What do U.S. Vice President James Schoolcraft Sherman, actress Ethel Barrymore and Charles Evans Hughes have in common?
They all spoke or entertained at the Glens Falls Club, a prestigious, somewhat-exclusive men’s social club, limited to 400 members, in Glens Falls in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
For Hughes, who was New York governor at the time, it was a homecoming to the community where he was born on April 11, 1862.
“Glens Falls is a pleasant place; it’s a good place to be born in,” Hughes told reporters before his policy speech at the club’s eighth annual banquet on April 5, 1907.
At the time of the speech, Dr. Claude A. Horton resided at the former Baptist parsonage where Hughes was born. The house originally was on Maple Street and was moved to Center Street.
State Sen. James Emerson, R-Warrensburg, chartered a special train to transport Hughes, legislators and other dignitaries from Albany.
The train arrived at 5 p.m. at the Glens Falls station on Lawrence Street, where carriages were on hand to transport Hughes and others to the club rooms, on the upper floors of what is now the Scoville building on the Glen and Ridge streets side of Centennial Circle roundabout.
The menu for The Glens Falls Club banquet featured little neck clams, Columbia River salmon, stuffed young Rhode Island turkey, French peas in Irish costume, and cranberry frappe, among other side dishes and breads.
The souvenir menu included a quotation from Alexander Pope: “What an excellent thing did God bestow upon man when he gave him a great stomach.”
Dessert was salted almonds, individual ice creams with strawberries, and banquet cakes.
Coffee and Saratoga Vichy spring water were served.
The program included songs by the Albani Quartette and six different light-hearted but glowing toasts offered by politicians, judges and professors.
Joseph A. Kellogg, a prominent Warren County Democrat who considered a run for governor in 1918, was toastmaster.
State Sen. Minority Leader Thomas F. Grady, a Democrat from New York City, offered a toast.
“Sitting at my desk in the Senate, I was approached by Senator Emerson. And he says, ‘Are you going to be with the governor on Friday?” Grady quipped. “And I get so little chance to be with the governor that I said, ‘Yes.’”
Justice Charles C. Van Kirk, in another toast, said that when he and Hughes were both toddlers, the Hughes family came to visit his family, and Charles took charge of Van Kirk’s toy train set.
“That little lad at that time had some of the same notions he has now,” Van Kirk said, a reference to the proposed Public Service Commission, which would regulate utilities and rail roads.
“Gentlemen, the lad that played with my little train of cars and my little horse … he is now justly respected as the chief magistrate of the State of New York.”
Ernest W. Huffcut, dean of Cornell University, where Hughes once taught, joked about job security for lawyers.
“Even when the millennium comes, you can be sure that you will not dispense with lawyers,” he said. “There will be no more ministers, because everybody will be good. There will be no more doctors, because everybody will be well. But there will have to be lawyers in order to draw wills and settle estates of the citizens in the golden era.”
Among the lawyers in the audience was Frank M. Starbuck of Glens Falls, who was a law student of Hughes at Cornell.
“Sometimes, as in the far North, there arises in political life a tall pine tree. … And out of the soil of Warren County has grown such a pine tree,” said Joseph A. Lawson of Albany, referring to Hughes in another toast.
If it seems as if I’ve taken a long time to get to Hughes’ speech, it’s because I’m consistent with the events of that evening.
Hughes spoke about reform, and about his proposal to establish the state Public Service Commission.
“As citizens you are all interested in having the government well administered. On this question there is no division along party lines. The people appreciate the importance of insisting upon efficiency and of improving the standards of administration. … Those who oppose this just sentiment chant their own requiem.”
Hughes said reform “has been fettered” because, for all but a few state officers, the governor cannot remove a corrupt or inefficient officer without approval of the Senate.
“A system which affixes upon the Governor responsibility for the administration of the government and clothes him with corresponding power is the system which in the long run will insure to the public the best administration,” he said.
Hughes said the governor is more directly accountable to all residents of the state than the Senate.
The debate over the power to remove officers had “particular importance” to the proposed Public Service Commission.
“In the bill now pending before the legislature, the power of the removal of members of those commissions is lodged with the Governor. This has been strongly attacked on the ground that it gives the Governor too much power…. The point is that the Governor cannot escape accounting to the people for his abuse of power,” Hughes said.
Hughes addressed objections to his Public Service Commission proposal.
“Property rights are not threatened. Freedom of management consistent with just recognition of public obligation is not interfered with,” he said.
Sources: Glens Falls Daily Times special section, April 6, 1907; Glens Falls Club Eighth Annual Banquet souvenir menu and program, on file at The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library.
Maury Thompson is a freelance historian of politics, labor organizing and media in New York’s North Country. He lives in Glens Falls, N.Y.
Hughes later was a U.S. Supreme Court justice.
He resigned from the court in June 1916 to accept the Republican nomination to run for President, narrowly losing to Democratic incumbent Woodrow Wilson.
Hughes later served as U.S. Secretary of State in the Harding and Coolidge administrations, and as Chief Justice of the United States.