George Stark by H. W. Herrick

In the remarkable development of railroad traffic in this country within the last fifty years, many prominent men of our state identified with this interest have achieved an enviable success. A leading position among these representative men will be accorded to General George Stark, who, within the last forty years, has been associated with the successful organization and management of several of the most wealthy and influential of these corporations. Beginning at an early age with some of the first of these enterprises in New England, he has been identified with their history; and he has also had, within the last five years, a controlling hand in the resuscitation and extension of the great Northern Pacific line, that will soon span the continent from the great lakes to the Pacific ocean. This successful business career has been honorably distinguished, inasmuch as it has, in all its phases, recognized the sound business principles that govern supply and demand in the legitimate carrying-trade. As the leading medium between the producer and consumer, the railroad interest thrives only with the prosperity and good will of both; and in this, its legitimate sphere, seeks neither to control production or traffic, except in those reciprocal relations which contribute to the public good.

The influences attending the early life of Gen. Stark favored the development of the qualities of character that have made his business career marked and successful. His father, Frederick G. Stark, was the son of John, the third of the children of Major-General John Stark, the hero of Bennington, the latter being, therefore, the third in ancestral order removed from the subject of this sketch. George Stark was born at Manchester, N. H., April 9, 1823, a few months after the death of his illustrious military ancestor. His father at this time occupied the old manor-house formerly owned by Judge Blodget, originator of the famous Blodget canal. This time-honored structure has been destroyed by the demand of modern improvements, and its site, at the entrance of the canal around Amoskeag Falls, is now only marked by the ruins of the sheds connected with it. The locks and canals, in connection with like works on the Merrimack river, were owned by the Union Locks and Canal Company, and Frederick G. Stark occupied the position of general superintendent and manager. He was also proprietor of a general-supply store for river-men and the population adjacent, and was, moreover, land surveyor for the neighboring country. He also held the position of general magistrate, and was, withal, the most influential man of the vicinity, leading in all commercial enterprise and traffic. He died in 1861.

The early days of young Stark were favored with the oversight and directing influence of an excellent mother,—a lady of genial, kindly character, rare mental qualities, and showing a benevolent and christian solicitude both for her own family and general society in the neighborhood. She died in 1856. Of the four children, Juliet (Mrs. Henry C. Gillis) died in 1840; Emma (Mrs. J. G. Cilley) died in 1859; William, the youngest, well remembered as possessing rare literary abilities, and known as author and poet, died in 1873.

At the age of nine years George was taken from the schools of the Amoskeag district, and for the succeeding four years studied in the academies of Pembroke and Milford. His mental culture in these advanced schools was chiefly in the line of mathematics, yet natural aptitude and diligence supplied in after life many deficiencies in education. At the close of his school-days in Pembroke and Milford George returned to Manchester, in 1836, finding the scenes of his childhood transformed from their previous quiet to a busy preparation, by engineers and laborers, for the new city of Manchester. The young school-boy was placed as assistant with the chief engineer and surveyor, Uriah A. Boyden, and worked one season on the preliminary surveys for the canal, factories, and streets of the embryo city. During this season, and a few years succeeding, when not employed on surveys, he attended the academies of Bedford, Sanbornton, and the high school at Lowell, Mass.,—the last being then under the charge of Moody Currier, Esq. In the autumn of 1836, at the early age of fourteen, he was employed with the staff of engineers engaged in the locating surveys of the Nashua & Lowell Railroad. This line, only fifteen miles in length, was two years in process of building, giving an amusing contrast to the long routes now located and built in one season. The years 1839 and 1840 were spent in alternate seasons of field work with the engineers and study at the academies.

Upon the completion of the Nashua & Lowell road, the enterprising business men of Concord had ready for the engineers the work of further locating the line from Nashua to Concord. This extension of thirty-six miles was commenced in 1841, and our young surveyor, then only seventeen years old, was complimented with the post of assistant engineer, and given the charge of portions of the line, both in the surveys and laying the track. At the close of this service he was employed for a time on the preliminary surveys of the Northern Railroad.

