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Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York

by John H. Selkreg, 1894; D. Mason & Co., Publisher


The Honorable Henry W. Sage

The Honorable Henry W. SAGE was born in Middletown, Conn., January 31, 1814. He is a descendant of David SAGE, a native of Wales, who settled in Middletown as early as 1652. His father, Mr. Charles SAGE, married Miss Sally WILLIAMS, a sister of the Hon. J. B. WILLIAMS, of Ithaca. Henry W. SAGE was the oldest child. His early boyhood was passed in Bristol, Conn., until his father moved westward in 1827, with the early tide of emigration, and settled in Ithaca. In early years he learned the lesson which so many eminent Americans have had to acquire-that of self-support and self-dependence. This discipline of sacrifice and of arduous toil was one of his earliest acquisitions. It had been the ardent wish of the boy to enter Yale College, but the removal of the family to this State interrupted this plan. Even in Ithaca his desire for a profession did not forsake him, and he began the study of medicine, which, however, he was forced by ill-health to abandon, and in the year 1832 he entered the employ of his uncles, Williams & Brothers, men of great energy and probity, who were merchants and large shipping agents, owning lines of transportation which traversed the lakes of Central New York, connecting, by means of the Erie canal and the Hudson river, with the trade of the metropolis. Mr. SAGE's energy and business sagacity were soon manifested, and his enterprise enlarged the sphere of his activity. Five years later he became proprietor of the business. He early foresaw the rising importance of the West, and became interested in the vast forests of Canada and of Michigan. In 1854 he purchased a large tract of timber land around Lake Simcoe, in Canada, where he manufactured lumber on a large scale. He engaged, soon after, in business with Mr. John MCGRAW, and erected in Winona, Mich., a manufactory which, at that time, was regarded as the largest in the world. When comparatively a young man, during the memorable campaign of 1847, he was elected upon the Whig ticket to the Legislature. In 1857 he removed to Brooklyn, where he resided until 1880. Here his great ability, and above all, the marked force of his character, made him at once one of the most prominent citizens. He was the friend of the Rev. Henry Ward BEECHER, and the great preacher, in all his difficulties, rested upon no heart with more intimate and tender affection than upon that of his parishioner, Mr. Henry W. SAGE. In 1870 Mr. SAGE was elected trustee of the university, and since 1875 he has been president of the Board of Trustees. As a youth he wandered over the hills of this, his early home, and rejoiced in the beautiful views of lake and valley, and he saw in the new university an opportunity to realize a purpose, which he had deeply cherished, to promote the higher education of woman. Even when residing at a distance, he had given generously the endowment which formed the Sage foundation for the education of women and erected the Sage chapel, which his son, Mr. Dean SAGE, in noble enthusiasm for his father's purpose, endowed, thus securing to the university the valuable courses of sermons which have been delivered for twenty years in the University Chapel, and which will constitute a permanent fund for the promotion of the religious and moral life of the university. It is evident from this that Mr. SAGE is a man of lofty personal faith, who has the courage to follow his convictions wherever they lead. His faith in the education of woman, and in the future which is before her, was a part of his being, in advance of the leading thinkers of this country. Even amid the exacting demands of business he was an earnest student, and nights of laborious reading followed days of exhausting work. He was interested in modern speculation, and in the bearing of scientific truth upon the profound questions of human life an destiny. He read also upon economical questions. Literature, science and art have always interested him. Work difficult for one less strong has always appeared easy for him. He has never seemed weary when there is work to be done; and he turns with apparently fresh strength to any new subject of interest, demanding his attention. He is only weary in case of enforced rest. Promptness and almost inexhaustible energy have characterized his life. In 1880, Mr. SAGE removed to Ithaca, and from this time his life is closely identified with the history of the university. However great his gifts, his noble personality has been his greatest gift to the life of the university. It is not too much to say that services extending over nearly a quarter of a century have made him, to all who shall review this later period, the central figure in its history. Mr. CORNELL's magnificent plan, conceived in so large a spirit of personal sacrifice, and maintained with so much tenacity, had not as yet been realized. Indeed, a scheme which had involved so much labor, and which had been pursued for fifteen years with so much devotion, was on the point of failure after the death of Mr. CORNELL. The university had retained the national lands, and paid every year an enormous sum, thus imposing a tax upon its income beyond what it was in its power to sustain. The struggle at last seemed hopeless to the trustees, who had been faithful so long. An offer came to dispose of the balance of the western lands in Wisconsin, consisting of about five hundred thousand acres, for one million two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The syndicate, which proposed to make this purchase, was unable to make the initial payment, and it was even proposed to sell the vast interest of the university for one million dollars. At this time Mr. SAGE's influence was thrown decisively into the scale to preserve these lands. He maintained that their immediate value was at least three million dollars, and that, by retaining possession of them, and by judicious disposal, even a larger sum might be realized. This decisive action in a decisive moment saved the future of the university, and rescued it from perpetual limitation in its means and scope, and made it possible for it to become one of the representative universities of the land. The results of this policy were embodied in a report of the Land Committee, presented to the Executive Committee on October 30, 1889.

