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Dr. Henry B. Swartwout, Port Jervis' last president, first mayor

Updated: Oct 8, 2022

By Sharon E. Siegel

About Port Jervis' First Mayor, Dr. Henry Brinckerhoff Swartwout

Dr. Henry Brinckerhoff Swartwout, Village of Port Jervis' last President, City of Port Jervis' first Mayor

Dr. Henry B. (Brinckerhoff) Swartwout (Democrat) 1907-1909

First Mayor of the City of Port Jervis

Dr. Henry B. Swartwout, a descendant of Port Jervis’ original settling families, was vitally interested in the welfare of the Port Jervis region. Dr. Swartwout was a well-known doctor and surgeon, who was associated with the local hospital for many years.

Swartwout was born in Huguenot on February 4, 1861, on the Swartwout family farm outside Port Jervis. His parents, Peter Philip Swartwout and Hannah Cuddeback (Caudebecq) Swartwout, were pioneers in the Neversink Valley. Swartwout graduated from Port Jervis Academy and later Cornell University. He began the study of medicine in the office of Dr. W. L. Cuddeback in Port Jervis and continued his studies at Bellevue Hospital Medical College, NY, graduating in 1885. He served as an intern in the Chambers Street Hospital, NYC for one year.

Dr. Swartwout married on March 10, 1886 Carrie B. Peck (born in Port Jervis 2/17/1863 to George van Alst and Mary Frances Brown Peck). The following day, the newlyweds sailed for Europe, where Swartwout continued his medical studies at the University of Vienna. They returned to Port Jervis in the fall, where Swartwout began practicing medicine in October.

In his medical career, Swartwout had a private practice. He also served as Erie Railroad’s surgeon, physician at St. Mary’s Home/Orphan Asylum, visiting physician at Hunt’s Memorial Hospital (which later became the Port Jervis Hospital), and Chief of Staff of what became St. Francis Hospital. In 1887, Dr. James Halsey Hunt purchased the old Saving Bank Building, which was built by John Strader in 1868 and was located at the corner of Ball and Sussex Streets. The following year, Hunt employed local builder, Darius Rhoades (1827-1909) to greatly expand and convert the building into a hospital. He constructed a 1400-square foot building adjoining it. In 1892 Swartwout, in partnership with Dr. Cuddeback, purchased the Hunt Memorial Hospital and operated it until selling it to Sisters of St. Francis in 1915.

In his political career, Swartwout had served the Village of Port Jervis prior to it becoming a city. He ran unopposed on the Republic, Democratic, and Citizens Union tickets, and was elected President of the Village of Port Jervis in 1905. He was again elected the village’s president on March 26, 1907, receiving a vote of most of the roughly 1400 voters who voted that day. He served as President of the Village of Port Jervis until July 26, 1907, when the Village by action of the State Legislature received its Charter as a city. Swartwout then became the first mayor of Port Jervis on that July 26 date in 1907.

As the city's first mayor, Swartwout went on to be officially elected as mayor in an election held that first year. He then served in that elected term from January 1, 1908-December 31, 1909. His overall time as mayor was from July 26, 1907 through completion of his elected term on December 31, 1909. He ran for a second elected term but lost to Dr. Charles Nelson Knapp, a Democrat and fellow well-respected physician.

Following are excerpts from Mayor Swartwout's annual Message to the City, dated January 4, 1909,

Municipal Civil Service Commission: "The Board has done commendable work in supplying the Council with applicants well-fitted for the different positions. Its scope should be extended to include the registration and certification of the city laborer. In the matter of appointments past service and merit should count. The best city government is not developed along political lines or personal favoritism. In other words, the true civil service spirit should prevail."

Examining Board of Plumbers and Plumbing: "The need for the Board is apparent to any one familiar with conditions in the low priced tenement houses. Those who by force of circumstances are compelled to live in these quarters need the assistance of the Board for their comfort, and safety from infection. This Board can be of benefit to everyone in the city, but of especial benefit to the poor."

