George Walbridge Perkins, Bear Mountain and Palisades Parks

George Walbridge Perkins I (January 31, 1862 – June 18, 1920) was an American politician and businessman. He was a leader of  Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive party of 1912. Starting as an office boy he became a leading executive in insurance, steel and banking, always on the alert for new and better ways to do business. He was a top aide to financier J. P. Morgan, and handled complex issues involving U.S. Steel, International Harvester, and other large corporations and insurance companies.

In 1900, New York governor Theodore Roosevelt appointed Perkins president of the newly formed Palisades Interstate Park Commission. It had been formed with the aim of stopping the destruction of the Palisades, a line of steep cliffs along the  lower Hudson River in. The Palisades and the Hudson Highlands were admired for their beauty and were featured in paintings of the Hudson River School, but were also  a rich source of traprock (basalt) by quarrymen seeking to provide building material for the growth of nearby Manhattan Island. By the early 1900s development along the lower Hudson River had begun to destroy much of the area’s natural beauty. The commission purchased the area and stopped all quarry work in the area with a donation by J.P. Morgan.

In 1910, Perkins, working with Union Pacific Railroad president Edward Henry Harriman, and, after his death, with his widow, Mary Averell Harriman, arranged a gift to the state of ten thousand acres and one million dollars from the Harrimans toward the creation of a state park and another $1.5 million from a dozen wealthy contributors including John D. Rockefeller and Morgan. The Bear Mountain-Harriman State Park was established and still enjoyed by NYers today.

After 1913 he focused on New York City politics, while continuing as Progressive National Chairman. The party split and by 1916 had become part of the Republican Party. He remained part of U.S. Steel until his death and his ideas about the necessity of large corporations set him apart from the anti-trust members of the parties. On September 7, 1917, the New York State Senate rejected his nomination as Chairman of the then recently established New York State Food Control Commission. He continued his political and park work until his death in 1920.

 

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