Biography of John W. McNamara


A TRULY representative Albanian, who is actively engaged in a work highly conducive to the comfort and convenience of his fellow citizens, is John W. McNamara, the present efficient general manager and treasurer of the Albany railway. His career is interesting and instructive as showing a progressive mind with comprehensive views, and adaptability for filling with marked success different official relations of an intellectual or purely practical business nature. He was born on the 9th of January, 1839, at the town of Watervliet, Albany County, near what is now known as Karnerville. He is a son of Hugh McNamara and Ellen his wife, who, seeking to better their financial condition left the shores of their native land – Ireland – and sailed for America in 1832. On reaching this country they found their way to Albany, where they first located. After staying here for a brief period Mr. Hugh McNamara, who was a wide-awake business man and familiar with railroad matters, received the appointment of track superintendent on the old Mohawk and Hudson River railroad, and removed to the town of Watervliet before the close of 1832. Here in the midst of a rustic settlement John W. McNamara, the subject of our sketch, passed the first five years of his life, blessed with the tender care and filial affection of parents over whom the grave has since closed. In the spring of 1844, his parents returned to Albany to spend their remaining days in the city of their adoption. In the fall of the same year, during the presidential campaign, the boy John saw the first torch-light procession in favor of Polk and Dallas pass through our streets, a scene which made such a vivid impression upon his childhood’s fancy that he never forgot it.

After attending the primary department of a private school, of which the late Michael O’Sullivan was principal, he was the pupil of his godfather, the late Thomas Newman, who was a fine classical scholar, and who took pride in teaching his godson the classics. During part of this tutelage he attended the school kept by Rabbi Wise on South Ferry street, Mr. Newman being one of the rabbi’s assistants.

Determined to obtain a good education with an especial reference to its practical application, he entered the experimental department of the State Normal school at Albany, where he remained about a year, making such progress in his studies that he was about ready to graduate, when an incident occurred which for some time turned his attention in another direction When the New York state census of 1855 was ordered to be taken, the late Dr. Franklin B. Hough of Lowville, N. Y., had charge of the work under the direction of Hon. Elias W. Leavenworth, then secretary of state, and on the recommendation of Amos M. Kellogg, principal of the experimental department of the State Normal school, young McNamara was selected as one of six or seven boys to assist in the compilation of the census returns. He entered upon this work in the summer of 1855, and remained at his post of duty until the completion of the census. His quickness of perception, exactness in figures, and reliability as a young man, were the chief causes for his selection for such a position, the duties of which he discharged to the entire satisfaction of his employers. After finishing his labors, in the census he reentered the State Normal school, from which he graduated in 1858. Redeeming the pledge to become a school teacher for three years, which he had made while at the Normal school, he then on the recommendation of David H. Cochran, now principal of the Brooklyn Polytechnic institute, took charge of a school at Mineola, Long Island. He afterward taught at Manhasset and Maspeth. His career as a school teacher lasted three years, closing on the very day when the news of the fall of Fort Sumter was flashed over the wires. It has been asserted by persons living in the vicinity of his school operations that McNamara made an excellent pedagogue, maintaining perfect order without the excessive use of the dreaded birch rod, and advancing with all possible speed his young pupils over the fair fields of knowledge. The early experience which he received as a school teacher has doubtless been of no little advantage to him in controlling and directing other matters in an orderly, systematic, thorough manner.

During all his schoolboy days Mr. McNamara had one particular object in view, and that was that he might some day become a lawyer. Since 1854 he had given his attention more or less to this subject in a quiet way, reading with avidity and growing satisfaction various elementary law treatises which he had procured. Leaving his Long Island schools for other hands to carry on, he returned home in the spring of 1861, and entered the law office of Messrs. Courtney & Cassidy, a noted firm in its day, and having a large clientage. Among his fellow students here was the Hon. S. W. Rosendale, of this city.

Not long afterward Mr. McNamara entered the law office of L. D. Holstein, where he finished his preparatory legal studies. He was admitted to the bar in 1862. He then became a member of the law firm of Holstein, Cheever & McNamara. This firm lasted until 1864, when on the death of Mr. Holstein in that year the business was continued under the firm name of Cheever & McNamara. In 1868 Mr. Cheever removed to New York city and Mr. S. Y. Hawley and Mr. McNamara formed a co-partnership, which existed until the death of Mr. Hawley in 1887. In the meantime, without any solicitation on his part, Mr. McNamara was unanimously chosen police justice to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Hon. S. H. Parsons in 1869, and in the following spring he was elected for a full term, which expired in May, 1874.

A new field of labor and activity was at length opened to Mr. McNamara, into which he entered with a zeal and faithfulness which have already been crowned with success. On the death of Mr. Holstein, who was one of the incorporators of the Albany railway, Mr. McNamara was chosen secretary of the company – an office which he continued to fill until the autumn of 1880, when he was advanced to his present important and responsible position as treasurer and general manager of the Albany railway. Under Mr. McNamara’s administration the Albany railway system has been placed in the most efficient working order. Rough tracks have been made smooth, and great extensions have been completed in the lines of travel. For years he was an enthusiastic advocate of the cable system to take the place of horses on the hill lines, and later urged the company to adopt electricity as a motive power. The fact that the cars of the railway are now being operated by electric motors is due in great part to him.

On the organization of the Committee of Thirteen in January, 1881, Mr. McNamara was elected one of its members. He is the first vice-president of the Law and Order league, of which David A. Thompson, Esq., is president. He was also for a long time a member of the old fire department, being attached to Mountaineer Company. No. 5, kept in the house now occupied by Steamer No. i, in Washington Avenue. He is one of the incorporators and directors of the Albany Stove Company, which for twenty years has done a prosperous business. He is also one of the incorporators of the Catholic union and at present one of its trustees. He has for many years been a trustee of St. Vincent’s Orphan asylum and a member of the advisory board of managers of St. Peter’s hospital. In 1863, Mr. McNamara married Miss Martha J. Ramsey, an estimable lady, daughter of Rev, Frederic Ramsey, of Lawyerville, Schoharie County, N. Y., and a sister of ex-Senator Ramsey.

No citizen is more desirous of promoting the best interests of Albany in its material and moral development than Mr. McNamara. A man of varied experience and large knowledge of human nature, with a benevolent disposition and broad ideas, yet firm in his opinion of what he deems to be right, a hater of wrong in all its manifestations, and a lover of truth and justice, he is at the same time a person of rare executive ability and has well earned the reputation of being one of the most thorough business men of Albany.



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

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