Friday, November 15, 2013

Girvease Almeron Matteson (1857-1935)

From the 1897 New York Red Book.

    An unusually named member of the New York State Assembly, Mr. Girvease Almeron Matteson represented Cattaraugus County's 2nd district in the assembly for three terms in the late 19th century. A lifelong resident of the Empire State, Mr. Matteson has been for many years one of my favorite oddly named political figures to point out to people, not only for his odd first and middle names, but also for his being buried in close proximity to my home (his cemetery plot in East Otto, New York is within short driving distance!)
   Although a lifelong New Yorker, Matteson wasn't born in Cattaraugus County. The life of Girvease Almeron Matteson began in the small village of Russia in Herkimer County on December 28, 1857, being the son of Almeron B. (1815-1888) and Jane E. Matteson (1828-1905). Bestowed the odd first name "Girvease" upon his birth, this name is recorded as being spelled in several different ways, "Gervease", "Gervase" and Girvase" being among them. However, the New York Red Book (as well as Matteson's gravestone) gives the spelling as "Girvease", and as I usually consider a gravestone to be the final arbiter in regards to a person's name, it is that spelling that looks to be the correct one.
   The Matteson family resided in Herkimer County until 1867, and in that year removed to East Otto in Cattaraugus County. Here young Girvease attended public school and as an adolescent studied at the Griffith Institute in the nearby village of Springville. His time at this institute extended two years, during which time he took "the college preparatory course in Mathematics for Civil Engineering". Matteson's 1935 obituary in the Ellicottville Post relates that following his graduation he "began teaching at the age of 18 years and taught successfully for ten years" and later notes that he found additional work as a land surveyor.
  Girvease Matteson married in East Otto in March of 1880 to Nellie Perkins (1862-1925) and the couple later became the parents to three children, John P. (1880-1937), Deforest Almeron (1890-1984) and a daughter, Mrs. F.W. Smith of Sardina, New York. Following his marriage Matteson became engaged in real estate transactions in Cattaraugus County, joining up with Edson Beach to form the partnership of Edson and Matteson. This partnership later dissolved and Matteson continued operations on his own, and "succeeded very well in his undertakings."
   Attentive to politics as well as business, Girvease Matteson occupied a number of local political offices prior to his service in the state assembly, serving at various times as East Otto town clerk, justice of the peace and postmaster. He was a two-term supervisor of East Otto and was serving his second term in that office when he was nominated by the Second Cattaraugus District Assembly Republican Convention to be a candidate for the New York State Assembly. Chosen on the second ballot, Matteson went on to win the election in November 1895, defeating Republican nominee Frank Campbell by a vote of 3,420 to 1,268. 
   Taking his seat at the beginning of the 1896 session, Matteson was named to the house committees on Revision, Insurance and Printed and Engrossed Bills during this term of the legislature. During his first term in the assembly, the New York Red Book notes that as a first-term legislator Matteson proved to remarkably busy, introducing a number of pieces of legislation, some of which centered on his home county of Cattaraugus. Among these were a bill "providing of the payment of the claims of counties whose insane asylums are no longer of use" and a bill "making for an appropriation for the reservation highway of the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation."

From the 1898 New York Red Book.

   Girvease Matteson was subsequently re-elected to the assembly November 1896 and won a third term in November 1897, in the latter year defeating Democratic candidate Benjamin Franklin Willis by a vote of 3,211 to 1,672. During his third term (which began in January 1898), Matteson served on the house Insurance and Ways and Means committees, and also chaired the committee on Indian Affairs.
   Following his service in the assembly, Matteson remained a familiar figure in the New York State Capitol, holding the post of postal clerk of the assembly for several years. After returning to the Cattaraugus area he operated a farm, was a charter member of the East Otto Grange chapter, and was returned to the position of East Otto town supervisor, and subsequently served as Chairman of the Cattaraugus County Board of Supervisors for a decade. His September 1935 obituary in the Ellicottville Post notes that Matteson was also a prime mover in the establishment of the East Otto Cemetery Association, later serving as that group's director and president. The Post also relates that Matteson was a gifted singer, noting that
"He was prominent in the choir, acting as chorister, and was active in the choral union, a musical organization following Salem Parker's class. He was also a member of the famous male quartet that was active in Republican political rallies more than forty years ago."

Girvease A. Matteson, from the 1912 New York Red Book.

   In 1925 Matteson suffered a personal tragedy when Nellie, his wife of over forty years, died at age 63. A year following her death he remarried to Delevan, NY resident Emily Murphy Knight, and following their marriage resided in both Delevan and Buffalo. Matteson continued to be active in civic affairs well into his seventh decade, serving as president of the Bank of Cattaraugus until his death, which occurred on September 18, 1935. The 77-year old former assemblyman's funeral took place at the East Otto Methodist Episcopal Church and he was later interred at the East Otto Cemetery. 
   Earlier today I sought out Girvease Matteson's gravesite at the East Otto Cemetery and after a quick scope out of the surrounding stones found the Matteson family plot. Some photos from that excursion conclude his article. All in all, an excellent way to spend a birthday!

The Matteson family headstone.

The graves of Girvease and Nellie Matteson.

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