Theron Akin was a colorful character
Carrie Wallace Bell was born in Amsterdam in 1855 to Martha Cady, a prosperous woman from Madison County, and James Bell, listed in the 1860 census as a “gentleman.” They lived on Green Street. The Bells had been in the area since the Revolution and were well-to-do.
In 1874, Carrie became the first of four wives of Theron Akin, a farmer and dentist who served one term as a congressman and two controversial terms as mayor of Amsterdam. Theron was the son of Ethan Akin, who purchased Fort Johnson, which had been British Indian agent William Johnson’s colonial home, in 1859. Ethan Akin also maintained a residence in New York City where he practiced law.
Theron and Carrie had two children, Florence and Henry. Henry did not live beyond his tenth year. Divorced before being married 10 years, Carrie started a private elementary school in her Green Street home.
Carrie’s second husband was Aaron Vanderbilt. They had seven children; five survived. Aaron Vanderbilt operated a jewelry store on Amsterdam’s Main Street.
By 1898, Carrie had contracted tuberculosis. She was sent to a sanatorium in the Adirondacks to see if the mountain air helped her lungs, a popular treatment for tuberculosis at the time but often not effective.
As Carrie missed her children, arrangements were made for her to stay in Broadalbin the next year. She died at her Amsterdam home on Oct. 2, 1899, in her 44th year.
Theron Akin, meanwhile, married Mary Sanford in the 1880s, the daughter of David Sanford. Mary and Theron had a child named David. The couple divorced in 1904.
In 1909, Akin led the campaign to incorporate the area around the Fort Johnson building as the village of Akin and was elected the first village president.
Akin was elected to Congress in 1910, narrowly defeating Cyrus Durey of Fulton County. During Akin’s term, his fellow congressmen voted to allow the village of Akin to change its name to Fort Johnson despite Akin’s opposition. Akin failed to win re-election in 1912.
In 1913, according to the Gloversville Herald, he unsuccessfully tried to get a court to allow him to stop paying his ex-wife Mary Sanford $350 a year in alimony, saying he had not saved any of the money he made serving in Congress. Akin’s third wife was a woman named Jennie, the last name not known.
Akin then began a long campaign to be elected as Amsterdam mayor, much to the chagrin of the city establishment. Akin was elected Amsterdam mayor in 1919.
Shortly after taking office, Akin suspended the police chief and appointed new members to the city health board. In 1921, he began an investigation of gambling in Amsterdam. He once disguised himself as a hoodlum and was arrested to probe conditions in the city jail.
In 1921, he defeated Leon Hall for a second term as mayor by 3,274 votes. Two days after the election, Akin fired the city public works commissioner. He married his fourth bride, Jane Bornt, in 1922.
Historian Hugh Donlon wrote of the Akin years, “It was a time of hatreds, barrages of unparalleled personal attacks, and with pamphleteering innuendos so gross and vicious that some of the campaign literature was later prized as collectors’ items.”
Republican Carl S. Salmon was elected mayor in 1923 and served for three terms of relative calm, according to Donlon. In 1927, Akin ran unsuccessfully for mayor once again.
According to the family website, when Akin died of a stroke in 1933, he was “friendless and penniless,” living with his daughter. He was buried at Pine Grove Cemetery in Tribes Hill.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.