A Bit of Local History

0:00 A Fourth Member of Congress from Rye Westchester County Executive George Latimer recently confirmed in a telephone interview that he is considering challenging Congressman […]

Published December 4, 2023 12:25 AM
5 min read

0:00

A Fourth Member of Congress from Rye

Westchester County Executive George Latimer recently confirmed in a telephone interview that he is considering challenging Congressman Jamaal Bowman in a primary next year. If Latimer won both the primary and the general election in New York’s 16th Congressional District, he would be the fourth Rye resident to become a U.S. Representative, and in very esteemed company: Jared Peck, J. Mayhew Wainwright, and Caroline O’Day.

Jared Valentine Peck (1816-1891)

The first Rye resident to serve in Congress was Jared Valentine Peck, who lived most of his life in the Town and Village of Rye. He was the eighth of nine children and the last of six sons. 

Following his father’s death in 1843, Peck took over the family’s lumber, hardware, and building materials business, located in Port Chester. According to one newspaper account, “The business under Mr. Peck’s management became one of the largest in Westchester County.”

His business success and widespread name recognition helped when he decided to enter politics. After serving as Auditor for the Town of Rye, he was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1848. Five years later, he won election as a Democrat to Congress, where he served one term.

Peck chose not to seek reelection and resumed management of his business affairs in 1855, but when Governor Edwin Morgan appointed him as warden of the Port of New York in 1859, he and his family moved to New York City. 

Six years later, Peck returned to Rye and built a house on a large farm bordering the Post Road. The house, called the “Cedars,” still stands in Loudon Woods.

Following his death on Christmas Day in 1891, he was buried in Rye’s Greenwood Cemetery. An obituary in a local paper noted that “the Town has lost one of its most energetic and progressive sons.” He was further honored when Peck Avenue was named for him.

J. Mayhew Wainwright (1864-1945)

The Wainwright family lay down roots in Rye in the 1840s. One set of ancestors, the Stuyvesants (direct descendants of the Dutch governor of New Amsterdam), settled on Kirby Lane. A Stuyvesant daughter, Margaret, married John Howard Wainwright, whose father had been the Episcopal bishop of New York, in 1864. J. Mayhew was the third of their four sons. Although his first name was Jonathan, he used “Mayhew” to distinguish himself from his cousin, Jonathan M. Wainwright, who was a famous general in the Second World War. 

The family spent summers at their home on Milton Point, but their sons attended private schools in Manhattan in the elementary grades, and later boarded at the Park Institute in Rye.

Mayhew received his undergraduate degree from Columbia University in 1884 and his law degree two years later from Columbia Law School. He was admitted to the bar the same year, and practiced law for many years, both in New York City and in Westchester. 

In 1892, he married Laura Buchanan, and their only child, Laura Fonrose, was born the following year. Mayhew and his family moved into a house at 400 Forest Avenue in 1897, and unlike the rest of the Wainwright family, they lived in Rye year-round, except when his professional and military commitments required him elsewhere.

Mayhew represented Westchester County as a Republican in the New York State Assembly from 1901 through 1908, when he was elected to a term in the State Senate that ended in 1912. While serving in the legislature, he played an important role in obtaining a state charter for the Village of Rye, as well as state support for developing Rye Town Park.

In addition to his many political achievements, Mayhew served with distinction in the U.S. Army, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel while serving first in the Spanish-American War and later during World War I in France and Belgium. After his retirement from the Army, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of War by President Warren Harding and served from 1921 to 1923.

His taste for the political life in Washington must have helped convince him to run for Congress, where he served four terms from 1923 to 1931. After deciding not to run for reelection, Mayhew resumed his legal practice and devoted his time and energy to various civic, charitable, and commercial interests in Rye. 

His retirement from political life also allowed him to concentrate on plans for a home, based on a 17th-century chateau in France, where he was stationed during World War I. The 32-room mansion, with a sloping lawn and gardens overlooking Milton Harbor, was constructed between 1929 and 1931. He died at home in 1945 and is buried in Greenwood Union Cemetery. In 1951, Mayhew’s daughter, Fonrose, helped transform Wainwright House into a non-sectarian holistic learning center, which thrives today.

Caroline O’Day 

(1869-1943)

Born in Perry, Georgia, four years after the end of the Civil War, Caroline Goodwin grew up in Savannah, and graduated from the Lucy Cobb Institute for girls in Athens, Ga. She moved to New York City to study art at Cooper Union, and then to Paris, where she had a successful career as an artist and fashion illustrator. 

Upon her return to New York in 1901, she married Daniel O’Day, an executive of Standard Oil Company, and around 1910 they moved with their three children to a home in Rye.

After her husband’s death in 1916, Mrs. O’Day became increasingly active in civic and social welfare work on the local, state, and national levels. Her service to her home community included founding the local chapter of the League of Women Voters and serving on the Rye School Board, of which she became president. 

Her support for women’s suffrage led to her involvement in various charitable and political groups. In 1923, she was appointed to the New York State Board of Charities by Governor Alfred E. Smith, and the same year she was made chairman of the women’s division of the Democratic State Committee.

Through these activities she became a close friend of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, and in 1934 she was persuaded to run for one of New York’s two at-large seats in Congress. When she took her seat in 1935, at age 65, there were only five other female members of the House of Representatives. Her principal concern was the pursuit of world peace, on which she based her pacifism, but she strongly supported New Deal initiatives. 

Using her political acumen, she obtained federal funding for a new post office in Rye. At the building’s dedication in 1936, she cut the ribbon and was one of the principal speakers. On January 4, 1943, one day after her fourth term ended, she died at her home in Rye, leaving a political and civic record that was well recognized when the Rye Post Office was named for her in 2010.

It has been four-score years since a Rye resident was a member of Congress, so the time may be favorable for George Latimer to extend his long and successful political career to the national level. After winning a seat on the Rye City Council in 1987, he served on the Westchester County Board of Legislators for 13 years and became the Board’s first Democratic chairman. His 18 years in the State Legislature (both Assembly and Senate), followed by two terms as Westchester County Executive, have given him extensive experience in government and politics.

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