"During the year, a sale of timber land amounting to one hundred and sixty-eight thousand two hundred and three dollars was reported. The previous sales, up to August 1, 1888, had realized four million nine hundred and twenty thousand seven hundred and forty-seven dollars and seventy-five cents. One hundred and sixty-two thousand six hundred and sixty-one acres were still unsold, whose estimated value was one million two hundred and sixty-seven thousand three hundred and twenty-three dollars and eighty-six cents, which, added to the previous sales, made a total of six million one hundred and eighty-eight thousand and seventy-one dollars and sixty-one cents." The committee added: "Whatever results may be the outcome of present complications, the university is now established upon an enduring basis. We cannot know how almost wholly we have been indebted to the wisdom and statesmanship of Ezra CORNELL, in his arrangements with the State, to let him sell five hundred and twelve thousand acres of land, without admiration and gratitude for the breadth and solidity of the financial basis he laid for us. His undertaking was to carry the land twenty years, from August 4, 1866, to August 4, 1886, and within that time to sell and return all proceeds, less his actual expenses, to the treasurer of the State. He hoped at that time to create about two and one-quarter millions for the benefit of the university. He died in 1874, after expending five hundred and seventy-six thousand nine hundred and fifty-three dollars of his own cash to carry the land; after which it was carried by the university to June, 1881-in all nearly fifteen years, at a further cost of four hundred and eighteen thousand three hundred dollars, making, in all, a cost of nine hundred and ninety-five thousand two hundred and fifty-three dollars, and the total outcome to that date was less by three thousand three hundred and one dollars and sixty-nine cents than the actual cost of carrying it. It was a most discouraging labor, and seemed for a time to be utterly hopeless. The university was at that time very poor. Professors were paid two thousand dollars per year, and the trustees could not pay even these beggarly salaries without creating a large debt. At one time one hundred and fifty-five thousand dollars of such debt was paid from their pockets. Nearly all the available funds were in the land grant. Had any offered a million for it at that time, a majority vote of the trustees would probably have sold it. We had by actual count three hundred and twenty students. The prospect ahead was dark enough, but our dark days were nearly over. In August, 1881, we sold four hundred and eighty thousand dollars worth of land at one sale, and by August 1, 1886-three days before the twenty years expired-our total sales were three million eight hundred and eighty-one thousand seven hundred and sixty-four dollars and nineteen cents, far in excess of Mr. CORNELL's wildest dream; and to August 1, 1889, the total sales, added to th4 value of land yet unsold, are six million one hundred and eighty-eight thousand and seventy-one dollars and sixty-one cents. We have had since August, 1881, three million nine hundred and twenty-eight thousand seven hundred and ninety-six dollars and forty-four cents in solid cash, or its equivalent in productive securities, poured into our treasury. All this in eight years! What wonder that we have felt the impulse of such prosperity, that we have had power to increase the pay of our professors as well as their numbers, and ability to build houses, to increase equipments, and thus, by wise use of all, and by deserving it, to command public patronage? We have secured large gifts from others in buildings and in endowments; but to whom, above all others, do we owe the largest debt of love and gratitude for our present and prospective prosperity? To Ezra CORNELL, now sleeping peacefully in yonder Chapel. To his purpose of faith and hope, and, under God, to the officers and faculty of the university, working to establish what he so grandly founded." This is an incomparable exhibition of sagacity and lofty devotion to the university; and above the material advantage, is that most beautiful and imperishable element which glorifies human life-the love, the sacrifice, the patient devotion of the benefactors-an invisible but immortal gift to the university.

