Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

February 1, 2014

Meet Kate Chase, the 'Belle' and her distant namesake

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Author’s note: This is the third installment of “The Name is the Same But The History Is Different” series looking at local notables in Niagara County’s past. This week, meet two cousins named Kate Chase, 22 years apart in age ...

The first Kate Chase was born Aug. 13, 1840, the daughter of Salmon P. Chase of Cincinnati, Ohio. She was also the niece of Edward I. Chase and Janet Chase Skinner, both of Lockport, whom she visited on a frequent basis.

Kate’s mother died when she was 5 years old and her father remarried. A second daughter, Janet (Nettie), was born in 1847; her mother, Chase’s third wife, died in 1852. Chase did not remarry again.

When Kate was 9, she was sent to boarding school in New York City where she remained for nine years. She returned in 1858 just in time to manage her father’s candidacy for president in 1860. She also served as official hostess for the widowed Chase, who was by then governor of Ohio. 

At age 18, Kate was described as a “tall and slender and exceedingly well-formed” girl who took a “lively and intelligent part” in political conversation. She was a “great beauty and broke many hearts.”

Salmon Chase lost the Republican nomination to Abraham Lincoln but was offered the position of Secretary of the Treasury after Lincoln won the election. Kate was in her element in Washington, again serving as her father’s hostess and unofficial adviser. Known as the “Belle of the North,” Kate offered unsolicited advice to Union generals as well as the President himself.

In 1863, Kate married William Sprague, the young governor of Rhode Island. Their wedding was the social event of the season that year in Washington. Four children were born to the couple. During the 1860s, Kate kept her hope up that her father would someday be president, working behind the scenes on his behalf in 1864 and 1868. With Lincoln’s re-election in 1864, Chase resigned his treasury position but was promptly chosen by Lincoln to be chief justice of the Supreme Court. He passed away in 1873.

After years of infidelity by both parties, Kate and William Sprague divorced in 1882 and Kate reverted to using her maiden name. She spent her last years as a recluse with her three daughters. She was forced to sell Edgewood, her father’s Washington estate, to pay for her mounting debts. 

An undated Lockport Journal article titled “Unkind Fate” related the sad story of Kate Chase’s final years, including a trip she made to Lockport in 1880 to attend a dinner given by Congressman Richard Crowley. The Journal reported, “Mrs. Chase is remembered here as a very beautiful and highly accomplished woman.”

Kate Chase died in poverty on July 31, 1899, in Washington, D.C. She is buried next to her father in Cincinnati. 

Kate Chase Ralston was born in Buffalo on March 1, 1862. She was named after her more famous cousin. When her mother died in 1864, Kate went to live with her aunt, Mary Eliza Chase, in Lockport and simply became known as Kate Chase. She attended the Union School and a private girls’ school.

In 1879 Kate married Eugene Ringueberg at her aunt’s house on High Street. Two daughters were born but the marriage did not last.  Kate returned to her aunt’s home with her daughters and began teaching at the Vine Street School. 

Five years later, Kate Chase Ringueberg married Frederick Seymour and lived at 77 Ontario St. Both daughters took the last name Seymour. They continued to live at that address until 1914, when the Seymours purchased the brick home at 143 Ontario St., built by Kate’s ancestor, Col. William Bond, in 1823. 

Fred Seymour died in 1921 and Kate had the home divided into three apartments, occupying one and renting out the other two. It was at this time that she worked in the office of the Lockport Journal.

In 1926, a young man named Erdman MacDonald moved into one of the apartments and lived there for the next 42 years. He became something of a son to Kate Seymour and when she died on March 7, 1955, at the age of 93, she left the house to him rather than to her daughters.

When MacDonald passed away in 1968, the Niagara County Historical Society bought the house and it is now restored and open to the public as the Col. William Bond House.

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