William James Van Patten
September 9, 1848 - February 13, 1920
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William James Van Patten was born September 9, 1848 in Wauwatosa, Milwaukee
Co., Wisconnsin and died February 13, 1920 in New York City, New York Co.,
New York (during a business trip). He is buried in Lakeview Cemetery, Burlington,
Chittenden Co., Vermont.
* WILLIAM J. VAN PATTEN DIES IN NEW YORK - One of Burlington's Most
Prominent Citizens and Greatest Benefactors Succumbs After Brief Illness
Following a Cold Contacted on Business Trip -
The Hon. William J. Van Patten, one of Burlington's most prominent citizens,
ex-mayor and one of the city's greatest benefactors, died last evening at 10:10
o'clock in New York City after a brief illness. His death occurred at the home of his
daughter-in-law, Mrs. Charles S. Van Patten, after an illness of only a few days
duration, his condition not becoming critical until yesterday morning.
Mr. Van Patten went on business to Boston last week Tuesday and in going on to
New York on Thursday, during the severe blizzard, with his train many hours late,
caught cold. He was about the next day, however, but on Saturday had to take to
his bed. His cold aggravated an old trouble and during Thursday night he became
suddenly worse, beginning rapidly to fail yesterday afternoon. His daughter, Miss
Elizabeth Van Patten, went to New York to care for him.
The body will leave New York City this evening, arriving here tomorrow morning,
and announcement of funeral services will be made later.
Mr. Van Patten was born at Wauwatosa, Wis., September 9, 1848, the son of
William H. and Mary (Vanderpool) Van Patten. He came to Burlington to live in
1864. and married Miss Harriet Lemon ten years later.
Mr. Van Patten's notable career, his business enterprises, and his many charitable
activities and associations will be dealt with in a review of his life, to be published
on Monday morning."
Source: "Free Press" Burlington, Vermont - February 14, 1920.
* W. J. VAN PATTEN DIES IN NEW YORK -
Succumbs After Short Illness - One of Burlington's Greatest Benefactors. -
The Hon. William J. Van Patten, one of the leading citizens of this city died last
evening at 10:10 o'clock at the home of his daughter-in-law, Mrs. Charles Van
Patten, in New York City.
Going from Boston to New York on Thursday his train was delayed for a number
of hours in the blizzard with the result that Mr. Van Patten caught a severe cold
which gradually grew worse and worse.
His condition yesterday morning became alarming and yesterday afternoon he was
reported as being in a very critical condition. The news of his death came late last
William J. Van Patten was born in Wauwatosa, Wis., September 9, 1848, the son
of William H. and Mary (Vanderpool) Van Patten. He was educated at the public
schools and at Bristol Academy. In 1874 he was married to Harriet Lemon of this
city who survives him to whom three children were born and of whom one
survives, Elizabeth P., of this city.
Mr. Van Patten came to Burlington in 1864 and was in the retail drug trade with A.
C. Spear for four years. In 1868, he became connected with the wholesale drug
house of Henry and Company. In 1872 he became a partner in the firm of Wells,
Richardson & Co., later being made secretary and still later, treasurer of that
Mr. Van Patten held many offices of importance in the city having been president
of the Champlain Manufacturing company; president of the Malted Cereals Co.,
director of the Queen City Cotton Co., and president of the Burlington Building and
He was actively interested in the municipal affairs of the city having been mayor in
1894-95. In 1906 he was state senator from Chittenden county. He had been from
1903 to 1911, chairman of the Board of Park Commissioners; chairman of the
board of cemetery commissioners from 1898-1911; a trustee of the Fletcher Free
Library and of the Mary Fletcher Hospital; president of the Forestry Association of
Vermont for two years. He had long been a member of the First Congregational
Church. He had been president of the Y.M.C.A., and a director of it for years. He
had been a president of the United Society Christian Endeavor for four years;
director of the National Brotherhood of Congregational church and World's
Christian Endeavor Union. He was president of the Burlington Commercial Club for
two years; a member of the Algonquin Club; of the Vermont Fish and Game
League; Vermont Society, Sons of the American Revolution and the Society of
Colonial Wars in Vermont.
In recent years he had been actively engaged in the Malted Cereals company of
which he was president and manager.
The body will be brought here from New York tomorrow for burial."
Source: "The News" Burlington, Vermont - February 14, 1920.
* LED ALL OTHERS IN GIFTS TO GOOD CAUSES
William J. Van Patten, Burlington's Greatest Benefactor and a Leader in Developing
Advantages Which Made Queen City a Unique Place for Home -
The body of the Hon. William J. Van Patten, whose death occurred in New York
City late Friday night after a brief illness, arrived in this city yesterday morning,
accompanied by his daughter Miss Elizabeth Van Patten, and his daughter-in-law,
Mrs. Charles S. Van Patten. The body was taken to his residence at 433 South
The funeral services will be held at the First Church tomorrow afternoon at 2:30
o'clock and the interment will be made in the family lot at Lake View cemetery.
The body will be taken to the First Church tomorrow to lie in state from 12:30 until
Without question no man in Burlington, from the earliest days of its settlement
down to the present, ever gave so much to good causes as William J. Van Patten.
He actually gave away more than any other man had ever given, and where his
money went his heart and thought and influence also went. He was a leader in
developing all those advantages which made Burlington unique as a place to live in
among cities of its size.
