Frederick H. Billings

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Frederick H. Billings
Frederick Billings c. 1876
Born(1823-09-27)September 27, 1823
DiedSeptember 30, 1890(1890-09-30) (aged 67)
OccupationLawyer and financier
Known forPresident of the Northern Pacific Railway
Spouse(s)Julia Parmly
Children7, including Mary Billings French
RelativesFranklin S. Billings (nephew)

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.


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. He later partnered with Henry Halleck, Trenor W. Park and others in the law firm of Halleck, Peachy & Billings,[1][2] 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.[3]

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.[4][5]

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.[6]

Death and burial[edit]

Billings died in Woodstock on September 30, 1890.[7] He is buried at River Street Cemetery in Woodstock.[8]


Billings was married to Julia Parmly, daughter of Dr. Eleazer Parmly.[9] Together, they were the parents of seven children:[10][11]

  • Parmly Billings (February 6, 1863 – May 7, 1888)
  • Laura Billings (Mrs. Frederic Schiller Lee) (August 20, 1864 – November 5, 1938)
  • Frederick Billings (December 23, 1866 – May 5, 1913)
  • Mary Montagu Billings (March 6, 1869 – 1951)
  • Elizabeth Billings (1871 – 1944)
  • Ehrick Billings (October 17, 1872 – October 17, 1889)
  • Richard Billings (1875 – 1931)

He was the grandfather of Mary French Rockefeller, wife of Laurance Rockefeller.[11][12][13]

He was the uncle of Governor Franklin S. Billings and great-uncle of Judge Franklin S. Billings, Jr.[11]


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

External links[edit]

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