Thursday, February 27, 2014

Henry Bradford Nason: Foxboro Native, Forgotten Story

Henry Bradford Nason was born on June 22, 1831 in Foxborough, Massachusetts, the son of Elias and Susanna (Keith) Nason. His father, Elias Nason was born at Walpole, Massachusetts Dec. 24, 1768; died at Easthampton, Massachusetts on Oct. 2, 1853. Elias is remembered in Foxboro as one of the pioneer manufacturers of straw hats and in 1812 built one of the earliest cotton mills located at Cocasset Pond on Water Street. He served his town as Justice of the Peace and as Representative in the Massachusetts General Court. The family resided at 85 South Street.

In 1841, at the age of ten, Henry and family moved to North Bridgewater (now Brockton), Massachusetts, the native town of his mother who had died the previous year. By 1844 Nason was attending Adelphian Academy in North Bridgewater and in 1847 he entered Williams Seminary in Easthampton, Massachusetts. After graduating in 1851 he entered Amherst and upon graduation four years later, he sailed to Gottingen, Germany. There he received his Ph.D. in 1857, from Georgia Augusta University, a student of Friedrich Woehler. While there Nason studied Chemistry, Mineralogy and Geology and attending lectures in Physics and Botany.

Nason returned to Troy and married Frances Kellogg Townshend, daughter of the Honorable Martin Ingham Townshend, ex-Congressman, also of Troy, on September 7, 1864. They had two children Henry Townshend and Louise Kellogg (who died in infancy). Professor Nason began teaching at Raymond Collegiate Institute in Cornell, New York in 1857 and the following year was appointed professor of natural history. After holding simultaneous appointments at Beloit. College (Wisconsin) and RPI (1858-1866) he was appointed full professor at RPI and thereafter devoted his fulltime energies to teaching chemistry, mineralogy, and later geology until his retirement in 1894. He received three honorary degrees, an A.M. from Amherst, in 1864; an M.D. from Union University of New York in 1880, and an L.L.D. from Beloit College in 1880.

Nason became President of the American Chemical Society in 1890 and was also a member of other professional organizations such as the London Chemical Society, to which he was elected a fellow. While primarily a chemist, Nason was also interested in geology, and mineralogy. He took students on local geological field trips and travelled extensively in the United States and Europe for research purposes.

Aside from Nason's teaching and other scientific activities, Professor Nason, although not a Renssealer graduate, became a zealous member and leader of the Rensselaer community. He was the official historian of the Semi-Centennial Celebration in 1874, and served for many years, almost from its inception, as secretary of the Renssealer Alumni Association, passing on both his professional position and alumni post to his student, colleague, and successor, William Pitt Mason. In his Alumni Secretary's capacity, Nason was the tireless collector and compiler of the Biographical record of the Officers and Graduates of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute published in 1887. To this day the publication is an invaluable record of early Rensselaer history.


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