Biography of James Barclay Jermain


A VENERABLE Albanian, whose name will be cherished by thousands of his fellow-citizens as a noble philanthropist, long after he shall have passed from the scenes and activities of earth, is James Barclay Jermain. His career as a benefactor to his race affords a happy illustration of what is true, spiritual and beautiful in Christianity. Favored with large pecuniary means he has not been slow to use money liberally in such ways as he believes to t s effective in accomplishing the greatest amount of good to the largest number of individuals in elevating them socially, intellectually and morally.

He was born in the city of Albany, N. Y., on the 13th of August, 1809. His father, Silvanus P. Jermain, was a native of Sag Harbor, Long Island; but in 1802, removed to Albany, where he became successful in mercantile business, and accumulated a large property. He was, moreover, a man highly esteemed and respected for his many sterling qualities. The mother of James Barclay Jermain was Catharine Barclay, a pious and excellent lady, daughter of James and Janet Elizabeth Barclay, natives of Scotland. They emigrated to this country at an early day, and made Albany their permanent home. Losing his mother when he was but seven years of age, young Jermain was placed in the family of his uncle, the Rev. Nathaniel S. Prime, D. D., a distinguished Presbyterian minister of Cambridge, Washington county, N. Y., and for some time principal of the flourishing academy there. Dr. Prime was the father of tlie late S. Irenaeus Prime, D. D., of the New York Observer, and grandfather of the Rev. Wendell Prime, one of the present editors of that old-established and most excellent paper.

Under such favorable circumstances, young Jermain received the best Christian instruction, and was, at the same time, carefully prepared for college. In 1824, at the age of fifteen, he entered Middlebury college, Vt., where he remained two years diligently pursuing his studies. Entering the junior class of Amherst College in 1829, he graduated from that institution two years later. He then commenced the study of the law, and in 1836 was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of the state. Without engaging in the general practice of his profession, the most of his time was occupied in managing the extensive business interests of his father, then in his declining years. Those financial affairs which were intrusted to him by his confiding parent, he managed with discretion, showing, at the same time, a rare business tact which has since been so successfully cultivated and so fully developed.

A large fortune came into the possession of Mr. Jermain on the death of his father in 1869. Cherishing the memory of his deceased parent and honoring the cause of practical Christianity, he erected entirely at his own expense, in 1876, a beautiful church in the village of West Troy. The edifice cost over $120,000, and is known as the Jermain Memorial church. It is now under the care of the Presbyterian church, and the Rev. Walter Laidlaw is its present pastor.

With his wealth, Mr. Jermain has, in various ways, contributed largely to the advancement of the temporal and spiritual welfare of his fellow men – setting a noble example of lofty, Christian philanthropy. Some years ago he rebuilt at great cost the Home for Aged Men on the Albany and Troy road. Of this excellent institution he is now the president-emeritus, and always takes a deep interest in promoting its prosperity. This is one of the worthiest causes in which any philanthropist could become engaged with the certainty of the most benevolent results – the providing for the closing years of old, infirm men of character, who, by adverse circumstances, have lost their worldly means, or the friends who might have aided them in their support.

In 1883 Mr. Jermain endowed a $50,000 professorship in Williams college, the alma mater of his son Barclay Jermain and to his memory.

Still studying how to accomplish the most good for the spiritual, moral and physical elevation of his fellow-citizens, he recently made a magnificent gift, now amounting to over $80,000 for the erection of a Young Men’s Christian association building in the city of Albany. This handsome structure is built of brick and stone in a fine style of architecture, and includes a large public hall, a small lecture-room, a gymnasium 48×64 feet and 21 feet high, numerous baths, etc. The whole building is furnished in a most appropriate and substantial manner at a cost of over $5,000. Over the mantle oi the fireplace in the main parlor is an excellent life-sized portrait, in oil, of Mr. Jermain. The beautiful drapery in the parlor was donated by Mrs. Teunis Van Vechten, of Albany while the old mahogany table which stands there, formerly the property of the Gansevoort estate, was presented by Mrs. Abram Lansing of this city. On the 22d of September, 1887, in the presence of a large assembly, the building was dedicated with appropriate ceremonies. Addresses and remarks were made by President A. P. Stevens of the association, Cephas Brainard, Esq., of New York, Rev. Drs. J. H. Ecob, Henry M. King, W. W. Battershall and D. W. Gates of Albany, while the singing was conducted by Ira D. Sankey.

