May 26 – Happy Birthday Stephen Sanford

The future of Amsterdam New York’s rug-making legacy was at stake. John Sanford had settled in the city along the Mohawk River in 1821 and built a rug mlll. Today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant went to work for his father in that mill in 1844. Ten years later, a monster fire burnt the place to the ground. John, who was 52-years-old at the time of the blaze, threw in the towel and retired. his oldest son Stephen, who had attended both West Point and Georgetown could have moved to any city in this country and had his pick of the very best jobs at the very best companies, chose instead to remain in Amsterdam and rebuild the mill.

That decision secured the future of this city. By the time he handed off the reins of the company to his own son John, the Sanford rug mills were employing 2,500 people whose wages were being spent in Amsterdam businesses that employed thousands more. Just as important to this town’s development, Sanford’s success also attracted other entrepreneurs to locate their mills here.

Stephen married Sarah Jane Cochran in 1849 and the couple had a total of five children. After she died in 1901, Stephen donated the land and the money used to build the elegant Sarah Jane Sanford Home for the Elderly that still stands and operates at 69 Guy Park Avenue and was in fact recently expanded.

Another famous Amsterdam landmark today’s featured Birthday Celebrant was responsible for was the Stanford Stud Farm. Stephen’s doctor had advised him to take up farming as a way of relieving the pressure of running his huge industrial enterprise. Instead of growing corn though, Sanford chose thoroughbred horses instead and had the then state-of-the-art training and breeding farm built just north of Amsterdam on Route 30. He originally named it Hurricana Farms and it would go on to produce some of the greatest thoroughbred champions in history, including a Kentucky Derby winner.

Like his father before him and his son after him, Stephen Sanford also served as Amsterdam’s representative in the US Congress. He was elected in November of 1868. He served one term and then refused to run for reelection. He was already a good friend of Ulysses Grant, who was serving as US President at the time because the two men had been cadets at West Point together. Sanford also became a good friend and confidant of the powerful New York State Senator and political boss, Roscoe Conkling. Those relationships and his fortune helped the Amsterdam Industrial Baron quickly become a force in Republican Party politics at the national level.

At the time he passed away in 1913 at the age of 86, his carpet mills, racehorses and political resume had made the name “Stephen Sanford” one of the most famous in America.


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