Biography of Hon. James S. T. Stranahan

The Stranahan family had its origin in the Parish of Strachan, Kincardin county, Scotland, whence the name, which has also been spelled Strahan. Subsequently some of the members of this Strachan (now Stranahan) family, yielding to the inducements of King James I. to repeople that section, settled with other Scotchmen in the North of Ireland. Here their thrift, enterprise and success as farmers and manufacturers attracted wide attention, while their rigid adherence to their religious belief was equally conspicuous. They became, as it were, a new and heroic race, whose numbers were greatly augmented by the persecutions of the Stuart dynasty and by the rebellions of 1715″ and 1745. It was natural that the prosperity of this independent and God-fearing people should incur the hostility of an avaricious government, and they were forced by its exactions and rigorous regulations to seek, beyond the seas, a freer verge for their religious and industrial life. They came to America, and how well they have left their imprint upon our common history, every thoughtful student knows. To them and the descendants of these. Scotch-Irish the United States owe much of their glory, wealth and enterprise.

One of these hardy emigrants to America in 1725 was James Stranahan, the founder of the family by that name in the United States. He was a prosperous and intelligent farmer, and purchased lands in Scituate, R. I., October 18th and November 29th, 1745, but soon after became a permanent citizen of Plainfield, Conn. In 1748 his name appears in the list of those who dissented from the teachings of the regular church, and he was classed among the Separationists of that part of the state. He attained the extreme age of 93 years, dying January 8th, 1792, and was buried in the cemetery at the South Killingly meeting house, where were also interred his son James, and members of two other successive generations of the family. Of the three sons of James Stranahan, John and William removed to Canaan, Columbia county, N. Y., where they became men of wealth and influence, and their numerous descendants fitly perpetuated the family name in other states. Farrand, a son of John, was a colonel in the war of 1812, and was taken a prisoner by the British at Queenstown, Canada. He died an eminent lawyer and politician at Otsego, N. Y., in 1826.

James Stranahan, the eldest of the three sons of the emigrant to America, -was born in 1735. He married Martha Corey and settled in Plainfield, where he purchased a farm in 1768, on which he died January 2d, 1808. His widow died at the same place eighteen years later. He was a revolutionary soldier, and was highly esteemed for his many good qualities as a citizen. His homestead in Windham county, a mile south of South Killingly meeting house, passed into other hands more than half a century ago, and the name of the family no longer appears in the present affairs of the town; but descendants, through the marriage of a Stranahan daughter to a Parkhurst, still remain, and those removed cherish a warm feeling toward the place of nativity.

Samuel, the fifth son of James the second, following the tide of immigration, became one of the first settlers of Peterboro, Madison county, N. Y. He married Lynda Josselyn, of Otsego county, N. Y., March 30th, 1803, and became an active business man in his new home, owning the mills in the village of Peterboro at the time of his death, September 8th, 1816, at the age of 38 years. In this village his son, James S. T. Stranahan, the immediate subject of this sketch, was born April 25th, 1808. Here he received his early education, and here, among the hills of central New York, he imbibed the spirit which stimulated him to the efforts which brought him distinction in his manhood. The early death of his father and the marriage of his widowed mother soon awoke him to the stern outlook of his youth, and he laid well the plans for his success in life. He fitted himself for the duties of a civil engineer, but abandoned this to engage in more active trade, becoming a wool merchant at Albany, N. Y. In 1832 he was induced by Gerrit Smith,, the eminent philanthropist, who had known him from his boyhood, to found a manufacturing town in a township owned by him in Oneida county. This gave full scope to his powers, and called forth, at the early age of twenty-four, those faculties which made greater achievements possible in later years. The town of Florence developed from a few hundred inhabitants to a few thousand, and he was thus also brought into prominence in public life, being elected to the assembly from Florence in 1837, even though the whig party, to which he belonged, had theretofore been in the minority. After an honorable service he removed to Newark, N. J., in 1840, where he engaged in railroad construction and other public works. Seeking still a larger scope for his powers he permanently became a resident of the city of Brooklyn in 1844, where he has been identified with nearly every interest of public importance. To him more than any one else that city is indebted for its splendid, system of public improvements. His extended services at the head of the Park Commission, serving as president from 1860 until 1882, have written his name imperishably upon the pages of Brooklyn’s history. Prospect Park, the system of Boulevards, the Ocean Parkway, the Concourse at Coney Island, all attest to his ability and intelligence. Nor. was his-connection with the great Brooklyn bridge and the Atlantic Dock improvement less important. They all bear the impress of his originality and his entire devotion to public interests, insomuch that he has been styled the “Baron Haussman of Brooklyn,” or being to that city what Baron Haussman was to Paris. He was one of the few who believed in the bridge, and helped to organize the board of trustees which, under an act of the legislature, undertook the construction of the bridge, and remained in the board from the commencement of the work up to the time of its completion, and retiring as president of the board of trustees In 1884.

While thus active in the furtherance of the improvements of his adopted city, he was not unmindful of his public or political duties. In 1848 he was elected one of the aldermen of Brooklyn, which so popularized him that his election, to congress in 1854 was made possible in a district where there was a strong opposition by the democracy. In 1864 he was a presidential elector; and all through the war for the Union he strove, by example and means, to perpetuate it inviolate. In this work his wife was no less zealous, taking an active part in the great Sanitary fair, and since the war has extended her charity in other directions.

Mr. Stranahan was elected an elector-at-large in 1858, casting his vote for General Harrison. He was appointed messenger to take the vote of the state of New York, thus cast, to Washington, which he claims to be the end of his public labors.

Mr. Stranahan was twice married, his first wife being Mariamne Fitch, of Oneida county, N. Y., who died August 30th, 1866, and who was the mother of two children, Mary and Fitch James, both born at Newark. His second wife was Miss Clara C. Harrison, a native of Massachusetts, who, before her marriage, was widely known in educational circles in Brooklyn, and who since that event has maintained her, interest in the well-being of her home, in social and religious life.

It is pleasant to record a life so actively spent as has been that of Mr. Stranahan, and his example can well be imitated by the youth of the land, for he is a self made man, and yet withal a man of the people. His success and position have endeared him to the citizens of Brooklyn and New York, and they have borne public testimony of their appreciation. One of these events, December 13th, 1888, was of unusual interest, and enlisted the presence and participation of many prominent citizens, whose words of praise should be well prized, but whose expressions yet fall far short of the life of James S. T. Stranahan itself, whose deeds and the public works with which he was connected will endure when praise of tongue and pen are alike forgotten.



Windham County CT,

History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889. Additions and corrections © by

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1 thought on “Biography of Hon. James S. T. Stranahan”

  1. Cara Madsen Odinsdatter

    My name is Cara odinsdatter Madsen and I am the grand daughter of Ruth Stranahan Madsen of Whittier CA. James is my first Stranahan ancestor in America

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