Death of Henry Gassaway Davis

The Elkins Inter-Mountain
March 11, 1916.





(By Associated Press.)

WASHINGTON, Mar. 4. [sic] - Former United States Senator Henry Gassaway Davis, of West Virginia, Vice-Presidential candiate [sic] on the Parker Democratic ticket in 1904, died here at 1:45 a.m. today, after a brief illness. He was 93 years old.

Mr. Davis was stricken with grip about a fortnight ago, while on a visit to his daughter, Mrs. Stephen B. Elkins, and on account of his advanced age was unable to withstand the attack.

Henry Gassaway Davis was born in the little village of Woodstock, Maryland, on the sixteenth day of November, 1823.

His father was Caleb Davis, who, some years prior to Henry's birth, had been a successful merchant of Baltimore, but in his late years business reverses had come upon him and he moved a few miles out into the country and bought a small farm where now is located the village of Woodstock.

Caleb Davis had been a soldier in the war of 1812; while his wife whose maiden name was Louisa Brown, sprang from Revolutionary stock.

When Henry was a very small boy, still more business reverses struck his father, and the little farm in Howard County was taken away from him, simultaneously some railroad contracts he had undertaken resulted disastrously and he died very shortly afterwards, when Henry was in his early 'teens.

It was to his mother, who was of Scotch-Irish blood, that Henry G. Davis owed his greatest debt of gratitude. She came from a remarkable family noted for the prominence that its members have obtained, and the sound common sense that has always characteriezd [sic] them.

Mrs. Davis' sister was the mother of the late Senator Arthur Pue Gorman, and the two first cousins were always intimate associates, both politically and socially, until death separated them.

Former Governor Howard of Maryland, who lived in the same neighborhood with the Davis', realizing their poverty stricken condition upon the death of their father gave them a home on his farm and furnished young Henry, who was then a robust youth of fifteen summers, work on the farm at twenty- five cents per day.

The only education that the boy had an opportunity to imbibe was at a three months' term of school which he attended in the winters until the time he became the breadwinner for the family.

He then insisted upon his younger brother going to school and deprived himself of the continuance of his meagre educational advantages that he might keep the younger boy in school. However he studied some at random under the direction of his mother, who was a woman of much refinement and many accomplishments, until the age of nineteen, when a life long friend of the family, Dr. Woodside, who was superintendent of the new railroad which the Baltimore and Ohio Company had extended to Cumberland gave him a position as freight brakeman.

Young Davis took the position for two reasons: first, because he had always nourished a fascination for railroad work: second, because it paid more money and he could then be of more substantial aid to his mother and his younger brother for Mrs. Davis had been sewing and doing other work since her husband's death that she might keep the little family together and maintain the home for them.

Railroading in the early "forties" was indeed crude and attended with far more danger than characterizes the operation of trains today. The modern self-coupler, the air brake the almost countless safety appliances, were unknown luxuries in those days, but despite the obstacles that beset his way, young Davis soon realized that he had found his natural calling and made a fresh determination that through the means of railroad life he would pave his way to fame and fortune.

Vigilant and careful in his duties he soon became known over his division, which then extended from Baltimore to Cumberland, as "the energetic brakeman." His work attracted the commendation of the division superintendent and after about a year's service as brakeman he was promoted to freight conductor.

The same seriousness, energy and steadiness that attended him as brakeman characterized him as conductor. His business was attended to with dispatch and complaints filed against conductor Davis were unknown.

One morning, after he had been conductor but a few months, a derailment occurred near Piedmont. Wrecks in our days are tremendous obstacles to the transportation department of a railway, but we can not realize the magnitude of their annoyance in the days when young Davis handled trains over what is now one of our greatest trunk lines. The wrecking equipment of today was then unknown and a wreck that would now interfere with traffic but a few hours would in those days cause delay for a week. It happened that on the morning which the derailment occurred President Thomas Swan of the Baltimore and Ohio, was following Davis' freight on a passenger train. There was additional confusion among the trainmen of the derailed freight owing to the fact that their President was close at hand and would soon be upon the ground. Davis took charge of the work, accomplished it with so much precision and utilized such business like methods that he had unknowingly attracted the attention of President Swan, and upon the latter's arrival at Baltimore, Freight Conductor Davis received notice that he had been awarded a passenger run between Baltimore and Cumberland, hence he was afterwards known as "Captain" Davis.

