Papers of Henry Walter Webb (1852-1900)


A small collection, Henry Walter Webb's papers are nonetheless of great interest. There are letters concerning Webb's candidacy for president of the railroad that reveal high-level intrigue. There is a letter from the headmaster of Groton Academy thanking Webb for his hospitality after a recent visit to his home, as well as from Webb's father, Martin Henry Webb. The elder Webb referred to his son as "Buckie" in these letters, and the two appear to have enjoyed a close relationship. Webb's father was well-connected politically and highly opinionated. There is talk about correspondence with General Grant, and as to the presidency, Martin Webb wrote in 1868: "I could name very many men in the U.S. who drunk or sober I should greatly prefer to Andy Johnson." On another occasion he wrote: "Universal suffrage is universal corruptness." Some of these letters contain shorter notes from Webb's mother on the reverse side. In Laurien Dunn's letter to General Alexander S. Webb, there is mention of Henry's regularly being sick. Dunn was a classmate of Webb's and was present at the Gettysburg dedication. The financial letters are equally interesting, affording glimpses into high level rail road operations, mergers, acquisitions and negotiations. Correspondents include Christian A. Herter, Henry Rogers Winthrop, Charles L. Dana, Arthur G. Yates, and the Hon. Chauncey M. Depew, and the letters involve rail lines in Buffalo, Rochester, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. From these letters, researchers learn that Webb travelled at will on any rail road in England, and that he had planned to resign his vice presidency of the rail road at the end of 1897. The Lewis Veghte case involves a settlement in connection with a railroad takeover, and the newspaper clippings, originally supplied to Webb by a clipping service, concern his railroad activities. Other clippings are found in the papers of Leila Howard Griswold Codman, his widow.


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Codman family papers

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Historical/Biographical Note

Historical/Biographical Note

Henry Walter Webb was one of four sons born to Martin Henry Walter Webb and Laura C. Webb. The other brothers in this prominent New York family were G. Creighton Webb, W. Seward Webb, and Louis Webb. Seward Webb became a medical doctor and married a Vanderbilt. The Webb family belonged to Trinity Church (Episcopal) in New York City, where Henry Walter Webb was baptized and later received his first communion in 1868. He was affectionately known to his father as "Buckie." Henry wanted to go into the Navy, but his father wanted to send him to Columbia University. He did attend, but not before doing a stint in the First Brigade of the New York State Militia, in which he rose to the rank of major. Whether it was through his brother's marriage to a Vanderbilt, his father's connections, his own enterprise, or a combination of these, Webb entered into service with the New York Central and Hudson River Rail Road Company, of which Cornelius Vanderbilt was chairman. It was not long before he became third vice president of the railroad with an office in Grand Central Station. In this position, he was head of the operating department and the senior officer most directly in charge of day- to-day activities. It was a position that often put him in the hot seat, such as during work stoppages due to labor disputes. He was apparently in line for the presidency of the rail road, handpicked by Mr. Vanderbilt himself, but in 1896 the biggest strike in the line's history closed it down for some months. According to later reports, Webb worked day and night to resolve the labor conflicts, efforts which were to cost him his health. In 1897, he appears to have contracted tuberculosis, and word of this spread quickly. It seems that Webb had been instrumental in saving the investment firm of Webb and Prall from bankruptcy in 1897 (a firm connected to his family) with a personal loan of $350,000. This transaction caused problems with his brother, W. Seward Webb, who, in addition to maintaining his medical practice, was president of the Wagner Palace Car Company. Henry Walter Webb was vice president of this firm, which supplied coaches to rail lines. Indeed, it seems as if the Webbs were well connected among the top levels of the Vanderbilt railroad empire. W. Seward Webb spread rumors that Henry was tubercular, despite Henry's imprecations that this news be kept under wraps. It was over this betrayal that the two brothers parted company. Henry's rapid rise in the railroad (he was just forty-four when rumors of his becoming president began to circulate) was owed, in part, to the successful way he increased the line's freight business. However, the overwork caused by the great strike, together with the knowledge of his brother's betrayal, finally broke Webb's spirit. He died on 18 June 1900, after three years of illness. During the last ten years of his life, Webb acquired a magnificent library, mostly through the purchase of estate libraries. He had a special interest in colonial Americana; one manuscript he owned was the original map fixing the boundary between New York and New Jersey, whose whereabouts was unknown until it was discovered in the Webb collection.



The series is arranged in two subseries.