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Roswell B. Mason


Roswell Mason was born in New Hartford, New York on September 19, 1805, the fifth of thirteen children of Arnold Mason and Mercy Coman Mason. Arnold was a successful farmer and a captain of the New York Volunteers in the War of 1812. He was also a contractor and carried stone to some of the locks being constructed near Albany for the Erie Canal in 1821. When Roswell was 15 he helped his father by driving a team hauling stone. He met Edward Gay, assistant engineer in charge of that part of the canal from Albany to the Mohawk River, and in 1822 was given a job by Gay.

Moving to Williamsburg, Pennsylvania, he supervised the construction of the Pennsylvania Canal be-tween Jersey City and Phillipsburg. He went on to become chief engineer of the Housatonic Railroad in 1837. He subsequently was Superintendent of the New York & New Haven Railroad. In 1851 he moved to Chicago and was appointed Engineer-in-Chief of the Illinois Central, which was the largest railroad yet built.

Mason had many important positions over the years including being a member of the State legislature and founder of the Civil Engineers Club of Chicago.


He was elected mayor of Chicago on November 2, 1869 on the People's Ticker in a public revulsion against corruption in public office. During his tenure, the Great Chicago Fire started around 9 p.m. on Sunday evening, October 8, 1871 somewhere in or very near the O'Leary barn. While the city was a smoldering ruin, thousands of the worst types of criminals poured into Chicago and began looting. The Mayor called on the Federal Government and Gen. P. H. Sheridan placed the city under martial law.

Two months after the fire, Mayor Mason's term expired. He was asked to run again, but declined. He continued to be active in civic affairs.

He died January 1, 1892 at the age of 86.

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