Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cyrus Elder

Cyrus Elder
June 16, 1833 - December 14, 1912

According to the Encyclopedia of American Biography, “Cyrus Elder, public official, author, poet, was born June 16, 1833 in Somerset, Pennsylvania.” The same source indicates Elder was a revenue commissioner of Pennsylvania and the author of Dream of a Free-Trade Paradise; Man and Labor; My Gift (1867, a collection of poems), and Poems (Lippincott, 1909).

Cyrus Elder’s paternal great-grandfather was John Elder; John Elder’s three sons were Samuel, William Gore and John. Cyrus’ paternal grandfather, William Gore Elder, was born in 1759 in Leitrim County, Ireland, and died in 1820, near Somerset, Pennsylvania. On Sunday, May 8, 1800, William Gore Elder married Magdalena Armstrong, who was born between 1756 and 1770 in Enniskillian, and whose date of death is unknown; she was the daughter of John Armstrong, Sr., a stonemason. William Gore Elder possibly graduated from the college of medicine, Edinburgh, Scotland. He was the first physician to settle and serve in Somerset County, Pennsylvania (circa 1797). Their children were: Anne Elder, who married Dr. John B. Pythian; William E. Elder; Clifford Elder; John Robinson Elder; Samuel Elyzar Elder; and Joseph Henderson Elder.

Clifford Elder (b 1808; d. Dec. 29, 1846, age 38 y. 3 m. 12 d. (Was Postmaster in Licking County Ohio), married Rosanna Benford (born 1809 or ‘08; died March 19, 1885, age 77 years, in Denver-no state given, likely she removed to Colorado; listed there in the 1880 census) on September 2, 1830. The year that Cyrus was born was the year of the great fire in Somerset; as a result of the fire, the family moved to Ohio; Clifford died in 1846 in Licking County, Ohio. Rosanna Elder and her children returned to Somerset thereafter.

Their children were:

Cyrus Elder (born June 16, 1833 in Somerset, PA; died December 14, 1912 in Philadelphia, PA), a longtime Johnstown, Pennsylvania resident, and the subject of this biography. (See more below);

Dr. Leroy Elder (date of birth presently unknown; date of death sometime before Cyrus’ death in 1912);

William Elder (date of birth unknown; died before 1912);

Virgil Cummins Elder (date of birth unknown; died before 1912; married Emma Levergood, daughter of Jacob Levergood).

All four brothers served in the Union Army in the Civil War. There may have been a sister; according to the 1880 census Rosanna was the mother-in-law of Henry Pitzer.

The Elder family removed to Licking County Ohio shortly after Cyrus’ birth. With his family, Cyrus Elder lived there until their return to Pennsylvania, precipitated by his father’s death. Cyrus lived with an uncle and family in Philadelphia from age 15 to 1855, when he returned to Somerset to read law with William J. Baer and George W. Benford, who was a relation on his mother’s side of the family.

Cyrus Elder was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar 1856. He styled himself politically as an “original Republican.” Which means this: The day after he was admitted to the Somerset bar, he went as an unofficial delegate to first Republican convention in Philadelphia, in June 1856, which nominated John Fremont as a candidate for President.

Cyrus Elder, Esq. was married to Nancy Jane Swank (born May 31, 1840 in Johnstown PA; died May 31, 1889), one of the daughters of George W. Swank and Nancy Moore, on 22 March 1859, with the Rev. E. K. Levan officiating, according to the 26 March 1859, Johnstown “Tribune”.