On that interesting and memorable occasion President Stevens delivered an earnest address, of which the following are the closing passages:

” The liberality of the citizens of Albany has furnished a site, and the magnificent gift of our esteemed fellow-townsman, Mr. James B. Jermain, a building, in every part and all its details, as well adapted to our work as any of its kind in the United States. We have, in our parlor and offices, our reading-room, library, educational class-rooms, gymnasium, baths and the commodious hall in which we are today assembled, all that can be desired to attract and interest the young men who are thus so liberally provided for; and we take this completed building, as it is placed in our hands by him whom all of us will ever remember with gratitude and love for what he has thus accomplished, and promise that, relying on our heavenly Father, and asking for His guidance and assistance, we will endeavor to do what we can to strengthen and build up those who come to us, not only physically, mentally and morally, but make them strong in the Lord and the power of His might. We realize that ‘ to him whom much is given of him will much be required,’ and, recognizing our great responsibility, we ask for your earnest prayers that we may succeed.

” We start forward well equipped for the new duties which lie before us. We have a board of trustees in whom the title to the real estate owned by us is vested, which is composed of men eminently qualified for their duties. We have also a board of directors and a complete corps of assistants composed of younger men, who are devoted to the work and zealous in advancing it. Our ladies’ auxiliary board is from the best workers in our churches, and has rendered us great service by raising $3,000 for the furnishing of our building, and are ready to furnish any further assistance that lies in their power. Our committees are all hard at work completing arrangements for the increasing demands being made in all departments, and made necessary by our enlarged work.

” In conclusion, we desire, as an association, once more to express our thanks to those who have placed in our hands such a magnificently equipped building to be used for the best good of the young men of this city, and may the life of our benefactor, Mr. Jermain, be long spared to see the good results that will follow his action, so fittingly consummated this day.”

The concluding remarks of Mr. Brainard were particularly appropriate and felicitous.

” You have here,” said he, ” a splendid building, upon a site contributed as no other has been given, a building that is the gift of a single man of wealth, a benevolent and appreciative citizen, who lives to see the consummation of the work he had helped to create in so large a measure, a work unique, splendid, majestic; an inspiration, an encouragement and a blessed thought to the association all over the country. May it long stand on the shore of our commerce-laden, peaceful river. The blessing of the Lord shall and will be upon this edifice, which will remain as a monument to the honor and experience of him who, in his age, has given it for the benefit of aspiring, useful and hopeful young manhood.”

After Mr. Sankey had thrilled the audience by singing a beautiful descriptive solo, entitled ” The Model Church,” the Rev. Wendell Prime, editor of the New York Observer, came forward and read the following address, prepared by Mr. Jermain:

” Having been requested to say a few words in the matter of the presentation of this building to the young men of this city who may desire to avail themselves of its privileges, I feel that I can add nothing to what has been already said. The moral dangers of a great city, to save young men from which this building has been erected, have already been depicted in glowing, but true colors. The boy, in a moral sense, is the father of the man. Here, young men, you will find what will elevate, purify and cultivate the mind, what will strengthen the body, and, above all, what will direct you to attaining that immortal life of the soul for which the blessing of this life should be a preparation May the blessing of God rest upon you and upon this edifice, which I now have the honor and satisfaction of presenting to you.”

When the reading of Mr. Jermain’s address ot presentation was finished, there was a burst of applause from the spectators; and when he was constrained to rise from his seat in acknowledgment, the entire audience rose and cheered vociferously. Never shall we forget the touching and morally sublime scene when the venerable giver, tremulous with intense emotion and with a glow of pure benevolence on his face, bowed before the audience who were there to witness his offering so magnificent and philanthrophic, the growing glory of a long and well-spent life.

The Young Men’s Christian association is an ornament to the city of Albany, and it will be of incalculable benefit to young men as well as a lasting monument to the generosity and nobleness of Mr. Jermain.

Mr. Frank W. Ober, whose heart and hands have been so long interested in Christian work, is the present efficient secretary of the association while Prof. W. B. Dickinson has sole charge of the physical culture department.

Mr. Jermain has a fine private residence on the west side of the Hudson, a short distance north of Albany. This was formerly the home of the famous Gen. Worth, but it has been remodeled and fitted up in the best style by the present owner.

Mr. Jermain has also a charming summer cottage at Cooperstown, N. Y, where he usually spends portions of the months of July and August of each year.

He has always been strongly attached to old Washington county, where he passed so many youthful days in the valley of Cambridge, so rich in natural scenery, with the Green mountains rising in grandeur from extensive plains in the east and fine farming lands with wooded hills meeting the view on the west and north. But besides the beautiful landscape there are other attractions to him there, which, after the lapse of so many years, are still full of pleasant memories. While living with his uncle, the Rev. Dr. Prime, there were many excellent men of note, with some of whom he took “sweet counsel,” and of whom he has still a lively remembrance, such as his uncle, Hon. George W. Jermain, one of the most prominent and highly-esteemed citizens of the county, Hon. Gerret Wendell, Hon. JLuther J. Howe, Hon. Martin Lee, James Gilmore, Herman “Van Veghten, William Stevenson, Edward Small, Leonard Wells, William D. Beattie, James Hill, John Robertson, Ahira Eldridge, James McKie, Russell M. Wright, Ephraim H. Newton, D. D., and Alexander Bullions, D. D., all of whom now rest from their earthly labors, conflicts and triumphs, while their works of charity and labors of love still follow them.

