Who Was Lewis Edwin Payson?

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Image courtesy of Tim Ehrhardt

Lewis Edwin Payson was instrumental in getting a post office for the community of Green Valley. Thereafter, Green Valley became known as Payson, in honor of the man.

On March 3, 1884, Green Valley opened its first post office. Soon thereafter, Green Valley became known as Payson, in honor of the man who helped them get the post office, Lewis Edwin Payson.

But while the name Payson carried forward, knowledge of the man Lewis Edwin Payson in the town named for him, generally did not.

Who was Lewis Edwin Payson?

According to Wikipedia, Payson was born Sept. 17, 1840 in Providence, R.I. He moved to Illinois with his parents as a child and would spend much of his early professional life there.

He started practicing law in 1862 and rose to judge of the county court from 1869 to 1873. In 1880, he was elected to Congress.

Payson and the Hises

John H. Hise Sr. started off as a newspaper publisher in Ottawa, Ill. in the 1840s. Gradually he rose through political ranks, enough so that he got a mention in one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.

He served a number of years in the Illinois State House through the 1870s, and was definitely a part of the state’s political scene. It was in this political scene that he likely encountered Lewis Payson. While no one knows for sure, these two most likely got to know each other, setting the stage for later favors.

Hise had two children, Frank and John H. By the late 1870s John Jr. had come westward to Arizona, where he set up shop in Globe. His father joined him for various periods of time.

The early 1880s marked a time of tremendous growth around Green Valley. Mining discoveries helped create the nearby boom town of Maryville, and the area was growing. There were post offices in the regions, but none that close to Green Valley. Thus there was a need for a post office.

The push for a post office likely came from John Hise Sr., who probably got in touch with L.E. Payson, who helped get Green Valley a post office. Hise still had influence, so much so that he managed to get himself named Arizona Surveyor General a year-and-a-half later.

Hise wasn’t the only one to have some political juice after Green Valley got its post office. In 1888 Payson’s name was heavily bandied about for a cabinet post in the Harrison administration. A clip from a nationally circulated article discusses it further.

“Lewis E. Payson’s prominence among the men who are likely to have great influence with the coming administration is not a matter of sudden growth. He has served in Congress as the representative of the ninth district of Illinois for a number of years, having been elected five times to the position. His first political preferment was bestowed upon him in 1868, when he was made county judge, principally on account of the fame he achieved in the conduct of a remarkable case in the courts. It was perhaps the greatest case he ever handled in all his practice, though that has been extensive, and in the course of it he won the reputation of being the leading jury lawyer in central Illinois.”

Payson didn’t get a cabinet post but still remained quite influential. A clip from the May 10, 1888 Decatur Weekly Republican provides a little bit of insight.

“As previously announced, Hon. Lewis E. Payson, of Pontiac, was called to the chair, and proceeded to deliver an address of considerable length, which was frequently applauded. Judge Payson is a splendid looking man, a fine presiding officer, and eloquent speaker, and during the trying ordeal (for he was afterwards made permanent chairman) he acquitted himself with much credit.”

It appears that he was also quite popular with his colleagues in Congress. As this clip from the Decatur Morning Review dated March 7, 1891 shows.

“WASHINGTON CITY, March 6 — Judge Payson and Representative Catchings, of Mississippi, have received a pleasant surprise from their fellow members. Each of them has received a present of a handsome set of silver tableware consisting of 100 pieces, and a cut-glass, silver-mounted inkstand on a silver salver. These articles are engraved with their names and with the legend: ‘From Friends in the Fifty-first Congress.’ When it was decided to make a test case before the court of claims to determine whether the sergeant-at-arms of the house is a disbursing officer of the treasury, etc., the Republicans selected Payson and the Democrats chose Catchings to argue the case before the court, and their contention was successful. The presents now made to these gentleman are a tribute from their fellow members of the house without distinction of party.”

After retiring from politics, Payson settled down in Washington, D.C., where he died Oct. 4, 1909. According to the obituary published in the October 6, 1909 Washington Post, “Judge Payson was an expert in land law, and figured prominently in many cases before the United States courts. He represented John D. Rockefeller and Mrs. Hetty Green, the Harriman railroad interests, and the Newport News Shipbuilding Company.”

Payson’s interest in land should be noted. He spent time in Congress as chairman of the House committee on public lands and seems to have been quite respected on such matters.

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