Throughout their respective histories, the Athens and Sheshequin Universalist Societies have received donations from people who were, as far as I can tell, never members of either congregation. Most of these non-member donors were local residents, but in 1895 one donation came from a wealthy and prominent New York City financier.
In 1893 the trustees of the Sheshequin Universalist Society resolved to install an iron fence around the cemetery. Donations were solicited, and about $150 was collected from fifteen people over the next year or two. One of the donors was “H. L. Horton,” who gave $25.
Although the Hortons were the most numerous family in Sheshequin at this time, only a few of them were recorded as members of the Universalist Society, and “H. L. Horton” was not one of those few. Ever curious about these non-member donors, I searched the 1900 census of Sheshequin and found four Horton men whose first names started with “H.” But, after several hours of digging through on-line archives, I was ready to admit defeat. None of these men seemed likely to be the donor.
Then it struck me: $25 was a lot of money in 1895, equivalent to about $750 today. “H. L. Horton” was no ordinary donor. I remembered Harry L. Horton, the Sheshequin native whom the local newspapers referred to as the “millionaire New York banker.” He could easily have given $25 in 1895.
Harry Lawrence Horton was born in Sheshequin in 1832 to William B. Horton and Melinda Blackman (a daughter of 1833 member Franklin Blackman). Harry’s three sisters, Elizabeth Horton Kinney, Amazilla Horton Kinney, and Mary Horton Shores, were all members of the church in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Harry left Sheshequin at the age of 21 and spent about eleven years in business in Milwaukee, WI, before moving to New York City in 1865. There he founded H. L. Horton & Co., a brokerage and banking firm, with offices on Broadway in lower Manhattan. Later he set up offices in London and Paris. Horton was a member of the New York Stock Exchange.
Harry L. Horton’s business and social life connected him with many prominent and wealthy people. His daughter Blanche married Edward Francis Hutton, the founder of the E. F. Hutton brokerage firm. In 1895 Horton hosted a dinner for the Duke of Marlborough and local businessmen. In 1914 he was photographed with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.
But Harry retained an attachment to his home town and his rural roots. He was active in the Bradford County Society of New York City (yes, there was such a thing!). The 200 (all male) members were Bradford County natives who lived and worked in New York City. Every year they held a dinner at a posh New York hotel, where they joked about life in Bradford county and sang humorous songs. At one of these events, Horton, who was the president of the society at the time, led the group in “the battle song of Bradford county, the chorus and all the verses of which run:
“We’ll take him down
“To the old frog pond
“And sou-wow-wowse him in!”
Harry Horton also visited family and friends in Bradford county periodically. Local newspapers noted that he was here in 1897, 1901, and 1912. He may have also visited in 1895, when he donated toward the cemetery fence. In that year he also gave a “fine bell” to the Methodist Episcopal church in Black (Sheshequin township), “near which place he spent his boyhood days.”
Harry Horton died at his home in Manhattan on Dec. 17, 1915. To the surprise of many, his estate was valued at “only” $300,000 (about $7.5 million in 2020 dollars), not the millions he was thought to have had.