The Cyclopædia of American Biography/Billings, Albert Merritt

The Cyclopædia of American Biography  (1918) 
James E. Homans, editor
Billings, Albert Merritt

BILLINGS, Albert Merritt, capitalist and pioneer in elevated railroads, b. at Royalton, Windsor County, Vt., 21 April, 1814; d. in New York City, 7 Feb., 1897, son of John and Hannah (Brown) Billings. On his father's side he was descended from the earliest colonists of Plymouth County, Mass., some of his ancestors having been among the settlers arriving there shortly after the landing of the “Mayflower,” in 1620. Many of them were prominently identified with every movement in the interest of the State. A later representative, John Billings, a deacon of the church, and also a man of arms, served in the Connecticut Militia, and was in action under both Washington and General Stark. Judge Jonathan Brown, of Pittstown, N. Y., a maternal ancestor of Mr. Billings, also served through the Revolutionary War. Mr. Billings' father, a farmer by occupation, was engaged in the service of his country during the War of 1812; his mother was a daughter of Judge Jonathan Brown, also a soldier in the same war. Albert M. Billings began life as an apprentice in the harness- and trunk-making trade at Royalton, but in 1833 removed to New Hampshire, and joined his brother, Edwin A. Billings, in the manufacture of looms at Claremont. His great business acumen and high character secured for him the respect and appreciation of his fellow townsmen, and in 1835 he was elected sheriff; being annually re-elected for eleven successive years. He remained in Claremont for twenty years and acquired much real estate, as well as interesting himself largely in the advancement of the town and the development of several valuable patents which he had secured. He moved to Groton, Mass., in 1854, entered into business as a manufacturer of yeast, and, then, after one year in business at Saratoga Springs, N. Y., removed to Chicago in 1860. His genius for acquiring meritorious patents led him to secure one for making gas, and, having ascertained that the West Side Gas Company was harassed financially, in conjunction with Cornelius K Garrison, of New York, he succeeded in acquiring their franchise. Encouraged by this success they then secured a franchise for an elevated railroad, and the road erected by Billings and Garrison was the first to be operated in New York City. They subsequently built the St. Louis, Kansas City and Colorado Railroad, which afterward was merged in the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe System. Always alert for business opportunities, Mr. Billings came to the rescue of the Home National Bank of Chicago, in 1873, when it was badly embarrassed and succeeded in putting it, and the Home Savings Bank, in a solid commercial condition. Again, in 1890, the Citizens Street Railroad of Memphis, Tenn., having failed to furnish satisfactory collateral security for a large loan, Mr. Billings acquired the majority interest in the stock, and, at an expenditure of over $2,000,000, electrified the road, and established a model city railroad system, with resultant profits to the stockholders. Mr. Billings took an active part in evangelistic work and purchased a building in Chicago which became known as the “Green Street Church,” where he frequently conducted missionary work himself and gave talks on the Bible and its lessons to the congregation. The Jerry McAuley Mission in New York also received much assistance from him and kindred institutions in other cities throughout the States found in him a ready supporter. He was twice married, first, in 1837, to Lucinda A. Corbin, of Claremont, N. H., by whom he had two children: a son, Henry A., and a daughter, who died at an early age. On 1 June, 1859, he married Mrs. S. Augusta S. Farnsworth Allen, of Woodstock, Windsor County, Vt. They had two daughters, since deceased, and one son, Cornelius Kingsley Garrison Billings, a prominent New York financier.