FOCUS ON HISTORY: A controversial mayor of Amsterdam

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Reader Roman Laba asked for more details when I mentioned Theron Akin, a controversial politician, in a column on local people who served in Congress.

Laba wrote, “Why was he so disliked that the name of the village of Akin was changed to Fort Johnson? Why were his two terms as Mayor of Amsterdam controversial?”

Akin was born in Johnstown in 1855. His father Ethan was a prosperous farmer and attorney who lived near Amsterdam in Old Fort Johnson, which had been the home of British Indian agent Sir William Johnson. In 1905, the Montgomery County Historical Society bought the Old Fort from the Akin family and continues to operate it as an historic site.

The younger Akin was a farmer and dentist. He led the campaign to incorporate the area around the fort as the village of Akin and became the first village president.

Akin was elected to Congress in 1910, narrowly defeating Republican Cyrus Durey from Fulton County.

Akin’s campaign slogan was “The Full Dinner Pail.” His posters showed a dinner pail empty except for a lemon. Akin served as a Progressive Republican in Congress from 1911 to 1913, telling the New York Times, “I got close to the people and told them the truth.” 

In Washington, Akin berated a messenger who did not know who he was. He called New York Sen. Elihu Root, “That refrigerated vulture of the dead.”

While Akin was in Washington, the people of the village of Akin voted to change the name of their municipality to Fort Johnson.

Robert McKeever of Schenectady told the Washington Post, “Dr. Akin is a sort of town marshal in his village. He is the owner of an automobile, but he doesn’t like scorching, and when the autoists went speeding too rapidly by his house he determined to stop ‘em. 

“The doctor early one morning secured a stout rope and stretched it across the road. He waited for the scorchers, and the first one, of course had to stop. It was not long until there were a score of impatient automobilists lined up.”

Akin served one term in Congress, losing a reelection bid in 1912. Akin then set his sights on becoming mayor of Amsterdam, much to the chagrin of city leaders. Listing a residence in the Barnes Hotel and running as both a Democrat and Republican, Akin was elected mayor in 1919.

After taking office, Akin suspended a longtime opponent, Police Chief Fred Packwood. Akin appointed new members to the city health board after the existing board threatened to stop garbage and ash collection to embarrass the mayor.

Akin began an investigation of illegal gambling. He disguised himself as a hoodlum and was arrested to probe conditions in the city jail.

Leon Hall ran for mayor in 1921 with the slogan “Hall Akin Out.” Akin trounced Hall by over 3,000 votes. 

Akin had three children and was married four times to Carrie Bell, Mary Sanford, Jenny Shelp Roberts and Jane Bornt. 

Mayor Akin and Bornt left Amsterdam for three days in his second term. The Recorder learned they had traveled to Bennington, Vermont, where a Methodist pastor married the couple in the church parsonage. 

Republican Carl Salmon was elected mayor in 1923 and served three terms of relative calm. Akin delivered a farewell address in the manner of George Washington. City employees gave him a watch and chain when he left office. In 1927, Akin ran unsuccessfully for mayor.   

When Akin died of a stroke in 1933, he was 78 and living with his daughter. He was buried at Pine Grove Cemetery in Tribes Hill.

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