Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

December 14, 2013

NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Washington Hunt left marks in Lockport

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Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Washington Hunt was born in Windham, Greene County, N.Y., on Aug. 5, 1811. As a boy his family moved to Hunt’s Hollow in Livingston County, where he attended school and later worked as a clerk in a store. When the owners, Tucker & Bissell, moved to Lockport in 1828, Hunt went with them. Three years later he began to study law under Lot Clark in a small building on Market Street. 

Hunt married Mary Walbridge in 1834 and went into partnership with her father to open a local office of the Albany Land Company, which had bought up unsold land in northwestern New York from the Holland Land Company. With the opening of the Erie Canal, the sale of land was booming in this area, making Hunt and his father-in-law very wealthy. 

Hunt was admitted to the bar that same year, but in 1835 the law/land office burned to the ground. A new brick structure was built on Market Street, where St. Joseph’s Church is today. (That office was moved to the Niagara County Historical Society grounds in 1955). 

In 1836, Hunt was appointed by New York State Governor William Macy as the first judge in Niagara County and the youngest in the state.

Politically, Hunt started out as a Van Buren Democrat but was elected to Congress in 1842 as a Harrison-Tyler Whig. While in Congress, he served as chairman of the Commerce Committee and opposed the annexation of Texas as a slave state. He also persuaded Congress to send assistance to the people of Ireland during the time of the “Great Famine” there. Hunt served three terms in the House of Representatives and in 1849 he was appointed by Governor Hamilton Fish to be comptroller of New York State. 

In 1850 Hunt won the New York State governorship as a Whig by the slim margin of 262 votes. His chief accomplishment as governor was the passage of a bill to enlarge the Erie Canal, a measure that would greatly benefit Niagara County. He ran again as a Whig in 1852 but was defeated by Democrat Horatio Seymour. He then joined Millard Fillmore in the American or “Know Nothing” Party. This party opposed immigration, particularly from Europe’s predominately Catholic countries.

In 1856 Hunt again ran for Congress, this time as an independent with no party affiliation. He was defeated. On the issue of slavery, he supported compromise rather that confrontation. He opposed the Civil War and returned to the Democratic Party after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. The Democrats nominated him to run for Congress in 1862 and once again he was defeated. 

Although Hunt continued to take an active interest in politics, he never ran for office again.

Hunt returned to Lockport in 1853 and purchased a county home at Old Niagara Road and Lake (Avenue) on the northern outskirts of the village. He named his home Wyndham Lawn. He continued to be active in the community, serving as a president of the Lockport Bank and later the Lockport Bank and Trust Company. He was also connected with Merchant’s Gargling Oil and the Holley Manufacturing Co., and he had interests in railroads and western lands.

Hunt was a local philanthropist who would often pay bills for those who were going through a difficult time. 

Hunt also maintained a residence in New York City during the 1860s and that is where he died of cancer on February 2, 1867. He was brought back to Lockport for burial in Glenwood Cemetery.

Hunt’s home, Wyndham Lawn, is now a facility for children with behavioral problems. His original brick home at Market and North Adams streets is also still standing. The Lockport elementary school named for him closed in June 2013.

Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.

Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.