Thomas S. Clarkson
By: Mimi Van Deusen
(1837-1894) Thomas Streatfeild Clarkson was born on November 30, 1837 in New York City. He was the fifth child of Elizabeth (Clarkson) and Thomas Streatfeild Clarkson II. He moved to Potsdam with his family in 1840. He received his early education at the St. Lawrence Academy, and had private tutors later on.
Thomas and his brother Levinus managed the Clarkson farm for many years. After Levinus' sudden death in 1876, Thomas focused his energy on serving the Potsdam community. He held interest in several businesses, served as a Village of Potsdam trustee, helped to install Potsdam's sewer system and organized a reading room, a predecessor to the public library, at the Albion Hotel. He was instrumental in bringing electricity to Potsdam, and according to the Courier and Freeman newspaper in May 1892, Thomas had "probably the first stable to be lighted by electricity in the county...he is putting electric lighting apparatus at an expense of $300.00 to light his barn...even the hay loft is to be lighted by electricity."
Thomas Clarkson strongly felt that providing education and opportunity was the best way to help those in need. His business interests in Potsdam provided work for many residents. His sandstone quarry alone employed at least 50 people. In the early 1890s, he hired a man to teach mechanical drawing at no charge to anyone who wanted to join the classes.
Like many members of the Clarkson family, Thomas was heavily involved with Trinity Episcopal Church on Fall Island. He served as a warden at the church, sat on building committees and donated money for improvements to be made to the building. Upon the death of his mother in 1883, Thomas was erected a memorial chapel on the grounds of Trinity Church in honor of his late father and brother. He was also instrumental in building Episcopal churches in Colton and Norwood.
Thomas S. Clarkson was fatally injured in an accident at the Clarkson sandstone quarry in Hannawa Falls on August 14, 1894. Witnesses said that Thomas was working around a 4,500 pound steam pump when it "slipped from its blocks onto him." He was brought back to the Homestead in Potsdam by wagon. He was cared for by doctors at his home, but succumbed to his injuries on August 19, 1894.
The funeral for Thomas S. Clarkson was held on August 23, 1894 at Trinity Church. He requested a simple funeral, with no flowers. Potsdam businesses closed for the day in order to pay their respects and attend the funeral. He is buried in the Clarkson family vault at Bayside Cemetery.
Thomas S. Clarkson was a beloved figure in Potsdam. He was known for his kindness and generosity, and for his belief that every person should have the opportunity to learn a trade. After his death, his sisters Elizabeth, Lavinia and Frederica, along with his niece Annie, chose to honor the memory of their brother by founding a school in his name. The Thomas S. Clarkson Memorial School of Technology was created to carry out Thomas' belief that education and training were the keys for young men and women to secure a bright future.
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