John Jordan left Edinburgh, Scotland in 1755 arriving in White Plains, colony of New York, the same year. Edinburgh had been the family home since Jordan’s father and grandfather fled France for Scotland following the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of French Huguenots in the late 1600s. John struck out on his own and decided to immigrate to America.
John married Mary Ann Daniels, a young woman of Dutch descent, and in 1758 they had a son, John Jordan, Jr. With the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, John Jordan, Sr. and his wife left New York and helped found the loyalist colony of St. John, New Brunswick, just across the Maine border. Their 19-year-old son, John Jr., stayed behind.
John Jr. moved to Sag Harbor, Long Island, where he changed his name (possibly to avoid the stigma of British Loyalist parents) to John Jermain. Major John Jermain served in the Westchester County Militia in the Revolutionary War and later served as commander of the federal fort at Sag Harbor during the War of 1812.
Major John Jermain was a very civic minded and prosperous businessman. His house (still standing) in Sag Harbor is located on Main Street and his property extended to Otter Pond where he built a mill. Water was used to power machinery to grind grain and to make cloth. Major Jermain and his wife Margaret had nine children.
Sylvanus Pierson Jermain
In 1802, the eldest son, Sylvanus Pierson Jermain moved to Albany. At that time, Albany was a thriving industrial and shipping community with extensive opportunities for all types of business ventures. Within 20 years, Sylvanus became one of Albany’s most prominent and successful residents. He bought and sold products moving through Albany’s port and advertised his services as a commission merchant, accumulating a sizable fortune.
Howell & Tenney’s History of Albany County (1886) listed Sylvanus under: “Produce, Flour, Feed and Salt” and said “In the earliest period of the commercial history of the city, every grocer was, in some degree, a produce dealer. The leading produce merchants of Albany during the forepart of this century were Sylvanus Jermain… .” The book then goes on to list about 20 other dealers.
In 1813, the first Albany city directory was published and listed about 300 mercantile firms representing at least 400 merchants. Sylvanus Jermain was listed as one of the most prominent.
In 1820, at the age of 36, Sylvanus was a founder of Albany Savings Bank along with some of Albany’s most prestigious men. Stephen Van Rensselaer (Albany’s Dutch Patroon) was elected president; William James (grandfather of the authors William and Henry James) was elected vice president; Sylvanus Jermain-secretary and John W. Yates-treasurer. John Townsend, Charles Webster, Jesse Buel, Volkert P. Douw, Simeon DeWitt and Harmanus Bleecker were among those elected directors.
In 1824, Sylvanus was elected a director of Merchant’s Insurance Company and in 1829 a director of Mechanics and Farmers Bank.
In 1807, Sylvanus married Catherine Barclay, daughter of James and Janet Elizabeth Barclay, natives of Scotland and they had five children, however three died in infancy: Janet Elizabeth (May 11th, 1808-July 3rd, 1808); James Barclay (1809-1873); John Pierson (1812-1835); William (April 20th, 1814-Nov. 29th, 1814); Infant Daughter (died after 3 days).
Sylvanus’ wife, Catherine died on January 24th, 1816 at the age of 27, when James was seven years old, and the two boys were sent to live with Sylvanus’ sister and her husband, Julia Ann Jermain Prime (1789-1874, died in White Plains) and Rev. Nathaniel S. Prime, DD, a Presbyterian minister in Cambridge, Washington County, New York. Dr. Prime was the father of Irenaeus Prime, DD and grandfather of Rev. Wendell Prime, editors of the New York Observer newspaper.
Sylvanus was described as “a man of close business habits and rigid economy. He was honest, cheerful, simple and frugal; his riches gave him neither luxury nor leisure.”
One of his two surviving sons, John P. Jermain, became editor of the Albany Literary Gazette in 1831. He also edited the Temperance Recorder, a monthly publication. He was married with one son when he died at the age of 23.
James Barclay Jermain
His remaining son, James Barclay Jermain, graduated from Amherst College in 1831. Upon his graduation, James returned to Albany. He took up the practice of law and was admitted to the Supreme Court of the State of New York in 1836. He spent most of the next 30 years running the businesses started by his father. In 1842, James married Catherine Ann Rice and purchased the beautiful mansion of General William Jenkins Worth (Ft. Worth, Texas) on the Albany Road near Port Schuyler (Broadway just north of Menands) and renamed it Hedge Lawn (592 Broadway).
Howell and Tenney’s History of Albany County says:
“Menand’s Station on the Albany and Northern Railroad is the location of Louis Menand’s extensive greenhouses, flower gardens and nursery grounds, which were established by the present proprietor in 1842. Here are located the fair grounds, originally intended for use by the State Agricultural Society. The place is convenient of access from all points by steamboat, railroad and horse cars. The State Fair for the present year, 1885, is appointed to be held here. Early settlers were Schuylers, Ten Eycks, Gorways, Glens, Jermains and Hillhouse.”
