Notes for William Backhouse ASTOR Jr.
WILLIAM ASTOR, second son of the late William B. Astor, born in New York city, July 12, 1829, died in Paris, France, April 25, 1892. An able and vigorous man from his youth, he graduated second in his class from Columbia College in 1849. Frank and generous in his nature, self-respecting, loyal to his friends, enthusiastic in athletic sports, he was exceedingly well-liked by all his classmates. He undertook a long journey through Egypt and the East, after his college days were over, and this tour made impressions upon his receptive mind which were never effaced and inspired in him a lifelong interest in Oriental art and literature.
Sept. 23, 1853, he was married to Caroline, daughter of Abraham Schermerhorn, a descendant of an old and distinguished family, which was founded in America in 1642 and has always been conspicuous in affairs.
Immediately after his marriage, Mr. Astor entered the real estate office of his father on Prince street, and undertook a share of the management of the vast properties belonging to the family, and, after half of it had come to him by inheritance, he increased it largely by continual purchases and re-investment of receipts. Competent, judicious, and successful, he possessed the faculty of so regulating his business interests as to leave a portion of his time free for recreation. He was fond of farming and open air employments, and especially enjoyed the company of the sea. Many trips along the coast were taken in his own steam yacht.
In 1875, a visit to Florida awoke his interest in the vast undeveloped resources of that State; and it is believed that his enterprise, during the next ten years, accomplished more for Florida, than that of any of his contemporaries. He built a railroad from St. Augustine to Palatka, constructed several modern blocks of buildings in Jacksonville, and led other men of means to join in the work of re-creating a new Florida in place of the old one. His services were so valuable that the State Government voted him a grant of 80,000 acres of land.
Both Mr. Astor and his wife were prominent in the social entertainments of the metropolis. Their eminent purity of' character, discriminating taste, refinement and generous hospitalities made them the unchallenged leaders of the social life of the city. The approval of Mr. and Mrs. Astor ensured the success of every movement which depended in any manner upon the favor of the great and powerful. They were both singularly generous in their charities and equally scrupulous in avoiding public notice of them. Their children were Emily, who died in 1881, wife of James J. Van Alen of Newport; Helen, wife of James Roosevelt Roosevelt; Charlotte Augusta, wife of James Coleman Drayton; Caroline Schermerhorn, wife of Marshall Orme Wilson; and John Jacob Astor.[p.38]
A reference has been made to Mr. Astor's love of the ocean. The schooner yacht Ambassadress, built for him in 1877, gave him much pleasure during the following seven years. She was the largest sailing yacht ever constructed. In 1884, he caused to be designed and built the Nourmahal, a steamer heavily sparred and capable of a rapid run under sail alone. Mr. Astor projected a trip around the world in this seaworthy vessel, but did not live to carry out the plan. The Ambassadress was sold to a Boston gentleman for private use, and several years later to a fruit concern in the West Indies. She is probably the swiftest ship afloat in the fruit trade. Mr. Astor was also the owner of the sailing yacht Atalanta, which won two out of three races in which she entered and carried off the Cape May and the Kane cups.
Mr. Astor was also fond of fine horses and owned many thoroughbreds. Vagrant, purchased in Kentucky in 1877, more than paid for himself before his owner saw him. Another horse named Ferncliff, raised by him, was sold as a yearling for $4,800. A stallion bought in England in 1890 for $15,000 sold within a year for $30,000.