Young Davis was learning well the lessons of experience: the poverty and deprivements of youth had, in a certain sense, moulded his character. His early hardships tended to make him business-like to make him value the significance and true worth of the dollar. His early poverty was a school, it started him upon the career of success that afterwards attended him. His critics have said that Senator Davis was penurious, have said, to make use of the popular phrase, that he was "close"; it must be remembered that the hardships, the battles for a living that attended him at the age that the majority of our boys are enjoying the advantages of an education provided by liberal parents the subject of this sketch was learning the practical lessons of the dollar's value which were driven home by tutors personified by toil and poverty.

Henry G. Davis owed a debt of to his career as passenger conductor for it was during this period of his life that the interest in politics and the welfare of his country was stimulated in him, but his being brought into direct contact with Henry Clay and other prominent men who traveled upon his train to and from Washington; Henry Clay and Mr. Davis forming an intimate and life-long friendship at this time. The Kentucky Commoner would travel by stage coach from his blue grass home to Cumberland, at which point he would board Captain Davis' train and travel with the young conductor as far as Washington.

When young Davis was twenty-four, president Swan, who had been closely watching the energetic Conductor's progress, made him Division Superintendent of the same division on which he had served as brakeman and conductor. This new position gave him the change he had long desired, the opportunity to utilize his executive ability, and by the use of this ability he rapidly gained distinction, and within a few years became known as the President's right hand man, which, in those days was a position similar to the present office of General Manager.

Heretofore the idea of running trains after night fall had been looked on it the light of a vain impossibility. Young Davis told President Swan that there was no reason why trains could not be operated at night equally as well as during daylight. The President laughingly told the aspiring young superintendent that if he didn't drop such notions he would become the laughing stock of the entire company. Davis, ignoring his chief's opinion, begged for the opportunity to try his ideas by practical tests. In order to satisfy him the President granted him permission to do so, and shortly afterwards the Superintendent was running night trains on regular schedules over his entire division.

But during all these vicissitudes of his railroad career Mr. Davis was not blind to the opportunities that presented themselves through the medium of West Virginia's natural resources, which he gazed upon daily as his train wended its way from Cumberland to what is now known as Deer Park, Maryland.

At his own request, in 1853, he was given the position of agent, at Piedmont, which was then the most responsible position on the line west of Baltimore.

In Mr. Davis choosing Piedmont as his home, we see the first concrete illustration of his farsighted business sagacity that made him millions. He realized that Piedmont was the gateway to a country almost unbounded and unlimited in the extent and magnitude of its natural resources.

In these years he was no doubt enjoying day dreams of what a man's industry could create in the broad and undeveloped territory that met his eye as he gazed from Piedmont toward the Alleghanies and which was destined to afterwards become the garden spot and means of substance for an unborn State.

Shortly previous to this, Mr. Davis married Miss Kate, the daughter of Judge Gideon Bantz of Frederick, Maryland. Her death in 1902, after nearly fifty years of a happy, married life, was a very severe shock to the Senator. The Davis Memorial Hospital at Elkins, probably the most complete and modern institution of its kind in the State, is an appropriate monument to the memory of Mrs. Davis and a tangible illustration of the regard he held for her.

Mr. Davis' career as the B. & O. agent at Piedmont was short, already having foreseen a development of the marvelous natural resources southeast of him, he resigned as agent and left the Baltimore and Ohio to enter the mercantile lumber and coal business.

He established his brother, William R. Davis, in the business, and the firm traded under the name of H. G. Davis and Brother.

A large portion of Mrs. Davis' savings from his salary had been spent in buying up hundreds of acres of timber and coal lands lying in proximity to the courses of Cheat River and its tributaries. There lands were bought for trifling sums from their owners who did not realize the ultimate value that must some day be attached to the properties.

The prices of these lands often ranged from fifty and seventy-five cents to a dollar and a half per acre.

Rapidly the Davis Bros. built up a thriving trade; the outbreak of the Civil War helped them materially in a financial way because of their accessibly location they obtained large army contracts for supplying the soldiers with food stuffs and other supplies. Their business continued to prosper until it reach enormous proportions.

An extensive wholesale as well as retail trade was established.

It is indeed an "Ill wind that blows no one any good" and the Davis Bros. profited directly and indirectly by the Civil War. Every cent of profit from a successful and extensive mercantile business was invested in the coal and timber lands.

