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A WELL-KNOWN, industrious, painstaking lawyer of this city, whose early struggles in life and well-directed efforts to secure an education have been crowned with success in his chosen profession, is Alden Chester. Born at Westford, a small village in Otsego County, N. Y., September 4, 1848, he is the youngest of four sons of Alden Chester. His father was born at New London, Conn., in 1803, and died at Westford on the 4th of March, 1857. He was a public-spirited man, of a noble nature, and a true friend of education. At first a cabinet-maker, he afterward carried on the business of manufacturing sash, blinds and doors. The original ancestor of this branch of the Chester family in this country was Capt. Samuel Chester, who came from England to Boston and removed to New London in 1633. He was a prominent and well educated man, a commander and owner of ships in the West Lidia trade, and was also a merchant and land surveyor. He finally removed to Groton, where he owned ground on which stands Fort Griswold and the Groton monument, which his son John conveyed to the government in 1777. He was also one of the commissioners of the general court in 1693 to settle the boundary between Connecticut and Massachusetts.
The mother of the present Mr. Chester was Susan G. Draper, She was married to Mr. Alden Chester, senior, in 1838, and is still living at the old homestead in Westford, in the 79th year of her age. She descended from James Draper, who was the first of the Draper family to emigrate to this country. He came from England about 1643, and was one of the early settlers of Roxbury, Mass.
Alden first attended the district school in his native place, and a few years later the Westford Literary institute, at that time a flourishing private academy, where he applied himself diligently to his books, for which he had a great liking. Ambitious to excel and apt in learning, he was always ahead of his classes. What aided in the formation of his literary taste, was the practical use which he made of the public library at Westford, of which his father was one of the founders, and which is still in existence. By the death of his father, when Alden was a mere child, he was mostly thrown upon his own resources, earning the money which was necessary for carrying to a successful completion his professional course of study. During a portion of the time while at the Westford Literary institute, he was both a student and a teacher, and he was also for a short time a clerk in the country store and post-office at that place. While studying and teaching, his health became impaired by too intense mental application, and he was obliged temporarily to seek a change of occupation. At about the age of 18 he accepted a position as telegraph operator on the old Albany and Susquehanna railroad, receiving only a week’s instruction in this art before taking entire charge of an office which he successfully conducted for two years. He next went to Boston where he was employed for a year by his brother as a clerk in the office of the Aetna Life Insurance Company. While in the literary metropolis of New England his attention was turned to the study of the law, for which he had a predilection. Without entering any law office there as a student, he employed all the time he could command in reading such legal treatises as were recommended to him by a lawyer with whom he boarded. After having acquired a knowledge of the elementary principles of the profession he was choosing as a life work, he went to New York and entered the justly celebrated Columbia college law school – one of the best institutions of the kind in the country – where under the masterly instruction of Professors Theodore W. Dwight, Francis Lieber and other distinguished instructors, he enjoyed rare opportunities for legal study – opportunities which he was not slow to embrace with the greatest ardor. To assist him financially, he became a frequent correspondent for the newspapers during his first year of student life in the metropolis, and devoted the vacation preceding his closing year to editing a weekly newspaper in Otsego County.
Mr. Chester graduated from the Columbia college law school with the class of 1871, and in May of the same year he was admitted to the bar at the general term of the Supreme Court in New York City. That he was a close, industrious student of the law, and well versed in its kindred branches, was evinced on graduation day, when he took a prize of $75 in the department of political science, that being one of only five prizes given to a graduating class of ninety-nine. The prize was awarded on the combined merits of a graduating essay and the final examinations. Dr. Lieber was then professor of constitutional history and public law in the department of political science in the law school; and to him Mr. Chester was greatly indebted for much of the valuable instruction which he received in that department. He deeply cherishes the memory of that profound scholar, renowned teacher and author, who died in 1872, but whose works on “Civil Liberty and Self-Government,” “Political Ethics ” and Legal and Political Hermeneutics,” will stand as enduring monuments to his genius and his memory. In an article in the Columbia Jurist for February, 1886, Mr. Chester has given some pleasing reminiscences of Dr. Lieber, in which he says: “His lectures were oral, but delivered from carefully prepared notes. He always elucidated the subject in hand in great detail, showing constant evidence of profound study and deep research. His great familiarity with matters of history, his wonderful memory and his philosophical treatment of every subject, made his lectures very entertaining as well as instructive. We were indeed highly favored who were permitted to prosecute the study of political science under a teacher whose writings, as the Nation has truthfully said, ‘are universally regarded as among the most important contributions in the English language to the science of politics.’ ”
On receiving his legal diploma Mr. Chester immediately came to Albany – where he has since resided – and entered into partnership with Andrew S. Draper, now state superintendent of public instruction, who was himself just commencing the practice of law. From 1876 to 1882, Hon, William S. Paddock was a member of the firm under the name of Paddock, Draper & Chester. Since the retirement of Mr. Draper in the spring of 1887, Mr. Chester has continued to practice alone, and by a faithful discharge of his professional duties he has secured a large clientage and is doing a successful business.
