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Rt. Rev. James E. Freeman, 1866-1943

Rt. Rev. James E. Freeman 1866-1943, third bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C.

The funeral for the Right Reverend James Edward Freeman, the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, D.C., was held in the National Cathedral on June 9, 1943.

The New York Times put the number of mourners at 3,200.

Though born in New York City, James E. Freeman was ordained in Yonkers, in St. John’s Episcopal Church on Hudson Street, on April 28, 1895, and he spent many years here as rector of St. Andrew’s Memorial Church. (The St. Andrew’s Church building, which was located at the corner of Morris Street and Livingston Avenue, burned down in the early 1970s. Today, the Iglesia Memorial de San Andres is located at 22 Post Street.)

In memorializing Bishop Freeman, the Herald Statesman wrote: “Yonkers likes to think—and probably is justified in thinking—that the 17 years which Bishop Freeman spent as rector of St. Andrew’s laid the solid foundations for the work he was to do later in larger fields. Those 17 years revealed his power for leadership, his great organizing ability, his constructive approach to social problems, the personality that was to make him a friend of Presidents. They provided a fruitful apprenticeship.”   

James Freeman was born on July 24, 1866. He spent the early part of his adulthood working in the auditing departments of, first, the Long Island Railroad, and then the New York Central Railroad. It was once said of him that when he left the railroad for the ministry, the NYCR likely lost a future president.

The Times’ obituary lists many of Rev. Freeman’s accomplishments, including his authorship of several books, his radio ministry, his role in the peaceful adjudication of labor disputes, and the great part that he played in overseeing the construction of the National Cathedral.

To those notable deeds may be added two impressive accomplishments done here in Yonkers: (I) His role in establishing the Hollywood Inn, a “workingman’s club” which existed here for 40 years, and (II) the lengthy and eloquent “oration’ (as it was styled at the time) which he delivered on the occasion of the laying of the cornerstone of our City Hall in May 1908.

Mrs. William F. Cochran was the daughter of Alexander Smith, the founder of “the carpet shop,” as the Alexander Smith and Sons Company was familiarly known to Yonkers residents. She and her husband, an executive with the carpet shop, were preeminent among our local philanthropists. (Their estate, known as Duncraggan, is long gone. But the stone pillar marking its entrance—and bearing the name Duncraggan—can still be seen adjacent to the bus stop outside St. John’s Riverside Hospital.) 

Wishing to honor her forebears, who had been parishioners of St. John’s Church, Mrs. Cochran decided to endow the small wooden chapel that St. John’s had established in south Yonkers, the Saint Andrew’s Chapel, with the funds needed to transform it into a church in its own right.

James Freeman, having been put in charge of the chapel in October 1894 while still a deacon, became the first rector of the St. Andrew’s Memorial Protestant Episcopal Church in April 1895.

The Hollywood Inn, a club intended to provide young men with an

Hollywood Inn, from Charles Allison’s History of Yonkers.

attractive alternative to the saloon, was established at 18 Main Street in January 1893, only to close two years later for want of financial support.

At the time of the club’s closing in 1894, James Freeman wrote to the Yonkers Statesman to mourn its loss, writing that “it is quite reasonable to state that a large percentage—possibly two-thirds—of the men who frequented the Inn were afforded protection from the seductive influences of the saloon.” 

“I use that term advisedly,” he added, with respect to the word protection, “for there is no need of disguising the fact that the saloon does offer large inducements to the laboring man who has no other place to spend his evenings than a room 8 by 10.” 

Writing to the Statesman later that year, in August, Freeman made an appeal for funds to reopen the Inn.

He touted the club’s “splendid results,” noting that “last year’s record show[ed]that nearly 25,000 men had made use of the privileges afforded. That this room, provided with games and well stocked with all the dally papers, magazines and illustrated weeklies, and with a small library—well patronized—was appreciated by the men, was not only proven by the remarkable attendance, but also by the constant expressions of gratitude and satisfaction that came both to the superintendent and the committee of management.”

Freeman told the Statesman’s readers, “An effort is now to be made to open another room, with a much better and more complete equipment, including possibly a billiard table, and separate rooms for library and smoking….One gentleman has generously volunteered to pay the entire rent, provided the balance of the cost of maintenance is subscribed. Certainly, with such an opportunity for benefiting and enriching the workingmen, we should hope for a liberal response from all those who believe in this excellent institution. We wish to acknowledge the generous support which we have heretofore received, and to urge our former patrons, and all interested, to enable us to embrace this splendid opportunity by subscribing to the support of the Hollywood Inn.”

Rev. Freeman concluded by noting that the work of the Inn “is purely secular [and]that the men who are carrying it on are doing so in their individual capacities as citizens, and not as the representatives of any particular church or denomination.”  

