Marker for Sanford Church, high-ranking state official from Albion, gets facelift

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 May 2016 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – A historical marker for Sanford Church was given a fresh coat of paint by Melissa Ierlan of Clarendon. She put the redone marker back up April 27 with help from Craig Lane. Ierlan has now repainted 15 of the markers in Orleans County.

This marker sits in the lawn at Church’s former home in Albion along Ingersoll Street, near the intersection with East State Street. The house is now a funeral home for Merrill-Grinnell Funeral Homes.

This marker initially went up in 1935 for Sanford E. Church. He was a prominent force in New York politics about 150 years ago.

In 1841, the son of Albion farmer was elected to the State Assembly at age 26. He did it as a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Whig district. In 1845, he was appointed district attorney of Orleans County, one of the original “Barnburners” of the Democratic Party. He joined the Free Soil Party and spoke at Free Soil Rallies across the country, arguing against the expansion of slavery into the states that were newly forming in the West, according to a biography of Church by Kristin A. Mattiske, written for the Historical Society of New York Courts. (Click here for more information.)

When the Free Soil Party dissolved upon losing the presidential bid in the 1852 election, Church rejoined the Democrats. During the Civil War, Church spoke of states’ rights and maintaining a solid Union. He actively sought volunteers to fight to save the union and when the Orleans County war committee was formed in summer 1862, he was elected chairman.

Politically, Church was elected in 1850 as the state’s lieutenant governor, and was re-elected to the position in 1852. He served as state comptroller from 1857 to 1859 and was a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions of 1844, 1860, 1864, and 1868.

At the convention in 1868, the New York State delegation chose him as its nominee for the United States presidency. Horatio Seymour, the NY governor, ultimately was backed to run against Ulysses Grant, losing to the Civil War hero. Church was frequently mentioned as a potential presidential candidate or NY governor. He didn’t have the personal funds for a major campaign, and didn’t want to cozy up to the Democratic machine, Mattiske wrote.

In 1870, Church was nominated for Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals. He served in the role for 10 years, the second-longest tenure in the court’s history. He and Noah Davis, Jr., a former law partner of his from Albion, would bring down the New York City Tammany Hall ringmaster William M. “Boss” Tweed. Judge Davis presided over Tweed’s trials on charges of conspiracy, perjury, and larceny. On appeal to the Court of Appeals, Chief Judge Church upheld the conviction.

Church died at age 66 on May 14, 1880. An estimated 6,000 people gathered in Albion for Church’s wake and funeral. Church is buried at Mount Albion Cemetery.

“An elaborate marble canopy supported by red granite pillars – a baldacchino – covers his tomb,” Mattiske writes. “In Medieval times, baldacchinos of silk and gold thread were held over honored persons and sacred objects.”

Today, the great-great-great grandson of Judge Church, Sanford A. Church, runs a law office on East Bank Street in Albion and serves as the public defender in Orleans County.

Another historical marker will be rededicated on Saturday in Barre. Town officials will have a ceremony at 2 p.m. at  Elisha Wright’s home at 5544 Eagle Harbor Rd., just south of West Barre. A reception will follow the ceremony at Mulberry Park in West Barre, across the road from the United Methodist Church.

Ierlan also repainted that sign, which also needed to be rewelded.