In politics Mr. Chester is a republican, and though not a frequent aspirant for political honors and emoluments, he has already, though comparatively a young man filled in a most creditable manner, several important places of public trust and responsibility, and rendered efficient service to his party. In 1874 and in 1876 he was deputy clerk of the New York state assembly; and for several years he was a member and secretary of the republican general committee of Albany County. In educational matters in our city he has taken a deep interest. On the expiration of the term of the late Hon. Charles P. Easton as member of the board of public instruction, Mr. Chester was chosen in his place; and during his last year of service he was elected and served as president of the board. In 1881, Mr. Chester in connection with Mr. Douw H. Fonda, was an earnest worker in a cause for which intelligent Albanians will ever be grateful, and that was a successful effort in inducing the board of education to throw open the High school library – too long isolated and neglected – to all who may desire to consult its valuable treasures, and thus to render it more effective as a factor in the general education of the people. Since that time this library has been free to the public as a circulating library.
In 1882 Mr. Chester was appointed by Attorney-General Benjamin H. Brewster, assistant United States attorney for the northern district of New York, under the Hon. Martin J. I. Townsend, United States attorney. While serving in this capacity Mr. Chester tried on behalf of the government many important cases in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Auburn, Utica and Albany. Many of these cases were of great public interest, and the manner in which he conducted them reflected no little credit upon him and evinced his legal ability, his remarkable industry and his sound judgment.
In 1885 in consequence of the appointment by President Arthur of his partner, Mr, Draper, as judge of the court of Alabama claims, Mr. Chester resigned his office as assistant United States attorney that he might more fully attend to the growing law business of his firm. On retiring from his office he received a public recognition by the United States court, over which Judge Coxe presided, for his faithful performance of duty, as well as the following graceful tribute from the venerable Martin I. Townsend:
“From the day of your entrance upon your official duties until now, our social and official intercourse have been without a cloud, and in parting with you I feel that I am sustaining a great personal loss. Allow me to say further that I feel that your resignation is also a loss to the government as well as to myself. I take this occasion to bear witness to the judicious and faithful manner in which you have discharged your official duties, as well in the labors of the office, as in the courts where the eye of the public was upon you and where your conduct has commended you to the judges, to the bar and to the attendants in the halls of justice.”
In Mr. Chester’s private practice he has been connected with many important cases, only a few of which can be mentioned. He was counsel for the relators in People, ex rel. James Youngs v. Edward Roark, and in People, ex rel. John Greer, v. James Carlisle, in which the title to the offices of supervisor and alderman of the seventh ward of this city was tried, and the relators in each instance decided to be entitled to the offices. He successfully conducted a considerable number of mandamus cases against the state comptroller in 1878, to determine the amount of compensation to which the officers and employees of the legislature were entitled. He was one of the counsel for the sitting member, when the legislative seat of Hon. A. S. Draper was contested by Daniel Casey, a case which involved the right of a member of the board of public instruction to a seat in the assembly. Later he was counsel for Hon. George S. Weed, when his seat in the assembly was contested, on the ground that he was ineligible to the office of member of assembly, under the constitution because of holding the office of United States commissioner. In both cases the assembly decided the sitting members eligible and entitled to their seats. Mr. Chester recently acted as counsel for the relators in the Second avenue assessment cases, conducting them successfully through all the courts, the court of appeals finally deciding the assessment void. He has also been engaged in many important patent litigation’s and contested will cases. While conducting a general law practice, he numbers among his clients several life and fire insurance companies and has in recent years been engaged as counsel for the companies in many important life and fire insurance cases. In 1883 he compiled and annotated the insurance laws of the state for the state insurance department. He has also conducted a very considerable business in the management of estates and trusts and has acted as referee in various important suits. He has a large and well-selected law library, which is the lawyer’s right arm in the successful prosecution of his duties.
In seeking occasional relaxation from the severe and confining labors of professional life, Mr. Chester enjoys, in a true Waltonian spirit, the pleasures of angling and is an expert with the rod and the reel. He also delights in the* exciting and healthful sports of the marksman, and is a good shot with a rifle.
His career is like that of many of the professional men of our country, who by their early toil and persistent efforts under adverse surroundings, have risen to distinction. Industry has ever marked his pathway; and without pretentious display he moves serenely along, both through the storms and sunshine of life, attending faithfully to the duties of the passing hour. In public speaking he is ready, earnest and deliberate, presenting his subject in a clear, strong light, with well-chosen words, calculated to engage the close attention of his hearers, and to carry conviction to their minds. He has delivered quite a number of Independence and Memorial day addresses; spoken on educational and miscellaneous topics, and taken an active part in several political campaigns. With a retentive memory he draws largely for illustrations from the intellectual treasures with which he early stored his mind. Self-reliant, independent, and unyielding in his belief of what is right or wrong; he exhibits the characteristics of the cultured man and the useful citizen, governed by high and honorable principles, which are the guide, inspiration and solace of a true life.