Thomas K. Beecher
Thomas K. Beecher (February 10, 1824 - March 14, 1900) was a preacher and the principal of several schools. He was a traveling man, living in many places such as: Litchfield, Connecticut, Boston, Massachusetts, Cincinnati, Ohio, and Elmira, New York. There is a memorial statue built in Elmira, New York where he spent a large portion of his life. He was a close friend of Mark Twain and married him to Olivia Langdon Clemens.
Thomas K. Beecher was born in Litchfield, Connecticut to Lyman Beecher and his wife Harriet Porter. He was one of thirteen children, including: Henry Ward, William, Catherine, Edward, Mary, George, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles, Isabella, and James Beecher. In 1826 the family moved to Boston, Massachusetts, and then to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1832. From 1836 to 1839 Beecher began fitting for college in Marietta, Ohio. Then in 1839 he attended college in Jacksonville, Illinois; he graduated in 1843. He then spent a year with his father in Cincinnati and a year with his brother, Henry Ward Beecher in Indianapolis, studying theology. Beecher then spent a year at the Ohio Medical University, as an aid to the professor of chemistry and pharmacy.
In 1854 Beecher moved to Elmira, New York, to preach at a local church, and, there, became a close friend to the famous author Samuel Clemens, better known as "Mark Twain." From this time until the completion of his cottage in 1857 he would live at the Gleason Sanitarium on Watercure Hill. Thomas K. Beecher married Olivia Day in 1855; she died a year later. In 1857 Beecher took another wife, Julia Day, cousin of his previous wife and granddaughter of Noah Webster, the author of Webster's Dictionary. In 1863 to aid the cause of the Union in the Civil War, Beecher started a regiment with A. S. Diven, the 107th regiment that would soon be sent to the front. Later, Beecher would aid Colonel Hathaway in raising the 141st regiment and would go into the field with them as a chaplain until 1864. He sailed to South America with depleted health in November 1866, only to return May 1 of 1867 with rejuvenated health. Thomas K. Beecher was intimately involved with teaching and preaching, however, he was also a fan of sports, such as baseball, target shooting, battledore (similar to bad-mitten), cycling, cricket, and croquet. Beecher also enjoyed euchre and billiards.
Beecher's father Lyman and his brothers Henry Ward were also ministers, and the family was raised as religious Christians. Beecher was ordained at age 28, and he began his preaching career in Brooklyn, in the suburb of Williamsburg. In 1854 Beecher would venture to the town of Elmira, New York to preach at the Independent Congregational Church, now known as Park church, bordering the west side of Wisner park on North Main Street. When the attendance to his services became overcrowded, Beecher held the service at the newly constructed opera house, and weather permitting, at Eldridge Park. When Beecher arrived, the church was a moderate sized wooden structure, and after one of his services he held a vote asking the congregation if they felt a new church was necessary, the new church costing fifty-thousand dollars, the vote was almost unanimous and the church received a total pledge of about eighty-thousand dollars.
The new church had facilities to host social gatherings and events such as banquets and parties, as well a large hall for children to play in, and a public library started by Beecher with his personal collection of books. The church held two services; one in the morning, the other in the evening (Beecher also ministered to the prisoners of the Elmira Prison Camp), later in life two services became too taxing on Beecher's health and the evening service was cancelled. Because of this Beecher formed a club of young men that would meet on Tuesday nights. During the meetings Beecher would ask the boys to report on something interesting they observed during the previous week. By doing this in combination with sending his pupils to mechanics, locomotive shops and other places, he was teaching them to learn through observation.
Work as a teacher
Thomas K. Beecher worked in several educational institutions. In 1846 he became the principal of the North-East Grammar School in Philadelphia. Then from 1848 to 1851 he was the head of the High School in Hartford Connecticut. During his preaching career in Elmira, New York Beecher was the head of the Sunday school run by the Park Church, which had about seven-hundred members ages five to past fifty.
Thomas K. Beecher home on Watercure Hill
When Thomas K. Beecher arrived in Elmira in 1854, he took residence at the Gleason Sanitarium on Watercure Hill. in 1857, a cottage was built for him near the Sanitarium. It was a Victorian home with its own library; it had an artesian well in the basement where Beecher would take plunge baths. T
Thomas K. Beecher died March 14, 1900. At his funeral service both a Priest and a Rabbi spoke. A statue in his honor is present at Wisner Park. There is a school named after him, T.K. Beecher Elementary School, Located in Elmira, New York. His wife Julia survived him.
- Jim Peebles, pastor “Beecher Stories” Elmira NY
- The Star Gazette “True to History” Twin Tiers homes, January 27
- The Star Gazette, Barbara Cunningham “The Past Lives”
- The Elmira Gazette, volume 1 issue 6, 1873
- W.S.B. Mathews “A Remarkable Personality” (essay)
- Dorothy Holt “Elmira’s First Citizen” 1951
- Arthur Booth “Thomas K. Beecher and some personal recollections”
- An editorial written by an individual in Mr. Beechers Tuesday night meetings “Recollections of Mr. Beecher”