Biography of General George A. Garretson
Cuyahoga County, OH Biographies

GEORGE ARMSTRONG GARRETSON. No single metewand can suffice to gauge accurately the value of the services that were rendered to the world by Gen. George Armstrong Garretson, who was long one of the honored and influential citizens and representative men of affairs in the City of Cleveland. To measure his worth and his usefulness by means of any one standard of delineation is impossible by reason of the many and diverse avenues along which he directed his splendid energies, with a loyalty of personal stewardship that betokened a nature that was signally true to itself and to all that it touched in the complex affairs of life. Within the necessarily prescribed limitations of a publication of this order it is possible to sketch in only the briefest outline the record of the character and achievement of General Garretson, but even this circumscribed review can not fail to offer lesson and incentive.

On the paternal side General Garretson was a scion of a sturdy Holland Dutch family that was founded in New Jersey in 1670, and each successive generation gave to the nation men of prominence and influence in their respective fields of activity. General Garretson was born at New Lisbon, Columbiana County, Ohio, January 30, 1844, and was a son of Hiram and Margaret King (Armstrong) Garretson, he having been a youth at the time of the family removal to Cleveland. Hiram Garretson became prominently identified with marine transportation between Cleveland and the great Lake Superior copper region, besides which he founded, in 1868, the Cleveland Banking Company, of which he became the president, as did he later of the Second National Bank, with which the former institution was merged in 1872. He was chief commissioner from the United States at the Vienna International Exposition in 1873, and long held place as one of the leading citizens of Cleveland.

On the maternal side General Garretson was of Scotch Irish lineage. His maternal grandfather, Gen. John Armstrong, was a soldier in the War of 1812, and served as brigadier general in the Ohio militia of the pioneer days. Basileal Armstrong, an uncle of the subject of this memoir, was graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, and was in active service as an officer in the Mexican war. One of his grandfathers and several others of his kinsmen were patriot soldiers in the War of the Revolution.

After attending the schools of Cleveland and an academy at Cornwall-on-the-Hudson, New York, Gen. George A. Garretson finally entered the United States Military Academy, and in this institution he was graduated as a member of the class of 1867. Thereafter he was a lieutenant in the Fourth United States Artillery until 1870, when he resigned and returned to Cleveland. He here became an interested principal in the wholesale grccery business of Briggs, Hathaway & Garretson, but in 1875 he assumed a position in the Second National Bank, in which he won rapid advancement and of which he was the vice president at the time when it was succeeded by the National Bank of Commerce, of which he became vice president. In 1890 he was elected president of this important financial institution, which later was consolidated with the Western Reserve National Bank, under the corporate title of the Bank of Commerce National Associatidn. Of this corporation General Garretson continued the president until his death, December 8, 1916, at the age of seventy two years, he having had at the time seniority among all bank presidents in Cleveland. General Garretson became a recognized authority in all matters pertaining to banking enterprise, and as such his advice and counsel were much in demand. He was a close student of governmental and economic problems, and thus fortified himself thoroughly for the management of the great financial interests with which he was identified. He was a director of the Citizens Savings & Trust Company, the Guardian Savings & Trust Company, and the Cleveland Stone Company; was chairman of the directorate of the Great Lakes Towing Company, and was treasurer of the Montreal Mining Company. Concerning his connection with the banking business, the following appreciative estimate has been written "During his association with the development and life of the banking institutions of Cleveland, his was a staying and upbuilding influence at all times. The business world witnessed several panics during his life as a banker, and the monetary institutions of Cleveland faced several crises, but in every trying situation General Garretson's position and influence were strong in harmonizing and drawing together all the banks and insuring their acting in such unison that Cleveland has for the past generation stood in the front as a city where the bankers work concordantly and at all times for the good of every depositor and that of the community. Occupying the position of president and active manager of one of the largest and most important banks in the State of Ohio, it can consistently be said that General Garretson ranked with the leading bankers of America. He was not unknown also in railroad circles, as he served for a number of years as a director of the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad."

