The Stamford Historian, Volume I, Number 1, March 1954
|Schyler Merritt at age 100
By Lisetta Neukam Higgins
This issue of the Stamford Historian is dedicated to Schuyler Merritt. Accordingly, it is fitting that we present a brief biography of Mr. Merritt. He had such a full life, and engaged in so many activities that it is difficult to be brief and encyclopedic at the same time. He was a long-time member of the Historical Society, and in 1947 was elected Honorary President. His death, in his 100th year, was a great loss to the Society and to the community at large.
Men may come and men may go, but likely no Stamford citizen, past, present or future will ever surpass the myriad facets which scintilate in the life story of the late Schuyler Merritt--congressman, lawyer, industrialist, banker, an outstanding Christian, civic leader and enthusiastic chairman of the commission of the Merritt Parkway--named in his honor.
Those facets shine and penetrate practically every phase of Stamford life. They send beams throughout Connecticut, reach into his native state, New York, and thence on to the nation's capital and achieve international influence during his long years in Congress, where he served on the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee.
Schuyler Merritt loved people and they loved him. Because he had faith in mankind, folks had faith in him. Because of this combination plus his keen analysis of problems, local, state and national and his ability to understand the other fellow's point of view, Schuyler Merritt's influence will live as long as there is a Stamford. He was an example of what true Christianity creates in a man and what that man can do when he lives his faith.
He was born in New York City at Fifth Avenue and Twenty-first street December 16, 1853. He died April 1, 1953, eight months before his 100th birthday. At the age of two, his parents, Matthew F. and Maria Shaw Merritt, brought him to Stamford. They made their home on the broad tree-shaded Atlantic street on the site now occupied by Albrecht's, the Federal Bakery and several other business establishments. He lived there until his marriage when he moved to Bedford street, almost opposite the Betsy Barnum house, now the Stamford Historical Society headquarters--“The Little Red House on Bedford Street.”
Matthew Merritt was a prominent figure in social and political life. He helped establish the First National Bank and was one of early members of the Republican party in Connecticut.
Young Schuyler was graduated from a private school in Stamford, 1869, and from Yale University in 1873. In 1876 he received his LLB from Columbia University law school. In 1935 his alma mater, Yale, conferred on him the honorary degree of LLD. When he was 90 years old, he attended his 70th class reunion. His was the honor of being the oldest Yale alumnus at the time of his death.
For seventy years he was associated with Stamford's most important industry, Yale & Towne Manufacturing company. He began in a legal capacity in 1877. In 1878 he was elected secretary. Later he was named a member of the board of directors and became successively general manager, treasurer, vice president and chairman of the board of directors. He resigned from the board several years before his death.
How Mr. Merritt's personality lives through the years because of “little things” as well as important ones, is graphically shown in the words of a Stamford woman now in her seventies. She said, “Schuyler Merritt was a wonderful man, much loved by all. I'll never forget the first time I met him. I was just a high school girl. My Mother took me to the Stamford National Bank. As we entered Mr. Merritt greeted us with a smile. Mother introduced us. President Merritt bowed graciously and took my hand and courteously welcomed us. Through the years, no matter how busy he might be, he always remembered me and bowed and smiled in that charming manner as he did to others. He was truly a gracious, Christian gentleman. I always cherish the memory that it was he, who made our commencement address at Stamford High School now Burdick Junior High School. He presented our diplomas. It made us extra proud for he had done so much to make that high school a reality. He was an inspiration to all who knew him. Likely many of us became better citizens because of that commencement address, which he gave from his heart to our class. We felt his sincerity, his fine character. He was a really wonderful man. No one can say too many fine things about him.”
At 90 he went daily to his office in the First Stamford National Bank and Trust Company where he served as director and chairman of the board of directors.
His banking career began in 1902 when he was first elected an officer of the Stamford National Bank. In 1905 he was elected president. When the Stamford National Bank and the First National Bank merged under the name of the First Stamford National Bank in 1919 Mr. Merritt was elected the first president. He served two years and then became chairman of the board of directors. He was honorary chairman at the time of his death.
From 1916, when he helped nominate Charles Evans Hughes for president of the United States on the Republican ticket, Schuyler Merritt was nationally in the news. Originally he agreed to run for Congress as a war emergency at a special election in 1917 to succeed Ebenezer J. Hill of Norwalk, who died in office. For seven successive terms he was re-elected. Then in 1930 he was defeated by a Democrat, William L. Tierney of Greenwich. But two years later Mr. Merritt was the only Republican elected to Congress running against a Democratic incumbent in the Roosevelt landslide. Congressman Merritt served in Congress under five presidents, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. For 20 years his constituents returned him to Washington. Finally in 1938 at 83, Congressman Merritt agreed to permit his name to appear on the ticket on condition that he make no campaign. His phenominal record during the Roosevelt landslide made his party overconfident and Alfred N. Philips, who campaigned vigorously on the Democratic ticket, was elected.