The Baltimore and Ohio's line from Washington to Cumberland suffered extensive damage to their bridges, stations and other equipment during the four years of warfare, and for several years his firm was kept busy in supplying the orders for timber and coal for the Baltimore and Ohio, who were now overhauling their entire system and repairing the damages to their lines. The romance of success was now well under way and the former B. & O. brakeman was reaping thousands from the road for which he had previously worked for the meagre sum of twenty-five dollars per month.

At this juncture he conceived the idea of laying out a summer resort upon the summit of the Alleghanies. The result of his determination is in evidence in Deer Park, Maryland, which town he laid out and where he built for himself an elaborate summer home.

Having accumulated sufficient wealth to insure his independence and position, his ambitions turned into political channels. His friendship with Henry Clay had made him a devoted Whig and his first ballot was cast for the Kentuckian. In 1866 he was elected to the lower branch of the West Virginia legislature.

He served one year in the lower house and his career in that body was a noteworthy one and was largely occupied with legislation concerning the financial system of the new born State.

Two years later he was elected to the State Senate and took a still more prominent part in financial legislation.

Again in 1870 he was a candidate to succeed himself in the upper house. His opponent this time was a foe worthy of his steel, the Hon. W. H. H. Flick, of Pendleton County, one of the new State's leading Republicans, making the fight against. The campaign was a memorable one, the two candidates traveling together and discussing the issues at joint debates in country stores and school houses. Mr. Davis won by a small majority, and because of his victory over so renowned a Republican as Mr. Flick he became the leader of his party in the State Senate at the same time serving as Chairman of the Executive Committee.

The importance of Senator Davis' work in the two branches of the Legislatures is often underestimated.

When he first took his seat the new State was scarcely three years old, he was a leader during the majority of his service and much of the credit for the firm and substantial foundation of the State Government should be accorded him for he was largely a precedent maker during his six years of service in the State's Legislative halls.

Although during these busy years the Senator's time was largely occupied with political duties, he in no wise relinquished his ideas and projected plans for developing the thousands of acres that he and his brothers (for Thos. B. had associated himself with the firm several years before this), had acquired, and he utilized the advantages offered him by being brought into contact with other capitalists in public life to instruct them in his investments and in his projected developments of the vast area already mentioned. Particularly valuable in this respect were his twelve years spent in the National Senate, a little later. Such service brought him into contact with the leading financiers of the nation; they respected him for what "He had already wrought" and placed confidence in the plans of the West Virginian because they respected and admired his business foresight, examples of which he could readily refer to them. Consequently he had little difficulty in winning their confidence and obtaining their capital and in this fashion his dreams were made practicable when, with their capitol [sic] added to his own, he was able to span the almost unsurmountable Alleghanies with the West Virginia Central and Pittsburgh Railway and open for development an enormous territory whose resources were heretofore unknown and whose possibilities were considered unpractical and futile.

In 1870, when the duty of electing a successor the Hon. Waitman T. Willey developed upon the Legislature, Mr. Davis, when the Democratic Leader of the State Senate, was chosen by an almost unanimous vote. Representatives of both parties voting for him over such distinguished men as Hon. Daniel Lamb and Col. R. H. Smith, who were candidates. He was also elected to a second term, his twelve years of service in the National Senate expiring March 4, 1883.

Mr. Davis could never be regarded in the light of a partisan. He was pre-eminently a conservative.

Senator Davis' twelve years work in the Senate was largely occupied by the study of transportation problems, monetary conditions, reforms in the business system in vogue in the Treasury Department and the work of the Department of Agriculture.

When Mr. Davis took his seat on the minority side of the Senate in the spring of 1871, that body was composed of a notable and eminent array of brilliant statesmen, of which each political party had a goodly share. Among the Republicans were Conkling, Harrison, Sherman[,] Blaine and Windom; while among the Democrats could be found Bayard, Thurman and Morgan. Senator Davis quietly took his place amongst them as the Junior Senator from West Virginia, the late Johnson W. Camden being his colleague. He applied to his new duties in the Senate the same business-like precision, the same indefatigable energy that had characterized him as a business man.

His becoming modesty and his desire for doing unostentatious work made him a power in the Committee rooms. In fact, Senator Davis' work of greatest usefulness was done in Committee.

The securing of many substantial appropriations for the improvement of the State's waterways and the system of dams and locks in the Great Kanawha, Monongahela and other rivers is largely the result of Mr. Davis' efforts.

