WHO WAS CORNELIUS AMORY PUGSLEY?
Mr. Pugsley was born on a farm in Peekskill, Westchester County, New York. He attended public schools in Peekskill and lived his whole life in that community. From 1867 to 1870, he was clerk and then assistant postmaster in Peekskill. In 1870, he started work at Westchester County National Bank.
At the bank, he was promoted to teller, cashier, vice-president and in fall 1897, was appointed president; a position which he held for the next 46 years. During his tenure as president, Westchester County National Bank became "one of the foremost in the United States in earning power and standing." According to the New York Times "he accumulated a fortune estimated in the early 1920s at several millions, only to be wiped out in 1933 by the Depression which forced his bank to close its doors temporarily, pending reorganization."
In 1895, Cornelius Pugsley was the first resident from New York State to be elected as a member of the Executive Council of the American Bankers Association. He was elected to three, three year terms on the Council and in 1913 was elected president of the New York State Bankers Association.
Cornelius Pugsley was a commanding figure in the Democratic Party in Westchester County and New York State in the early years of the twentieth century. In 1901, he served a two year term in the Fifty-Seventh Congress, where he was characterized by the Republican Speaker of the House as a "vigorous talker and thinker..perhaps the ablest Democrat in the House." He was prominently mentioned as a candidate for the vice-presidency of the United States in the campaign of 1908 and as a candidate for New York State Governor in 1918, but declined to run for either office.
In 1925, a historian reviewing Mr. Pugsley's career, commented:
Few men of any community hold a higher place of honor and distinction in the regard of the people generally than does Cornelius Amory Pugsley of Peekskill, New York, whose life long prominence in public affairs, as well as in professional circles, have made his utterances on many subjects of more than passing significance to the people."
His popularity in the community was exemplified by a widely reported incident in 1926 when he returned from a European trip. He was greeted with a bouquet thrown on to the deck of his ship from an airplane as the vessel steamed into New York Harbor. The plane bore a banner proclaiming in large letters "Greater Peekskill welcomes you home, 20,000 strong."
Cornelius Pugsley was active in a large number of nonprofit and charitable organizations. For example, in 1906 he was elected national president-general of the Sons of the American Revolution. His interest in parks was stimulated by his involvement as vice-president of the Westchester County Park Commission. The Commission was formed in 1923 making it one of the earliest local park systems in the U.S. Its early focus was on the development of parkways and it was a pioneer in this area. Mr. Pugsley was a member of the inaugural Commission and remained on it for a 10 year period. In the 1920s he made several donations to the Peekskill community, including Pugsley Park and buildings for the YMCA, YWCA and Associated Charities.