Nancy Jane Swank could trace her family back to Judge John Moore, who was a leader in
Westmoreland County PA at the time of the Revolution. The linage is as follows:

John Moore (1738-1812) was born in Lancaster County, PA, the son of William Moore and Jennett Wilson, the grandson of David Moore. His father died when he was a small boy, and he and his mother, in the company of her brothers Charles and John Wilson, removed to Westmoreland County as early as 1757. On July 15, 1776 he was sent as a delegate to the Pennsylvania State Constitutional Convention, he served as a member of the Council of Safety 1777, and the same year was commissioned Justice of the Peace and surveyor of public lands for Westmoreland Co. PA where he died. He is buried at Congruity (Presbyterian) Church. Judge John Moore married Elizabeth Parr (b? - d 1822), the daughter of Isaac Parr of New Jersey. They had two sons and four daughters: One son was county surveyor of Westmoreland, the other, a civil engineer, died in Kentucky. (One assumes, then that the son who was the county surveyor was Isaac, below). His daughters were respectively married to Major John Kirkpatrick, a merchant of Greensburg; John M. Snowden (Elizabeth Moore) of Allegheny-mayor of Pittsburgh and Associate Judge of the County; Rev. Frances Laird, D. D. (father of Harrison Laird of Greensburg); and the fourth married James McJunkin, a farmer of Westmoreland County.

Isaac Moore (1780-1835) was one of their two sons. Isaac married Mary Parker (1791-1825). Their daughter Nancy Moore (1814-1899) married George W. Swank (1810-1856) in 1830. Nancy Moore Swank rode out the Johnstown Flood in the attic of her daughter Mrs. Dr. Lee's house in Johnstown, on a packing box (see details below).

Another of their daughters was Mrs. Cyrus Elder that is, Nancy Jane Swank (1840-1889). Nancy Jane Swank’s siblings were George T. Swank of Johnstown, Col. James Moore Swank (b about 1832) later of Philadelphia, Emily Swank Lee of Johnstown and Mary Swank Turner, (b about 1834) later of Wilkinsburg PA (of whom see more below).

At the time of the 1870 Census, the following children were listed in the Cyrus and Nancy Elder household: “George 8, Nanie 4, J.C. 5 mos.” This account does not offer any clues as to the name or gender of J. C. A different source lists J. C. as Jennie (probably means Genevieve Clifford Elder). At least one genealogical source lists another son, William (born in 1879) and that source also calls Cyrus Elder “Sr.”, indicating a Cyrus “Jr.” Incidentally, one genealogy source lists Nancy Moore Elder as “Moor” without the “e”. Additional genealogical research to date indicates that the children of Cyrus and Nancy Jane (Swank) Elder include but may not be limited to the following:

- Jessie May Elder (born June 20 or 23, 1860; died on the 17th of March 1864, at the age of 3 years, 8 months, and 27 days, according to the “Cambria Tribune”, Johnstown, PA, of 18 March 1864).

- George Reuben Elder (born January 11, 1862 in Johnstown; resided Easton, PA, in 1907 and in 1912; VP and general manager of the Ingersoll-Rand Company; died November 29, 1931, Waterford NY), George married Grace E. Holroyd (one source says in 1889). Grace was born in 1867 and died in 1906; she was a member of 1st Presbyterian Church, Easton, PA. Their children were, a son George R. Jr. (d at age 77 before August 25, 1969) and a daughter Emily (d age 51 years 2 months and 9 days, buried December 3, 1942, Easton, PA); her DAR number is 127661), who married Theodore Sands Fillmore (b. Oct. 13, 1886 in PA; d. Aug 7, 1973 in Marin Co., CA). The Fillmores are said to have had two daughters, who dated Lafayette College students; social security lists two Grace Fillmores who may be one of these daughters. George R. Elder was the owner of what is now the Lafayette Inn at 510 Cattell Street. Here is what their web site says.

