NORTHERN NEW YORK
Genealogical and family history of northern New York: a record of the achievements of her people and the making of a commonwealth and the founding of a nation.
New York: Lewis Historical Pub. Co. 1910.
Transcribed by Coralynn Brown
Ira Sharp is a descendant and prominent contemporary representative of a family, or rather, coalition of two families, both conspicuous in the annals of Lewis county since the earliest days of its formation and settlement.
(I) William Sharp, his paternal grandfather, and the founder of the Sharp family in Lewis county, was of that sturdy English rural stock, bred close to the soil from which it takes its sustenance, that has ever been the backbone and sinew of the British Empire. He was born in the historic little hamlet of Wocester in Worcestershire, England, in 1790, the beginning of the closing decade of the eighteenth century. As required at the time of the able sons of the stalwart English yeomanry young William at the age of eighteen entered the British army in which he honorably and loyally served out his prescribed time. Soon after the expiration of his term of service and discharge, and at the outbreak of hostilities between England and the United States in what is known to American history as the war of 1812, he rejoined the army as a substitute, and with his regiment crossed the Atlantic to the then New World of the Western hemisphere. The contingent of troops of which he was a member was disembarked at Quebec in the Province of Canada and there went into garrison. Here, becoming discontented and dissatisfied with the nature of the service exacted of him, young William determined to strike out for himself in this vast, uncharted world, where other enterprising youths like himself had found that pluck and self reliance backed by the grim determination to win were the almost certain foundations of success and plenty.
Arrive at this decision, and incited by his newly acquired and kindred admiration for the struggling but independent nation to the south of the St. Lawrence, that, dirven to the last resort, had not only dared to defy, but had proved its ability to successfully cope with the arrogant might of the most feared and far-reaching empire of the old world, he resolved to cast in his fortunes with the newly fledged United States. Fired with the zeal of his project, he secured a small boat of skiff, and by arduous effort and in constant peril of being discovered or capsized, finally succeeded in effecting a crossing of the St. Lawrence river, a feat requiring no small amount of courage and resource for one man in a light rowboat, further handicapped by the ever present danger of pursuit and recapture, and a safe landing upon the soil of the chosen country of his adoption. Hastening on, he made his way southward through the then scarecely explored and sparsely settled northern borderland of New York as far as the town of Denmark, where he arrived after four days of hardship and privation.
In this abundant agricultural region of almost virgin soil he found little difficulty or dealy in obtaining work as a farm laborer, and being near the end of his resources and finding the environment to his liking, he gladly availed himself of the first acceptable berth, and with his inbred and intimate knowledge of agricultural subjects and his native acumen, he was not long in proving himself a valuable hand. But though it was mainly by the accident of circumstances that he found himself in this new country of apparently all but limitless opportunity, this recently self-expatrioted and energetic young Englishman was far from being the man to remain an obscure farm laborer in the employment of others when enterprise and well-directed effort were the only essential qualifications to advancement. Impressed with the remarkable natural fertility of the country round about, and its many obvious advantages for successful exploitation and cultivation, it was not a far cry to the resolve to make permanent his sojourn in this locality and settle here in earnest to wrest from its prolific soil the modest fortune he had advnetured so perilously to seek.
By industry and prudence, he soon got a little money ahead and incidentally gained the respect and confidence of his newly made acquaintances and neighbors. With this modest capital, reinforced by an indomitable sprit and purpose, he married in 1814, when just twenty-four years of age, Betsey, daughter of John Kitts, one of the pioneers of Lewis county. The ambitious young couple at once began farming on their own account. The husband was capable, thrifty and industrious, while the wife proved a true and willing helpmate. With such qualifications and a goodly portion of fat acres upon which to exercise their youthful but prudently directed energies the success of their venture was well assured from the outset and gratifying results almost immediate. In a rich agricultural region where farming was as yet the chief industry, and where forehanded and substantial farmers were the rule, William Sharp soon became known as one of the most successful and prosperous of them all.
Nor was he held in less esteem as a man and neighbor than as one markedly successful in his chosen field. His clear headedness, foresight and absolute integrity won him the entire confidence and respect of all who knew him, and at his death, which occurred Sept. 18, 1862, after having passed by a safe margin the biblical limit of three score years and ten and well earned his right to that serene, interminable rest, the tranquility of which is never broken, he occupied a position of much honor and prestige in the adopted country where he had spent the greater part of a useful life, and his loss was keenly felt by the entire community. He was survived for sixteen years by her who had been a loved and loving helpmate and wife during nearly half a century of congenial wedded life, and then, loyal to the end, she embarked cheerfully and hopefully on that last dark voyage on which he preceded her, trusting to find him awaiting her upon the thither shore.
