James Tillinghast

Excerpts from "Two Streets Here Honor Railway Executive, Jurist," by H. Katherine Smith, pub. in the Courier Express, March 29, 1942

Tillinghast Place, from 434 Parkside Avenue to 36 Colvin Avenue ... perpetuate the names of the late James Tillinghast, railroad executive ...

Mr. Tillinghast was assistant to the president of the New York Central Railroad and president of the Wagner Sleeping Car Company. He was a close friend of Commodore Vanderbilt, who expressed, on more than one occasion, admiration for Mr. Tillinghast's extensive practical knowledge of railroading and respect for his judgment.

Descendent of Pioneer

James Tillinghast was a lineal descendant of the Rev. Pardon Tillinghast, whose name appears frequently on the pages of the English and American history of the Seventeenth Century. After serving in Cromwell's Army, the Rev. Pardon Tillinghast came to this country with Roger Williams. For a time, he held his services in a grove at the north end of Providence, R.I. Pardon Tillinghast built, at his own expense, the first Baptist meeting-house on this continent.

Gideon Tillinghast, father of James, built New York State's first cotton mills.

James Tillinghast

James was born in Cooperstown in 1822, and after acquiring from his father a knowledge of mill machinery, decided at the age of fifteen years, to learn the fundamentals of business from an outsider. Having made that decision, he got a job as clerk in the country store at Brownsville. He proved so apt and useful, that, within a year, he received an offer many a young man of his day well might envy. It came from Bell & Kirby Co. of Jefferson County.

He was offered a wage of $8 a month for such services as sweeping out the store, selling, and keeping the books of that firm and also those of the village land company.

Before he reached the age of twenty years, James Tillinghast was part owner of a country store in Brownsville. Through selling to Great Lakes vessels, he became interested in transportation. He traveled from Sackett's Harbor to Chicago on a sailing ship in the days when passengers were obliged to provide their own food and sleep in a hold. The voyage was so rough, that the vessel lost her sails and mainmast.

When he entered the transportation field, Mr. Tillinghast was nearly 30 years old. The Utica-Schenectady road happened to need an extra fireman and he offered to take the job. With incredible rapidity, he rose to the rank of a railroad executive. He was instrumental in the building of the Rome-Watertown road.

To Buffalo

In 1882, Mr. Tillinghast came to Buffalo to organize, with two partners, a line of steam propeller ships on the Great Lakes. Subsequently, he was identified with the Michigan, Southern, Buffalo & Erie, and the New York Central roads.

When Vanderbilt obtained control of the New York Central Road, one of his first acts was to name Mr. Tillinghast its superintendent with headquarters in Albany. Under his administration, tonnage hauled on that road increased tenfold while freight rates decreased. In 1881, he was appointed assistant to the president of the New York Central Railroad.

Mr. Tillinghast was vice-president of the Niagara River Bridge Company, which built the cantilever bridge at the Falls, opened in 1883.

An unusual policy to which Mr. Tillinghast is said to have adhered consistently, was never to stipulate a fee for his services as consultant or a salary for his work as an executive. He believed his concern was to do what was expected of him with efficiency and thoroughness. He would allow the amount of his remuneration to be fixed by those from whom he received it.


James Tillinghast married twice. His first wife was Mary Williams of Limerick, N.Y., and his second wife was Susan Williams. His son, James W. Tillinghast, was for years, manager of the Buffalo office of Western Union, and his two daughters were Mrs. P.P. Burtis and Mrs. F. B. Stow.

For a time his home was at 138 East Swan Street. Later he lived at 685 Delaware Avenue.

James Tillinghast died in 1908.

His granddaughter, Mrs. E.B. McKenna, lives at 109 Linwood Avenue.

ILLUSTRATION SOURCE: "History of the City of Buffalo and Erie County," H. Perry Smith, editor. Syracuse: D. Mason & Co., 1884

See also:

Page by Chuck LaChiusa
| ...Home Page ...| ..Buffalo Architecture Index...| ..Buffalo History Index....|.. E-Mail ...| ..