In the next ten years, James and Catherine had five children, four daughters and one son: Catherine Barclay Jermain (born 1844 and lived to be 90) married William H. McClure a wealthy drug merchant; Ann Rice Jermain (born 1846) who married Rev. Fredrick B. Savage of Cooperstown, NY; Maria Cummings Jermain (born 1848) who remained single; Julia Prime Jermain (born 1850) who married Robert McCartee of New York City, and Barclay Jermain (born 1853).
In 1855, a dispute arose between the Rutland & Washington Railroad and the Troy & Rutland Railroad. The dispute involved an action brought by the Troy & Rutland to enforce its lease of the Rutland & Washington and resulted in an injunction being issued by a New York court closing the Rutland & Washington on April 1st, 1855. James Jermain was appointed receiver of the property and took charge of its operations. Jermain managed the railroad until the mortgages were foreclosed and the property was sold at auction to Jay Gould on July 11th, 1863.
During the years 1857 to 1869, Sylvanus Jermain’s youngest sister, Margaret Pierson Jermain Slocum and her daughter, Margaret Olivia Slocum (1828 – 1918) came to live at Hedge Lawn due to financial reversals suffered by Margaret Pierson Jermain Slocum’s husband, Joseph, who was suffering with tuberculosis. James Jermain had paid for Margaret Olivia Slocum’s tuition at the prestigious Emma Willard School in Troy from which she had graduated in 1847. Her father, Joseph died in 1863.
During the time they lived at Hedge Lawn, 1857 – 1869, daughter Margaret Olivia Slocum met and married Russell Sage in 1869 (the same year that Sylvanus died) and she and her mother moved to Sage’s Fifth Avenue mansion in New York City.
On April 15th, 1862, the Watervliet Turnpike and Railroad Company was incorporated. It constructed track in the center of Broadway and ran horse-drawn trolleys from South Ferry Street, location of Albany’s ferry to Greenbush, to the Lumber District, just north of Clinton Avenue, to bring workers to and from work. This horse-car railway, Albany’s first, opened on June 22nd, 1863.
In 1864, this line was extended to Albany Rural Cemetery and in 1865 it was extended all the way to Green Island. The significant stops on this line were the Albany Ferry, Lumber District, Island Park, Old Men’s Home, Albany Rural Cemetery and the Watervliet Arsenal. James Jermain, along with John Cary, Thomas B. Way and Dudley Olcott were stockholders and members of the Board of Directors of this first line.
James’ father, Sylvanus, worked hard and went daily to his office until ten days before his death in 1869 at the age of 86. Upon his father’s death, James inherited approximately $1.5 million dollars.
Almost immediately after receiving the inheritance, James began the philanthropic activity that consumed the latter part of his life. In 1870, he built an annex to the South Reformed Church in West Troy (Watervliet) to provide space for a day care center run by two of his daughters.
In 1872, he built ($120,000) the Jermain Memorial Building for the South Reformed Church (now known as the Jermain Presbyterian Church). William Wollett was the architect.
On June 18th, 1875, James’ daughter Ann (Annie) Rice Savage died in Cooperstown at the age of 29 and James and his daughter, Marie, took Ann Rice Savage’s daughter, Katharine (Katie) Jermain Savage in to live with them.
In 1876, James Jermain was the chief contributor to the rebuilding of the Home for Aged Men on the Troy Road, now the Menands Manor
In 1880, he purchased Brookwood, one of the oldest and most beautiful estates on Otsego Lake at Cooperstown. The home was built prior to 1820 and in 1839 was owned by Elisha Doubleday. Local tradition said that baseball was first played in a field nearby now called Doubleday Field. Jermain used the home as a summer home for his family. He enlarged the house and outbuildings were constructed.
While still residing at Hedge Lawn in Menands, Jermain spent summers at Cooperstown and also spent early autumn at a rural cottage at White Creek near the Vermont line where he owned over seventeen hundred acres of fertile land used for livestock purposes.
In 1880, James’ son Barclay Jermain was a prominent attorney in Albany. Barclay Jermain served with Albany’s Michael Nolan of Quinn and Nolan Brewery, printer Charles Van Benthuysen, Robert C. Pruyn and Erastus Corning on the committee to rebuild Albany’s City Hall after a major fire.
Barclay married Katherine (Kitty) Sophia Thayer of Troy, New York on June 7th, 1880 but died thirty days later on July 7th, of tuberculosis at the age of 28. Barclay was already sick before the marriage and struggled to even make it to the service.
After the wedding, he and Katherine left with Jack their carriage driver and one or two house servants for Cooperstown. As bad news continued to arrive at Hedge Lawn, Julie Jermain McCartee, his sister, who was living in New York City, and sister, Maria Cummings Jermain, departed for Cooperstown and were helping Katherine when he died.
Barclay’s sister, Maria Cummings Jermain, donated one of the bells in the Albany Carillon in City Hall Tower in his memory
After 1882, James Jermain started to rely much more heavily on his daughter, Maria Cummings Jermain who had remained single and was the only remaining family member still residing at Hedge Lawn. Many of his business and personal checks were signed by her.