“The elegant mansion, which is now The Lafayette Inn, was built as an investment property by Elizabeth Wagner Leary in 1895. The land was part of the Wagner farm owned by one of the families that helped settle Easton three generations earlier in the mid 1700s. By the late 19th century, development of College Hill was booming and the former Wagner farm properties on the west side of Cattell St. were very desirable. As a former winding country road, Cattell St. became the main thoroughfare from the north to downtown Easton. It was widened during the summer of 1885 and in 1890 was the route of Easton's first trolley. The first known tenant and eventually the owner of 510 Cattell St. was George Elder (1862-1930), superintendent of Ingersoll Iron Works later the Ingersoll Rand Co. The Elder family renovated and enlarged the house around 1917, and owned it for another twenty years. George Elder died in 1930 and his will bequeathed the contents of the home to his married daughter Emily Fillmore and her husband Theodore. According to the Bureau of Wills, the first floor had living and dining rooms, a sun parlor, kitchen, library, and a card room in the basement. On the second floor were four bedrooms and a den. The third floor had two bedrooms and attic space. The Depression of 1929 must have hurt the Fillmores financially and the building was carved into smaller apartments. In 1937 it was sold…” I am in contact with George R. Jr.’s son and his wife; their only son (whom he calls the last of the Elders), is no longer living, having died of cancer in 1986, in Chesterton, MD, at the age of 35.

- Nancy Moore Elder (known as Nannie) (born Nov. 20, 1865; died in the Johnstown Flood, May 31, 1889; at the age of 23).

- Genevieve Clifford Elder (born 1870; married James Henry Jowett of New York City in New York City on December 12, 1900; date of death is unknown to me). Per George R. III, Mr. Jowett also worked for Ingersoll-Rand; the Jowett’s had one adopted daughter who committed suicide in England in the 1930s and no other children. Her DAR number is 132486.

- Emily Louise Elder (born June 25, 1874; died in infancy).

- Cyrus Elder, Jr. (dob unknown, one source says Dec. 2, 1879, but certainly after 1870 since his name is not in the 1870 census; resided Colorado in 1907, Saranac Lake NY and said to be an invalid at the time of his father’s death in 1912). Since one of the obituaries calls Cyrus Jr. “Russell”, it may be that Russell was the middle name of both Cyrus Sr. and Jr.

- (Possibly) William Elder (born 1879; perhaps died in 1889 in the Johnstown Flood) He appears in the 1880 census as age 6 months. The Wilkinsburg history says their youngest son died in the Flood, but the source that names a William - a LDS research site -- is not trustworthy, since it says that the entire family died in the flood). The “History of Cambria County” of 1907 does not list a son William, and does list all of the other children above; so I believe this is erroneous information. Per his being 8 months old in the 1880 census, it is possible that William was Cyrus Elder, Jr.’s middle name and they are one and the same person.

Cyrus Elder was hired by Daniel J. Morrell of the Cambria Iron Company when invalided out of the Civil War in 1861. He had been chosen as second lieutenant and was promoted to First Lieutenant of Company A, Tenth Pennsylvania Infantry Volunteer Reserve Corps. He served with McClellan in the Peninsular campaign and was mustered out at Harrison’s Landing after the Seven Day’s battle, while he was very ill. He was an associate editor of the “Tribune” for two years during the Civil War. He rose to the position of attorney and chief counsel for the Cambria Iron (later Steel) Company. In 1867, Elder published a little volume of poems called “My Gift.” As an advocate of protective tariff in 1873 he published a “Dream of a Free Trade Paradise and Other Sketches.” In 1876 he published “Man and Labor” a collection of talks he had delivered at the Cambria Scientific Institute. When Daniel J. Morrell died (August 24, 1885), Cyrus Elder acquired Morrell’s charter membership in the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. Thus, Elder was the only Johnstown, PA, member of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club at the time of the Flood. Moreover, his was the only Club immediate family to sustain fatalities in the Flood.

According to contemporary accounts, Cyrus Elder was returning from Chicago to Johnstown on May 31, 1889, the day of the Flood. He arrived on the day express at about 10:15 a.m. At that point, the early flooding had already made some of the Johnstown city streets impassable, including Walnut Street, where the Elder family had a large home. Cyrus could see his wife Nancy and daughter Nannie waving to him from the railroad depot, but when he attempted to get home (first on a hired horse, then in a hired wagon) the floodwaters prevented him. In fact, he fell into the water and in order to get into some dry clothes, he went to the uptown home of his brother, to change.

