Frederick H. Billings

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Frederick H. Billings
Frederick Billings c. 1876
Born (1823-09-27)September 27, 1823
Royalton, Vermont
Died September 30, 1890(1890-09-30) (aged 67)
Woodstock, Vermont
Nationality American
Occupation Lawyer and financier
Known for President of the Northern Pacific Railway
Spouse(s) Julia Parmly
Children 7

Frederick H. Billings (September 27, 1823 – September 30, 1890) was an American lawyer and financier. From 1879 to 1881 he was President of the Northern Pacific Railway.

Early life[edit]

He was born in Royalton, Windsor County, Vermont. He attended Kimball Union Academy and graduated from the University of Vermont in 1844. He was the uncle of Franklin S. Billings and great-uncle of Franklin S. Billings, Jr.[1]


Originally a Whig and later a Republican, from 1846 to 1848 he served as Secretary of Civil and Military Affairs (chief assistant) to Governor Horace Eaton. He studied law with Oliver P. Chandler and attained admission to the bar in 1848.

Gold rush[edit]

In 1848, during the California Gold Rush, he moved to San Francisco, becoming the city's first land claims lawyer. Later he would partner with Henry Halleck, Trenor W. Park and others in the law firm of Halleck, Peachy & Billings,[2][3] which became a leading law firm in San Francisco. While in California, he was a trustee of the College of California (later, the University of California at Berkeley) and suggested that the college be named for George Berkeley.[4]

Return to Vermont[edit]

In 1864, he returned to Woodstock, Vermont, and in 1869 purchased George Perkins Marsh's former estate. Billings had read Marsh's pioneering volume on ecology called Man and Nature, and set about to put into practice his theories on conservation. Billings and his heirs set about purchasing many failing farms and reforesting much of the surrounding hillsides with Norway Spruce, Scots Pine, European Larch, and many native species. Today, the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock manages and interprets what is probably the oldest managed forest in the United States. The Billings Farm & Museum is a working dairy farm and museum, located just across the street. It is the gateway to learning about Vermont's agricultural history.

Candidate for Governor of Vermont[edit]

In 1872 Billings was a candidate for the Republican nomination for Governor of Vermont. The Republican nomination was then tantamount to election, and Billings, who was Chairman of the convention, had a large group of delegates pledged to him. However, a large number opposed Billings on the grounds that he had been away from Vermont for so long. In addition, delegates opposed the renomination of Governor John W. Stewart, arguing that it would violate the party's "Mountain Rule." The nomination went to Julius Converse even though he was not an active candidate.[5][6]

Northern Pacific Railway[edit]

Billings later purchased one of the original twelfth interests in the Northern Pacific Railway and, from 1879 to 1881, served as its president. In 1880 he was a delegate to the Republican National Convention, and made the nominating speech for George F. Edmunds.[7]

Personal life[edit]

Billings was married to Julia Parmly, daughter of Dr. Eleazer Parmly.[8] Together, they were the parents of seven children:[9][1]

  • Parmly Billings (b. February 6, 1863 - d. May 7, 1888)
  • Laura Billings
  • Frederick Billings
  • Mary Montagu Billings (March 6, 1869 - 1951)
  • Elizabeth Billings
  • Ehrick Billings (b. October 17, 1872 - d. October 17, 1889)
  • Richard Billings

He was the grandfather of Mary French Rockefeller, wife of Laurance Rockefeller.[1][10][11]

Billings died in Woodstock on September 30, 1890.[12] He is buried at River Street Cemetery in Woodstock.[13]


He constructed a chapel for the Congregational Church of Woodstock. Although he never owned a home in Billings, Montana, a railroad town established in 1882 and named after him, he provided the money to build the First Congregational Church and the first library in that town, which he then named after his son Parmly. He also built and endowed Billings Library, completed in 1885 for the University of Vermont, and purchased the George Perkins Marsh collection of 12,000 volumes for it.



  1. ^ a b c Peter S. Jennison, The History of Woodstock, Vermont, 1890-1983, 1985, page 99
  2. ^ Kubly, Cathy. "BILLINGS, Frederick". Retrieved June 6, 2009. 
  3. ^ [1][dead link]
  4. ^ Wollenberg, Charles (2002). "Chapter 2: Tale of Two Towns". Berkeley, A City in History. Berkeley Public Library. Archived from the original on June 12, 2009. Retrieved June 6, 2009. 
  5. ^ University of Vermont Alumni Association, University of Vermont Obituary Record, Volume 1, 1895, page 85
  6. ^ Jacob Ullery, Men of Vermont Illustrated, 1894, page 100
  7. ^ Norman E. Tutorow, James Gillespie Blaine and the Presidency, 1989, pages 57, 381
  8. ^ The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Volume 45. New England Historic Genealogical Society. 1891. p. 261. 
  9. ^ Winks, Robin W. (1998). Frederick Billings: A Life. University of California Press. p. 148. ISBN 9780520214972. 
  10. ^ George Derby, James Terry White, The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, 1927, page 463
  11. ^ James Roger Sharp, Nancy Weatherly Sharp, American Legislative Leaders in the Northeast, 1911-1994, 2000, page 59
  12. ^ New York Times, Frederick Billings Dead, September 30, 1890
  13. ^ Frederick H. Billings at Find a Grave

External links[edit]

Business positions
Preceded by
Charles Barstow Wright
President of Northern Pacific Railway
1879 – 1881
Succeeded by
Henry Villard