Excerpted from American Biography, A New Cyclopedia, Vol. 9, by William Richard Cutter, 1921.
In this excerpt, Phillip Church is spelled Philip Church. We have retained that spelling for purposes of this page. We have added additional paragraph breaks to enhance readability.
At the end of the war the family returned to England, and in 1788 John B. Church [Philip Church’s father] was elected member of Parliament for Wendover. Down House, his London residence, was noted for its hospitality and for the gatherings of notabilities, including Fox, Pitt, Burke, Lord Grenville. and even the Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV. Mr. Church also aided Talleyrand and other emigrés, and in his house the plan of releasing General Lafayette from Olmutz was matured and by his aid carried into effect. In 1797, John B. Church returned to New York and was considered one of the richest men of the country, but as an underwriter suffered heavy losses from the French spoliations. He was prominent in the first efforts to supply New York with water, and was president of the company. In 1799, he fought a duel with Aaron Burr, at Weehawken, in which neither party was injured. The pistols used in the fatal encounter in 1804 between Hamilton and Burr belonged to John B. Church, and are still in the possession of the family.
Philip Church, his son, had graduated with credit from Eton College, and began the study of law at the Temple, in London. He returned to America, entered the office of Nathaniel Pendleton, and was admitted to the bar in 1804. In 1801, he was second to Philip Hamilton in the duel with Eckhard. in which young Hamilton fell fatally wounded. While pursuing his legal studies, Philip Church, then nineteen years old, was appointed in 1798 a captain in the Provincial army, formed in anticipation of war with France, and became aide and private secretary to Alexander Hamilton. Bearing dispatches to General Washington, he won the latter's esteem, and letters from General Washington inviting him to Mount Vernon are among the most treasured heirlooms of the family.
In 1799, Captain Church visited Canandaigua, New York, to attend the foreclosure of a tract of one hundred thousand acres in Ontario, now Allegany county, belonging to Robert Morris, on which his father owned a mortgage. He bid in the property, and finally abandoned the law to make the development of this domain his labor. The site selected for a village is now the town of Angelica, named after his mother, and two miles from it he chose two thousand acres of land for his own residence, calling it Belvidere. Here he erected a wooden house, afterwards replaced by a mansion long famous as the only stone house in Western New York.
In 1805, he brought to Belvidere his bride, Anna Matilda Stewart, who was a daughter of General Walter Stewart, the Revolutionary hero. Her mother was the famous beauty, Deborah (McClanaghan) Stewart, daughter of Blair McClanaghan, a wealthy Philadelphian, whose residence was the Chew House at Germantown. At their marriage in 1781, General Washington presented them with his own miniature, now a treasured family possession, and also a cabinet containing one hundred volumes of poetry, which is owned by Colonel Benjamin S. Church. Captain Church visited England in 1812 to import fine live stock.
While abroad, he was entertained by the Duke of Bedford and other noblemen, and given a public banquet at Great Yarmouth. Returning to America, he continued his efforts to improve his estate and devoted great attention to plans of internal improvement. The only office he ever accepted was that of judge of the County Court, which he filled from 1807 to 1821. He zealously aided the construction of the canal system. At an early date. Judge Church advocated railroads, and ere his death, in 1861, he had witnessed the completion of the Erie Railroad.
John B. Church, Judge Church's eldest son, graduated from Yale in 1829, and was admitted to the bar. He never practiced, and resided chiefly at Belvidere. He interested himself in public enterprises, notably, the early plans for rapid transit in New York City. He married a daughter of Professor Benjamin Silliman, Sr.. of Yale, and his son traces his maternal ancestry to John Robinson, one of the Mayflower Pilgrims, to John and Priscilla Alden, to Governor Jonathan Trumbull and to General Gold Silliman.
Benjamin Silliman Church, their son, was born at Belvidere, April 17, 1836. When a child he was sent to be educated by his grandfather. Professor Silliman, to New Haven, and attended the famous Russell School there. He entered the Chandler Engineering Department of Dartmouth College, graduating in 1856. He was then engaged as engineer on the surveys of Central Park, of the Croton river, and of the Central Park reservoir, and in 1860 became principal assistant on the Croton aqueduct.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Mr. Church went to the front as captain of engineers on General Yates' staff, and after the war was colonel of engineers on the staff of General Shalter and also of Louis Fitzgerald. Colonel Church's professional life was identified with New York's water supply. His studies convinced him that the city was outgrowing the existing facilities, and in 1875 he prepared the plans for conserving the entire Croton watershed. In 1883, the new Aqueduct Commission was constituted and Colonel Church made chief engineer. His plans for the work, one of the great achievements of modern engineering, were accepted, including the tunnel thirty miles long through solid rock and under the Harlem river, and were carried to completion on the exact lines he had designated.
In 1889, he retired from the aqueduct, but that great work remains a testimonial of his services to the metropolis. Since the year mentioned, he had practiced his profession as engineer, chiefly in its hydraulic and mining branches. Colonel Church belonged to the Manhattan, Union League, Engineers' and Century Clubs, New York Historical Society, and the Military Order of the Loyal Legion.