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Book notes integrity in 1870s of U.S. vice president from Malone

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MALONE — William Almon Wheeler is no household name, especially outside Northern New York.

Even those from the area may only know a few main details of the Malone native’s life: he was U.S. vice president under Rutherford B. Hayes in the 19th century and his large home on Elm Street is now the Malone lodge of the Elks.But an interest in Mr. Wheeler, stirred by a ceremony on his birthday, is what led author Herbert Hallas to write a new book.

“William Almon Wheeler: Political Star of the North Country,” published this year by SUNY Press, highlights Mr. Wheeler’s career, his contributions to the north country and some of his personal life. The book is available in print and digital formats.

In two years researching Mr. Wheeler and three years writing, Mr. Hallas said, he became impressed with Mr. Wheeler’s morals, how he fought for his beliefs and how he continued to serve his community for the rest of his life.

Mr. Hallas moved to Malone in 1989 to practice law and to teach U.S. history, government and economics in the Chateaugay Central School District. From 1993 to 1995, he was president of the Franklin County Historical Society, which holds a ceremony at Mr. Wheeler’s grave site in Morningside Cemetery, Raymond Street, on June 4, his birthday.

“One of my duties was to give a speech at Mr. Wheeler’s grave site,” he said. In his ever-growing research, Mr. Hallas said, “I was really struck by his accomplishments” and wondered how Mr. Wheeler reached such political heights while still living in the isolated north country.

Mr. Hallas said a major source for the book was microfilm copies he purchased of the Malone Palladium, a now-defunct newspaper with a Republican affiliation.

The 1876 presidential election was one of the most controversial in U.S. history. Mr. Hayes lost the popular vote to Democrat Samuel J. Tilden but won a highly disputed electoral college vote after a Congressional commission awarded him 20 contested votes.

Mr. Wheeler spent five terms in Congress and helped bring the railroad to the north country.Mr. Hallas said he never accepted a bribe, unlike most politicians at that time. On the personal side, Mr. Hallas said Mr. Wheeler enjoyed fishing in the Adirondacks and had a sense of humor. As a believer in helping his community, Mr. Wheeler gave more than $10,000 in lesson-plan prize money to local students and teachers and nearly $225,000 to the First Congregational Church to help rebuild after a fire.

After retiring from politics, Mr. Hallas said, Mr. Wheeler was elected to a local school board and served on a committee trying to place a mental hospital in Malone. Mr. Hallas said he found it interesting that after a career in politics, 30 years as a district attorney and two failed attempts to win a U.S. Senate seat, Mr. Wheeler still wanted to serve his community.

Mr. Hallas is now working on a book about the origins of court reporting in New York. He left the north country in the late 1990s, but still visits occasionally. He lives on Long Island.

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