NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Samuel Works, 'noted for untiring industry'

COURTESY NIAGARA HISTORY CENTER This section of the 1851 map of the village of Lockport shows Samuel Works' property on Charles Street.

In September 1844, Samuel Works was once again nominated as the Whig candidate for New York's 8th Senatorial District. His opponent was Frederick F. Backus, a Loco Foco Democrat from Rochester. Although many of his supporters believed Works would easily win, he himself knew that the result would depend on the national election.

In 1844 the presidential election hinged on the question of whether Texas should be annexed as a slave state. James K. Polk of Tennessee, the dark-horse Democratic candidate, was pro-expansion and pro-slavery. Henry Clay of Kentucky, the Whig candidate, was against expansion and was lukewarm on the slavery issue. The race was very close, with Clay losing by less than 40,000 popular votes. The Democrats’ victory not only propelled Polk to the presidency, it also cost Works his seat in the state Senate.

By early 1845, Works had returned to his home in Lockport to resume life as a private citizen. He continued to oversee his tannery business as well as “putting on his leather apron and old clothes, engaging with his workman in the practical duties of the business.” Five years later Works, “from his ardent devotion to the canal interest,” was induced to accept the position of superintendent of the Lockport section. He was close to 70 years of age.

Works made his home at 12 Charles St., at the corner of Chestnut Street, but evidently owned property on Market Street as well. In 1859, Works, who by that time was no longer canal superintendent in Lockport, petitioned New York State for financial compensation for land he owned that had been taken by the state for the enlargement of the canal. He claimed “two hundred and fifty dollars and interest … for 66 feet taken at 97 Market Street and 22 feet taken at 95 Market Street.” There is no indication whether Works ever received his payment.

Although Works continued to live a quiet life on Charles Street in the 1860s, there were moments when the tranquility was broken. In late 1864 or early 1865, the Works home was burglarized. A friend from Ohio, a Mrs. Vallette, wrote to the Works that she was shocked by the news. “I am anxious to know how he got into the house. I always thought you were so secure. Do tell me in your next letter. I think if burglars could get into your house they could promenade all over ours without any difficulty – there are so many windows in the basement.” She then related her own harrowing experience of being hit by a train while out in her carriage. Her composure at the time of the accident was remarkable. “I was not picked up as the papers stated, but got out of what was left of the carriage, went into a house nearby, washed my face, straightened my bonnet, and was ready to go home as soon as Mr. Vallette got to me. The most excitement to me was the people rushing up from town expecting to find me killed and all looking at the wreck and cannot conceive how I could escape with only a little scratch on the forehead. Surely it was providential.” One wonders how the horse fared.

On Jan. 2, 1868, Works died in his home at the age of 86. He was eulogized in the Lockport Journal and the New York Times as being “possessed of much practical knowledge, sound judgment and almost unerring sagacity, he was a wise and able legislator and noted for untiring industry.”

Works was interred in Cold Springs Cemetery. His second wife Mary lived until 1893, when she died at the age of 84. An interesting aside: his youngest sister, Eliza Works, died in 1899 at the age of 105. She lived with a nephew and “never married or drank tea or coffee and she was active enough to do much of the housework required by their simple wants.”

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

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