1867: Henry Lyman Chamberlain to Alexander Turney Stewart

Alexander T. Stewart

Alexander T. Stewart

This letter was written by Henry Lyman Chamberlain (1823-Aft1900), the son of Ira Chamberlain (1793-1890) and Ruth Hathorn (1801-1884). At the time he wrote this letter in March 1867, he was married to his first wife, Cordelia Bucknam (1826-1867). Prior to the Civil War, Henry worked as a tin smith in Bath, Maine. In California, Henry made a living as a hardware merchant. He also served as an officer in the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). In this letter, we learn that he served on the building committee and sought funding for the construction and operation of the facility they planned to build in San Francisco. The “lot” mentioned in this letter where the YMCA intended to construct their 3 story building was at 232 Sutter Street. It opened on 16 November 1869.

The Boston Journal of 19 July 1869 ran a column with the following news:

“Portland, Maine. July 18, 1869. The closing business session of the International Conference of Young Men’s Christian Associations was held in the City Hall last evening…The subject of discussion was how best to reach young men who leave their country homes for the large cities. The leading speakers of the evening were William F. Lee of New York, H. L. Chamberlain of San Francisco, M. H. Hodder of London, and Gen. Fisk of St. Louis…”

Henry addressed the letter to the A. T. Stewart & Co., a very large dry goods store located on Broadway Street in New York City. The proprietor was multi-millionaire Alexander Turney Stewart (1803-1876), an Irish emigrant, who is claimed by some to be the father of the “department store” and the “mail-order” business.

1867 Letter

1867 Letter

TRANSCRIPTION
Addressed to A. T. Stewart, Esq., New York, N.Y.

San Francisco [California]
March 17, 1867

Honored and Dear Sir,

Image 4To one desiring to spend and be spent for the good of his fellow men and seeking to be the almoner of his own bounty, there needs no apology for this intrusion upon your notice, no plea for our cause save a plain statement of facts to enable you to judge intelligently and rightly concerning our need and the good to be accomplished, as well as the difficulties that lie in our way. The accompanying Circular will tell of the needs and the objects proposed; — the address, of the good to be done, in part in this city, of 120,000 souls, rapidly rising to front rank, in importance of position, among the cities of the world. Much has already been done; much more remains to be done. It remains for me to state some of the difficulties in the way of raising the funds for so important a work (presuming that we have paid $20,000 dollars for our lot, in the very heart of the city and bounded on three sides by railroads leading to  the chief portions of the city).

1st. Most of our wealthy men are foreign-born, wedded to gold and a despotic faith; often debased, rather than elevated, by sudden wealth and with no heart for public charities. Some are spending fifty thousand dollars for a crumbling monument in the “city of the dead,” — not a dime can they give for a more enduring tablet in the hearts of the living.

Image 52nd. Most of our business men are young men just in the prime of life and fortune, wholly immersed in business and pleasure, yet giving liberally to popular benevolent enterprises as the Sanitary Commission &c. They eschew all causes having the name “Christian” attached. Such had a hearty hate of the Christian Commission. Add to this that, since the war, more has been lost than made in business, and one can see how hard it is to get anything from them. Yet we go to them for, if nothing more, it gives the opportunity, if possible, to remove their prejudices.

3rd. Those who are disposed to give are called upon so frequently that their contributions are of necessity small. Hence, our labor is correspondingly heavy and prolonged. If it is true that nearly all the capital of the country centers here, it is equally true that every benevolent, religious, or educational scheme seeks this city for aid, and their name is is Legion. Yet they are needed and we bid then God speed. We have waited some years for the field to be comparatively clear, but in vain; and now we are constrained to commence, and determined not to rest till the work be accomplished.

A.T. Stewart & Co., Broadway & 10th Streets (1862)

A.T. Stewart & Co., Broadway & 10th Streets (1862)

If you deem these statements worthy of your notice and this great work for young men deserving of your bounty, any communication addressed to either of the names marked among the list of Life Members will reach us and insure our lasting gratitude. If not, we shall only think that, in your judgment, other places are more needy than we.

In closing, permit us to express the wish and prayer that you may be spared to carry out all your benevolent intentions and, having satisfactorily settled your estate on earth, enter into the possession of an “inheritance incorruptible, undefiled and that fadeth not away, eternal in the heavens.”

In behalf of the association.

Yours very truly, — H. L. Chamberlain, Chairman of Building Committee

P.S. If possible, we shall commence our building in July.

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