Other Business Ventures
Besides being one of the earliest successful bankers in not only Western New York, but in the entire country, Nicholas Devereux was involved in several other business ventures. He obtained extreme wealth, which in turn permitted him to focus on aiding the economic advancement of central and western New York, his adopted home.
New York Life Insurance and Trust Co.
Through the influence of his father-in-law, Benjamin Butler, Nicholas was named to the board of the newly formed financial institution the New York Life Insurance and Trust Co. in 1830. The company dealt in life insurance, managing estates and accepted money in trusts. Initially the New York City-based company had interests in extending business into the upper and western parts of the state because of the money that the Erie Canal had brought into the area. However, it also became interested in the resources that the regions north and west of the city had to offer and played an important role in opening up the area with railroads. Nicholas, as the first board member west of Albany, traveled all around western New York for the company, going as far as Buffalo. However, he always kept the interests of his hometown Utica in the back of his mind and used his position to try to obtain a railroad for the city.
In 1922 New York Life Insurance and Trust merged with the Bank of New York. The company is still around today and operates under the name The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation.
Nicholas always wanted Utica to have its own railroad and he was instrumental
in the city obtaining a charter for the Utica and Schenectady Railroad which was
granted in 1833. The line opened in 1836 with Nicholas serving as one of
the directors. The line face some trouble at first. Since the
economic boom in Utica was due to the Erie Canal, many didn't want to stop using it
just because the railway was put into place. As a result the
Utica and Schenectady line wasn't allowed to carry freight until 1844. By
that time improvements in railroad technology made it clear that trains were the
future of the American economy, not canals. When the New York Central was
proposed it was decided that 10 central New York railroad lines
should be consolidated into one, in order to make them all more competitive. The consolidated lines formed the New
York Central Railroad on May 17, 1853. Devereux was an original stockholder.
An original stock certificate for the Utica Schenectady Railroad.
Devereux Land Company
When Nicholas Devereux really became interested in opening up New York state with railroads most of the lands west of Rochester were owned by the Holland Land Company. Having a European-based company own most of the land in western New York posed several problems. First off money in the area was short to begin with, making it an uphill battle to convince investors to give capital in order to build railways. Secondly, since the company was based off-shore any money paid on mortgages in the area was sent back to Holland, therefore it was tough to even keep any money made in western New York, actually in western New York. Luckily, the New York State legislature recognized the problem and imposed a tax in 1833 that specifically targeted foreign land owners. Officials for the Holland Land Company became eager to sell their lands.
Between November of 1834 and July of 1835 Nicholas Devereux headed
negotiations between the Holland Land Company the Devereux Land Company. A deal
was finally reached and the newly formed Devereux Land Company, which consisted
of 15 men mostly from New York City, purchased 417,970 acres for
$380,587.19. The land was meant to benefit the Erie Railroad and even
included a clause where the company would receive a land gift if the road was
completed within an allotted time period. It was in this same purchase that
Devereux bought land in a separate agreement in an area called Allegany
City. This was the land that St. Bonaventure University was eventually
|A map of the Holland purchase made by the
Holland land company. On
this map are many of the areas that the Devereux Land Company purchased,
including the areas near St. Bonaventure, located on the lower right had side
of Cattaraugus County (middle county on the bottom).
The Erie Railroad faced economic issues and the line wasn't finished in time to take advantage of the land gift it would have received. The Devereux Land Company also suffered because of its partnership with the railroad and also because of a general economic depression in the area. However, in 1843 the company opened up an office in Ellicottville to try to sell off lands it had purchased. Nicholas' oldest son, John, was one of the head land agents. In the end the Devereux Land Company ended up doing pretty well. At the time of his death Nicholas owned lands that were valued at over $106,000 and mortgages totaling almost $110,000.
Other Miscellaneous Dealings
Nicholas was also involved in other business ventures in his hometown of Utica. As Utica grew it became apparent that there was a need for some sort of city-wide water provider, as most city residents were depending on their own personal wells. In 1848 the Utica Water Works was incorporated and Nicholas was one of the directors. At first there was a problem with raising funds to get the project off the ground. Although most in the city felt a water works necessary, few were willing to put forth the money to make it happen. When the initial push to get the works going fell short financially Nicholas and another one of the directors went out of their way to help out the city and came up with the money to get the project rolling. He was also key player in the Utica gas works project.
Nicholas also became interested in manufacturing by steam through an article he read in a local paper. He helped start Utica Steam Woolen Mills. The company was successful and Nicholas served as a director and Vice President until his death.