Board of Health: "By virtue of state law, your mayor is president of this Board, an official position particularly distasteful to him, yet he has endeavored to honestly fulfil the duties enforced upon him. During the year 81 complains for out closets were acted up by the Board. There is little reason to be lenient with a person maintaining and out-closet or cesspool at the present time. The city went to great expense to install a sanitary sewer system." "Serious opposition has been encountered to have the produce merchants observe some rules in the exposure for sale of fruits and vegetables. The majority of merchants provided proper coverings and kept fruits and vegetables up from the sidewalk or doorstep where passing dogs are unable to soil them; still some disregard the Board's efforts in this direction, as most know if you observe as you pass along the streets and see produce later sold, but having been exposed to pollution from dogs, flies, and dirt causing possible contagion." "It might be proper to say a word to the housewife on flies -- screens for windows and doors are now so cheap that there is little excuse for not having them. Screen your home against flies and you will save the price of them in doctor bills. Scientific investigation has proven that flies are a prominent factor in the causation of diseases." "We have instituted a systematic milk inspection process which has excluded the products of only two dairies in the city. Better milk means a lower death rate and less sickness among children under two years of age." "Port Jervis has been exceptionally free from all of the contagious diseases, including typhoid fever, cholera infantum, and the usual summer complaints. This is due to the excellent sanitary sewer system, cleaner yards, and observance of quarantine. What little typhoid there has been, in nearly every case, can be traced to outside contagion. Tuberculosis is the only disease not satisfactorily controlled but much can be done to lessen its dangers. Tuberculosis is the saddest thing on earth and is largely preventable."

Police Department: "The reports from the Chief of Police, coming monthly to the Council, keep you informed as to the work done in this department. The city has been kept exceptionally free from the troublesome marander. Having criminals serve their sentences here by utilizing them to work on the streets and become self-sustaining instead of sent to Goshen jail is worthy of consideration in dealing with certain undesirables. If the plan does not conflict with existing laws, this should be adopted The past year, the expense to the city for transferring prisoners to Goshen jail was about $400."

Streets and Bridges: "The automobile is here to stay and is increasing in use, but is largely the cause of the serious condition that confronts us with our streets. I say seriously and advisedly that it is better with the present mode of travel to do nothing than to follow the old plan of carting gravel on the streets, and a few months later carting it off as dust or mud. It is useless to do much more than keeping the chuck holes and side of the crosswalks leveled up until a better way is adopted of meeting the situation. However, in the end I believe the automobile will be a real benefactor in that it will compel the building of streets are practically indestructible and will eliminate the dust nuisance. In event the trolley situation is not settled in time for paving the coming year, provision should be made to utilize these funds for paving on streets not occupied by the trolley. The coming year the state road leading from the city on Grand View Avenue to Rio will probably be built. It is time the bridge on East Main Street over the Neversink River received careful inspection and a thorough painting.

City Ordinances: The necessity of having complete new city ordinances, with the old village ordinances under which we are operating so thoroughly and apparently inadequate, that it seems hardly necessary for me to emphasize, yet in this connection I will simply mention one section -- dogs. Our neighboring city, Middletown, received $700 last year from their dog tax. By your neglect to enact a dog ordinance, Port Jervis was not only deprived of the benefits of having dogs registered and prevented so many valuable dogs from being poisoned, but a similar sum could have been added to the city treasury."

Sewers: The Hammond Street sewer is taxed about to full capacity, with some of the Spring Brook from Franklin Street emptying into this sewer. This should in time be converted to the surface sewer at Fowler Street. First, additional capacity will have to be given to the surface sewer at Fowler and Franklin Streets. As you know, in heavy rains this sewer is now inadequate." "A horse and wagon could be added to the city's equipment for use by the Superintendent of Streets and Sewers for advantage as inspector of plumbing, for flushing sewers, and for getting about the city."

Street Lighting: There are different kinds of lamps. Are the ones used here the most satisfactory? The tungsten incandescent is being substituted in some places. These lamps cost less to operate. A street lamp should give a specified candle power. there are recording instruments that keep a record of the amount of light furnished. Would it be advisable to possess such instruments? The expense is comparatively low."

Fire Department: "The department is in excellent working order." "I have been told that a satisfactory, inexpensive drying apparatus could be arranged at each hose house, consisting simply of a sixty foot pole with a large ring at the time, and with rope and pully the hose could be cleaned and dried." "A fire limit should be established in Port Jervis. The business district fo the city has developed to such an extent that to allow wooden or improper structures to be erected is not just or safe to the contiguous properties."