It is doubtful whether Mr. Jermain has enjoyed life so well of late years, outside his residence near this city, as when spending a few weeks of closing summer or early autumn in his pleasant rural cottage at White Creek, near the Vermont line, and not many miles south of the ” Sweet Vale,” of Cambridge. There he owns over seventeen hundred acres of fertile land, which is managed by an agent and devoted more exclusively to stock purposes. In the midst of such ” rural sights and rural scenes,” in frequent conversation with the substantial old farmers and citizens in the vicinity, he finds that relaxation and rest which enables him, when the leaves of autumn begin to fall, to carry on more vigorously his office work in this city, through the winter, daily riding from his country home to his place of business here, through cold, storm or sunshine.

Among the recent benevolent works in which Mr. Jermain has been deeply engaged is the financial success and prosperity of the ” Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society,” incorporated on the 3d of May, 1889. This was first called the ” Albany County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.” The present buildings are known as the Fairview Home for Friendless Children, and stand on a gently rising hill, being the highest point in the town of Watervliet about a mile northwest of Troy, commanding a fine view of East Troy, West Troy, a portion of Cohoes, Lansingburgh, Oakwood cemetery and the Hudson river for several miles. No more delightful location for such an institution could have been found in the whole vicinity. A large front yard, with beautiful maple and elm trees, adds greatly to the attractions of the place. The grounds belonging to the institution contain fifty-six acres, thirteen of which are reserved, and the remainder rented to a practical farmer who occupies a cottage on the premises. It is expected, however, that in time the whole land will be worked by the inmates of the home.

It was entirely due to the efforts of Mr. Jermain that this humane society was established on a sound financial basis, when disaster stared it in the face. He then came forward with generous proposals, secured the transfer of the property to the corporation created by the action of the state board of charities, so that the institution could receive any ” state and county money for the children therein committed.”

The object of this society is to take children whose parents are worse than dead – intemperate, dissipated, cruel or grossly negligent of their tender offspring – to clothe and feed such children, to give them a good common-school education with moral training, and to qualify them for engaging in some useful trade or occupation in life.

On the first floor of the original building is a wide hall, with reception-rooms, and office of the superintendent. On the second floor are the teachers’ room, governess room and promotion wards. On the top floor is the dormitory for the children.

Some time ago Mr. Jermain offered to build entirely at his own expense, an annex to this noble charitable institution. The offer was gratefully accepted by the officers and patrons of the home. Work was commenced on the spacious brick annex in the fall of 1889, and the building was finished early in the summer of the following year, at a cost of nearly $60,000, including its grounds. On the 1 3th of June, 1890, in the presence of a large audience, the building was dedicated with appropriate exercises Rev. Walter Laidlaw of West Troy, president of the home, spoke of the generosity of Mr. Jermain and of the work intended to be accomplished; while the venerable donor, in a few impressive remarks, said the building spoke for itself, and that it carried out a series of noble charitable offerings in which he had been interested.

On the main floor of this new building there is a large dining room, with school-rooms, etc., on the second floor is the dormitory, with about fifty iron beds, neatly arranged in a large room, while on the top floor are the hospital wards. The new building will be occupied by boys, and the original one by girls. The home as it now stands affords accommodations for one hundred children, and is most complete in all its departments – a model institution of its kind.

Such excellent discipline is maintained among the young inmates, that corporal punishment is seldom resorted to, and then only as a last resort. The whole establishment is in no sense a prison, but has a cheerful, homelike surrounding.

As we visited Fairview home the other day and looked upon its beautiful surrounding scenery, inspected its interior arrangements, saw so many little children seated around the dining-table – fed, clothed, taught and started in right ways in life – principally through the instrumentality of Mr. Jermain – we were deeply impressed with the thought, that in future years, when they are grown to manhood or woman-hood and become useful members of society, some of those children would rise up to revere the name of so generous a donor to a noble charity.

In 1842, Mr. Jermain married Miss Catharine Ann Rice, of Cambridge, Washington county, N. Y,, by whom he had five children. Of these three daughters are living; the only son, Barclay, a young man of great excellence and promise, died in 1882. His death was a great blow to his father, who, however, received it in the true spirit of Christian resignation. Mrs. J. B. Jermain, who was a lady of an amiable disposition – cultured and refined, possessing at the same time the graces of the sincere Christian – departed this life in 1874, deeply lamented by her surviving husband, her children and her many friends.

It is to be hoped that many years may yet be added to the life of Mr. James B. Jermain – whose highest ambition is still in the line of philanthropy, and whose maturest thoughts are, how the best interests of humanity and Christianity may be advanced.

“Age sits with decent grace upon his visage,
And worthily becomes his silver locks;
He wears the marks of many years well spent,
Of virtue, truth well tried, and wise experience.”



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

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