In the second session of the 43rd Congress, Mr. Davis was made a member of the committee on Agriculture. Senator Davis' earliest work, it must be remembered, was done on the farm, and before he left the employ of former Governor Howard to take the position of brakeman on a railroad, he had become superintendent of the farm on which he worked, and a lively interest in agriculture had remained with him every since.

Few are aware that our present National Department of Agriculture is largely responsible for its creation through Mr. Davis' untiring work on the Agricultural Committee. Two of his best speeches, during his entire career in the Senate, were devoted to the advantages that [t]he people would reap from the maintenance of such a National Department.

Mr. Davis might have remained in the Senate for many years longer for his party continued in power in West Virginia for a number of years after his voluntary retirement.

During the two terms which he served his business interests had been constantly expanding and developing until they required his immediate and personal attention. He therefore declined re-election for a third term when there was no opposition to him in his own party, and only his consent was required to insure his continuance in the Senate for at least six years longer.

Senator Davis was not renowned in the Senate as a speaker, nor did he ever profess to be. He was very frequently heard from but always in an even tone of voice, however making frequent use of gestures to drive home his arguments. His speeches were noted for the fund of information, statistics and facts contained in them, rather than for their rhetoric.

Two years before he left the Senate, having associated with him Bayard, Gorman, Schell, Windom and other financiers who were in the Senate at the time he served, and several prominent capitalists from New York, the long-projected railroad had been commenced, and at his retirement from the Senate in 1883 had reached a point near Fairfax Stone on the summit of the Alleghanies.

Up to within several years after the death of President Garret, whom Mr. Davis had associated with him in the establishment of Deer Park his relations with the Baltimore and Ohio were most friendly and that road served a satisfactory carrier for his coal to the eastern markets. However some differences arose between Mr. Davis and the railroad he became convinced that the company was not treating him fairly and as a means to obtain relief, commenced construction of a road from Piedmont to Cumberland, a distance of twenty-five miles; upon the completion of which he would have access to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Pennsylvania lines as transporters of his coal.

The Baltimore and Ohio bitterly fought, in the courts, this latest move of Mr. Davis, and physical violence to his construction gangs was threatened, but the Senator scarcely heeding the opposition rapidly pushed the work to completion and within a year was running trains over his connecting supr which made him then independent entirely, of the B. & O.

Mr. Davis next concentrated his railroad activities to extending the West Virginia Central and Pittsburgh through Tucker, Barbour and Pocahontas Counties until he had connected his road with the Baltimore and Ohio on the western side of the mountains, and also with the Chesapeake and Ohio.

It was at the partial completion of this work that he and his son-in-law, the late Senator Stephen B. Elkins, determined to found the city of Elkins, destined to become one of West Virginia's leading and most progressive municipalities.

Upon the founding of the town Senator Davis moved his home from Piedmont to Elkins, and on a commanding hill, in the outskirts of the city, he erected the most costly and palatial mansion in the State. In close proximity to his residence, the late Senator Elkins and Ambassador Kerens, both of whom were actively associated with Mr. Davis in his development of the State, later built handsome homes which adjoin his property.

On the completion of the road to Elkins, spurs were built to Huttonsville, to Belington where connection is made with the B. & O., and to Durbin at which point the road connects with the Chesapeake and Ohio.

Mr. Davis continued as President of the West Virginia Central until in 1902 when an attractive offer for the road, made by the Gould interests, was accepted, and the system then became an advantageous connecting link in the rapidly expanding Western Maryland lines.

However, Senator Davis had acquired the habit of railroad building and he could not remain idle, so he conceived the idea of spanning the one hundred and seventy-five miles between Elkins and Charleston, with a railroad which would develop another region almost unlimited in its natural resources.

Accordingly the Senator immediately commenced the building of the Coal and Coke Railway, completing it in 1906. He remained as its President and moving spirit until his death.

The new railroad opened up for development the Counties of Upshur, Lewis, Braxton, Gilman [sic], Clay and Kanawha.

The road was built largely from Senator Davis' funds; the unique feature about its construction being that it was not necessary to float bonds for the building of the road furthermore he always maintained the controlling interest in the company.

Senator Davis took a personal interest in every department of the road, and after its completion, spent a goodly portion of each day in actively directing and promoting its welfare.