Mr. SAGE's personal gifts have shown a wise purpose to aid the university when gifts were most needed and would serve it best. In addition to the Sage College, the Sage Chapel, and the endowment of the Sage School of Philosophy, the latter at an expense of more than a quarter of a million of dollars, Mr. SAGE has given for the Library and its endowment five hundred and sixty thousand dollars, besides the cost of a residence upon the university grounds for the incumbent of the chair of philosophy, and a gift of eight thousand dollars for the Archaeological Museum. Mr. SAGE is not simply a man of affairs, demanding as they do business gifts of a high order. He has not worked for mere acquisition, although valuing independence and the means of enlarged activity which wealth affords. There has been nothing in his life to withdraw him from sympathy with men, but every thing to give him an interest in all the struggles which form character and constitute manhood. One of his guiding thoughts is not to take from young men the incentive to labor, but through labor, whether of the hands or of the head, to develop their powers. With him work is honorable, essential to manhood, and he has a vigorous scorn of selfish indulgence. He would say: "Let every young man take life as he finds it, and make the most of it," and his own example shows that the field of such a one will expand with his proved powers. One principle has guided his personal life-adherence to justice and honor. That wretched subterfuge, by which men substitute mere expediency for justice and honor, he is incapable of. Mere temporizing when a matter of principle is involved, to secure by shift or device some substitute for just and generous action, is foreign to his nature. The opportunity of service has always imposed an imperative claim upon him. He has faith in the right, which will always prove to have been the wisest in the end. He has placed before himself as the crowning purpose of his life to contribute to the growth of this university. No one has grasped its future with a clearer comprehension of its needs than he. The debt of the university to him cannot be estimated, and is not embraced in his munificent gifts. His foresight in the wise administration of the university lands, in which his advice has fortunately been controlling, has made it possible to realize the large returns which formed a part of Mr. CORNELL's dream. Mr. SAGE has that grasp of principles which makes his judgment instantaneous and almost unerring. His friendship has been freely accorded to all members of the university, and his generous recognition and interest will be inseparably associated with his memory. His services are not surpassed in the long line of its illustrious benefactors.

On January 31, 1894, the university celebrated the eightieth birthday of the Honorable Henry W. SAGE. Upon this day the Museum of Classical Archaeology, Mr. SAGE's latest gift to the university, was dedicated. The semi-annual meeting of the Board of Trustees was held at this time, and most of the members were present. The trustees and faculty met in Mr. SAGE's house to express their gratitude, and extend their congratulations upon this occasion. The celebration was not confined to the university. Mr. SAGE's benefactions had been recognized as a gift to the nation, and the most eminent of the land joined in expressing their recognition of his distinguished services to the State. President CLEVELAND wrote from the White House: "As a friend of Cornell, deeply interested in all that relates to its history and future prosperity, I desire to thank you for your long devotion to her welfare, and for the aid you have thus rendered to practical and useful education. I am sure that the testimonial which will assure you that your worth and generous work is appreciated, will be accompanied by the sincere wish of many hearts: that you may be long spared to enjoy the comfort and satisfaction which attend generous deeds." Governor Roswell P. FLOWER telegraphed his regret at his inability to be present, and said: "Cornell has been fortunate in having interested in her welfare one whose gifts have made him one of the most generous patrons of education in America, and whose sound advice and constant watchfulness have also been invaluable in guiding the progress of this powerful institution. Few lives of four score years have been so busy in good works as that of Henry W. SAGE, and not only Cornell, but the State of New York must feel proud that such a man has lived among us and has devoted so generously his wealth and time to a noble purpose. The monuments which his love and munificence have built at Cornell will perpetuate his honored name forever." An address was also presented from the faculty beautifully engrossed [sic] and signed by every member, expressing their personal gratitude to Mr. SAGE, not simply as an official with whom they had been related, but as a friend to whom they felt a personal indebtedness. This address contained a beautiful estimate of Mr. SAGE's services in behalf of the university. It read as follows: Mr. SAGE: Your friends who subscribe this paper have a feeling that the day which marks the beginning of the ninth decade of your life should not pass without some expression of the honor and regard they cherish for you. Not unmindful that an austere sense of duty inclines you to shrink from public or private eulogy, they are also mindful that a too delicate hesitation on their part may permit a golden opportunity to escape them. The prudence which would silence the voice of generous feeling, and would let pass the moment of the utterance of a just gratitude, would indeed be excessive. Suffer us, then, to recall the past. Fourteen years ago you surrendered your home in a great city, and the large sphere of usefulness there open to you, to dwell among us. Prescient of the future and the demands upon your toil, solicitude and financial resources, you came upon the scene when the university we love sorely needed a generous heart, a wise mind, and a liberal hand. The great work of the founder and the first president seemed in peril of arrest and decline. A chivalric faith and courage, and a liberality without stint, were the only hope; and Providence inspired you to address yourself to the noble work of conserving, fostering and enlarging the foundation of learning which illustrious men had begun. Your life from the first has been one of noble purpose, and that purpose has had a logical development. Amidst the ceaseless activities of a business career, your thoughts ever turned toward the promotion of the welfare of your country. To you the culture of the young in institutions of learning seemed the safest and most ennobling charity, the most enduring means of promoting patriotism, civic virtue and true, intelligent religion. Your sympathy from the first has been manifest for letters, arts and sciences as related by a common bond, as divine instruments of human progress and welfare. If Cicero could say that nature without education has oftener raised men to glory and virtue than education without natural abilities, you, on the contrary, have held fast the faith in the necessity and advantages of education for all mankind, to strengthen abilities however weak, to afford the young persons of native strength of mind a guidance in the way of the noblest aspiration.

