable to him in later years.

In 1863 Mr. Schoonmaker, with Samuel C. Mills and A. Y. Weller, purchased the dry goods business of Colonel Wood, at the northeast corner of Water and Third streets. They conducted business under the firm name of Schoonrnaker, Mills & Weller. Half .a dozen lines of boats between New York and Newburgh and market wagons from the surrounding country made Newburgh an active business center, where stores were open as early as five o'clock in the morning and frequently as late as eleven o'clock at night. In 1878 the firm occupied its newly completed building at Nos. 94 and 96 Water street. This was considered a notable improvement and the firm even then had the largest dry goods store in the city. Although at first only part of the building was occupied, in a few years increased business made it necessary to occupy the whole. Mr. Mills retired in 1885 and Mr. Weller January 1, 1898. Mr. Schoonmaker son, Samuel V., purchased Mr. Weller's interest and them firm became John Schoonmaker & Son.

Now the firm purchased the adjoining building on the north, still further increasing its capacity for business. Mr. Schoonmaker took an active interest in the affairs of the firm until his sudden illness in the latter part of 1902, and after a protracted period of hope and fear he died on January 1, 1904, at his home, 135 Grand street. He had thus been for many years the head of Newburgh's dry goods trade. His business acquaintance was very extensive and few men enjoyed such a reputation for honor, integrity and probity, his friends and acquaintances placing implicit confidence in him, which, throughout his career, was never violated. He was a public spirited citizen, always interested in the welfare and progress of Newburgh and contributed generously to projects which promised well for its advancement, yet he never sought public office or cared to appear prominently in public. His increasing business prevented him from entering politics, although he was a member of the board of health from 1885 to 1888, in which he rendered conscientious service. He was one of the organizers of the old Newburgh board of trade, and of its successor, the Newburgh Business Men's Association, of which his son was president. He earnestly aided by counsel and purse in the building of the Palatine Hotel. For thirty seven years he was a trustee of the Newburgh Savings Bank and for a number of years its second vice president. He was a member of the First Presbyterian Church, in which he was active and efficient, serving for many terms as trustee and elder. He was also deeply interested in Bethel Mission and chapel, serving as superintendent of the chapel while health permitted. He was a member of the Holland Society of New York from 1890 until the time of his death. He was married July 2, 1862, to Mary A. Vail. The children of this marriage, Samuel V. Schoonmaker, Mrs. W. Clement Scott and Miss Elizabeth M. Schoonmaker, are all residents of Newburgh.

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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