Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Mary Amelia Hart, Harrison Durkee, and Commodore Vanderbilt

Mary Amelia Hart, the eldest child of Betsey Amelia and Richard Philip Hart, was born  on November 17, 1816 in Troy, New York, ten months after her parents’ marriage, and when her mother was still just seventeen years old. She, like most of her sisters, attended Emma Hart Willard’s Troy Female Seminary, and her biography under her maiden name appears in Emma Willard and Her Pupils.  She was a student there from 1826 to 1831. She married Harrison Durkee on April 28, 1837 in New York City, and they had four children, Richard P.H., Elizabeth A., Augustus White,  and Joseph H.

Her father, Richard, was her husband Harrison’s mentor in business during his early years in Troy, which led to his becoming one of the earliest members of the New York Stock Exchange in the year of his marriage.  He also became the manager of the Howard Trust and Banking Company in Troy, which belonged to his wife’s grandfather, William Howard. The Durkees relocated to New York City in 1851 to allow Harrison to attend better to his business interests. Harrison apparently was an “intimate” of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, and an associate of his in business.  (One imagines that this means that a Hart woman was part of the Vanderbilt social circle of the time, which seems quite fitting when you think about it). Harrison was vice president of the Western Union Telegraph Company for many years, and was also the director of the Erie Railway.

There are several newspaper articles pertaining to the race horses he possessed, including the famous horse, Dictator. He apparently owned a tract of land near Flushing, Long Island, which he converted into a breeding farm. There is an article from the New York Herald, dated March 15, 1896, by Hamilton Busbey, an associate of Harrison’s, about Harrison’s horses, titled Trotters and Racers of Bygone Days. In it, he includes some remembrances of Durkee, including the following vignette:

He also writes regarding Durkee’s culinary pursuits:

And finally, a story from the end of his life:

Harrison Durkee died at his home at 714 Fifth Avenue, of nephritis and heart disease on August 4, 1886, at the age of seventy-four, his wife Mary Amelia having predeceased him two years earlier on  December 19, 1884. They are both buried in the Oakwood Cemetery at Troy, New York.

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