|HORATIO G. BROOKS
1828 - 1887
| Horatio Brooks was born
in Portsmouth, N.H. on October 30, 1828. Very early in
life he exhibited a taste for the railways and locomotives
he saw. He was educated as a machinist and became an engineer
for the New York & Erie Railroad. In 1850 he left
Boston with NY & E Engine No. 90, and came to Dunkirk
via the Erie Canal and Lake Erie. On November 28, 1850
he arrived in Dunkirk harbor with the county's first locomotive
and blew the first steam whistle heard in the county.
He remained a locomotive engineer until 1854 when he was
appointed master mechanic of the Ohio and Mississippi
Railroad. In 1859 he took the same post for the western
division of the Erie Railroad, and in 1865 became superintendent
of motive power for the entire Erie Railroad.
Because of mismanagement, the Erie was close to bankruptcy
in 1868. At the same time the Jersey City to Buffalo mainline
was completed, leaving Dunkirk an out-of-the-way destination.
The Erie decided to close their Dunkirk car shops and
move them to a new location. Dunkirk was faced with losing
several hundred jobs and likely citizens. The village
had just begun to enter the industrial era, and now it
looked as though it would revert to a mere fishing village.
Horatio Brooks decided he couldn't let that happen. On
November 11, 1869 the Brooks Locomotive Works was established
with Horatio Brooks as its president. Brooks leased the
shops and machinery from the Erie and saved the jobs for
Business was slow and capacity minimal at first. Soon
capacity was greatly increased as the orders came in.
The first locomotive built in Dunkirk was completed in
December, 1869. The first order came from the Erie Railroad
for 25, eight-wheeled locomotives. In 1870 the company
produced 27 locomotives, in 1871 it was up to 45, and
1872 saw 73 produced. By 1872, 550 men were employed at
the Brooks Locomotive Works and Dunkirk was prospering.
The year 1873 a disaster for the nation and launched a
depression that lasted for five years. By 1874 Briiks
was forced to reduce his staff to 124 since only six locomotives
were ordered. Employees that were laid off from the plant
had their grocery bills personally guaranteed by Brooks
himself. The handouts exhausted Brooks' savings until
he could no longer pay the storekeepers. They had faith
though and allowed Brooks to continue his practice with
the promise of paying.
After the depression ended business rebounded and the
Brooks Locomotive Works soon became the largest manufacturing
concern in the county. By 1890 it employed two-thirds
of the City's labor force. Brooks Locomotive Works remained
the stronghold of Dunkirk for the next fifty years.
Mr. Briiks also served as Mayor of the City of Dunkirk
for three terms and as a town councilman prior to that.
In a scandalous and "arrogant action" according
to Mr. Brooks, he was denied his post as Mayor by an opponent
in his first election. In February John S. Beggs who was
President of the Common Council is designated Mayor and
in the same meeting Dunkirk goes from a village to a city.
One week later the true winner of the election, Horatio
Brooks, is sworn into office along with the newly elected
Councilmen. The scandal is never again mentioned and little
is known about it to this day.
On April 20, 1887, at the age of 59, Horatio died of a
massive cerebral hemorrhage. Haratio Brooks was remembered
as the City's greatest benefactor and a sincerely generous
man. After his death, his wealth and generosity continued
to develop the City of Dunkirk. In 1989 the Brooks Mansion
on Central Avenue in the City was bequeathed to the Young
Men's Association to become a hospital and library. Within
two months the Brooks Memorial Hospital and the Brooks
Memorial Free Library were incorporated. Though the original
building is gone, bith the hospital and library reamin
today, serving the citizens of Dunkirk most of whom have
long forgotten Horatio Brooks the great developer and
benefactor for whom they bear their name.
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