From The Story of Johnstown by L. L. McLauren, (1890, page 342), "Cyrus Elder, solicitor of the Cambria Iron Company, returned from Chicago in the forenoon. Water surrounded his residence, hindering him from getting home. His wife and daughter stood on the porch, waving their handkerchiefs to welcome him. During the afternoon he procured a boat somebody had constructed of rough boards and endeavored to reach his family. The craft upset, spilling Mr. Elder into four feet of water. He waded back and entered his brother's house for a change of clothing. While he was putting on dry garments the flood overwhelmed Johnstown. His elegant home was utterly destroyed, Mrs. and Miss Elder going down with the wreck, to be seen no more. The husband and father was spared, his life blighted by a sorrow that can have no alleviation this side the grave. Death, inflexible and unrelenting, had stilled the voices whose sound was sweetest music and prevented the meeting so fondly anticipated. Both ladies were singularly amiable and accomplished. Miss Elder was a lovely girl, and her untimely fate, in the flower and beauty of winsome maidenhood, excited profound regret."

In his celebrated book on the Johnstown Flood, David McCullough says that Nancy (age 49) and Nanie (age 23) were lost in the Flood. At least one old account states that the youngest Elder son was also lost in the deluge: Annals of Old Wilkinsburg, by Elizabeth M. Davidson and Ellen B. McKee (1940). Starting on page 348, the book offers this account of the William Turner family, which includes the Elder family tragedy:

“William Turner of Wilkinsburg married Mary Swank, the daughter of George W. and Nancy Moore Swank of Johnstown, PA. George W. Swank was of German-Lutheran stock whose forefathers had come from Lancaster County and were among the pioneers of the Ligonier Valley of Westmoreland County, PA. Nancy Moore was a granddaughter of John Moore, a member of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention of 1776…he was later a state senator.

“Mrs. Turner was a sister of James Moore Swank, who through his success as editor of the Johnstown “Tribune”, and also as chief clerk in the Agriculture Department in Washington, DC, was called to Philadelphia to become Secretary of the American Iron and Steel Association… …Another brother, Thomas Swank, as editor and owner of the Johnstown “Tribune” brought it to the high position sometimes attained by small town papers. A brother-in-law of Mrs. Turner was Cyrus Elder, of Quaker stock, and attorney for the Cambria Iron Works and an author of considerable repute.

“Mrs. William Turner was most heavily stricken. She lost her sister, Mrs. Cyrus Elder, who, with her daughter (a young woman of striking beauty), and her youngest son, was drowned; also her brother-in-law, Dr. James K. Lee. Dr. Lee has rushed home to care for his wife Emily, and her mother, Mrs. Nancy Moore Swank, eighty years old. He helped them, as he thought, to safety on the third floor, and left his driver, a colored boy, with them while he returned downstairs for valuable papers. No trace of his body was ever found.” (The account goes on to say that Mrs. Lee (Emily Swank) and her mother; Nancy Moore Swank spent the rest of the horrible night on a packing box in the attic. The water “not quite reaching them. At Mrs. Lee’s death, she willed Dr. Lee’s estate to Johnstown for the foundation of the Lee Homeopathic Hospital.”).

The Johnstown Flood occurred on Nancy Jane Swank Elder’s 49th birthday. Neither Nancy Jane Swank Elder’s nor Nancy Moore Elder’s bodies were ever identified as having been recovered. Even considering the “halo effect” often applied to those who die tragically, this account from History of the Johnstown Flood by Frank Connelly and George C. Jenks (1889) (page 100) is most poignant:

“Miss Elder was the daughter of Cyrus Elder, solicitor of the Cambria Iron Company. She went down with the wreck of her father’s house and disappeared with her mother as quietly as if in a dream. She made no sign and gave no cry, and reluctant indeed must have been the torrent that dragged out her sweet young life, sorrowing indeed the angel that bore her pure soul to heaven. She was too beautiful to perish thus.”