You are fortunate to live to see the results of your sacrifice. You can enjoy now the serenity of retrospection. You have witnessed the achievements of women in letters, philosophy and science, and the women of America will never cease to regard you as one of their earliest benefactors. Structures founded by your hand, and by that of your noble consort who too soon left us, rise about us. Sage Hall, the Chapel, the great Library, the Museum of Classic Arts, the School of Philosophy, attest your beneficence and wisdom. These are enduring monuments, and will perpetuate human gratitude. But you will receive a still greater reward. Long after you, together with us, shall have passed from earth, the impulse you have given to the culture of man will endure; its vibrations will never cease. Generations of the young shall pass from these university halls in endless succession, who will honor your memory, be inspired to noble living by your example, and thus help to perpetuate the existence and the welfare of the republic you have loved so well.

We affectionately salute you on this, the eightieth anniversary, thankful that such vigor of mind and body is still yours; that your wisdom is still at the service of the university in its councils of administration, and that we may hope for you still other years of well-earned rest and human gratitude. "The end of doubt is the beginning of repose." The solid base of your work here cannot be disturbed. That your remaining years may be full of sunshine and peace, that your hopeful presages of the future of Cornell may "with the process of the suns" be unceasingly realized by those who shall come after us, and that you may return late to the skies, is our earnest prayer.

An address was also presented from members of the senior class, expressing the gratitude and affection of the entire student body for devoted services, invaluable counsel and generous benefactions.

In behalf of the trustees the Hon. Stewart L. WOODFORD in a few simple but deeply felt words, recalling the events of the twenty-five years in which he had been connected with the board, presented to Mr. SAGE, as a gift from the former and present trustees, a vase of solid silver. Upon one side, a draped female figure with arms half raised and with a basket at her feet shows that she represents generosity. Carved upon the vase are pictures of the buildings which Mr. SAGE has given to the university-the Sage College for Women, the Chapel, and the University Library-while a Greek porch, partly concealed by a scroll, was designed to symbolize the munificent endowment of the School of Philosophy. Around the neck of the vase are the words: "On earth there is nothing great but man, in man there is nothing great but mind;" while upon a hand below, just above the base, stands: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to men." The inscription upon the base was as follows: "Presented to the Honorable Henry W. SAGE on his eightieth birthday, January 31, 1894, by former and present trustees of Cornell University, over whom as chairman of the board he has presided for nearly twenty years, as a mark of their esteem and affection for the man, and of their grateful appreciation of the devoted love, the wise and zealous services and the munificent gifts which he has bestowed upon the university." The decorations, composed of oak and ivy, symbolized the strength and tenderness, which are elements of Mr. SAGE's character. Mr. SAGE's language in accepting this gift was significant. In the few words which he uttered he expressed his appreciation of the love and kindness of his friends, and paid a lofty tribute to the learning and devotion of the faculty, whose worth he had come to know and prize from an association of so many years. A second tribute, to the devotion of his coworkers among the trustees, and an expression of his love for the university to which his life has been devoted, concluded his remarks.

Thank you Virginia Peterson for transcribing these records into digital format.

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