In his writings on local history, William Conklin was typically self-effacing; he always referred to himself as a “compiler” instead of an author, and in his most significant publication, he refused to give himself any credit at all. But students of the history of Dansville know better: few, if any, did as much to preserve Dansville’s rich historical heritage and make that history accessible to future researchers as did William D. Conklin.
Born in Rochester, Conklin attended the University of Rochester, graduating in 1912, then transferred to Columbia University, graduating from its School of Journalism in 1913. For the next three years he worked as office editor for the New International Encyclopedia . After serving in World War I, he came to Dansville in 1919 to work on the editorial staff of the F.A. Owen Publishing Company where he would be employed for more than four decades. He was an active community leader serving on the library board, the Dansville Board of Trade, the Dansville Memorial Hospital, the Dansville Red Cross, and the Community Chest. For his many contributions to local causes, the Chamber of Commerce voted him “Citizen of the Year” in 1967.
Following his retirement in 1960, Conklin set to work in earnest on his major project: the preservation of local history. And although it’s true that his writings held little in the way of narrative drive, as a “mere” compiler, he gathered together information from numerous sources – particularly letters and newspaper articles – and provided his readers with a wealth of information on various subjects of local interest. His most significant work, and the only one to have been professionally printed, was the anonymously published Clara Barton in Dansville (1966), a treasure trove of archival information on Dansville’s most famous resident and on the creation of the nation’s first local Red Cross chapter.
But Conklin was just warming up. Over the next several years, he would release a series of other collections of local history: Acorn to Oak – The Story of the Dansville Public Library (1969), The Jackson Health Resort (1971), F.A. Owen of Dansville (1972), and finally, The Dansville Board of Trade (1983), the last one written in his nineties. He moved to Poughkeepsie in 1983 where he lived until his death at age 97