Almost nothing was saved from the Walnut Street home. The family Bible, dating from 1807, did survive, only because the desk in which it was kept (and which belonged to Cyrus' granfather) had been sent out to be refinished, with the Bible still in it. The family still has the Bible, and the desk was in 2003 donated by the family to the Johnstown Flood Museum National Historic Site.

Elder was one of the founders of the Grand View Cemetery-which was newly laid out at the time of the Flood and received many of its victims. Sadly, he was not able to bury his own family there, their bodies having been lost forever. Interestingly, Mr. Elder's reputation seems to have been compromised by the Flood.
The people of Johnstown had ambivalent feelings about him - compassion for his own loss mixed with a reserve due to his South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club membership. He was the town's only member of the Club after Daniel Morrell's death. After the Flood, Elder, despite his losses, refused to place any type of blame on the Club. His public response to the tragedy, both personal and civic, is often quoted in Johnstown,

"If anybody be to blame, then we are among them ourselves, for we have been most negligent in this most important matter, and many of us have paid the penalty of our neglect." (Cyrus Elder, 1889).

Elder said publicly that there had been no concern about the integrity of the earthen dam among the people of Cambria Iron Company; even so, there is said to exist a correspondence between Daniel J. Morrell and Benjamin F. Ruff to indicate otherwise. That correspondence may not have been known to Mr. Elder, however.

Elder was active in improving the quality of life in the city. For instance, the Johnstown Water Company was organized in 1866 by D. J. Morrell, James McMillan, George W. Osborn, Jacob Fend, Cyrus Elder, Joseph Williams, John Crouse, Jacob Campbell, John Lowman, James Milliken and John Pringle. He represented the Second ward of the borough of Johnstown in the borough council during a part of the last term in which Mr. Morrell presided over that body. He was also a delegate to Republican county and state conventions on several occasions, and in the latter convention of 1892, placed before that assemblage the name of Judge Dean, who was subsequently elected. Cyrus Elder was a member of the Emory Fisher Post 30, GAR. He organized the Bessemer Steel Company, organized and was solicitor of the Johnstown Savings Bank, and was secretary of the Johnstown Flood Finance fund. He was also the founder of the Cambria Library, which was located next door to their Walnut Street home and like their home was swept away in the Flood (the librarian was killed under a pile of bricks, rubble that had so recently been the library).

As “History of Cambria County” (1907) author Henry Wilson Storey states, “Mr. Elder was especially gifted in public speaking and in the many addresses which he was called upon to make, his subject matter was liberally treated in a style polished and easy.” (Page 441). 1900 Cyrus Elder addressed the city of Johnstown on the occasion of its centennial. He went on to publish a work of poetry, Poems (1909) which includes a poem describing his aversion to burial and preference for cremation which was quoted in full in his Johnstown obituary.

Cyrus retired in 1901 and removed to Philadelphia where he lived in the Colonial Apartments, 1100 Spruce Street. He died there on December 14, 1912.
Funeral services were held at 10 a.m. on December 16, 1912, attended by a large number of friends and relatives.
In accord with his often-expressed wishes, his body was cremated and scattered to the four winds-perhaps his final tribute to his dear Nancy Jane and Nannie, whose bodies had also been lost forever…
Cyrus Elder was 56 at the time of the Johnstown Flood.


Lin said...


chefblord said...


chefblord said...

have more info on him

buck grave said...

Regarding Genevieve Elder Jowett - she and her husband are buried in Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA. Her year of death is listed on her stone as 1939. The stone of her husband reads 1874 - 1933. Both are listed on Find A Grave with pictures of their stones.

judodanizz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
judodanizz said...

I'm wondering if you have more genealogical information (GEDCOM file?) on Cyrus Elder. I am actually a descendent and am looking for information.