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This biography is from Landmarks of Albany County, New York, edited by Amasa J. Parker of Albany, N. Y., Syracuse, N. Y.; D. Mason & Co. Publishers, 1897.

Verplanck Colvin

Verplanck Colvin was bom in Albany, N. Y., January 4, 1847. His first name is derived from the family of his father's mother, one of the oldest families of Albany county of ancient Dutch lineage, while his family name is of the oldest English origin, though his paternal great-grandfather came to this country from Scotland. John Colvin was this paternal great-grandfather. He was born in Scotland in 1752, setthng at Nine Partners, Dutchess county, in 1772, where he married Sarah Fuller (descendant of one of the Fullers who came over on the Mayflower) in 1774, and subsequently removing to Coeymans, Albany county, he purchased a farm. In 1810 he was chosen a member of the State Assembly. Johannes Verplanck, also a great-grandfather of Verplanck Colvin, was a descendant of Abraham Verplanck, who came from Holland when there were only fifteen houses in the present city of New York, and was commander of Dutch forces there under Governor Kieft in the war with the Indians. It was in the house of the Verplancks at Fishkill that the Society of the Cincinnati was formed. Verplanck Colvin's father, Hon. Andrew J. Colvin, studied law in the office of Martin Van Buren and Benjamin F. Butler, and was corporation counsel of the city of Albany, district attorney of the county, and State senator. In 1861 he was the first State senator to speak for the defence of the Union and was chosen by the New York Legislature to be president of the joint assembly receiving Abraham Lincoln, the president-elect.

Andrew J. Colvin married as his second wife Margaret Crane Ailing, daughter of Prudden Ailing and Maria Halsey Ailing, of Newark, N. J. It was at the residence of Col. John Ford, uncle of Maria Halsey Ailing, that Gen. George Washington, by invitation, made his headquarters in Morristown, N. J., during the Revolution, and John Ailing, of Col. J. Baldwin's Regiment of the Continental army and great-grandfather of Prudden Ailing, in another regiment (of whom Mr. Colvin is a lineal descendant), assisted in the defence of the city of Newark, fighting face to face with the British. General Prudden and General Ebenezer Foote, who were personal friends of General Washington, were also relatives of Mr. Colvin's mother.

Verplanck Colvin attended the Albany Academy and subsequently studied law in his father's office, practicing in the minor courts and was successful in all the cases entrusted to him. The law, however, did not please him, as he was mathematically inclined and preferred scientific research and engineering; and, in 1865, he began those scientific explorations of the then unknown Adirondack wilderness which became of such importance. In winters he gave more attention to scientific study and in 1868 organized a very successful course of free scientific lectures in the State Geological Hall at Albany. In 1869 he made a careful study of the topography and geology of the Helderberg mountains and published a description of that region in Harper's Magazine. In 1870 he explored the Cough-sa-gra-ge, or Dismal Wilderness of the Indians, and made the first known ascent and measurement of Mt. Seward and other high peaks; and during the winter of this year he traveled extensively in the Southern States. In 1871 he made the journey across the great plains of the far West, passing through Chicago the day before the great fire, and crossing Kansas in the midst of the herds of innumerable buffalo. In Colorado he studied the geology and mineralogy of the gold and silver mining districts and ascended the highest peaks of the Snowy Range, returning through the Black Hills, Wyoming and Nebraska. Subsequently he wrote and illustrated an article for Harper's Magazine which he entitled the "Dome of the Continent," and from this article arose the name of "Dome State" for Colorado. In acknowledgment of his Colorado explorations Mr. Colvin was elected an honorary member of the Rocky Mountain Club of Denver, an appointment only conferred upon a few of the explorers of the high snowy ranges of the Rocky Mountains, being associated with Gen. Philip Sheridan in this honor.

In 1873, recognizing the need of a careful survey of New York, for the preservation of its land boundaries and forests protecting the water supply, Mr. Colvin went before the Legislature and succeeded in having made the first appropriation for the State survey in the Adirondack region, and he thus was the first to make any triangulation of New York under the authority of the State government. He this year traced the Hudson River to its highest pond-source, Lake Tear-of-the-Clouds, which he was the first to visit, geographically locate, name and describe. This is now accepted as the true source of the Hudson River. In this year, also, Mr. Colvin was the first to suggest to the Legislature the construction of an aqueduct from the upper Hudson in the Adirondacks as a source of water supply for New York city and the cities of the Hudson valley. From this time Mr. Colvin has continued in the employment of the State as superintendent of this survey.

