Biography of Stevenson Burke
Cuyahoga County, OH Biographies

STEVENSON BURKE. Not too often, and not through the medium of too many vehicles of publication, can tribute be paid to a man whose life had so great significance as that of Judge Stevenson Burke, for every such tribute, by very reason of its subject, must have its measure of objective, inspiration and incentive. What more can be said of him than that in all of the relations of an intensely earnest and distinguished career he lived up in the fullest sense to his own and frequently expressed ideal: "One of the greatest achievements of man is to do right" Judge Burke, long one of the most prominent and most highly honored citizens of Cleveland, made his influence potent in its every contact, and as a lawyer, as a loyal and generous citizen, as a man of large and important capitalistic interests, and as the tolerant, kindly personality that placed true valuations on humanity, he centered his every thought and action in the determination to do what was right and good. In short, his was a life distinguished by high purpose and marked by large and worthy achievement.

Judge Burke was born in St. Lawrence County, New York, November 26, 1826, and his death occurred April 24, 1904. He was about eight years of age when his parents came to Ohio and established the family home at North Ridgeville, Lorain County. He early manifested intellectual precocity and a spirit of leadership, and from his boyhood until the close of his life he made every experience and every application render its quota of knowledge of cumulatively fortifying order. His was a life of intellectual and spiritual growth. At the age of seventeen years Judge Burke proved himself eligible for pedagogic honors, and made a record of successful service as a teacher in the district schools. Through his own resources, and with an ambition that was not to be denied, he provided the means for obtaining a higher education than the financial powers which his parents could not supply. Thus he was enabled to profit by the advantages of the Ohio Wesleyan University, and in consonance with his well formulated plans he thereafter turned his attention to the study of law. His splendid powers of absorption and assimilation came into effective play and he made rapid advancement in his study of jurisprudence, with the result that he was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1848, shortly after attaining to his legal majority. As touching the professional career of Judge Burke, the following estimate is well worthy of reproduction here: "No dreary novitiate awaited him. He came to the starting point of his law practice well equipped with broad legal learning and laudable ambition. To an understanding of uncommon acuteness and vigor he added thorough and conscientious preparatory training, while he exemplified in his practice all the higher attributes of a truly great lawyer. He was constantly inspired by an innate and inflexible love of justice, and also by a delicate sense of personal honor that controlled him in all of his personal relations. His fidelity to the interests of his clients was proverbial, and yet he never forgot that he owed a higher allegiance to the majesty of the law. His diligence and energy in the preparation of his cases, as well as the earnestness, tenacity and courage with which he defended the right, as he understood it, challenged the highest admiration of his associates. He invariably sought to present his arguments in the strong, clear light of common' reason and logical principle. He made rapid advance, and when he was only twenty six years of age his law practice exceeded that of any other attorney of Lorain County. He was connected with every case of importance heard in the County Court and with many important litigated interests in adjoining counties. He acted as counsel in nearly all, if not every, case taken from his home county to the Supreme Court, and he proved himself a foe worthy of the steel of the ablest lawyers in the country."

In 1862 Judge Burke was elected to the bench of the Court of Common Pleas in Lorain County, and he continued in service in this connection until 1869, when he resigned, for the purpose of resuming the practice of his profession. In that year he engaged in practice in the City of Cleveland, and here he had as law partners at various times such well known attorneys as F. T. Backus, E. J. Estep, W. B. Sanders and J. E. Ingersoll. He soon gained leadership at the Cleveland bar, and appeared in connection with many of the most important cases presented before the State and Federal Courts of Ohio. He was a leading lawyer in a number of cases that attracted national attention. Thus he represented the controlling corporations in cases growing out of the Atlantic & Great Western Railway manipulation; a case involving the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati & Indianapolis Railway, as against the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railway; a case involving the constitutionality of the Scott liquor law; the great Hocking Valley Railroad arbitration case, and a large number of others of equal importance, in which not only large financial interests but also important legal measures were involved.

It was undoubtedly his connection with railway litigation, as noted in the preceding paragraph, that eventually led to the advancement of Judge Burke to a place among the great railway owners and capitalists of the West. He was for many years a director and the general counsel of the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati & Indianapolis Railroad, and of this corporation he was eventually made the president. He likewise became. the chief executive of the Indianapolis & St. Louis Railroad Company, and gave long service as a director of the Cincinnati & Springfield; the Dayton & Michigan; the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton; the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Indianapolis; the New York, Chicago & St. Louis, and the Central Ontario Railroad companies. He served as president of the Columbus, Hocking Valley & Toledo Railroad, and for many years was president of the Toledo & Ohio Central, the Cleveland & Mahoning Valley, the Kanawha & Michigan, and the Central Ontario Railroad companies, besides which he conducted, for William H. Vanderbilt, the negotiations that resulted in the purchase of what is best known as the Nickel Plate Railroad. He became one of the heavy stockholders of the Canadian Copper Company, which owned the largest nickel mines in the world, and was made president of this important corporation. In all these connections the service of Judge Burke was distinctively of constructive order. A mind of remarkable brilliancy was that of this noble man, and he ever used his powers wisely and justly, with a deep appreciation of his personal stewardship and of the responsibilities which individual success imposes. His charities and benevolences were large, but invariably unostentatious, and it would ill comport with his intrinsic modesty here to give review of the many acts of service and human sympathy that marked his course as he passed along the path of his earnest and upright life. It has well been said that Judge Burke "stood as an American citizen absolutely kingly in the deportment of his life." He made the most of himself and his powers at every stage of his splendid career, and represented the best in human thought and action. The limitations of this publication prevent as full review of the life and service of Judge Burke as could be wished, but here has been, it is trusted, offered a survey that shall bring its measure of lesson and inspiration, as suggested in the opening paragraph of this memoir. Through manifold avenues did Judge Burke find opportunity to show his loyalty to and appreciation of his home city, and in this connection it may be specially noted that he was the recognized leader in the support and direction of the Cleveland School of Art. He and his wif e, who still maintains her home in Cleveland, were energetic in their activities in the furthering of the social and cultural agencies that make for the higher ideals in human affairs, and Mrs. Burke, a gracious gentlewoman who is loved by all who have come within the sphere of her influence, is now president of the Board of Trustees of the Cleveland School of Art. She is an earnest member of the Second Presbyterian Church of Cleveland, and is affiliated with the Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and still finds joy in her participation in the social activities of her home city.

On the 28th of April, 1849, was solemnized the marriage of Judge Burke and Miss Parthenia Poppleton, a daughter of Rev. Samuel Poppleton, of Richland County, Ohio. The death of Mrs. Burke occurred April 7, 1878, and she was not survived by children. June 22, 1882, recorded the marriage of Judge Burke and Mrs. Ella M. (Beebe) Southworth, of Clinton, New York, she being a daughter of the late Henry C. Beebe, who was a scion of a family that was founded in Massachuse in the Colonial period of our national history. The devoted companionship of Judge and Mrs. Burke continued nearly a quarter of a century, and was severed only when death placed its seal on the mortal lips of the honored subject of this memoir. A perfect harmony of intellectual, spiritual and social ideals made the companionship of Judge and Mrs. Burke one of idyllic order, and in Cleveland Mrs. Burke finds ample demand upon her time and attention in connection with her charitable and benevolent services, her church work and her position as the popular chatelaine of one of the most beautiful homes of the Ohio metropolis, this home being situated at 10710 Magnolia Drive.

A History of Cuyahoga County
and the City of Cleveland
By: William R. Coates
The American Historical Society
Chicago and New York, 1924

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