During the score of years he served in Congress, besides his activities as a member of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce committee, he made his influence felt in major legislation. He voted for tax reduction, farm relief, tariff and immigration restriction. His ardent campaign work fostering legislation to protect United States industries was outstanding. During World War II when discussing tariff and protection of American business, Mr. Merritt said that during post-war planning it might be that free trade possibly would be established in a gradual way, although he still believed in protecting American interests in every possible way.
Two outstanding services Schuyler Merritt contributed to his State were serving on the constitutional committee when he helped re-write the Connecticut State Constitution when he was 51, and his service on the Merritt Parkway.
Retired to private life he gave his talent to many activities, but served as Chairman of the Commission supervising the construction of Connecticut's famous multi-million dollar Merritt Parkway named to honor him. Only one other Connecticut man, former Governor Wilbur M. Cross, ever had a state parkway named for him. Mr. Merritt lived to see the first stretch of this parkway, reaching from New York's Westchester county to the Housatonic river, completed.
His Stamford activities were legion. Among them he spent many years directing Ferguson Library activities, when he served as president of the board of directors. As a member of the school committee for 15 years (most of the time as chairman) he was instrumental in developing Stamford High School and in raising the standards of the grade schools. In 1910 he became a member of the State Board of Education, serving for seven years, or until he left for Congressional service in 1917. For many years he served on the Stamford Board of Appropriations and Apportionments.
He helped organize the Stamford Board of Trade, the parent of the Stamford Chamber of Commerce. For many years he was honorary chairman of the Stamford Community Chest, president of the Stamford Children's Home and served as a member of the Board of the Family Welfare Society, and was a generous member of the Red Cross. To him fell the task of preparing appeals to the public for emergency funds when National Red Cross headquarters assigned Stamford's chapter quota. Many will remember his eloquent appeals in print and vocally for the Japanese earthquake refugees, the Mississippi flood and other national emergencies.
Of all Mr. Merritt's activities, perhaps the one closest to his heart and appreciated by many persons, was his long cherished years of service as warden and vestryman at St. John's Episcopal church to which his parents belonged and where they took him in his formative years. One St. John's parish member of long standing when speaking of his vestry service, said, “I can see him going down the church aisle Sundays. He was such a handsome man, his smile, that kind wonderful smile and his beautiful blue eyes and gracious manner live long in our memories. He had twinkling blue eyes and imagine he never wore glasses even in his 90th year, except for reading. Oh, Schuyler Merritt was a darling--and our first citizen.”
His church influence was felt not only in St. John's church but also in the formative years of Emmanuel Episcopal church, Springdale, which was a mission of St. John's for 75 years. Thus it was under the guidance of St. John's vestry during many of the years Mr. Merritt served so unselfishly.
A distinguished, though seldom mentioned activity, was his important connection with the Gas and Electric Company, which he served as vice president, when it meant much to the development of Stamford's place in the industrial world.
His great love of outdoors and the fact he did not smoke may be the secret of his long, healthy, useful life. For many years daily before breakfast he rode horseback with Henry R. Towne on mounts he selected from his own stables at his home on Noroton Hill, where the Merritts moved when they left the Bedford street home. He was also an ardent yachtsman and enjoyed yachting with Mrs. Merritt's brother, Fred Hoyt, a noted yachtsman. Mr. Merritt's best known boat was “The Kathleen.” Golf however was his favorite outdoor activity. At 90 he still played when at home or during the winter at Lake Wales, Florida. He also enjoyed his rose and vegetable gardens, especially in his retirement years
He was married October 2, 1879 to the former Miss Frances Hoyt of an old Stamford family. They had two daughters, Mrs. William B. Dalton (Louise) of Ocean Drive, East, Shippan Point and Dr. Katharine Krom Merritt, pediatrician at Babies' Hospital, New York, who both followed their famous father's footsteps, serving humanity in many ways. Mrs. Merritt died August 2, 1943.
Besides creating the many facets in his life affecting humanity, Schuyler Merritt found time, energy and desire to belong to many organizations, among them: The Suburban Club, Woodway Country Club, Wee Burn Golf Club, Stamford Historical Society locally, and to The University Club of New York, The Yale Club of New York and Yale Alumni Association and Chevy Chase, Washington, D.C., and a golf club in Lake Wales, Florida.
Truly one can say in closing, as in beginning this story of the life of Schuyler Merritt, “men may come and men may go” but, where can one find such a man, who served so graciously, so long so faithfully and who received so much of love and honor in his home town?
Schuyler Merritt's Introduction to the first issue of The Stamford Historian:
Editor's Note: The spelling and punctuation are those of the author. The election which Mr. Merritt lost was in 1936, not 1938.
The Stamford Historian
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