In his military career general Garretson added new honors to the family name and to an ancestry that had given loyal soldiers to the various wars in which the nation has been involved, including that of the Revolution. At the age of eighteen years, on the 26th of May, 1862, he enlisted for service as a soldier in the Civil war. He became a private in Company E, Eighty fourth Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and with this command he was in service in West Virginia and Maryland, until he received his honorable discharge September 20 of that year. On July 1 of the following year he entered the United States Military Academy, in which, as previously noted, he was graduated in 1867.

General Garretson never lost his vital interest in military affairs and ever stood exponent of lofty patriotism. In 1877 he became one of the organizers of the First Cleveland Troop, which later became Troop A of the Ohio National Guard, and of this splendid organization he served as captain from 1884 until his resignation in October, 1891. In the period of 1880-84 he was aide de camp on the military staff of Governor Charles Foster of Ohio, with the rank of colonel. At the initiation of the SpanishAmerican war he promptly tendered his services to the government, and May 27, 1898, was commissioned brigadier general of the United States Volunteers. He was assigned command of the Second Brigade, First Division, Second Army Cores, and with his command he entered active service in Cuba in the following July. The brigade took part in the demonstrations against the Spanish works at the entrance of Santiago harber, and after the capitulation of that city he was in command of the first United States troops to land on the island of Porto Rico, where he led his forces in important conflicts with the Spanish troops and compassed the surrender of the city of Ponce. His achievements in this connection led to his being recommended, in the reports of General Miles and General Henry, for advancement to the brevet rank of major general, by reasnn of his gallantry in action. He was actively identified with the Porto Rico campaign until the cessation of hostilities, and received his honorable discharge, November 30, 1898, the board of regular army officers having like wise recommended him for rank of brevet maj or general.

Of General Garretson the following has been written: "In a military sense he stood for a great deal in Northern Ohio no one was held in higher esteem or looked to with more confidence than was General Garretson. Always kind, just and loyal, he was admired by everyone connected with the national or state military service in this part of the country. Always taking a large and earnest interest in military affairs, he was a thorough believer in military preparation and discipline. The record of his services to his home city would be incomplete without a reference to his work in connection with the National Guard organization of Cleveland, through his organization of the military committee of the Chamber of Commerce in 1897. As chairman of this committee several years and as a member thereof for a still longer period, and as its wise counsellor at all times, he rendered a valuable service." General Garretson was a member of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, and in 1899 he was elected senior vice commander through the commandery of the State of Ohio. He had membership also in the Military Order of Foreign Wars, and served as commander of its Ohio Commandery. He was an honored member of Garretson Camp No. 4, United SpanishAmerican War Veterans, which was named in his honor, and he served as a member of the first corps of officers of the national organization of the Society of the Porto Rican Expedition. He had membership in the Army and Navy Club at the national capital, the Ohio Society of New York, the University Club of New York City, and in his home city was a member of the Union, Country, University and Roadside Clubs, besides having been an active member of the Chagrin Valley Hunt Club.

General Garretson was a stalwart republican, but never sought political preferment. His fine sense of personal stewardship was shown in his punctilious observance of all civic duties and also in his earnest support of charitable and benevolent agencies. His philanthropies were many and ever of unostentatious order. He was active in advancing Red Cross service, was for years vice president of the Board of the Children's Fresh Air Camp, a trustee of Lakeside Hospital and also of the Cleveland Orphan Asylum, the Old Stone Church (Presbyterian), and Adelbert College.

The first marriage of General Garretson occurred in 1870, when Miss Anna Scowden, of Cleveland, became his wife. The death of Mrs. Garretson occurred in 1886, and she was not survived by children. In the autumn of the year 1888 was solemnized the marriage of General Garretson and Miss Emma R. Ely, daughter of the late George H. Ely. an honored citizen to whom a memoir is dedicated in the following sketch, so that further review of the family history is not here required. Since the death of her husband Mrs. Garretson has continued her residence in Cleveland, where she has long been active in representative social and cultural circles, and here also remain the three children: Margaret (Mrs. Henry A. Raymond), George Ely and Hiram.

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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