State Sen. William T. Byrne from Albany gave a spaniel to the Huston family of Amsterdam in the 1930s.
Byrne was born in 1876 on Bean Hill Road near the hamlet of Minaville in the town of Florida across the Mohawk River from Amsterdam. His parents were Richard Henry Byrne, a carpenter, and Margaret Manifold Byrne, a school teacher. When William was a youngster, the family moved to Albany where his father operated a grill on Broadway.
An Albany High and Albany Law School graduate, Byrne had an early interest in Democratic Party politics, attending the 1896 national convention where candidate William Jennings Bryan delivered his famous Cross of Gold speech opposing the gold standard for American currency.
The Democrats were not in power in Albany so Byrne developed a lucrative law practice. When the Democrats gained favor in the 1920s, he was elected to the state Senate in 1922. A popular speaker, a liberal and a friend of Governors Al Smith and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Byrne was co-sponsor of state legislation that created unemployment insurance.
Byrne and his wife, Josephine, lived in Loudonville in a Colonial Revival house now on the National Historic Register. They had a summer home on Bean Hill where Byrne was said to enjoy scenes from his boyhood. An ardent devotee of exercise, Byrne once walked to Bean Hill from his Loudonville home.
The summer home was adjacent to what was known as the Amsterdam YMCA farm, later called Camp On-A-Nol. YMCA physical director Leon “Prof” Huston’s family was on an outing at the YMCA farm. One of the five children of Huston and his wife Pearl struck up a conversation with Byrne, who was dressed in a disheveled manner. Pearl did not know Sen. Byrne so in a protective way marched to where her son Dick and the man were talking.
Soon she learned she had nothing to fear when the conversation turned to Byrne’s occupation as a state senator and his interest in dogs. He was acquainted with a breeder of black spaniels who found he could not sell dogs for show that had splotches of other colors. Would the Hustons like one of the spaniel rejects?
Byrne arranged for a dog to be shipped by train to the Hustons and the family named the dog Senator, “Sen” for short. The Huston family moved for a YMCA assignment in Holyoke, Massachusetts, in 1942 where Senator was struck and killed by a car.
By then Byrne was serving in Congress, elected in 1936. When notified of Senator’s death, Byrne shipped another spaniel by train to the Hustons. They named the new dog Representative, “Rep” for short.
Byrne’s wife Josephine died in 1948 and was described in the Amsterdam paper as hostess at many gatherings at the summer home. If the congressman was called to Washington in the summer, she typically stayed at Bean Hill. She was a published poet, founder of the Albany Poetry Club and wrote a newspaper column. They had no children.
Byrne died of a cerebral hemorrhage after being taken from his Loudonville home to St. Mary’s Hospital in Troy in 1952. He was eulogized as the “genial gentleman from Albany” by then congressman and future U.S. Sen. Jacob Javits.
Leo O’Brien succeeded Byrne in Congress and said his constituents sent him scores of letters citing his predecessor’s “countless little acts of goodness and kindness.”
Peter Huston, one of the children who used to romp with “Sen” and “Rep,” provided information for this story. For many years he was a teacher at Scotia-Glenville High School.
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 [email protected]