Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Florentine Daniel Roth (1855-1907), Florentine Henry Barker (1847-1921)

Portrait from the Watertown Herald, November 4, 1891.

   A native son of Nazareth, Northampton County, Pennsylvania, Florentine Daniel Roth was later a resident of Watertown, New York, where for many years he was at the forefront of business and political activity in the city, being both the founder of the F.D. Roth Company, a candidate for the New York State Assembly and a past mayor of Watertown.
  The son of John W. and Elizabeth Daniels Roth, Florentine D. Roth was born in Nazareth on July 17, 1855. His early years were spent in this town and as a young man took work as a clerk in a general store, and at age 21 had advanced to being the manager of a mercantile store in Nazareth. Roth married in 1880 to Emily V. Santee (1858-1910) and this marriage produced one son, Roswell John Roth (1884-1950), later a graduate of Yale University.
   In the early 1880s Roth became engaged with the dry goods business of Bush and Bull, located in Easton, Pennsylvania, and this firm would later add him as a third partner, changing its title to Bush, Bull and Roth. Roth's experience in operating a general store eventually led him to be transferred from Easton to Watertown, New York, where he would operate a branch of the aforementioned company's business. With Roth at the helm, Bush and Bull's operation in Watertown did a sterling business, with both it and Roth receiving prominent mention in the April 23, 1887 edition of the Watertown Herald, which noted that:
"Mr. Roth stands high in business circles. His judgement in the employing of help, in the selection of goods, and in placing the same on the market, is clearly shown to be of the best by the large and increasing business his house enjoys. In business or in social circles, Mr. Roth is always found a pleasant gentleman. Those who work under him speak of him as a kind, agreeable, yet firm employer, always ready to listen to any grievance and right any wrong."
   Attentive to local politics in addition to his business dealings, Roth made his first move into public service in the late 1880s, serving as an alderman for Watertown's Third ward in 1890. He later formed the dry goods firm of Roth and Santee with partner H.V. Santee and in the latter portion of that year became the Republican candidate for Mayor of Watertown, being elected in November "by a 67 majority" vote over Democrat James D. Wise. Roth entered into his mayoral duties in January 1892 and served a term of one year.

From the Watertown Reunion, October 21, 1903.

  After leaving the Mayor's office at the start of 1893 Roth returned to his business interests in Watertown and in 1897 became the National-Democratic candidate for the New York State Assembly from Jefferson County. As one of four candidates for the assembly seat, Roth's candidacy was profiled in the Watertown Reunion in October 1897, which highlighted his credentials as one of Watertown's pre-eminent business and political figures, noting: 
"His life as an official, as a citizen, and as a gentleman, stands before the people. No reflection can be cast against him and he will go to Albany devoted to the true service of the people. Mr. Roth deserves the vote of every honest taxpayer in his district."
  On election day Roth ended up polling a respectable 2,375 votes, placing second to winning Republican Walter Zimmerman, the incumbent candidate. Following his defeat, Roth continued operations with his firm, now known as the F.D. Roth Company, and eventually oversaw the construction of an eight-story building that would house both his business as well as the Rothstock Hotel, which "received the commendation of the traveling public." During this time Roth had continued involvement with civic affairs in the city, serving as the director of the Watertown Building and Loan Association, President of the Never Slip Tin Cover Co., was a past manager of the Watertown Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Watertown Board of Education and in 1903-04 served as the President of the Watertown Bureau of Charities. 
   Roth's devotion to his business and active schedule eventually began to take a toll on his health, with the Watertown Herald noting that:
"Several times it was believed he was on the edge of a nervous collapse, but he would rally and apparently would be as well as ever within a few days."
   By July 1907 Roth was reportedly "under severe strain from business cares" and towards the end of that month was found to be in "nervous collapse" by a doctor that had been summoned to his home. The end came on July 31, 1907, when Roth died at age 52 at his Watertown home, with apoplexy being recorded as the cause of death. However, just days following his sudden demise a rumor began circulating that Roth had committed suicide, which was flatly denied by Roth's friends in the Watertown community. His death certificate filed in Watertown listed his death as a result of apoplexy, but questions arose as to why Roth's remains were hurriedly removed from Watertown just a day following his death, being taken for interment at the Forks Cemetery in Stuckertown, Pennsylvania, near Roth's birthplace in Nazareth. 
   In October 1907 the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company launched an investigation into Roth's death, which made light that he had taken out a life insurance policy for $50,000 eight months prior to his death, and "was incontestable after the first year." In addition to this investigation, the Watertown Herald revealed in its October 19, 1907 edition that a good majority of the suicide rumors had been investigated by Penn Mutual, which had "traced each story to its source" and that "no excuse was left to stand for suicide." Roth was survived by his wife and son, who died in 1910 and 1950 respectively.

From the History of Cambria County, Pennsylvania, Vol. II, 1907.

   Cambria County, Pennsylvania resident Florentine Henry Barker is another man endowed with this unusual first name. A prominent figure in Cambria County business circles, Barker also made his name known in politics, being both Burgess of the town of Ebensburg and a delegate to the 1896 Republican National Convention in St. Louis. 
  The son of Abraham and Orsina Little Barker, Florentine H. Barker was born in Center Lovell, Maine on February 8, 1847.Early in his life his family relocated to Ebensburg, Pennsylvania and at the age of just fifteen signed on for service in the Union Army, enlisting in Co. E. of the Pennsylvania Militia's 4th Regiment. He would later serve amongst the ranks of Co. C. of the 209th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, attaining the rank of Corporal.
   At the close of the war Florentine returned home to Pennsylvania and soon after joined with his father Abraham in the latter's lumber business. On February 7, 1870 Barker married to Maggie Zahm, later having one son, Olin, who would become a doctor and eye specialist in the Johnstown, Pennsylvania area. Through the succeeding years Barker's name continued to be a prominent one in the lumber industry and in 1880 his father's lumber firm reorganized under the name of Barker Bros., being operated by both Florentine and his older brother Valentine (the latter serving as President.) Florentine would later continue business on his own, being the owner of the F.H. Barker Lumber Co., as well as serving as a director of both the North Cambria Street Railway Company and the First National Bank of Ebensburg.
  Recorded as a "staunch supporter of the Republican Party", Florentine Barker served as chairman of the Cambria County Republican committee on a number of occasions and was also elected to several terms as Burgess of Ebensburg. In 1893 he began a three-year stint as Cambria County Treasurer, and in 1896 served as part of the Pennsylvania delegation to the Republican National Convention in St. Louis, where William McKinley was nominated for the Presidency.
  Following his service as a delegate, Barker continued as a director of the Ebensburg First National Bank, serving in that capacity until his death on January 11, 1921. His wife Maggie survived her husband by five years, dying in 1926. Both were interred at the Lloyd Cemetery in Ebensburg.

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