Samuel Hurd

Hurd at Harvard

In 1877, Robert Minturn Grinnell and Sophie Van Alen Grinnell came to Skaneateles, and bought land on the western shore of the lake from a farmer, Elias Hunsiker. (The plot today lies between Westgate and the Skaneateles Country Club.) Robert Grinnell then sold the northern half of the land to Lucy Van Alen Hurd, his wife’s sister, and her husband, Dr. Samuel Hutchins Hurd.

And so Samuel Hurd came to Skaneateles. He was a physician, a graduate of Harvard University (Class of 1852) and the New York College of Medicine. By all accounts, he was a fine fellow. He served as a surgeon in the Union Army (Massachusetts 5th Army) early during the Civil War, and thereafter treated the wounded as they returned to Boston, providing medical care for their families as well, for free. In 1860, he married Lucy Van Alen, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, and never wanted for money after that.

To the Middlesex Medical Society, he lectured on “Medical Knowledge among Indian Tribes” describing the benefits of the “vapor bath” and citing some possible additions to the Pharmacopoeia from among their herbal remedies. He lectured on “The Human Skeleton” to inmates of the Massachusetts State Prison in Charlestown, Boston. He was a member of the American Geographical Society and the New York Historical Society, and made donations of maps and documents to the historical societies of Kansas, Massachusetts and Wisconsin. One writer noted, “His bright spirit, his keen knowledge of human nature, soon drew to him a large number of friends.”

After his retirement from the practice of medicine, he and Lucy lived in New York City, visited Newport and Saratoga Springs, traveled abroad a great deal, and summered in Skaneateles.

Here, Samuel Hurd fostered the village’s first society for the protection of song birds, even before there was an Audubon Society. At the Skaneateles Fair of 1878, he exhibited a collection of curiosities including “a pitcher carved from coquina, a geological formation found only in St. Augustine, Fla., and from which the fort at that place was built, osage oranges and other vegetable curiosities.”

In 1879, he made “elegant improvements” to his house and grounds (which included taking down Abraham Cuddeback’s barn, the first frame building built in Skaneateles). He owned “an elegant and gracefully modeled row boat” made by S.S. Vail of Auburn. He hosted summer guests from New York City.

Samuel Hurd died in 1897, in Atlantic City, “after a sickness of a few weeks, and in this sickness he gave full proof of his patience, courage, faith and consecrated heart.” His house was sold that year, and Lucy afterwards stayed with her sister, Sophie Grinnell. Lucy Hurd died in 1912 in New York City.

Hurd Rood Screen

In 1915, at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Skaneateles, a rood screen (a series of wooden arches in the chancel separating the high altar from the sanctuary) was given to honor the memory of Samuel Hurd. The local press reported, “During his stays with us he proved himself a genial and very esteemed neighbor. Possessed of ample means he made his house a most hospitable one, and it was adorned with all that shows liberal culture, and all that can make a home pleasant and attractive.”

The rood screen was probably donated by Sophie, who had previously donated the enlarged chancel itself in memory of her late husband in 1901. The memorial to Samuel Hurd was marked with a plaque on a railing of the rood screen. (During a recent renovation, the railing was removed from the rest of the woodwork; it is hoped the plaque has found a new home.)

Sophie Grinnell died in 1916, and was buried in the Hurd family vault in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, N.Y., with the earthly remains of Robert, Samuel and Lucy.

* * *

Samuel Hurd’s Daguerreotype photo by John Adams Whipple, 1852, in the Harvard Library

“Among his [Hurd’s] classmates at Harvard were Horatio Alger, the author; Caleb Davis Bradlee, the clergyman; Addison Brown, the lawyer; President George L. Cary, of Meadville; Dr. Cheever, the surgeon; Joseph Hodges Choate and William Gardner Choate, the lawyers ; Henry Gardner Denny, the historian and lawyer; Professor Thayer of the Law School; William C. Williamson, and the late Professor Gurney, and several other well-known men, and he received the respect of every one of his classmates.”

A History and Genealogy of the Family of Hurd in the United States (1910) by Dena Hurd

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