Friday, March 6, 2009

Corliss P. Stone: playing hooky

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There is remarkably little information on Corliss P. Stone, the third mayor of Seattle, Washington, considering the crimes he was accused of. These charges may have been mere rumor, dispelled over the past century, but it is clear that Stone left the city after serving a little more than half of his year-long term.

Stone was born in 1838 in Franklin County, Vermont, grandson of the family known for manufacturing Corliss steam engines. After working as a clerk in a dry goods store in New England for some time, he sought to make his name in the West and sailed around Cape Horn to San Francisco. He found his way to Washington Territory and, after working in another store for five years, joined S.B. Hinds and Charles H. Burnett to form the real estate company Hinds, Stone & Co. in 1867. The company's accomplishments included the establishment of a wharf on Elliott Bay and the city's first delivery service.

After Hinds left the company in 1870, its interests expanded to include the sale of carriages and wagons. Stone tried unsuccessfully to start up a toll road from Seattle to White Bluff on the Columbia River and encouraged the use of gas lighting for the city. He also served as a director for the Library Association and trustee of the Plymouth Congregational Society.

After sitting on the Common Council (precursor to the City Council) for three terms, Stone was elected as a Republican to be mayor in July of 1872. Seven months later, the city was scrambling to fill a void in city hall after Stone disappeared from office.

Stone was reported to have gone to San Francisco for to pay off creditors and purchase supplies, but accomplished neither and instead taken a train east, evidently with the $15,000 he'd taken from his company still on him. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer said Stone sent Burnett a dispatch saying he had sold drafts for currency to "appropriate for my private use" and turned over all real and personal property to Burnett, provided he balance his account. Stone also sent a dispatch to an unidentified man saying he would be absent for several months and had arranged for remittances to be made to his family.

The newspaper said that the departure set off "busy dame rumor" with accusations that he'd also gone to the Golden State with a married woman and stolen company and trust funds. The paper refuted these claims, saying that the woman had produced a letter putting her in Vancouver at the time of Stone's disappearance and company records showed no sign of embezzlement. Nonetheless, the paper said they could not justify Stone's other actions, "regarding as we must that this unlooked for course pursued by him must necessarily be of serious injury and loss to his partner."

Stone's predecessor, John T. Jordan, was appointed acting mayor to fill the vacancy. In a special election held two months later, Republican Moses R. Maddocks was chosen to serve the remaining two months of Stone's term. In the regular election in 1873, Democrat John Collins was elected mayor.

Looking back on the episode in 1988, the Post-Intelligencer prefaced a reprinting of the story on the scandal by saying that "early editors often printed gossip and took positions on whether the gossip might be true or false." The introduction also states that neither the newspaper nor early historians pursued the affair, so little is known of what happened to Stone. It appears that he was never criminally charged, and returned to the city sometime after his departure. He continued his business pursuits in the 1880s, and was one of 23 business leaders who formed the Seattle Chamber of Commerce in 1882. In 1903, he was said to be president of the Cascade Laundry Company.

Stone's marital life did show an interesting change right around his short time as mayor. In 1864, he married a woman named Clara Boyd, with whom he had two children. In 1872, he divorced her and two years later married Elmira L. Crossman, of Montreal, Canada.

Stone died in 1906, and Corliss Avenue and Stone Way in Seattle are named for him today. He left his son a mere $200 a month allowance, while Elmira was given the majority of an estate worth nearly a million dollars. Elmira died in 1912, and the valuable estate continued to cause a bit of acrimony; the New York Times briefly reported that a Mrs. John Irwin of Chicago was contesting Elmira's will, which left the estate to her niece, Florence Kilbourne McPherran. Irwin accused McPherran of using undue influence to get Elmira to leave the estate to her. The outcome of this contest was not reported.

Updated March 15 with additional information provided by the Seattle Public Library. Thanks to librarian Jeannette Voiland!

Sources: The Political Graveyard, "Voters elect Corliss P. Stone as mayor of Seattle on July 8, 1872" on HistoryLink, A Volume of Memoirs and Genealogy of Representative Citizens of the City of Seattle and County of King, Washington by the Lewis Publishing Company in 1903, Seattle Municipal Archives, The Seattle Guidebook by Kathy Strong, Volume 100 of the Pacific Reporter, "Leaves Son Little Money" in the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 25 1906, "$1,000,000 Will Suit; Niece of Mrs. Stone of Seattle Wrongly Got Estate, Says Mrs. Irwin" in the New York Times on Feb. 19 1912, "It's in the P-I...1873, Tongues Wag When Mayor Takes Money" in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Nov. 14, 1988.


Noel More said...

Was the deceased Corliss E. Stone of Seattle related to Corliss P. Stone? Corliss E Stone had retired fairly young from the hotel industry and lived a life of comfort with his wife, Berta. Corliss's mother's name was Dora Stone. Dora passed on in the late fifties I believe, although I visited her as a child in 1957. She showed me how to crochet, and my bedroom was full of her handiwork with a managerie of hand crocheted animals. I still have the baby blanket she crocheted over 65 years ago. Corliss passed away close to 1964, and my grandmother, Berta widowed, move down to So. California so she could spend time with her grandchildren. One of them is me.

Anonymous said...

Corliss E. Was the grandson of Corliss P. Dora was my g-grandmother's sister.