In 1873 he was appointed one of the commissioners of State Parks, Gov. Horatio Seymour being president thereof, and Mr. Colvin having been the first to recommend to the Legislature the Adirondack Park as a forest preserve in a previous report made to the Regents of the State University. During this year Mr. Colvin extended the exploration of the wilderness over great areas in the western unexplored section: but, in 1874, the work almost ceased, on account of the financial panic.

In 1875 the surveys were continued, Mr. Colvin personally making the first true measurement of Mt Marcy, the highest mountain peak in the State of New York, with leveling observations on a rod read by vernier to the thousandth part of a foot. In 1876 larger appropriations were made and the work continued. During all the years following, he has sustained a reputation second to none for careful and systematic engineering and surveying, and his services have been of great value to the State and science at large.

In 1881 he was engaged by the faculty of Hamilton College to lecture on higher surveying and Geodetic Engineering, but on completing his first course of lectures retired from this work, finding teaching to be a monotonous employment.

In 1882 he was chosen one of the New York State delegates, with the then Governor Cornell, to attend the first American Forestry Congress, where Mr. Colvin read one of the most important papers.

In 1883 a law was passed by which he was given full charge of the New York State Land Survey.

In 1888, when the ten and twelve-inch cannon for the coast defense of the United States were ordered by the government. Mr. Colvin showed, in a clearly written paper, that Albany was the one unconquered State Capital of the United States, and hence, probably the most secure location for the new gun foundries was at the Watervliet Arsenal near Albany. The United States Congress adopted Mr. Colvin's views as conclusive, and he was called into consultation by the ordnance officers of the U. S. A. and was present at the assembling of the first great gun at said arsenal by special invitation. The Burgesses Corps of Albany, in recognition of Mr. Colvin's services in urging the location of the gun foundry near Albany, presented him with a sword which Mr. Colvin justly prizes.

Mr. Colvin is a member of many scientific societies. He is president of the Albany Institute, perhaps the oldest scientific and literary society in New York if not in the United States, having held its sessions while the British flag yet floated over the fort at Oswego, and this society having had as its first president Robert R. Livingston, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and of the committee which drew that memorable document. Gen. Simeon De Witt, chief engineer on the staflf of General Washington, Prof. Joseph Henry, the first to send telegraphic signals by electricity, Mr. Bloodgood, to whom Ericsson the builder of the Monitor attributed the invention of the revolving iron clad turret, the Van Rensselaers, Pruyns, etc., were former officers of the Institute.

Mr. Colvin is a life member of the American Geographical Society and of the American Institute of Mining Engineers, and honorary member of the Club Alpine Francais of Paris, through his membership in the Rocky Mountain Club, honorary member of the Adirondack Club, a foundation member of the Fortnightly Club. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an honorary member of the British Society for the Advancement of Science of London, England, a corresponding member of the Appalachian Mountain Club of Boston, Mass., honorary president of the Adirondack Guides Association, etc., as the chief employer of the guides. His numerous reports to the Legislature are an authority on the questions with which they deal. He has delivered numerous lectures and written many papers on scientific subjects, engineering, astronomy, geology, chemistry and physics, besides articles in the magazines. His portable boat for explorations, his improvement in telescopes and his recent discovery of a method of securing the mean temperature of the atmosphere independently of thermometer, by observation of the velocity of sound, were notable discoveries.

In 1891 Mr. Colvin was nominated for the office of State engineer and surveyor receivmg 538,000 votes and running 4,000 ahead of his ticket.

In 1893 Mr. Colvin represented the State of New York in the reception of the Duke and Dutchess of Veragua, the descendants of Columbus, enjoying the pleasant experiences of traveling with them among the mountains and lakes of this State, and was given a dinner at the Hotel Waldorf in New York by the duke and duchess, on the evening of the departure of the distinguished descendants of the discoverer of America for Europe, Col. J. V. L. Pruyn. of the Governor's staff being the only other guest on this occasion.

In 1895 Mr. Colvin was reappointed superintendent of the State Land Survey, an office which he still holds, and in which he is given special power and authority to locate the boundaries of lands, especially of the great counties, towns and townships, his decisions being prima-facie evidence in the courts.

Mr. Colvin has never been married.

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