Friday, August 6, 2010

Henry Hill Boody, Brunswick’s First Millionaire?

Henry Hill Boody's gravestone, which sits one lot over from the Upham's plot. Despite his wealth, Boody opted for a simple stone bearing only his name and the dates of his birth and death, which closely matches the style of his wife's gravestone.

Henry Hill Boody was born on November 8, 1816 in Jackson, Maine, the fourth son of John H. and Patience Redman. He studied at Bangor Classical School before entering Bowdoin College, where he was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity and Athenaen Society before graduating in 1842. Boody’s age at the time of his graduation—26—allowed him to immediately become a tutor in Greek at his alma mater, reportedly the first time in the college’s history a graduate had immediately become an employee of the college. Boody would eventually become professor of Rhetoric and Oratory, teaching as a professor of the college from 1845 to 1854.

1854 was a busy year for Henry Hill Boody. In May, Boody was in Washington D.C. and witnessed the effect the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act had on politics. He was so disheartened with the responses of Whigs and Democrats (the two major political parties oat the time) to the evils of slavery that when Boody returned home to Maine he contacted General Samuel Fessenden. Together, the two organized the Maine Republican party, earning Boody the title “Father of the Republican Party in Maine.” Maine’s Republican party would soon produce Hannibal Hamlin, who served as Abraham Lincoln’s vice president (interestingly, Lincoln and Hamlin did not meet until after their election in 1860!).

Later on in 1854, Boody decided to leave his post as a Bowdoin professor. Boody cited as being overworked—and thus overworking his students—as his reason for leaving, but he may have also been keen to become more involved in politics and business. Strangely, his obituary states that he left his teaching position due to “throat trouble”. Almost immediately after Bowdoin, Boody was elected to the Maine state senate in the fall of 1854. He continued his political career for a short time, eventually serving as Brunswick’s representative in the state legislature, and after deciding not to run for congress (despite being urged to do so by his friends) Boody made yet another career change.

Boody, who had long held an interest in business, later moved to New York City to pursue his interests further. He gradually expanded his investments and involvement in railroad, beginning with the Chicago, Fond du Lac & St. Paul Railroad in the 1850s, of which he was later made the director and financial agent. Boody’s business sense, including his belief that railroads should consolidate rather than compete, led his involvement in many other railroad companies such as the Chicago & Galena Union Railroad, the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad and the Pennsylvania, Slatington & New England Gauge Railroad. In fact, the first subscription for stock in the Union Pacific Railroad was made in his New York City office and Boody is cited as being at least in part responsible for the laying of 2,000 to 3,000 miles of railroad track in the United States. His investments led Boody to become a millionaire—possibly the first person who had lived in Brunswick ever to do so.

Boody eventually moved into banking as well, founding Boody, McLellan & Company, where his nephew, David A. Boody, worked for him (David A. Boody later became the 23rd mayor of Brooklyn). Yet Boody never turned his back on Brunswick or his alma mater. From 1864 to 1871 he served as a trustee of Bowdoin College. He married Brunswick native Charlotte Mellen Newman (born on July 23, 1823 and daughter of a Bowdoin professor) on September 3, 1846. When Charlotte died her in Brunswick on February 5, 1876, Boody had her buried in Pine Grove Cemetery. Neither of the couple’s two children—Henry Phillips and Caroline Kent—outlived their father, both dying before the age of 25. Boody spent the last few summers of his life in Brunswick, though he appears to never have completely retired.

Henry Hill Boody died of pneumonia at his adopted daughter’s home on Maine Street in Brunswick on September 10, 1912. He was just a few months shy of his 96 birthday, and at the time of his death was the oldest living graduate of Bowdoin. Today, his mark on Brunswick persists in two major forms. Boody Street, near Bowdoin College, bears his name. Boody was responsible for laying the street out and planting the elms which once dotted it, and in 1853 the town adopted the name for the street in Boody’s honor. On the corner of Boody and Maine Streets, however, stands Henry Hill Boody’s most prominent legacy: a gorgeous wooden Gothic “stick-style” home often called “the most interesting house” in Brunswick. The home, which was built for Boody in 1849 by Philadelphia architect Gervase Wheeler, is not to be missed by those interested in architecture.

Photo of the Boody-Johnson House at 256 Maine Street, taken by Richard Cheek. Though it is impossible to see in this black and white photo, according to the Historic Preservation Survey of the building: "The sand color of the exterior paint is probably very similar to the original which was a mixture of paint and fire sand, intended to resemble the stone of medieval Gothic architecture." From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# 1992.112.70.

Apparently, the house took a great financial toll on Boody. On March 2, 1850, Boody sent a letter to his mother explaining why he had failed to send her the $5 he had promised her:

“You may perhaps wonder very much that with a salary of a thousand dollars, I am so pinched for money, but I can explain the whole mystery in a few words. Last year I built a house which I expected would cost me $2,500. It actually cost me $5,000, independent of the land, for which I paid $1,000. This money I was obliged to hire [borrow], and in these times it is not easy to hire money except at very high rates of interest.”

In 1892, the house came into the possession of Bowdoin Professor Henry Johnson, whose daughter eventually donated the building—now known as the Boody-Johnson House—to Bowdoin College. Today, the house is used as the residence of the college dean.

Nota bene: Despite Boody's wealth and long life, I was unable to find any images of him in the Pejepscot Historical Society collection or on the internet. However, there is reportedly a portrait of him hanging in the Boody-Johnson House.

Sources:
Cleaveland, Nehemiah. History of Bowdoin College, with Biographical Sketches of its Graduates. Boston: James Ripley Osgood & Company, 1882.
“Death of Prof. H.H. Boody”. Brunswick Record. 13 September 1912.
General Catalogue of Bowdoin College and the Medical School of Maine, 1794-1912.
Brunswick: Bowdoin College, 1912.

Hatch, Louis C. The History of Bowdoin College. Portland, Maine: Loring, Short & Harmon, 1927.
Historic Preservation Survey of the Johnson-Boody House. 14 May 1975. Pejepscot Historical Society.
Little, George Thomas, ed. Genealogical and Family History of the State of Maine, Vol. 1. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1909.
The Official Railway List. 1892.
Shipman, William D. The Early Architecture of Bowdoin College and Brunswick, Maine. J.H. French & Son: 1985.
Weyrauch, Martin H., ed. The Pictorial History of Brooklyn Issued by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. New York: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1916.
Wheeler, George Augustus & Henry Warren. History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine, Including the Ancient Territory Known as Pejepscot. Boston: Alfred Mudge & Son, 1878.

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