Thomas Vincent Welch
|Thomas Vincent Welch|
|Member of the
New York State Assembly
|Superintendent of the State Reservation at Niagara|
|Supervisor of the Town of Niagara|
October 1, 1850|
Camillus, New York
|Died||October 20, 1903
Niagara Falls, New York
|Political party||Democrat (1882–1903)|
|Spouse(s)||Anna Gill (married 1902)|
|Occupation||Statesman, conservationist, civil servant|
Thomas Vincent Welch (October 1, 1850 – October 20, 1903) was a New York State Assemblyman and served as the first Superintendent of the New York State Reservation at Niagara, holding the post for 18 years. As a member of the New York State Assembly, Welch was a key player in the efforts to acquire the lands adjoining Niagara Falls, and to make them free for all to view.
Niagara Falls, New York was not always as we know it today. In the mid-19th century, heavy industries and mills crowded the shoreline near the falls, in order to take advantage of free power. These mills charged fees for visitors to view the falls, which were largely obstructed. A group of concerned citizens, politicians, and architects - including T.V.Welch - started the "Free Niagara" movement. When the bill making Niagara Falls free was signed on April 30, 1885, it was the culmination of a campaign in the New York State Legislature spearheaded by Thomas V. Welch. His efforts, and those of everyone involved, are documented in a pamphlet entitled How Niagara Was Made Free, which was published by the Niagara Frontier Historical Society, and in the annals of New York State.
Thomas Vincent Welch was born in Camillus, Onondaga County, New York (near Syracuse), the third of six children of Thomas and Honora (Holland) Welch, both Irish immigrants (from Kilmeena and Aghagower, respectively, both in County Mayo). His parents originally immigrated to Canada and were married in Cornville, Ontario on Aug.31, 1842 and later moved to Onondaga County. Sometime after his birth in 1850, his parents moved to the Niagara Falls area along with his two brothers - Edward and John. A sister born in 1848, Honora, died when she was eight months old. Once in the Niagara Falls area, however, his parents had two more children, Ellen in 1852 and Anne in 1856.
He was educated in the public schools in Niagara Falls and at an early age was employed at the New York Central Railroad Company as timekeeper in the shops in the village of Niagara Falls. In 1873 he was promoted to be freight agent of the Central Railroad there, a position he occupied for three years.
In 1876 he left the Railroad to enter into the mercantile business. He continued to be involved in public affairs, but opened a dry goods store on Falls Street with Michael Ryan and later with James E. Rock, under the firm name of Welch & Ryan and Welch & Rock.
In public affairs, from 1873 to 1874 he was clerk of the village of Niagara Falls, and in 1875–6 he was a village trustee. In 1876, 1877 and 1878 he was elected Supervisor of the town of Niagara and in the latter year he was chosen as chairman of the Board of Supervisors of the county of Niagara.
He was then nominated by the Democratic party and elected Member of the State Assembly from the second Assembly district of Niagara county, and was re-elected in 1883 and 1884. He was a member of the committee on ways and means in the Legislature and a leader in that body.
During the presidential campaign of 1884, he acquired a wide reputation as a talented and convincing speaker. His speeches on behalf of the election of Grover Cleveland made him an outstanding figure and following the election of President Cleveland, Thomas V. was regarded as the most likely appointee for U.S. Collector of Customs at the then Port of Suspension Bridge, for many years the most powerful and most remunerative position in that part of the country.
Superintendent of the State Reservation at Niagara
President Cleveland came to office in 1885, at the peak of the Free Niagara movement, and the unanimous choice (of the Niagara Reservation Commission) of Welch becoming the Superintendent of the parks resulted in him accepting that post.
On Sept.6, 1901, T.V.Welch, in his role as Superintendent of the Niagara Reservation, welcomed President William McKinley to the Park, and toured through the Park with him on foot. Four hours later, President McKinley was assassinated at the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, NY.
In 1902 after 17 years of outstanding service, the Commission presented him with a sterling silver "loving cup" and parchment, in recognition of his service to the State.
Mr. Welch played an important part in the incorporation of the city of Niagara Falls. He was a member of the charter committee, and, with Hon. W. Caryl Ely, was in Albany when Governor Roswell P. Flower signed the Niagara Falls city charter bill, March 17, 1892, in fact Governor Flower was ready to sign the bill the day before, but Mr. Welch requested that he hold off until the next day, St. Patrick's Day. He procured the pen with which the governor signed the bill.
Mr. Welch also had a leading part in the organization of the Niagara Falls Power Company.