His appeal for funds worked well enough for the Hollywood Inn to reopen in new quarters, at 3 North Broadway, in late October.

But a greater success was at hand.

In early 1896, William F. Cochran made a generous offer. “If,” he told the governing committee of the Inn, “you will secure for the next three years annual subscriptions of $3,000, thus insuring the running expenses of the institution, exclusive of rent, which I will contribute, I will erect for the use of the Hollywood Inn a commodious building, on a central site, which will be not only an ornament to our city, but a building complete in all Its appointments for the fullest and best development of this important work.” 

Ground was broken for the “commodious building” on July 7, 1896. The cornerstone was laid later in the same year, on Labor Day. One year later, and again on Labor Day, the new Hollywood Inn was officially opened.

William F. Cochran, the Statesman reported, “unlocked the gates of the noble structure, and declared it open to the workingmen of Yonkers.” He spoke to the crowd that had assembled for the ceremony, addressing in particular the many workingmen gathered there. Pointing to James Freeman, the Statesman tells us, “[Mr. Cochran] accorded to him the credit, more than to any other man, for the conception of the idea and the consummation of the great work which has now resulted so happily in the interests of the worklngmen.”

And so there came to exist here what Rev. James Freeman hoped for—a venue having “everything that will make life pleasant for the men and boys—games, amusements, physical training, educational literature—in fact, everything that will help to make the boys grow up to be able men, and to make the men all that men should be, by giving them something better than any saloon in the world can supply.”

In Washington Park, on the afternoon of Saturday, May 9, 1908, the cornerstone was laid for the new Yonkers City Hall, the building which was to serve as the location of the municipality’s offices in the wake of the city’s abandonment of the spatially inadequate Philipse Manor Hall.

“The ceremony was an impressive one,” the Yonkers Statesman reported on the following Monday, “probably one of the most impressive in the history of the city, signalizing, as it does, the erection of a building in which the government of Yonkers will be carried on, perhaps, for the next century.”

Among the local dignitaries present for the occasion were Daniel J. Cashin, the President of the Yonkers Common Council; Nathan A. Warren, the Mayor of Yonkers; and three former mayors: John H. Coyne, Leslie Sutherland, and James H. Weller.

Printed in its entirety in the May 11, 1908 edition of the Yonkers Statesman, the keynote address (or “oration”) was delivered that day by Rev. James Freeman. (Further details about the afternoon’s ceremonies can be found in the Spring 2008 issue [vol. 17, no. 1] of the Yonkers Historical Society’s newsletter, The Yonkers Historian. That issue of the newsletter reprints the whole of Rev. Freeman’s address; copies may be found in the stacks of the Reference Department at the Riverfront Library.) 

Because the address—interesting as it is, and pertinent as it remains today—is far too lengthy to be fully transcribed here, we present the following excerpts:    

“This building, the cornerstone of which has been laid today, symbolizes and expresses three distinct things—namely, Solidity, Purity and Permanence; it is obvious that the last is determined and fixed by the first and second. I take these suggestions from the new City Hall as the rangefinders or guidemarks of our theme….

“Fellow citizens, is not the solidity of our buildings but the strength and solidity of our characters? … Of little worth is it to a city or a community that it builds its public offices of granite, unless its members and officers have granite in their souls. There are public buildings in this country that, rich and ornate as they may be in architecture, splendid as they are in appointment, are but the permanent witnesses to a degradation and shameless lust for gold in high places, that constitutes at once our weakness and our threatening ruin. Better were it to build strong prisons for the incarceration of our money-serving grafters in high places than to ornament and make splendid the palaces in which they exercise their private exploitation of the public purse….

“[W]hen once we have put [the]solidity [of integrity]into these walls, let us bind the whole fabric together with the enduring cement of purity….

 “[Purity in public office] guarantees equity and justice; they spring normally out of a conscience that has singleness of purpose. That a center of action such as this [building]must become affects the whole life and happiness of a community, is obvious to all. Here, then, must initiate laws and ordinances that make for public weal or public woe. Here the rich and poor must have a common platform and an equal consideration. Laws have no value unless they are honored and enforced, and they are never more offensive than when they are administered in the interests of any favored few or class. There are some houses in every community where men are recognized by what they have, rather than by what they are, but this must not be so here; this is the people’s building for all classes and kinds and conditions of men.”

Freeman approached the conclusion of his address by alluding to the crowd’s presence in Washington Park, remarking that: “On this hill, in the park that bears the most honored name in American history, shall stand this building of noble proportions, to tell all men that respect for law in all its purity is fundamental to the perpetuity of peace, prosperity and the pursuit of happiness.”