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Fairfield Collection

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: --
Date: Feb 1955

Biographical History

Fairfield Academy, located in the town of Fairfield in Herkimer County, New York, was incorporated in 1803. The Academy had several instructors in medical subjects, including anatomy, pharmacy, medicine, surgery, and obstetrics. In 1812, 43 students were studying medical subjects and the Academy applied for a charter as a medical college in order to be able to grant M.D. degrees to its students. The charter was granted under the name of "The College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Western District of New York," but the institution was commonly known as Fairfield Medical College. It was the second medical college to be chartered in the state and the 11th in the United States. The faculty was composed of eminent physicians and physician-instructors, and the college acquired an excellent reputation. By 1833 the school had over 200 students and over its life granted more than 600 M.D. degrees, 18 of whom went on to become professors in other medical colleges. (Of the five members of the faculty of the Geneva (N.Y.) Medical College who transferred to the Syracuse University Medical College upon its establishment in 1871, at least three had received their medical training at Fairfield.) Fairfield Medical College closed in 1840, due to competition from other medical colleges opened in New York and surrounding states. In 1812, the trustees of Fairfield Academy, acting on the suggestion of the Rev. Amos G. Baldwin, petitioned Trinity Episcopal Church in Fairfield for a grant of funds to establish a college of liberal culture under Episcopal auspices. This petition was not granted, but in the following year, acting upon another petition suggested by the Rev. Baldwin, the corporation of Trinity church founded a theological school in connection with Fairfield Academy.

The academy was reorganized as the co-educational Fairfield Seminary in 1839, incorporating a "Classical Academy and Female Collegiate Institute," with a teacher training and college preparation curriculum. Its enrollment in 1861 was 551. As new major transportation routes developed in the 19th century, bypassing the town of Fairfield, the academy lost its prominence. It operated as a military academy beginning in 1891 and closed permanently in 1901, largely due to competition from the growing number of high schools in the area.

Dr. William Mather (1802-1890), a descendent of Cotton Mather, was a son of Captain Moses Mather, an early settler of Herkimer County and one of the founders of Fairfield Academy. In 1826, Mather graduated from Fairfield Medical College with the degree of M.D. As he had from boyhood been "an ardent lover of the science of chemistry," he turned his attention to that subject and from 1828 to 1868 was one of the most popular lecturers in this country. He married Mary Ann Buell in 1836, and the two had three children. In 1838 he was appointed instructor in chemistry at the Hamilton (New York) Literary and Theological Seminary and in 1841 was elected professor of chemistry at the Castleton (Vermont) Medical College. From 1852 to 1868 he was professor of chemistry, mineralogy, and geology at Madison (now Colgate) University in Hamilton. He was also the president of Fairfield Seminary for more than a quarter of a century.

Alonzo Clark Mather (1848-1941), an inventor and industrialist, was educated at Fairfield Academy and upon graduation went to work as a clerk in Utica, New York. In 1867 he opened his own mercantile business in Little Falls, New York, and moved to Quincy, Illinois the subsequent year. In 1875 he moved to Chicago and ran a wholesale business under the name Alonzo C. Mather and Company, which imported and manufactured a ladies’ self-lacing glove of his own patent. In 1880, following an incident observing the poor conditions of cattle in railway transport, Mather began work on a more humane stock car, and in the following year started the Mather Humane Stock Transportation Company of Chicago (commonly known as the Mather Stock Car Company) in order to produce these cars. The American Humane Association awarded Mather a medal for the humane treatment of animals in 1883. For many years, Mather endeavored to build a bridge across the Niagara River from Buffalo to Fort Erie, Ontario, which would harness the water currents for electric power; however, a bill from the United States Congress prevented the realization of this idea. He did build Mather Tower in Chicago, which served as the headquarters for the Mather Stock Car Company and is now a Chicago Historic Landmark.

Albert Barnes Watkins (1838-1892), a native of Naples, New York, was a student of Fairfield Seminary who also began teaching at the school. In 1861 he entered Amherst College as a junior and graduated in two years with honors. He returned to Fairfield as a teacher, and in 1863 he married Martha Ann Mather, the daughter of Dr. William Mather. He was the principal of the Hungerford Collegiate Institute in Adams, New York, for twelve years (1870-1882), where he was elected and served two terms as School Commissioner of Jefferson County, and also received the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. In 1882 he became the State Inspector of Teachers' Classes, and from 1884 until his death he served as the Assistant Secretary of the University of the State.

A genealogy of the Buell, Clark, Dresser, Griswold, Mather and Watkins families is available here (if online) or at the end of this finding aid (if in hard copy).