Of their six children it is the eldest born, James Chauncey Sharp that is of most interest in this narrative. The others were:
Mary, who married (first) Albert Barnum and (second) David Gleason, of Denmark.
Electa, who died in Jan. 1863, the wife of George Rogers of Lowville.
Charles, whose death occurred in Nov., 1862.
Maria, who became the wife of Henry Runion of Lowville.
(II) James Chauncey Sharp was born in the town of Denmark, July 10, 1815. As the eldest son he quite naturally continued in the avocation in which his father had met with such signal success, and with which he was familiar from his earliest boyhood. When twenty-four years of age he married Nancy Kitts, Feb. 19, 1839. In this important event the young man likewise followed the example of his father, marrying at a corresponding age, and also choosing his wife from the same family, she being a granddaughter of the same John Kitts, whose daughter his father married. Nor did the paternal emulation cease here. Like his father, he evinced marked aptitude and enterprise in agricultural affairs and attained early and signal success in his chosen occupation. Occuping the broad acres still generally known as the old Sharp place, and which comprises some of the best farming land along the course of the Black river, and personally directing its operation, he lost no opportunity to improve upon contemporary methods of farming and increase the resources and material productivity of his property. He was widely known as one of the best, practical and most substantial farmers in Lewis county and as a man of affairs, clarity and soundness of judgment and unfailing integrity. In his later life, when he had amassed a comfortable competence and his sons and daughters had grown to manhood and womanhood, he retired from active participation in business and removed with his wife and unmarried daughter to the village of Lowville, his son Ira succeeding him in the personal management and ownership of the farm. He died at his home on the corner of Shady avenus and Sharp street - the latter of which was named for him - in 1884, at the age of sixty-nine years. His name is still a familiar one in and about his native county, where his life was passed, and is a synonym for those virile virtues that go to make the forehanded, levelheaded, God-fearing, stable agricultural population of this country the very pillar and support of the whole civic structure, political, social and moral.
Though never assuming an active part in politics, Mr. Sharp was by conviction an uncompromising but open-minded and unprejudiced Republican. Both himself and his wife were earnest members of the Baptist church, in which organization he served faithfully for many years as a deacon. His wife and daughter continued to occupy the village home until the death of the former in 1904, ten years after the decease of her husband whom she never ceased to profoundly regret.
Their children were:
Of these only Alber and Ira are now (1910) living.
Ursula C., born June 20, 1840, married George Merriman of Lowville, and died June 25, 1869.
William H., born May 4, 1842, died Nov. 9, 1862.
Victoria, never married, and whose death occurred a year previous to that of her mother, was born Sept. 24, 1853.
William J., whose decease, like that of his older brother, William H., occurred in early manhood, was born Nov. 26, 1855, died Oct. 28, 1877.
The youngest of the family, Albert, ws born May 19, 1860.
To his mother's family Ira Sharp is doubley akin, his paternal grandmother being of the same house and preceding generation. This family's history in Lewis county has been coincident with that of the county itself, and its name hardly less well known in the latter's environs. Indeed, by right of priority the honors are with the family.
John Kitts, its founder locally, was born Dec. 5, 1758. He migrated to these parts with his family from the Mohawk Valley and vicinity of Schenectady in 1802, three years prior to the act of legislature erecting Lewis and Jefferson counties from Oneida. With such few possessions as he was able to bring with him on the long, arduous overland journey, and with the inadequate means of transportation then in use, he located upon the site that now comprises what is known as the Levi Bowen farm in the northwestern portion of the present town of Lowville. This now highly cultivated and productive farming country was then a virtual wilderness, but a comparatively short time before the hunting ground of painted aboriginal tribesman, and the task of reclaiming any considerable part of it was a stupendous one well calculated to have dismayed a less resolute man at the outset, but this dauntless pioneer was scarcely of the sort to falter at the mere prospect of toil and hardship. He applied himself to the undertaking with the invincible purpose and unwavering perseverance characteristic of the fearless men who laid the firm foundations of this country's greatness, and rapidly cleared up and made cultivatable some six hundred acres of this wild forest land.
A start once made, he engaged extensively in the business of stock raising in conjunction with that of general farming, and so successfully did he conduct his affairs and with such profit that in his later life he was widely known as one of the largest land owners and stock raisers in the county, enjoying a position of distinction and comparative opulence. His family consisted, besides his wife, of six children; two sons and four daughters. Of the latter, Eva C. married Ira Bailey;
Betsey, as already noted, became the wife of William Sharp.
