Biographies | William Roy Hawley
The man who would become Mayor of the Village of Webster from 1931-1965 was born in Webster on March 28, 1881 on the second floor of his family’s general store (which became Witmer’s in 1907), and so was called a “cracker barrel baby.” W. R. Hawley would be a life-long resident of Webster, living and working not 200 yards from the place of his birth. His parents were George Nelson Hawley (1852-1924) and Florence May Curtice Hawley (1857-1891). Following Florence’s death, George remarried. George and Cora Hawley raised William Roy and three other children, Mabel, Carrie and Margaret. One of W.R.’s boyhood responsibilities was to round up cows kept for milking by residents of the village. He and other boys his age earned quarters by taking cows to pastures for the day and bringing them back in the evening.
On June 30, 1909, W.R. (also called William, Roy, William Roy, Roy William and “Bob,” a nickname given him by his father and used by friends the rest of his life) married Josephine Fuller in Madison, New York. Soon after, W.R. became the proprietor of a retail hardware store at 17 East Main Street in Webster. In 1910, he purchased the building that was to house Hawley’s Hardware Store from Harvey Bergh with a handshake and an agreement to pay as he could. Eventually W.R. and Josephine came to live at 78 Park Avenue with their two children, George Fuller Hawley and Jane Hawley. Josephine became a teacher at Webster High School. The hardware business later moved to the corner of Lapham Park and East Main Street.
In 1931, W.R. was elected mayor of the Village of Webster, an office he would hold for 34 years. Though soft-spoken, he knew how to get things done. During his tenure, the population of the Village grew from 1600 to 3600 and Village property values grew more than ten-fold from 1.25 million dollars to over 12 million dollars. In 1946, W. R. and the Village Board began a program of sidewalk installation along Main Street from Corning Park to Sherwood Avenue, a program that would continue for many years. Under his leadership a public works department was established and a reliable water supply installed. When W.R. took office, water was piped in from a spring in Penfield and acquired from a single pipe in the center of the village. When he retired 34 years later, Webster water came from deep wells drilled in the glacially filled old valley of the Genesee River and yielded eight million gallons per day. He and his Village boards made major improvements to water treatment and the sewage disposal systems. According to historian Esther Dunn, W.R. and his boards were also responsible for “a better equipped fire department, the installation of miles of sidewalks and streets, and the greatest industrial growth of the community.” Haloid company, predecessor of Xerox, was welcomed to Webster by W. R. and the Village Board in 1954. In January of 1965, just months before his retirement, a brand-new Village Hall at 28 West Main Street, complete with board room and offices, was dedicated. The first study for the new Village Hall had been authorized in 1940, a study in mayoral patience!
Alongside the larger issues of water supply, sewage treatment and industrial growth, Mayor Hawley and his board needed to deal with parking difficulties along Main Street, disagreements in1955 about larger lot sizes for new homes in the village, and rowdiness on Friday nights. With a mayor just as interested in the little concerns of the village as the large concerns, it is unsurprising perhaps that board decisions about contentious matters were generally resolved unanimously, that there was a string of surpluses in village budget and tax rates remained stable for long periods of time. And that W.R. Hawley became a much-loved figure in Webster Village, affectionately called “Mr. Mayor,” “Mayor Bob” and “Hizzoner.” Often running unopposed, W.R.’s mayoral style was appreciated in an unusually bipartisan manner and, except for the occasional write-in, often received all of the ballots counted in an election year. W.R. retired from office April 20, 1965.
W.R. was mayor before, during and after World War II. It may not have been in his job description, but he clearly thought it his duty to encourage his constituents worn down by war and deprivation. In his Thanksgiving Proclamation for the November 25, 1948 Webster Herald, he said in part:
“In a world struggling to repair the ravages of war, our country is still a land of plenty. We recognize that a sound and strong American economy is the cornerstone of world peace. And we know we can achieve national and individual economic strength if we conserve and save…. As we gather for Thanksgiving, let us pledge ourselves to produce more, waste less and to set aside all we can from our earnings to help build security for ourselves, our community and our Nation… We express our thanks for the blessings of the past and by producing, sharing, conserving and saving, we strive to assure future blessings for all.”
All this time, of course, W.R. needed to attend to Hawley’s Hardware Store concerns as well. Upon its fiftieth anniversary in 1960, he must have been amazed at the difference between his new modern hardware store and his first store which sold such items such as stoves, horse blankets, harness, motorcycles and plumbing and heating equipment. Refrigeration and other modern conveniences had replaced the horse blankets by 1965 when W. R. closed Hawley’s Hardware Store, the oldest retail business in Webster Village or Town at the time.
W. R. and Josephine were actively involved in the cultural, civic, social and philanthropic activities of the Village of Webster. He served several terms as President of the Association of Monroe County Villages, was a member of the Webster Republican Club, Masons and the Damascus Shrine Temple and other organizations. W. R. and other businessmen rented land in 1941 and financed a town baseball team. Proud of his village, he invited the mayors of all Rochester area villages in 1940 to celebrate Webster’s 100-year history. Josephine was a good planner and hosted social gatherings as well as planning the “Centennial Window” display in storefronts along Main Street in 1940. She was part of a group of women who planned a clinic providing X-rays to screen for TB in 1948. When a building collapsed on Commercial Street in 1948, Josephine raised money to help the family who had lost a mother and son, while W. R. initiated the inspection of similar buildings suspected of being unfit to use as dwellings. This philanthropic trait evidently ran in the Hawley family, as his sister Carrie saw a need for early childhood education and opened Webster’s first kindergarten in her home on South Avenue.
W.R. died on May 23, 1966 and his wife Josephine in 1969. They are buried in Webster Rural Cemetery. At the time of his death at age 85, Mr. Hawley was one of the longest serving public officials in New York State.
The tributes following W. R.’s death were many and touching. With the headline “Mr. Mayor is dead”, these tributes included “…beloved director of Webster’s destinies, dedicated man, Webster was his village and he sought to protect it and to aid its growth with the first thought his people’s benefit… a man of character and dedication from a mold used only once…. he epitomized all that is good in public service and performed his duties as he saw them, unselfishly and wisely.”
- Ancestry. Accessed 2020.
- Barton, Lynn M., Sassone, Joan E., Grenier, Mary Hasek, Images of America:Webster. Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2010.
- Barton, Lynn M., Webster Historian – photos of W. R. Hawley from collection
- Dunn, Esther. Webster… Through The Years. Webster: Webster Town Board, 1970, pp. 336-336.
- Find A Grave William Roy Hawley. Accessed 2020.
- Hawley File of Clippings and Photos. Webster Historian’s office. Accessed July 2020.
- New York State Historic Newspapers Accessed 2020. Search “Hawley” in Webster Herald 1931-1966