Thomas Redfield Proctor was born on May 25, 1844, in Proctorsville, Vermont, a town founded by his great grandfather and Revolutionary War veteran, Leonard Proctor. Thomas attended school in Boston, but left prior to graduation at the outbreak of the Civil War; he enlisted in the United States Navy and served as a paymaster's clerk aboard the Brandywine of the North Atlantic Squadron and later became secretary to Admiral Pearson of the Pacific Squadron aboard the Lancaster.
Thomas returned to Proctorsville after the Civil War to run his recently deceased father’s manufacturing plant. Shortly after he became proprietor of the Tappan Zee House and moved to Nyack, New York. In 1869, he moved to Utica and purchased the Bagg's Hotel at the age of 25. He made extensive improvements to hotel which were praised by happy customers. Bagg’s Hotel also became famous for its Jersey cattle and high grade swine. These items were produced by the Bagg's Hotel Farm, which was operated in connection with the hotel. Thomas also purchased the Butterfield House in Utica, and the Spring House in Richfield Springs during this time. Thomas sold Bagg’s Hotel in 1890 and the Spring House was burned in 1897. Three years later he retired from hotel ownership and management. His connections aside from hotel management were very numerous and included banking, manufacturing, and other business enterprises.
Frederick T. Proctor Park ~ Early 1900's postcard
Thomas R. Proctor married Maria Watson Williams on April 9, 1891. Their only child died in infancy.
Proctor was a prominent member of the Republican Party and was a delegate to its national conventions in 1908, 1916, and 1920. His influence brought about the nomination of James S. Sherman for the vice-presidency. He rendered effective non-political service as one of the New York commissioners for the World's Fair at Paris in 1900, and as a member of the Board of Visitors of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, appointed by President Taft in 1910.
Proctor was senior warden of Grace Episcopal Church in Utica and frequently attended the diocesan conventions. He was a member and trustee of Utica Commandery No. 3, Knights Templar and was instrumental in bringing about the erection of the Masonic Home in Utica. In addition to membership in many civic and patriotic societies, he was a member of several educational, historical, and social organizations.
Thomas R. Proctor was a generous philanthropist and donated money and land for numerous projects in Utica and New York State, many of which can still be enjoyed today. Thomas provided the site for The House of the Good Shepard and funded the construction of its north wing. He gave Utica’s Grace Church a club house, erected a statue of Alexander Hamilton at Hamilton College, and established an artists’ fund in New York City that annually awarded $200 to the painter of the year’s best portrait. The Proctors, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas R. Proctor and Mr. and Mrs. Frederick T. Proctor, collectively gifted the land for the Utica Public Library. Thomas also donated two significant pieces of history to the library: a collection of letters written by the presidents of the United States and Lincolns’ Gettysburg Address engraved on a bronze tablet.
Thomas R. Proctor- a leading citizen of Utica during his lifetime and perhaps its greatest benefactor
It was said that his guests at the Spring House always returned for another season and he made Bagg's Hotel famous throughout the State. After his management of hotels had ended, arrangements were usually made to have the distinguished visitor in Utica entertained by Mr. and Mrs. Proctor. The hospitality of the Proctor home was unrivaled. No one in the state had a wider acquaintance with prominent persons than the Proctors.
In December, 1919, on the fiftieth anniversary of Mr. Proctor's residence in Utica, the Chamber of Commerce presented him with a testimonial. Some years prior, ten thousand school children of the city sent him letters expressing gratitude for the gifts of the city parks. The people of Utica have observed an annual “Proctor Day."
He died July 4, 1920. Funeral services were held at Grace Episcopal Church at noon on July 7th. The business of the entire city was suspended for five minutes during the services. Proctor was buried in Forest Hill Cemetery on a hillside overlooking the parks of Utica. Flowers gathered from the parks were strewn upon the grave and daisies gathered from the hillsides were placed upon it by children from the House of the Good Shepherd.
Pre-eminent among the Proctor’s gifts to the City of Utica was its expansive urban park system. The Proctors donated 6.5 acres in memory of Maria’s father, James Watson Williams, in 1897, and created Watson-Williams Park. In 1904, Thomas purchased almost 400 acres of farm land and contracted with the famous landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects to design Utica’s park system. Walking paths and driving roads were laid out and Thomas R. Proctor Park and Roscoe Conkling Park officially opened to the citizens of Utica in 1909. In 1908, he gifted the city four more parks, totaling over 31 acres, and named the parks after prominent Uticans: Horatio Seymour, Addison C. Miller, Truman K. Butler, and J. Thomas Spriggs.
Oneida County History Center