Katy married (first) Nathaniel Thompson, and after his death Dennison Vinson.
Cornelia, who likewise survivied her first husband, Timothy Thompson, later married Joseph Thompson.
Birth, training, predilection and environment all combined to make of Jacob Kitts a signally successful farmer. Born June 11, 1784, on one of the largest and most ably conducted agricultural establishments in the country, he early adquired a wide and intimate knowledge of all that appertained to the business. This, together with his keen interest and quick comprehension of details and essentials, soon made him an invaluable assistant to his father, and whle yet a young man, he assumed an active and responsible part in their large and growing concerns.
He married in 1812, Ursula Everett, born Nov. 21, 1795. Soon after this event, in response to his country's call of distress, he reluctantly took leave of his seventeen-year-old bride, and, with legions of other patriotic and self-sacrificing men of the soil, he bravely set aside his personal concerns and served loyally and faithfully as a volunteer in the war of 1812. At the conclusion of this fierce struggle, he immediately resumed his chosen business in life, and hendeforward devoted himself exclusively to agriculture and kindred pursuits. Of unsual parts and an enterprising and progressive disposition, and recognizing the peculiar advanatages of the country for the purpose, he conceived the idea of combining dairying on a large scale with his general farming, a departure from established custom in this locality which had not previously been attempted in any material proportions. He accordingly acquired and maintained a fine herd of sixty cows, altogether the largest herd in the county, and made his main business the production of milk, butter and cheese. This method of farming was a decided innovation in the county and gained for its exponent, who became generally known as "Farmer Jake," considerable local celebrity. He may indeed be said to have been the father of practical dairying, which undoubtedly owed its inception and origin to him, in this county, a section, including adjacent counties, since famous the world over for its dairy products.
He was a staunch Democrat, a man of unquestioned probity, and in later life of considerable means. In relgion he was of the Baptist denomination and attended the "Old Line Church" of Denmark. Of his children all were girls except the eldest, Nelson. Besides this son there were five daughters:
Maria, Minerva, Nancy, Viola and Eunice.
So inevitable are the ravages of time, however, that notwithstanding the number and long prominence of these two families in the earlier history of Lewis county, few are now left to do them reverence. Of the Kitts family none of the name is left in this locality (1910), while of the other, with whom it was so closely intermingled, the only distinguished bearer of the name familiar to this generation is Ira Sharp, the subject of this sketch.
(III) Ira Sharp was born on the old Sharp homestead about eight miles northwest of the village of Lowville, Feb. 11, 1847. As a boy the foundations of his education were laid in the nearest country district school. Later he attended a select school in the village of Denmark, completing his studies with a course at the Lowville Academy, then a notable institution of learning. Quitting the academy with what was at the time pretty generally considered a liberal education, he turned to the more serious concerns of life.
Like his forebears he chose as an avocation that of the husbandman and tiller of the soil, his father's acres furnishing him plenty of employment for his talents. In this occupation he displayed immediate aptitude and practical knowledge, soon becoming quite indispensable to the home establishment. At the age of twenty-seven years he united in marriage with Ella S., a daughter of Uri Bradley and Sophia (Shumway) Curtis, of Martinsburg, a most estimable and popular young woman, and, upon his father's retirement, with advancing years, from active business and removal to Lowville village, he took over complete charge of the home farm, which he conducted with marked success for a number of years. During this time he made a specialty of hops, when hop-growing was at its zenith in this county, and many fertile acres were devoted to their culture, and became one of the most extensive growers in the entire region. Besides his large farm, he owned and operated a sawmill, doing a considerable local business, and for a time dealt quite extensively in live-stock, in which business he greatly enlarged his acquaintance and gained the respect and confidence of all with whom he came in contact.
Already he was well known as a man of large and varied enterprise and a person of means and importance in the community. He had amassed a by no means insignificant property and many interests demanding his closer personal attnetion, and he removed with his wife to the village of Lowville in 1894, leaving the personal charge of his farm to a tenant, though he continued and still continues (1910) to concern himself with its general supervision and mangement. In the village he purchased a fine old place on Elm street, and immediately set about improving and beautifying the house and grounds. So effectively and with such excellence of detail did he accomplish this that his efforts were soon rewarded with one of the most handsome and complete modern residences in Lowville.
