Horace Silliman lived his ideals as a great community leader, contributing to Cohoes both financially and through good works. He dedicated his life to promoting pride in his city and making it a better place to live for those of his and future generations. His greatest monument and gift to the citizens of Cohoes was the Silliman Memorial Church, constructed in 1896 in memory of his parents, Levi and Clarissa. This Romanesque revival church stood proudly on the corner of Mohawk and Ontario Streets for about 100 years.
Born in 1825, Horace B. Silliman was the only one of six children to survive to adulthood. He was educated at Albany Academy and graduated from Union College in 1846, a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Later, Silliman received honorary degrees from Union and Hamilton Colleges; Hamilton, at one time, offered him its presidency, but he declined.
Following graduation from Union, Horace became a druggist, opening a shop on Remsen St. in Cohoes. His interest in business was shared by his father whose local business ventures included the Simmons Axe Factory and Rathbone & Silliman, makers of iron furnaces. In 1849, Horace and Stephen C. Miller purchased a newspaper, and established the Cohoes Cataract; Silliman was publisher until 1851. Through his business acumen and executive ability, Horace accumulated a large fortune in the halcyon days of the Industrial Revolution. He was a stockholder in several mills in Cohoes and served on a committee to consider water usage by the mills, resulting in the construction of a new reservoir in 1857 and a reliable water system.
Throughout his life, Silliman generously gave of his time and wealth to Cohoes, the community he resided in and loved. He was a leader in organizing a school district in Cohoes in 1849. He worked to improve the community cemetery grounds and participated in efforts to distribute relief to the poor and establish a soup kitchen. He was elected first president of the Cohoes chapter of the YMCA in 1858, and later served as vice-president.
During the Civil War, Silliman took a prominent role in meetings discussing the community’s contribution to the war effort and in the raising of troops. He was active in the work of soldiers’ relief, during and after the war, and gave the welcome address for volunteers returning from the war.
Silliman worked with the Harmony Company in coordinating the purchase of a fire engine and was chosen as first president of the C. H. Adams Steamer Company. He introduced a bill to obtain water for additional industrial power, and became Trustee of the Waterworks Sinking Fund and one of its first officials in 1870. He served on a committee to establish the Cohoes Hospital, and in later years, his generosity permitted the hospital to construct two large additions.
Like his parents, Horace was quite active in the church, and served in 1876 as superintendent of the Presbyterian Church Sunday School. Church services were held in the Silliman home on Saratoga St. until a church was erected on the corner of Remsen and Factory Sts. However, Horace was determined to create a grander house of worship, and did so when he made his fortune.
Silliman died on May 4, 1910 at 84, leaving an impressive legacy which extended well beyond Cohoes. His philanthropy included funding additions to Hamilton College, building the Silliman Lodge in New Jersey, a home for invalid girls, and establishing Silliman University in Dumaguete City, Philippines.
Despite being added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, Silliman's memorial did not survive the 20th century. After years of absentee ownership, it was pronounced an "eyesore" and too deteriorated to preserve by the city. Despite objections from many citizens and strenuous preservation efforts by the Spindle City Historic Society, the City of Cohoes demolished the church in 1998.
The site of the church is now an empty lot. The historical society and other community groups are working to create a park on the site to recognize Horace Silliman (who has yet received little honor in his home town), and also to commemorate the magnificent structure that once stood there. The city's present mayor has expressed support for this project and it will hopefully move forward soon.