Biography of Edwin K. Burnham


A BUSY, representative man, who has faithfully served his country both in a military and civil capacity, is the Hon. Edwin K. Burnham, the present careful, efficient superintendent of public buildings of the state of New York, whose official residence is now in Albany. In his veins flow the blood of the loyal, patriotic, enterprising race of New Englanders. Vermont is his native state, and in the rural town of Randolph – named, we believe, in honor of the famous Virginian orator and statesman John Randolph – he was born on the 8th of September, 1839. His father at one time was a member of the Vermont legislature.

After first attending the common schools of his native place, when a mere child he was sent to the academy at Royalton, VT., where he spent several terms closely pursuing his studies and showing more than ordinary progress among youthful students in the attainment of knowledge. His classical course was afterward completed in the Orange County, VT., grammar school.

He first established himself at Newark, a flourishing village in Wayne County, N. Y., where his reputation as a young man of high and honorable principles and of a public-spirited nature soon brought him into favorable notice and gained for him the full confidence of his townsmen.

Naturally of a judicial turn of mind, it was easy for him to turn his attention to the study of the law as a congenial profession. And accordingly, with this object in view, he came to Albany in the spring of 1862, and attended one term in the excellent and popular law school here.

But amidst the stirring scenes of the civil war, when the nation was thrilled with horror and our veins were chilled with fear, young Burnham felt that it was his duty to temporarily relinquish his law studies, and follow the flag of the Union through battlefields to hard-won victory. In September, 1862, he returned to his native state and immediately enlisted in company C, Fifteenth Vermont volunteers, a nine months’ regiment. He served as sergeant and was mustered out with the regiment, August 6, 1863. He was engaged in several skirmishes, and bravely fought side by side with the Green Mountain boys in the terrific struggle for victory on the ever-memorable field of Gettysburg.

In the fall of 1863, shortly after his regiment had been mustered out, he returned to Albany and resumed his legal studies. He graduated from the Albany law school in the spring of 1864, and soon afterward was admitted to the bar at the general term of the Supreme Court, in Albany. At Newark, in the summer of 1864, he formed a law partnership with J. E. Briggs.

Again the ardor of his patriotic spirit was rekindled, and while the government needed more loyal defenders he could not remain longer from the field of strife. In August and September (1864) he recruited a company at Newark, and in the following October joined the One Hundred and Eleventh regiment, New York volunteers. He was at once assigned, as captain, to the command of company D of that regiment. Captain Burnham remained with his gallant, well-disciplined regiment until it was mustered out in June, 1865, taking part in all the engagements in which it participated.

At the close of the war Captain Burnham returned to Newark, where he met with a warm reception among his friends and the loyal citizens of old Wayne County. There with active mind he resumed the duties of the legal profession, and soon secured a large and lucrative practice, besides enjoying the confidence and esteem of all who knew him for his personal worth, his general intelligence, his sound judgment in matters of law, and his creditable war record.

In 1874 he was elected supervisor of Arcadia; an office which was again bestowed upon him in 1883 and in 1884.

His sterling qualities of head and heart and his impartiality in the transaction of business matters between man and man caused his selection as a most suitable candidate for justice of the peace. He was elected by a flattering majority; and for eight years filled that office with great satisfaction to all classes.

In politics Mr. Burnham was a republican until 1866, when he joined the democratic party, in the interest of which he has since acted with broad and liberal principles rather than a narrow partisan spirit.

In the course of his studious, industrious career Mr. Burnham has shown considerable ability as a newspaper writer and manager. In 1872, in connection with James Jones, he started a democratic campaign paper which was afterwards called the Newark Union and which became a regular democratic paper. He was the responsible editor of that paper until 1875, when Mr. Jones assumed its entire control and management.

Mr. Burnham’s popularity continuing to increase among the people of his adopted county, he was, in the fall of 1884, elected to the assembly from the second district of Wayne – usually largely republican – by a plurality of 135 over Chester F. Sweezey, the republican nominee. In the assembly he was a useful working member, and served with credit on the committee of railroads, etc. When in the legislature he secured the passage of a bill establishing the custodial asylum for feeble-minded women at Newark, Wayne County. New York – now a large state institution – and is a member of the board of trustees of the institution. In the fall of 1885 he ran for county judge and reduced the usual republican majority of 2,000 to 500.

After the expiration of his legislative term Mr. Burnham continued his professional work as a lawyer in the village of Newark until he was again called into public service as a state official. June 1, 1889, he was appointed to his present position of honor and responsibility as superintendent of public buildings. On assuming his duties he adopted several new rules and regulations conducive to the more perfect working order in his office at the capitol. One of these rules, suggestive of patriotic zeal, was his directing that from the tall staff on the capitol building should be displayed every week day, from sunrise till sunset, the stars and stripes. And to him belongs the honor of having originated the plan now so extensively adopted, of having the national flag unfurled over our public school buildings.

Simple in his manners, sincere in his friendships, and earnest in his efforts to administer the affairs of his office with efficiency and honesty, Mr. Burnham seems to be admirably qualified to adorn the position for which he has been carefully selected by the trustees of public buildings of the state of New York.

He is a member of the Grand Army of the Republic and several other organizations. In 1865 he married Nancy Dillingham of Randolph, Vermont. They have three children, two sons and a daughter.


Noted living Albanians and state officials , A series of biographical sketches. 1891.

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