Mr. Welch was the first president of the Memorial Hospital Association and active in its affairs for many years. He was a member of a great many civic societies and organizations. He was prominently identified with a number of organizations of St. Mary's Church, and a trustee of Niagara University.
He was vice-president of the Niagara Frontier Historical Society at the time of his death, was also a member of the Niagara Frontier Land Marks Association, and had served two terms as president of the Civic Club, as president of the Niagara County Pioneer Association, of the Shakespeare Club, and was an honorary member of the Niagara County Farmers Club.
Death and Legacy
Just one year after his marriage, T.V.Welch died from an attack of typhoid fever, aged 53.At the time of his death, Thomas Vincent Welch was recognized at the "best known and best loved citizen" of Niagara Falls, as stated by the Commissioners of the State Reservation at Niagara, who adopted a memorial in their minutes on December 22, 1903 and provided a copy of those minutes to the family of T.V. Welch, pictured to the right. The document reads, in part:
In addition to his services to the State in the Assembly and as Superintendent of the State Reservation at Niagara, he held many positions of trust in the Village and City of Niagara Falls...he was identified with practically every public enterprise in Niagara Falls for the past twenty-five years. His exceptional talents as a public speaker, reinforced by a cultured mind and the unreserved public confidence in his integrity and sincerity, enlarged the scope of his influence, and made him a strong power for good in the community which, at his death, he was recognized as its best known and best loved citizen. By none his death more deeply deplored than by the Commissioners of the State Reservation at Niagara, who, as an expression of their sense of loss, hereby adopt this Memorial, this 22nd day of December, 1903, directing that it be spread upon the minutes, and that a copy, suitably engrossed, be presented to the family of the deceased.
T.V.Welch was originally buried in the cemetery of St.Mary's of the Cataract in Niagara Falls. On May 11, 1936 his remains were moved, along with others, to the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Lewiston, New York. His remains rest with those of his family at the South East corner of Section 3 of the cemetery.
On July 15, 2010, a 125th Anniversary celebration was held and the plaque dedicated to T.V.Welch (pictured at the top of this article) was placed on a new stone in the Heritage Park, a new section of the Niagara Falls State Park.
- Full scanned text of How Niagara Was Made Free by T.V.Welch, Buffalo Historical Society Publications
- Speech of the Hon.Thomas V. Welch in the Assembly of New York, Friday, March 2, 1883. Full text scanned by Google Books.
- Olmsted, Yosemite and the Niagara Reservation - mention of T.V. Welch's role
- In defence of Niagara: Frederick Law Olmsted and the Niagara Reservation - mentions of the role of T.V.Welch
- Tom Welch: Politician, Poet - Article from Niagara Falls Reporter
- Niagara County Bicentennial Moments (1808-2008) article about T.V.Welch
- Niagara River - Niagara Bond and Free - published 1908 in Antiques Digest
- Niagara Falls History (mention of Thomas Vincent Welch's Role)
- How Niagara Was Made Free, Internet Archive scanned copy
- St.Mary's of the Cataract at www.massintransit.com
- The Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Lewiston, NY
- Niagara Falls Gazette coverage of the 125th Anniversary of the Niagara Falls State Park
- WIVB News, Buffalo, coverage of the 125th Anniversary celebration of the Niagara Falls State Park
- Laws of New York, 1883, One Hundred and sixth session, Chap.336 - an Act authorizing the selection of lands at Niagara for a reservation
- "The State Reservation at Niagara" by Charles M. Dow, Commissioner of the State Reservation at Niagara 1898–1914, J.B.Lyon Company, Printers
- The History of the Niagara River, by G.K. Gilbert, lecture delivered to the American Association for the Advancement of Science at Toronto, August,1889.
- Niagara Falls Gazette, June 10, 1885, p. 8
- Niagara Falls Gazette, July 22, 1885, p. 5
- Niagara Falls Gazette, Aug.9, 1899, pages 1 and 5 (visit of Theodore Roosevelt)
- Niagara Falls Gazette, Jan.2, 1902
- Niagara Falls Gazette, Dec.2, 1903, pages 1 and 6
- Niagara Portage - From Past to Present, by Theodora Vinal, copyright 1949, Foster and Stewart Publishing, 210 Ellicott Street, Buffalo 3, N.Y.
- News of the Day...Yesterday, by Donald E. Loker, copyright 1971, Niagara County Historical Society, Inc., 215 Niagara Street, Lockport, NY 14094.