In 1843, Stark was invited by the Land and Water Power Company of Manchester to enter its service, make surveys, and superintend the building of the lower canal. This work was finished in the same year in which it was begun. The following season we find him engaged on surveys for the Vermont Central, and subsequently on the Old Colony Railroad, where he first served as assistant, and afterwards as resident engineer, in which position he remained until the completion of the work in 1845. From this period to the year 1847 he was in the service of his old friend and employer, Mr. Boyden, engaged on surveys and drawings for mill-work. At the close of his engagement with Mr. Boyden, Stark returned to Manchester and spent a good part of the season in making surveys and drawing a map of the compact part of the city, with reference to drainage. He also made a survey, accompanied with a report, upon the feasibility of supplying the city with water from Massabesic lake.

The success of the new lines of railroad in New Hampshire stimulated interest in this form of investment, and several new roads and extensions were projected. The Nashua & Wilton and Stony Brook lines were the first lateral roads built, as feeders to the trunk roads of the Merrimack valley, and Stark was appointed chief engineer of both. On the completion of these lines, the Boston, Concord, & Montreal road, which had been built from Concord to Sanbornton, was extended northward, and the post of chief engineer was offered to Stark. His health failing in the summer of 1849, while engaged in this work, he left business cares and spent several months in recuperation, accepting, in the autumn of the same year, the situation of treasurer and assistant superintendent of the Nashua & Lowell Railroad, then under the management of Judge Charles F. Gove. This position was held until the early part of 1852, when he received the high compliment of an appointment as superintendent of the Hudson River Railroad. He had been in this position but little more than a year when an urgent offer was made to him to take the office vacated by the resignation of Judge Gove, the superintendent of the Nashua & Lowell Railroad and its branches. This position, being more congenial than that of the New York road, was accepted, and he entered upon the duties of his new situation at once.

In 1857, four years after his appointment to the last mentioned office, he was offered the post of managing agent of the Boston & Lowell road and its branches, in connection with the Nashua & Lowell line. The magnitude of the operations of these two roads, with their auxiliary lines, was very great, and in their management required executive ability of the first order. The responsibilities of the position were onerous, and involved the appointment of superintendents, subordinate officers, and foremen, determining a code of regulations for their guidance, the adjustment of time-tables, tariff-rates, and fares, the purchase of supplies, and many other cares incident to the working of a complex and extended carrying-trade. The manner in which these duties were discharged was attested by the smooth working of the organization in its details, and the satisfactory results to the stockholders. In this period of service, which included about eighteen years, the great depot on Causeway street, Boston, was erected under the general management and supervision of Gen. Stark. In its first inception, this magnificent building, with its approaches, was intended to furnish terminal facilities for two or more roads. A contract to that effect was completed with the Massachusetts Central road. Negotiations were also entered into with the Eastern Railroad Company for a joint occupancy of the building, and a proposal was obtained from that company to pay fifty thousand dollars annual rental, besides bearing a proportionate share of the running expenses. Stark submitted this proposal to his associates, recommending its acceptance; but it was declined, on the ground of inadequate compensation, the president of the Boston & Lowell and Nashua & Lowell roads saying, in his written reply to Stark:—

"While the income is certainly important to us, we have built the station for our own accommodation, with our eyes open, and I think our directors won't flinch from our position and divide with them, unless they pay well for it."

The unsuccessful termination of this negotiation, and the want of accord in other matters of general policy between Stark and some of the then prominent directors of his roads, embarrassed him in his duties, and he resigned the position of general manager in March, 1875, but retained his seat in the board of directors until the following year. During his business connection with the combined roads of the Merrimack lower valley, the influence of Gen. Stark in developing great public business interests is recognized by all familiar with the subject. The far-reaching and comprehensive plans for a direct through line connecting Boston with the West, realized in 1863 by connection of the lines of the Merrimack valley, Vermont Central, Ogdensburg, and other roads, were the direct result of Stark's labors and influence; and he was manager, for several years, of the line from Boston to Ogdensburg.

