Big Shoes

The home of the cobbler who became vice president

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lysses S. Grant’s vice president, Henry Wilson, lived at 33 West Central St. and owned a modest shoe shop, now maintained by the town as a memorial to him, at Mill and West Central streets. Chairman of the important Senate Committee on Military Affairs during the Civil War, Wilson (born Jeremiah Jones Colbath, he had his name legally changed) became vice president in 1872 and died in office in 1875 while carrying out his duties in the Capitol Building. That was only one of Wilson’s misfortunes. He had lost his campaign for Congress in 1852, and the next year lost his bid to become governor of Massachusetts, landing in the Senate two years after that thanks largely to the resignation of the incumbent.

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While chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs at the outset of the Civil War, Henry Wilson is suspected of having inadvertently revealed plans for the northern invasion of Virginia, disclosing them to society matron and southern spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow. He was later implicated in a bribery scandal related to the transcontinental railroad.

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