In 1887, James Jermain donated $80,000 for the construction of the YMCA building (later the Steuben Athletic Club building) on Pearl Street in Albany; the rear entrance of the building has engraved in stone “Jermain Hall”). Others donated the land and furnishings, including drapery donated by Mrs. Teunis Van Vechten and a table from the Gansevoort Estate donated by Mrs. Abraham Lansing. A bronze bas-relief of James Jermain by Erastus Dow Palmer, hung over the fireplace in the main parlor.
On September 22nd, 1887, the YMCA building was dedicated in front of a large assembly. Six distinguished speakers and a chorus conducted by Ira D. Stankey participated. President of the YMCA, A.P. Stevens said, “The liberality of the citizens of Albany has furnished us with a site, and the magnificent gift of our esteemed fellow townsman, Mr. James Jermain, a building, in every part and all its details, as well adapted to our work as any of its kind in the United States.”
James Jermain, now 78-years old, had his remarks read by a cousin, Rev. Wendell Prime, editor of the New York Observer. Only one paragraph in length, the remarks commented on the need to protect young men from the moral dangers of a great city. At the conclusion of the remarks, Jermain received a standing ovation.
In 1889, Jermain rescued the Fairview Home for Friendless Children from financial disaster. The Fairview Home was run by the Albany County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children when it suffered from a serious fire and came upon hard times. Jermain found that the Institution was incorporated as a business corporation, which disqualified it from receiving public support. He started a second corporation as a Not for Profit – charitable organization, which qualified it to receive public funds. He also built a new annex building for the home entirely at his own cost ($60,000).
The Fairview Home was built on Boght Road in what is now the town of Colonie. Even more interesting however, is the fact that when James Jermain restructured the Albany County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, it was renamed the Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society, an organization still very familiar today although with a slightly different mission, the humane treatment of dogs and cats.
Jermain also probably donated the beautiful barns in Albany Rural Cemetery since they were built while he was treasurer of the cemetery and are very similar to ones at his home, Hedge Lawn. The architect was most likely William Woolett.
Another set of smaller but similar barns adorn the property at the Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society where Jermain’s daughter was active for many years. Remarkably, most of the Jermain buildings, Hedge Lawn, YMCA, Menands Manor, Jermain Presbyterian Church, Albany Rural Cemetery barns and Humane Society barns are still standing.
Jermain was reported to be an outgoing, active member of the Otsego community. He sponsored religious services and Christmas parties for the children of the town and once stocked Otsego Lake with 30,000 trout.
At Jermain’s death, Brookwood was left to his granddaughter, Katharine Savage who at the time was living there with her husband Fredrick DePeyster Townsend – a landscape architect from Buffalo. They would later divorce and Katie would marry Edgar Tefft Chapman – a childhood friend and next door neighbor to the Hedge Lawn.
James Barclay Jermain died on July 12th, 1897 at the age of 88. In his will he bequeathed $100,000 to the Jermain Presbyterian Church, $100,000 plus the release of all mortgages to the Fairview Home For Friendless Children, $75,000 to the Jermain Presbyterian Church in Watervliet, $50,000 to Williams College for a professorship, $50,000 to The Home for Aged Men in Watervliet (Menands), $80,000 to the Middlebury College for a chair of Political Economy and International Law, and the cancellation of all mortgages to the Albany Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).
Jermain, together with his wife, brother, sisters, parents, grandparents, children and several cousins and their spouses, are buried in Albany Rural Cemetery in a family plot located directly behind their home, Hedge Lawn.
James Jermain was a board member and treasurer of Albany Rural Cemetery.
Upon Russell Sage’s death, July 22nd, 1906, after 37 years of marriage, his wife, Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage inherited his fortune estimated at $100 million and was reported by the New York Times to be the “Richest Woman in America.”
In 1905, Olivia Sage purchased Yates Castle to house a teachers’ college for Syracuse University.
She donated $10,000,000 in 1907 to establish the Russell Sage Foundation. In 1908, she donated $650,000 to Yale University.
Three years later, Sage gave $300,000 to Cornell University for the construction of a women’s dormitory, Risley Hall.
Her promotion of women’s education also included funding the construction of the Olivia Josselyn House at the then all female Vassar College in 1912.
Also in 1912, she acquired Marsh Island in the Gulf of Mexico as a home for wild birds.
In 1916, she founded Russell Sage College in Troy, New York. Later, in 1919 she gave $2,750,000 for the development of the Russell Sage Foundation Homes, a suburban community at Forest Hills Gardens, Long Island.
In addition she gave extensively to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Emma Willard School. The sum total of Mrs. Sage’s gifts surpassed $23,000,000 in 1915.
Photos, from above: John Jordan-Jermain; Sylvanus Jermain; Albany Savings Bank on State Street in 1884; James Barclay Jermain; Albany YMCA Later Stuben Athletic Club; Hudson Mohawk Humane Society took this building at the corner of Howard and Eagle St in 1901 previously the old jail and then Albany Hospital; Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage (Mrs Russell Sage); and Russell Sage College main campus on Congress Street between First and Second streets by Wikimedia user UpstateNYer.