The story of his life is a kind of modern fairy tale; a story of dreams come true
such as could only have happened in America. It is the story of a boy who came to
Burlington with a dollar in his pocket, whose enterprise and resource were
determining factors in the upbuilding of a fabulously lucrative business, whose
natural goodness caused him to turn back practically all of his gains for the benefit
of his fellow men. In other countries men rise by ability to great heights, but the
kind of self-effacing devotion to the public welfare which found expression in the
life of Mr. Van Patten is absolutely unknown outside of America.
Mr. Van Patten was by nature a remarkably conscientious man. The old farmer
with whom he lived as a boy in Bristol, Vt., said: "When he brought in the cows, I
always knew that all the bars would be put back up as they should be." He was by
nature a pioneer. A. C. Spear, Burlington's old druggist, with whom he served his
apprenticeship, used to say that he was always studying and learning about new
This pioneering quality co-operating with the wonderful salesmanship of Mr.
Richardson and the judgement of the Wells brothers made a business team which
was hard to equal, and resulted in the development of a business of world-wide
influence. Mr. Van Patten took up the idea of aniline dyes which had been recently
discovered in England, and beat the world in producing the best dyes for household
use. He and his associates introduced the manufacture of milk-sugar into this
country. He was a pioneer in the production of condensed milk. First and last, he
probably has started here or brought here more industries than any other man.
Though Mr. Van Patten's business career was remarkable, it was his personality
that people loved. He was as unassuming and friendly in the days of his greatest
success as the humblest citizen. The silly swagger, the feeling that they must act
rich which wealth reveals in lesser men, was absolutely foreign to his nature. The
only way in which he desired to act rich was by giving grandly. The only way in
which he cared to assert his leadership was by working harder than anyone else in
every good cause.
It would be impossible to sum up all that Mr. Van Patten did for the people of
Burlington. Probably few of his fellow citizens ever knew of a tenth part of his
labors in their behalf. As mayor of the city, in 1894 and 1895, he put not only his
unusual energy and ability into the work, but also his fortune. He introduced the
paid fire department at that time, saying to the people of Burlington: "If after a
year's trial you find that you do not want the chemical engine, I will take it off your
hands personally." He went to great personal expense in setting out trees and
shrubbery to beautify the streets and parks of the city. He backed anything that
tended to promote the health and happiness of the people of Burlington, particularly
of the poorer people, regardless of expense.
Even in those days before the coming of the automobile had made good roads the
burning issue of the present day, he gave studious attention to this subject, and was
instrumental in procuring for the city its first permanent roads, which also were the
best roads that we have ever had. Through his efforts an expert in road construction
was induced to come to this city, and make a thorough investigation of our road
problems, whose report remains to this day the authority on the best sources of
road material in and around Burlington. If the start then made had been followed,
the city would have been saved thousands of dollars wasted in the attempt to build
our roads from crumbling sandstone, which, as then pointed out, was worthless as
For many years it was his great joy to plan and labor for the upkeep and
improvement of the parks of the city. Ethan Allen Park, which is said to be the
most beautiful and extensive out-of-door play-ground possessed by any city of this
size in the world, was his gift to the people of Burlington. The new bathing beach
was his plan. He made himself an expert on matters pertaining to public parks in
order that he might serve the city better as park commissioner. Year after year he
served the city in this capacity, giving to the parks of the city the same kind of
personal attention that a man gives his own garden.
Mr. Van Patten was a thorough student of the principles of municipal government.
Long after his term as mayor had expired he kept in touch with the theories of the
best thinkers along these lines, and succeeded in having embodied in the city charter
many features which at the time of their enactment were decidedly advanced.
He was in the lead in all kinds of good movements, not only locally, but in a
national way. When the idea of appealing to the better side of young men through
physical betterment swept over the country in the Y.M.C.A. movement, Mr. Van
Patten was one of the national leaders. From 1882 until 1889 he was national
president of that great organization. It was through his untiring efforts and the
generosity of his support that the local Y.M.C.A. secured the fine building in which
it is housed. When the Christian Endeavor movement was at its height, he was
national president of that organization. For almost half a century he gave the
deepest and best that was in him to the old First Congregational Church, of which
he was a member.
He purchased and turned over for public service the fine old mansion on lower
College street, which is now known as the Blue Triangle House. He has been for
many years president of the Kurn Hattin Home at Westminister, Vt., for the care
and training of indigent children, from the time of its founding in 1894, and has
supported it with generous donations. For many years he has been a trustee of the
Fletcher Free Library. He was instrumental in procuring legislation providing for the
founding of building and loan associations, and was a director in the local
association from the time of its formation until his death.
It would be impossible to enumerate even a small part of Mr. Van Patten's good
works. He lived a long life, which was as full of good deeds as his remarkable
energy and capacity for keeping busy could make it. Many were his unrecorded
acts of generosity which helped a boy get an education or started some young man
Perhaps he revealed the secret of his career when he told a friend that when he was
a young man there were so many things which he wanted and could not have that
he intended to do all that one man could toward securing those advantages for
young men of coming generations. One of our older and more successful
businessmen once said: "Take him all in all, Mr. Van Patten is the best man I ever
knew. If he ever made a mistake in his life, it was in trying to help somebody."
Source: "Free Press" Burlington, Vermont - February 16, 1920.