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Fairfield Academy series encompasses items relating to the combined history of Fairfield Academy (incorporated 1803), The College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Western District of New York (chartered 1812), and Fairfield Seminary (founded 1813). Included are the correspondence and meeting minutes of the Board of Trustees; materials related to the College of Physicians and Surgeons; items from Fairfield Seminary including a diploma for Burrit D. Case and report cards for Martha Ann Mather; financial material, and published material.

The Fairfield, New York series consists of iems connected to the town of Fairfield, including biographical and genealogical notes from researchers, primarily regarding the Buell and Mather families; legal documents; and materials regarding Trinity Church and the Woman’s Central Association of Relief.

Fairfield Families includes the personal papers of the Buell, Mather, and Watkins families who are connected through the marriages of Dr. William Mather to Mary Ann Buell, whose father Roswell Buell donated land for Fairfield Academy; and of Mather’s daughter Martha Ann to Albert Barnes Watkins. Many of the writers of the letters are already represented in the Library's special collections, especially the Gerrit Smith Collection. No special restrictions.

The Dr. William Mather Papers material contains the personal papers of Dr. William Mather, including his own biographical and genealogical work; family, general and professional correspondence; financial records and writings. There are also many of Dr. Mather's lecture notes in manuscript, including "minutes" of the medical lectures delivered by various doctors at the Fairfield school between 1827 and 1838; account books and journals of the "popular lectures" which he delivered throughout New York State; manuscript notes and letter-press accounts of the history of the Fairfield schools and of the Town of Fairfield, etc. These papers are significant for the revelations they make concerning the early days of the teaching of natural sciences in New York State and the teaching of chemistry in the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century.

The Alonzo C. Mather Papers contain the personal papers of Alonzo Clark Mather, including biographical and genealogical work; family correspondence; general correspondence and subject files; financial material and memorabilia. There is also assorted material related to his various inventions, primarily the humane stock car and the proposed bridge, as well as his professional interests.

The Albert B. Watkins Papers include the correspondence and documents of Albert Barnes Watkins, a notable Fairfield Seminary student and teacher. Among the professional correspondence and the documents are materials relating to Watkins’ capacity as a teacher at Fairfield, as principal of the Hungerford Collegiate Institute in Adams, NY, and as Assistant Secretary of the University of the State.

The Miscellaneous series contains unidentified correspondence and fragments, unsigned manuscripts, assorted printed material, and "Transcripts from Colonial Record” which relates to Edward Griswold (1607-1691), of whom Sarah Buell (née Griswold) (1769-1856) is a descendent.

Arrangement of the Collection

Material is divided into the series given above, in ascending chronological order.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

See also the Smallwood Collection, which concerns Amos Eaton and the teaching of the natural sciences in America previous to 1875; Tip of the Hill, by Thomas C. O'Donnell, an informal history of Fairfield Academy and Fairfield Medical College; and "The Pawnee missionaries," a narrative about Martha Ann Mather Satterlee in The Christian keepsake and missionary annual, edited by John Alonzo Clark.

Subject Headings


Buell family.
Buell, Alexander Hamilton.
Clark, John A. (John Alexander)
Clark, John A. (John Alonzo), 1801-1843.
Mather family.
Mather, Alonzo C.
Mather, Horace E., 1827-1909.
Mather, Mary Ann Buell.
Mather, Moses, 1774-1832.
Mather, William.
Satterlee, Martha Ann Mather.
Spalding, Lyman, 1775-1821.
Watkins family.
Watkins, Albert Barnes.
Watkins, Martha Ann Mather.

Corporate Bodies

College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Western District of the State of New-York.
Fairfield Medical College.
Fairfield seminary and military academy, Fairfield, N.Y.
Woman's Central Association of Relief.


Cooper, James Fenimore, 1789-1851 -- Criticism and interpretation.
Education -- New York (State) -- Herkimer County.
Genealogical correspondence.
Medical education -- History.
Railroads -- Livestock transportation.
Water-power -- New York (State)


Adams (N.Y.)
Buffalo (N.Y.)
Chicago (Ill.)
Fairfield (N.Y.: Town)
Fort Erie (Ont.)
Herkimer County (N.Y.)
Niagara Falls (N.Y. and Ont.)

Genres and Forms

Address books.
Autobiographies (literary works)
Blueprints (reprographic copies)
Broadsides (notices)
Business letters.
Circulars (fliers)
Clippings (information artifacts)
Genealogies (histories)
Greeting cards.
Instructional materials.
Logs (records)
Minutes (administrative records)
Report cards.


Inventors & inventions.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Fairfield Collection,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Mary Anne Loomis Shepard of Palmdale, California, great-granddaughter of George S. Loomis, pioneer resident of the Town of DeWitt, Onondaga County, New York, 1970.

Diploma gift of Sarah Christensen, 2011..

Table of Contents

Fairfield Academy

Fairfield, New York

Fairfield Families

Dr. William Mather Papers

Alonzo C. Mather Papers

Albert B. Watkins Papers