Despite the fact that he has been the instigator and promoter of these enormous industrial activities which would require the entire time of a normal man, Senator Davis always devoted considerable attention to the politics and the interests of his State remote from commercial nature. For many years he headed the West Virginia Delegation to the National Convention, and in 1884 had a strong following who wished to make him the Vice-Presidential nominee, but Senator Davis discouraged them and his strength was given to Hendricks of Indiana, who received the nomination.

Repeatedly had the Democrats from his own State urged him to become their nominee for Governor, and he had practically determined to become their candidate in 1904 when the unexpected turn of political events changed his course.

In 1904, Senator Davis advocating the cause of his distinguished Maryland cousin, Senator Arthur P. Gorman, for the Presidency, headed the West Virginia Delegation to St. Louis. As the day approached, however, for the assembling of the delegates, it became apparent that Mr. Parker would be nominated.

After a complimentary vote for Mr. Gorman, the West Virginia delegation changed their vote for Mr. Parker who was chosen on the first ballot.

Mr. Davis was selected by the Mountain State delegation as their representative on the committee on resolutions, and he was appointed by the chairman of that committee as a member of the sub- committee to draft a platform.

While he had supported Mr. Bryan in both his campaigns, yet he felt that the latter's views were extreme on some questions and he was very anxious that the platform should be kept within conservative lines. He worked to this end, and aided by his extensive personal acquaintance and long experience in such matters did much in reconciling the differences which existed between the delegates of opposite views in the committee, such as Mr. Bryan and Senator Hill, of New York, for instance.

After the labors of the Committee on Resolutions had been performed and Mr. Parker nominated, Senator Davis felt that his services were no longer needed at the convention, and as his personal affairs were pressing, he left the city for his West Virginia home, before the convention had adjourned.

While, in prior conventions he had been spoken of, as heretofore stated, for the Vice-Presidential nomination, and he had persistently discouraged all such movements in his behalf, yet at this convention up to the time he left, no suggestion associating his name with the second place on the ticket had been made either privately or publicly. He considered that his labors there were finished, that the nomination for the Vice-Presidency would be determined as usual by the friends of the successful candidate for the first place, and that the subsequent action of the convention would have no more personal bearing upon him than on any of the delegates. The first intimation that he had that his name would come before the convention, was a telegram received while enroute home, from a friend who stated with some positiveness that he would be nominated. He did not, however, take the matter very seriously, remarking that several other members of the West Virginia delegation had been suggested for the place, and he supposed that they were now complimenting him. He retired and slept soundly until morning, having nearly reached home when he received the announcement that he had been unanimously nominated upon the first ballot for the Vice-Presidency. His surprise was naturally very great for no one had suggested such a thing to him, at or before the convention, and the possibility of his selection had never entered his mind. Other names had been discussed and the favorite sons of several States had been held to reserve. He did not want the nomination and it is altogether likely that if he has remained at St. Louis it would not have been given him as he would have discouraged all steps in that direction. His business affairs were requiring, and needed, all of his attention. He was building the Coal and Coke Railway; was at the head of the Davis Colliery Co., with its extensive mining operations; President of a Trust Company and several banks, and had no idea of every again entering, actively, into politics.

The situation was, however, one that demanded a sacrifice on his part. The convention had adjourned, and it would have been less than grateful had he failed to respond to the call of his party.

Accordingly he selected the White Sulphur Springs in Greenbrier County, as the place of notification, and on August 17th, formally accepted the Democratic nomination for Vice-President.

He was, at this time, eighty years old, and his advanced age was the subject of much discussion and criticism at the hands of the Republican press, but as the campaign wore on the vigor and sprightliness of the octagenarian [sic] became known to the public, these arguments began to lose much of their force, and the question of age was subordinated to more important issues of the campaign.

Both the candidates, Judge Parker for the Presidency, and Senator Davis for the Vice-Presidency, deemed it unwise to enter upon any extended speaking campaign. They considered it in better form and just as effective, to give their views to the country in letters and statements through the medium of the press, and with a few exceptions they followed this course.

If the two continents, North and South America are ever so fortunate as to have an inter-national railway to connect the varied and widely differentiated interest of these two continents, to Henry G. Davis will be due the lion's share of the praise for the accomplishment of an achievement that will result in the permanent benefits of great magnitude to both North and South America, especially to the former.

In 1901 Senator Davis was appointed by Governor White as a member of the Tax Commission, to revise the tax laws of West Virginia. The Commission was composed of three Republican and two Democratic members.

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