06 March 2009

Aurelian Conkling

Mayor of Auburn

A number of Auburn's mayors have been politically well-connected on a local level. Aurelian Conkling, however, was a member of one of the most politically prominent families in the state and nation. He was a son of federal judge Alfred Conkling, and brother to United States Senator Roscoe Conkling and Congressman Frederick Augustus Conkling. After his tenure as mayor of Auburn, Aurelian Conkling relocated to Buffalo, where he served as the Clerk of the Federal District Court for the Northern District of New York at Buffalo until his death in 1860.

Conkling married Harriet Adriana Schermerhorn in Buffalo in 1840. Her father, Rev. John Freeman Schermerhorn, had been a close friend of President Andrew Jackson, who appointed him in 1832 to the Commission that forced the Cherokee and Chickasaw Indians beyond the Mississippi River. (The shameful removal was to become known as the Trail of Tears.) While serving as Indian Commissioner, Schermerhorn enriched himself by aquiring 400,000 acres in Virginia. Protracted litigation over Schermerhorn's acquisitions was eventually resolved in favor of his heirs, including Mrs. Conkling.

After the death of her husband, Mrs. Conkling resided abroad for four years, primarily in Paris. She travelled extensively throughout Germany, Spain and Switzerland. During the Franco-Prussian War, she served as the Directress of the Women's Department of the American Ambulance Corps, organized by the Emperor's American dentist. It was there that Empress Eugenie sought shelter when she fled from the Tuileries Palace, and Mrs. Conkling assisted Dr. Evans in effecting her escape from the capital. While residing in Paris during the Commune, she witnessed many bloody scenes. Thereafter, Mrs. Conkling made her home in Buffalo, and died on 23 December 1886.

It is not likely that Mrs. Conkling experienced, during her earlier residence at Auburn, excitement comparable to the escape of the Empress or the tumultuous Paris Commune. If her husband's mayoral administration offered any such diversions, their details, sadly, have not been preserved in the historical record.