Author of a history of Yonkers that is still—almost 125 years after its publication—an indispensable resource for local historical research, Charles Elmer Allison was born in Slate Hill, Orange County, New York, on July 21, 1847.
He was a graduate of Hamilton College, a member of the class of 1870, and the author of The History of Hamilton College.
While studying theology at New York’s Union Theological Seminary, from which he would graduate in 1874, Charles Allison traveled regularly to Yonkers to assist a Presbyterian mission here. That mission would grow to become the Dayspring Presbyterian Church, and in April 1879, a few days after the official founding of the church, Charles Allison became the church’s first pastor. It was a position that he filled for the rest of his life.
Rev. Charles Allison was one of the organizers of the Yonkers YMCA. He was a member of both the Yonkers Clerical Association and the Yonkers Historical and Library Association, and he served for a time as president of each organization. In addition, he was the chaplain of the Hope Hook and Ladder volunteer fire department.
Described once as a born orator, Rev. Allison’s sermons were—in the words in which Rev. William P. Stevenson, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church here, eulogized him in 1908—“clear and practical expositions of truth and duty, admirably adapted to the needs of everyday life, lovingly and wisely fitted to the circumstances and requirements of his people, and so illumined and adorned by apt quotations drawn from his wide reading, and by pertinent and telling illustrations suggested by his keen observation and varied experience, that all ages, classes and conditions of people heard him gladly.”
About Rev. Allison’s years of ministry, Rev. Stevenson went on to say that “[h]e gave hope to the hopeless, courage to the despondent, comfort to the afflicted, guidance to the erring, and money to the deserving and to the undeserving, until he had stripped himself bare.”
The Rev. James E. Freeman, who was then the pastor of St. Andrew’s Memorial Church in south Yonkers and who went on years later to become the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, D.C., spoke of Rev. Allison on the same occasion as “[a]beloved and honored brother.”
Speaking of his friend’s literary and civic engagement in Yonkers, Rev. Freeman said, “[H]e was an exact historian. He told us of the life of the community. He thought deeply and wrote accurately…. [D]id he not show to us … how to live the civic life; did he not show us the better way, and did he not exemplify that which entitles him to be called the ideal citizen?”
The impressive work of history to which Rev. Freeman alludes was published In 1896. Nearly 500 pages in length, it was entitled The History of Yonkers, Westchester County, New York, From the Earliest Times to the Present.
Commending this volume to its readers, the Yonkers Statesman remarked, “In the preparation of the book, Mr. Allison has displayed patient research, excellent judgment and literary ability. He has given us a book of exceeding personal interest, that should be welcomed to Yonkers homes; while he has put in an attractive and convenient form a fund of information of wide range that will be invaluable for future reference. Mr. Allison has also placed on record many important facts connected with our local history of the last thirty years, not before printed; and in this he has rendered an important service.”
In addition to its chapters on Yonkers schools, churches, banks, businesses, and industries, Rev. Allison’s book includes numerous illustrations, as indicated by its very subtitle: Finely illustrated with views of [the city’s] public buildings, private residences, manufactories, and with portraits of many of its citizens.
It is a matter of great good fortune that in 1984, almost 90 years after it was published, Rev. Allison’s History was reprinted—in a slightly smaller physical format—by Harbor Hills Books of Harrison, New York. (Copies of the History are owned by the Yonkers Public Library and are available to circulate.)
Charles Allison’s close friends and associates had noted, on a couple of occasions during the course of the years, that the pastor’s devotion to his ministerial duties was overtaxing his strength and taking a toll on his well-being. They surprised him, therefore, with the gift of a European vacation. And in mid-1896, he happily toured England, Scotland, Ireland, France, and Switzerland.
A letter he sent to the Statesman from England was published on June 17. It described his delight at visits he’d made to Salisbury Cathedral and to Oxford and Cambridge, and it expressed his thanks to the friends who had underwritten the trip.
Another personal crisis occurred, however, in late 1907. In an era less attuned than ours to the ravages that can beset mental health, Rev. Allison recognized that his cognitive ability was being adversely affected and he made a futile effort to have himself committed. Once again, his friends took note and they made plans to gift him with what they hoped would be a salutary ocean voyage. Before they could do so, however, he disappeared without a trace. Three months later, in April 1908, his body was recovered from the river a few miles south of Yonkers.
Rev. Allison was buried in Oakland Cemetery on April 17, 1908.
It was decided to erect a monument to him, to be constructed atop his grave site, and subscriptions for this project were solicited from the public. The weekly bulletin of the Warburton Avenue Baptist Church explained to the church’s parishioners: “This we do, not because there is need of money for the monument but because we want to have a share in the universal expression of regard which goes out in recognition of [Rev. Allison’s] life of loving, Christian devotion, so dear to many of us.”
The monument to Rev. Charles E. Allison was unveiled and dedicated on a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon in early December 1908. Rev. James E. Freeman, who had composed the monument’s inscription, delivered a brief address.
The monument still stands. Its inscription reads:
CHARLES ELMER ALLISON
Born July 21, 1847 – Died Jan, 2, 1908
This monument was erected by friends of the beloved pastor, who for twenty-nine years was the faithful shepherd of the Dayspring Presbyterian Church in the city of Yonkers.
It stands as a permanent witness to the affection in which he was held by the people of all classes in the city, where his ministry was signalized by an unremitting zeal, devotion to the sacredness of the home, fidelity in civic affairs, and in all that related to His Master’s Kingdom, by a faithful recognition of his high and sacred office as a pastor of souls.
“He that doeth the will of God abideth forever.”