Himself an extensive and enterprising farmer, Mr. Sharp has previously become deepley interested in and impressed with the advantages and importance of united effort among farmers under the guidance and intelligent direction of a regular organization in their common interest. Convinced of the need and practicality of this, he immediately allied himself with those already engaged in the project. Joining the local grange, Lewis County Patrons of Husbandry, he at once assumed the active and conspicuous part in the direction of its affairs, for which his abilities so peculiarly fitted him, and soon became widely and well known as an earnest and influential advocate and worker in its behalf and in the promotion and betterment of agricultural methods and conditions generally. The many important offices and positions of trust to which he has been successively elected without opposition bear irrefutable testimoney to his personal popularity and the esteem in which he is universally held no less than to the commendable and eminently satisfactory manner in which he has unvaryingly fulfilled his duties. He was for three terms master of the Lowville Grange and for several years past has been its treasurer. For twenty-two years he has served continuously as a director of the Fire Relief Association of Jefferson and Lewis counties, a grand organization, and one of the largest, best conducted and most reliable mutual fire insurance societies in the state of New York. During eight years he was president of this association. He has also been one of the executive committee of the State Grange sixteen years and for twelve years chairman of that committee.
Coincident with his connection with the grange, he has been prominently identified with the management of the Lewis County Agricultural Society, a local association for the promotion of kindred objects, for many years. His capable services in this commendable enterprise have been manifold and various, having in the past fifteen years included the offices of a director, chairman of the board of managers, and treasurer, in which last important capacity he at presen (1910) has entire charge of the expenditures and receipts of the society and virtual management of its annual fairs and expositions. In fact, since his removal to Lowville he has devoted a large share of his time and attention to those two organizations and more to his personal acitivities and capable and well directed efforts in their interests than to any other man do both of them owe their notable success and material prosperity.
Four years ago Mr. Sharp suffered the saddest bereavement of his life in the death of his wife, which occurred in January, 1906, after a severe illness. At the beginning of the new year, fraught with prospects of continued and even more signal success and prosperity, the grim-visaged, funereal-grabed and unwelcome messenger of death and desolation ravaged his beautiful and hitherto peculiarly felicitious home, and, though combated to the bitter end with whatever of skill and resource modern medical science could devise, would not be foiled of his victim. He has never ceased to regret her loss or cherish her memory, and in this he has profound sympathy of a host of friends whose grief was only second to his, who knew her and loved her most.
Mr. Sharp early took an active personal interest in politics. Like his father, his instincts were Republican, and these led him to affiliate himself with that party. Before he had attained his majority he was tendered the nomination for justice of the peace of his town in his party primary, and accepting this, in the meantime having passed the legal age, was elected at the ensuing town meeting by a gratfiying vote. That he served his constituents satisfactorily in that capacityh is indubitably attested by the length of his service, which extended over a period of twenty years successively. Subsequently he received the nomination of his party for the office of supervisor for the town of Lowville. His election followed, and he was continued nine years in that important office of trust, enjoying the confidence and esteem of his associates in such a marked degree that during the latter terms of his service on that body he was elected its chairman, in which position of authority he served with unvarying impartiality and distinction. At the expirarion of his service as supervisor he was unanimously chosen chairman of the Republican county committee for the county of Lewis, in which place he served for three years. Governor Higgins, knowing something of his experience and ability in kindred matters, in 1906 appointed him one of the superintendents for the State Fair held at Syracuse. In this position he served with such distinction that he was later appointed one of the commissioners by the same governor. He served on this body for three years without pecuniary compensation, and later, when Governor Hughes was casting about for suitable candidates to serve upon the State Fair commission under the recent legislative act creating that body as regularly salaried officials of the state, knowing Mr. Sharp's superior qualifications and undoubted integrity, had no hesitation in selecting him to act in that capacity. He then appointed him to the place for a term of two years at the recent expiration of which he immediately reappointed him for a term of three years.
Though much of his time is necessarily spent in Albany and Syracuse in the fulfillment of his duties, Mr. Sharp continues to maintain his handsome home on Elm street in Lowville. In this he takes considerable pride, and its well kept and spacious lawns are an ornament to the village. He also takes considerable interest in horticulture, and when at home spends a good deal of time among his flowers and berries, of which he has a great variety and abundance.
For a number of years he has been a trustee of the Watertown Savings Bank, in which position he has served conscientiously and with a due regard for the trust imposed in him. He is a member in excellent standing of the Lowville Lodge, No. 134, Free and Accepted Masons, and the Lowville Lodge, Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
He is an attendant of the Baptist church and a liberal supporter of that society. At the time of the rection of the present Baptist church in Lowville he was a member of the building committee charged with its supervision, and took an active personal interest in overseeing and directing the work.
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