Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Claytors: Building America's Infrastructure

In my family tree I have at least five generations of men named William Graham Claytor. I discovered the Claytor line after being contacted by someone who administered a few AncestryDNA tests for his cousins. I was a match for two of his second cousins, but we had no shared ancestor...then. He thought we must be related through the Mitchell family.

One of my great great grandmothers is Barbara Ann Mitchell (1841-1890). I had not worked on her line at all. She descended from Robert Mitchel or Mitchell, who immigrated to the colonies from Ireland in the 1700s. One of Robert's daughters, Martha Ann Mitchell, married Samuel Claytor. Their third son, Robert Mitchell Claytor's (1792-1865) son was the first William Graham Claytor (1821-1903). His oldest son was William Graham Claytor, Jr. (1852-1903). He also named his son William Graham Claytor (1886-1971).

A portion of my Ancestry.com tree which includes four generations named
William Graham Claytor

And it is this William Graham Claytor and his son I am writing about today.

William Graham Claytor (1886-1971)
William was born 26 December 1886 in Bedford County, Virginia. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 1906 and married Gertrude Harris Boatwright sometime before 1908. Gertrude began publishing poetry in the 1920s and is probably best known for her collection entitled Sunday in Virginia and Other Poems. William was an engineer with the Roanoke Railway and Electric Company, which later became the Appalachian Electric Power Company.

His rise in the electric utility business was rapid. In 1923 he was named chief engineer of the company and two years later he was named general manager. In 1926 when American Electric Power acquired his company, he was transferred to New York and was named operating vice president of several power subsidiaries. In 1951 he became a member of the executive committee.

William was probably best known for supervising the construction of a dam, which created lake, on the New River in 1939. The lake and surrounding park were named for him.

Hydro Electric Dam at Claytor Lake; photo courtesy of the New River
Valley Economic Development Allicance

William Graham Claytor, Jr. (1912-1994)
William Graham Claytor, Jr., was born on 14 March 1912 in Roanoke, Virginia, to William Graham and Gertrude Harris (Boatwright) Claytor. He graduated from the University of Virginia in 1933 and Harvard Law School in 1936. During World War II he was the commander of the destroyer escort USS Cecil J. Doyle. In August 1945, without orders, he rescued the survivors of the USS Indianapolis[1], from which only 316 men out of 1,199 survived.

He served as president of the Southern Railway from 1967 to 1977 and was appointed Secretary of the Navy under Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1979. He is often recognized as leading the Navy to accept a woman's right to serve on ships. In 1979 he was appointed Deputy Secretary of Defense and also served a short stint as Acting Secretary of Transportation.

He came out of retirement in 1982 to lead Amtrak. In 1989 Railroad Age magazine named him Railroader of the Year. He was the brother of Robert Claytor, who was president of Norfolk and Western Railway in 1891 and the first chairman and CEO of Norfolk Southern.

William Graham Claytor with part of his train collection;
photograph courtesy of TTOPS magazine

The main hall at Union Station in Washington, DC, is named Claytor Concourse for his loyal service to Amtrak. He is also honored in the National Railroad Hall of Fame. He was apparently a straight-shooting, direct communicator. When a Congressman, who wanted to stop federal funding of Amtrak, asked how many passengers trains could be run; Claytor's response was "NONE!" He told an Amtrak vice president before retiring in 1993, "I don't care they fire me. I'm going to do what I think is right." There is also a semi-permanent exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke entitled, "The Claytor Brothers: Building America's Railroad."

My kind of gentleman. This is another story of the wonderful discoveries I've made since taking the Ancestry DNA test. A previous story may be found here.

[1] The story of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the men onboard at the time is a tragic tale, which I'll tell another day.

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