Upon leaving his position as general manager of the Boston & Lowell and connecting lines, Stark was chosen, in the spring of the same year (1875), by the bondholders of the Northern Pacific Railroad, as one of a committee of six to re-organize and resuscitate that enterprise, left in its well remembered dilapidated condition by the financial panic of 1873. After carefully investigating the condition of affairs and the actual and prospective resources of the road, a plan of re-organization was submitted by the committee, accepted by the bondholders, and the road taken out of the hands of the receiver. In September following, a board of new officers was chosen, in which we find the name of Gen. Stark as vice-president and director. To these positions he had an annual re-election until by resignation he severed his connection with the corporation in 1879. The magnitude of the Northern Pacific road and its branches is well known to the public; to detail its operations and resources would require too much space here, even if presented in the most condensed form. Intended ultimately to connect the great northern lakes with the Pacific coast, its entire length, when completed, will exceed two thousand miles,—as long as the combined length of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific roads. At the time of the election of Gen. Stark to its management about five hundred and fifty miles of the track were operated; at the present time nearly a thousand miles of track are laid, including over a hundred miles on the Pacific coast. After retiring from active service in the Northern Pacific road, Gen. Stark established, in connection with his son, J. F. Stark, a banking-house in New York city.

Though most of his business connections have been in the railroad interest, Gen. Stark has found time for attention to duties in other directions. In 1857 he was commissioned, by Gov. Haile of New Hampshire, as brigadier-general of the third brigade of New Hampshire militia. In 1860 he accepted the post of colonel commanding of the Governor's Horse-Guards, an organization comprising the elite of the military men of the State. In 1861, in the capacity of brigadier-general, he received orders from Governor Goodwin to proceed to Portsmouth and take charge of the organization of troops, at the opening of the rebellion. The promptness and efficiency with which this service was performed is still fresh in the memory of the public, and the state owes the management of this recruiting station much of the credit attached to New Hampshire for promptly responding to the call of the general government. At one time fifteen hundred troops were at this station, waiting orders from the war department.

Gen. Stark has not been prominent in political life, or identified with the intrigues and contests of political partisanship. The political affinities of his ancestors were with the Democratic party, and he has been identified with it, yet promptly breaking the restraints of strictly party lines at the call of patriotism, as at the opening of the late civil war. In the four years succeeding 1856 he represented the first ward of Nashua in the state legislature, and in 1860 and 1861 was the candidate of the Democratic party for governor. While at this period party spirit was embittered and active, and the Republicans largely in the ascendant, the conservative and popular character of their leader gave the Democrats a handsome gain in the popular vote.

The qualities of character that contribute to success in large fields of commercial enterprise are sometimes difficult to define, while their influence is apparent and is seen and felt by all. A prominent trait is great deliberation in reaching decisions, yet firmness in maintaining them. Sagacious insight of character in choosing agents and subordinates, while holding them to a strict accountability, is also a quality of executive merit. We see this last trait in a marked degree in the small sums represented in the items, "damages" and "gratuities," in all reports of the railroad management of Gen. Stark. Every employe, from the highest to the lowest position, on roads under his superintendence, had printed instructions of duties, to which he was required to assent. Under no circumstances were men retained in important posts who used intoxicating liquors, and no cafe or restaurant connected with the stations was allowed to keep alcoholic drinks for sale.

In personnel Gen. Stark is characterized by a quiet, deliberate, yet courteous manner that is not disturbed by the varied conditions and incidents of business life. This trait of an habitual mental equipoise is a peculiarity that impresses itself prominently on an observer. He has a natural, unrestrained manner in conversation, and social qualities that are freely manifested in company with tested and worthy friends. As a writer of business documents and reports he manifests power, method, and perspicuity, and his manuscript shows a careful arrangement, neatness and precision of chirography quite remarkable in one of his extensive business experience. At the age of fifty-eight he is yet in the full tide and vigor of business life. His family residence at Nashua, though showing no taste for ostentation or display, is an elegant structure in the villa style, furnished with every comfort and convenience, and adorned with works of art.

Gen. Stark was married, in 1845, to Elizabeth A. Parker, daughter of Daniel Parker, of Bedford, N. H. She died in 1846. In 1848 he was united by marriage to Mary G. Bowers, daughter of Col. Joseph Bowers, of Chelmsford, Mass. His two children are John F. and Emma G. Stark.