Thomas K. Beecher
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Thomas Kinnicut Beecher
Thomas Kinnicut Beecher
|Died||March 24, 1900 (aged 76)|
Union Civil War Chaplain
|Spouse(s)||Olivia Day (desc.)|
|Parent(s)||Lyman and Harriet Porter Beecher|
Thomas Kinnicut Beecher (February 10, 1824 - March 14, 1900) was a Congregationalist preacher and the principal of several schools. As a Congregational minister, his father took the family from Beecher's birthplace of Litchfield, Connecticut, to Boston, Massachusetts, and Cincinnati, Ohio, by 1832.
After college and some teaching experience, Beecher later settled in Elmira, New York, where he was minister of a Congregational church. His services became popular and he presided over construction at a new church to accommodate the large congregation. A memorial statue was erected to him in this city, where he worked and lived much of his life. Beecher became a close friend of writer Mark Twain and presided at his marriage to Olivia Langdon.
Thomas K. Beecher was born in Litchfield, Connecticut to Lyman Beecher and his wife Harriet Porter. His father and other family members had a tradition as ministers in the Congregational Church. Beecher was one of thirteen children, including: Henry Ward (who became a noted minister and abolitionist activist), William, Catherine, Edward, Mary, George, Harriet (later known as an activist and author of Uncle Tom's Cabin), Charles, Isabella, and James Beecher. In 1826 the family moved to Boston, Massachusetts. Several years later, their father was called to another church and they moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1832.
From 1836 to 1839 Beecher went to preparatory school in Marietta, Ohio. In 1839 he attended college in Jacksonville, Illinois; he graduated in 1843. He spent a year with his father in Cincinnati and a year with his brother and minister, Henry Ward Beecher, in Indianapolis, studying theology. Beecher worked for a year at the Ohio Medical University, as an aid to the professor of chemistry and pharmacy.
After teaching in public schools in other places, in 1854 Beecher moved to Elmira, New York, to preach at a local Congregational church. There he 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 lived at the Gleason Sanitarium on Watercure Hill. This was an area of sanitariums established for treatment of tuberculosis (TB), which had no known cure. A combination of rest and good, cold, dry air was considered beneficial.
Beecher married Olivia Day in 1851; she died two years later. In 1857 Beecher married again, to Julia Jones. She was a cousin of Day and a granddaughter of Noah Webster, author of Webster's Dictionary.
In 1863 to aid the cause of the Union in the Civil War, which had been underway for two years, Beecher started a regiment with A. S. Diven (the Army depended on wealthier private individuals recruiting men and outfitting them with arms, horses and uniforms), the 107th regiment, which was soon sent to the front. Later, Beecher aided Colonel Hathaway in raising the 141st regiment and would go into the field with them as a chaplain, serving into 1864.
He sailed to South America due to depleted health in November 1866. He returned May 1 of 1867, feeling rejuvenated. Beecher was intimately involved with both teaching and preaching, as was typical of clergy. He also participated in a range of sports when his health was good enough: baseball, target shooting, battledore (similar to badminton), cycling, cricket, and croquet. Beecher also enjoyed indoor games of euchre and billiards.
Beecher's father Lyman and his brother Henry Ward were also ministers. The family was raised as observing Christians. Thomas Beecher was ordained at age 28, and he began his preaching career in Brooklyn, in the area of Williamsburg. His brother Henry Ward Beecher had a congregation in Brooklyn.
In 1854 Beecher went to the town of Elmira, New York to preach at the Independent Congregational Church, now known as Park Church. It is located on the west side of Wisner Park on North Main Street. When 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. The growing congregation overwhelmed it. After one of his popular services, he asked the congregation if they felt a new church was necessary. Estimates were that a suitable one would cost fifty thousand dollars. The vote was almost unanimous in favor of a new church, and total pledges of about eighty thousand dollars were given toward that goal.
To support its community, the new church also had a facility for social gatherings and events such as banquets and parties, as well a large hall where the children could play. Beecher started a public library at the church, donating his personal collection. 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 conducting two services was too taxing on Beecher's health, and he cancelled the evening service. To provide another forum, Beecher founded a club of male youths, who would meet on Tuesday nights. Beecher would ask them to report on something interesting they observed during the previous week. He also sent his pupils to mechanics, locomotive shops and other places, in order to learn through observation.
Work as a teacher
Beecher worked formally in several educational institutions. In 1846 he became the principal of the North-East Grammar School in Philadelphia. From 1848 to 1851, he was the head of the High School in Hartford, Connecticut. During his preaching career in Elmira, Beecher was the head of the Sunday school run by the Park Church. It had about 700 members, ranging in age from five to past fifty. Different classes were lead by volunteers.
Thomas K. Beecher home on Watercure Hill
When 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.
Death and legacy
Thomas K. Beecher died March 14, 1900. At his funeral service both a priest and a rabbi spoke. His wife Julia survived him.
- A statue in his honor was erected at Wisner Park.
- T.K. Beecher Elementary School, located in Elmira, was named in his honor.
- "Beecher Family". Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. Archived from the original on 23 August 2010. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
- Wood, William Dustin. "Illinois College at the Half Century." Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984) 18, no. 1 (1925): 213-17. Available from JSTOR accessed 15 April 2017
- EMERSON, EVERETT. "Mark Twain's Move to Hartford," Mark Twain Journal 23, no. 1 (1985): 18-20. Available from JSTOR accessed 15 April 2017
- 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”
- “Recollections of Mr. Beecher”, by a former member of the Tuesday night club