In Conclusion: "This Board, as it stands tonight, has one year more to work together. I wish to commend you on the general harmony that exists in the Board. When time for action appears the effort to get together has been gratifying. There is plenty to do, and I predict the work that you will accomplish will be profitable to the city, and make a lasting impression in the way of progress."

Swartwout, along with Rev. W.J. Donohue, fathered Skyline Drive and what is now Elks-Brox Park. He was greatly pleased to see it grow from its humble beginnings.

Swartwout, known for a life of service in his community, died in his home at 17 East Main Street, Port Jervis, at 10 a.m. on February 5, 1937 after a long illness. He was 76 years of age. He was survived by his wife, Carrie B. Peck Swartwout (2/17/1863-7/28/1945) and children.

(MVHS notes: on May 28, 1937, a six-ton boulder from Point Peter was placed on Dr. Swartwout’s grave. This boulder, exact composition not learned, was chosen by Dr. Swartwout some time before his death, to be placed upon his grave. To move this, a tractor dragged the boulder to a location that was level with the bottom of a large truck body. Upon reaching the cemetery, the rock was slide off the truck, with the aid of a winch, onto a cradle that had been constructed for it. The boulder was then lowered with heavy jacks from the cradle to the concrete base that had been prepared for it. It had been planned to attach a bronze plaque to this rock to complete it, which it does have. A bronze plaque was also later placed on his widow’s (Carrie B. Peck Swartwout’s 2/17/1863-7/28/1945) grave. There is a large family plot in Laurel Grove Cemetery where, among others, Henry and Carrie Swartwout and three of their four children are interred.

Dr. and Mrs. Swartwout had four children (all born in Port Jervis):

Daughter Florence E. Swartwout Thomassen (2/12/1888-4/1881, husband Francis Falgoneer Thomassen 1882-1931, one son Henry Swartwout Thomassen 1/16-1919-9/24/2011, three grandchildren Henry S. Thomassen, Kathryn Horlacher, Betsy Thomassen) (Daughter Claire?, still being researched)

Son Henry Louis Swartwout (7/29/1889-8/2/1890, died of malarial fever at age 1 and 4 days, funeral held at Ulster Place home)

Daughter Charlotte Swartwout Quackenbush (11/28/1893-11/22/1977) husband Willis Quackenbush (1899-1966), no children (or did they have Carolyn S. Quackenbush daughter, still being researched)

Son Henry Brinckerhoff Swartwout (9/17/1896) no children (or is this Herbert B. Swartwout of Washington, DC with two children Louis H. and Susanne Swartwout, still being researched)

(Dr. Henry B. Swartwout: February 4, 1861-February 5, 1937)

LAST Village of Port Jervis Board of Trustees (changed to City of Port Jervis, July 26, 1907) President of Village of Port Jervis Dr. Henry Brinkerhoff Swartwout, Trustees C.F. Van Inwegen, Benjamin Ryall, George Post, J.J. Bippins, Thomas Cavanaugh, Emmet Garriss, James A. Orr, John J. Hawkins

(Incorporated as the City of Port Jervis on July 26, 1907)

FIRST Common Council of the City of Port Jervis July 26, 1907-12/31/1907

Mayor Dr. Henry B. Swartwout, Alderman-at-Large W.N. Tuscano, Aldermen James A. Orr, C. F. Van Inwegen, Thomas W. Cavanaugh, Benjamin Ryall, J.J. Bippus, George A. Post, S. Emmett Garriss, John J. Hawkins

FIRST ELECTED Common Council of the City of Port Jervis 1/1/1908-12/31/1909

(Tri-States Union, November 7, 1907)

Mayor Dr. Henry Swartwout, Alderman-at-Large Joseph Johnson, First Ward Aldermen James I. Delaney, James Howell, Second Ward Aldermen A.F. Brown, P.C. Rutan, Third Ward Aldermen Andrew Hensel, F.N. Mason, Fourth Ward Aldermen C.F. Van Inwegen, Thomas Mulhearn, First Ward Supervisor D. Garriss, Second Ward Supervisor R. Farnum, Third Ward Supervisor R. Toth, Fourth Ward Supervisor D. Gillen

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An enjoyable and informative story. Looking forward to future additions.

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