was a quintessential New England businessman, closely identified with commercial
development at the "head of the street" in the earliest years
of the village's growth. He died in 1838, just as the "foot of the
street" became the clear victor in the long-simmering rivalry.
He was born and raised
in Westmoreland, Cheshire County, N.H., and came to Penn Yan in 1813. He
may have arrived with the Tuell brothers, who came from the same part of
New Hampshire with their sister Mary, whom he married. The couple had three
children: William Jr., Amos C., and Mary. The two boys went to Canton, Illinois,
where both became merchants and the younger at least, a prominent Republican
Their father wrote
an interesting will, in that he made no attempt to dispose of his property,
but attested that his elder son William should receive a share equal to
that which he would have been entitled to, had he been born in wedlock.
Presumably William Sr. and Mary anticipated their marriage, but had no qualms
about making this public statement.
The first piece of
land Babcock acquired after his arrival was the lot at the northeast corner
of the Main and Head Street intersection, where he built a residence and
store. Soon afterward he acquired nearly all the street frontage of Morris
F. Sheppard's large property on the east side of the street. This was only
the start; the list of properties he bought and sold during the quarter
of a century he lived in Penn Yan would (and does) fill several pages in
the land record indexes.
He was known for the
number of people who started in business working for him: Eli Sheldon, Lewis
Himrod, C.P. Babcock, Amasa Tuell, Benjamin Tyler, Enos S. Remer, Edgar
Sheldon, E.J. Fowle, Amos Babcock and Coleman Weare, among others. He was
appointed County Treasurer by the first Board of Supervisors, and in 1830
was elected to Congress.
In October of 1838,
soon after his return from a trip to New England, he came down with a case
of typhoid fever, and died nine days later, despite the best medical attention
the village could provide. He was universally praised in the local papers
after his death for his generosity and benevolence, though none of them
mentioned his tough unsentimental views on debt and business. He was renowned
for his honesty, his judgment and his good practical advice.
He is buried at City
Hill with his mother and two sisters, his wife and his daughter and her