For an excellent, comprehensive biography of Isaac N. Seligman, read Hopper Striker Mott's article in The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, printed October, 1918 shortly after Isaac's death in a riding accident in 1917. Wikipedia has another good article with many excellent links about Seligman family history in the section on Isaac's father Joseph. JewishEncyclopdia.com also has good information on the Seligman family.
Isaac N. Seligman was born July 10th, 1855 on Staten Island. By the time Isaac was born, his father, Joseph Seligman, was already a wealthy and influential man. As a boy, Isaac was tutored by Horatio Alger, Jr., the famous writer. He graduated with honors from Columbia College in 1876. He rowed on Columbia's crew team, often competing with other colleges on Saratoga Lake. Perhaps his fascination with the Adirondacks began there with the views of the distant peaks to the north. According to family accounts passed down through his daughter Margaret, Isaac's interest in the Adirondacks may have been linked to his friendship with Edward L. Trudeau. Trudeau moved to the Adirondacks in 1873 seeking a cure for tuberculosis and founded a sanitarium and research center in Saranac Lake, not far from where Fish Rock Camp would be built.
Isaac's business training with the family firm began in the New Orleans branch. He was transferred to the New York office in 1878 and became a partner in the firm in 1880 when his father died. His uncle Jesse Seligman headed the firm until his death in 1894, and Isaac became head of the financial house shortly afterwards, a position he held for 22 years until his death at age 62.
During his years as head of J. & W. Seligman & Co., Isaac made repeated trips to foreign capitals to confer with heads of state and financiers. He is credited with being a major force behind the project to complete the Panama Canal, which his firm heavily financed. He worked intensely on the Panama Canal project from 1898 to 1902. He helped work out a plan to save Venezuela from a financial collapse during the Teddy Roosevelt presidency. During the period he headed the company, it financed many of the earliest municipal gas utilities and street car systems.
Isaac worked tirelessly for progressive reform. He served on civic committees which espoused regulation of child labor, and gave a major address on the topic titled "A Duty of a Rich Nation to Take Care of Her Children" before the National Child Labor Committee. He delivered the address due to the absence of his friend, the group's chairman, Felix Adler, founder of the Society for Ethical Culture, of which Isaac was a member. Isaac was one of the founders of the Child Labor Association. It was perhaps at his urging that the family in 1905 "established at their original home in Baiersdorf (Germany) an institution for the training and support of children during the absence of their parents at work, and open to all the inhabitants of Baiersdorf without distinction of creed," according to an article in JewishEncyclopeida.com.
He was active in groups proposing decriminalization of prostitution (euphemistically referred to as "the social evil), to remove it from the heavy grip of police graft of the time. He backed reform of crooked civil service practices. He worked for improvement of tenement slums and was one of the founders of the City and Suburban Homes Company, which tried to create model tenements.
He was a friend of early muckraker Jacob Riis, whose book How the Other Half Lives was one of the earliest photo-journalism exposes of slum conditions. Riis visited Fish Rock Camp in 1906 and, at the request of Selgiman, entered quotes from two of his progressive books in the Fish Rock guest book.
Another guest was Charles Evans Hughes, who became governor of New York and later a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Isaac wrote a public letter on behalf of Hughes' campaign for governor in 1906 when Hughes ran against William Randolph Hearst, the king of yellow journalism. Hughes and his wife were guests at Fish Rock in September, 1909 when he was New York governor. Their signatures are in the guest book.
Isaac also seemed to support early civil rights for blacks and was pictured at the 25th anniversary of Tuskegee Institute. According to family accounts, he was a friend of Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee founder.
In 1914 he gave testimony before a government committee favoring creation of a state income tax.
He was an avid art collector and installed six large murals by noted wildlife artist Charles Livingston Bull on the walls of the main house at Fish Rock. It would appear that Isaac's own sketches for the Fish Rock guest book were influenced by Bull's work.
Isaac amassed the largest collection of Washington Irving papers and first editions, which he loaned for exhibit by the New York Public Library in 1914.
The Seligman Archives at the University of Oklahoma Libraries include books of letters written by Isaac N. Seligman between 1898 and 1899 and between 1904 and 1916, including letters to Theodore Roosevelt and other extensive records of the family firm.
Isaac married Guta Loeb, daughter of banker Soloman Loeb, a founder of Kuhn, Loeb & Co. and Betty Gallenberg Loeb. Isaac and Guta had four children. Two of their children died before reaching age two just before and during the time Isaac began the search for a camp on Upper Saranac Lake (Maude died in 1886 and Nina died 1891.) Perhaps the building of Fish Rock, which came soon after Nina's death, was a distraction for Isaac and Guta and a comforting retreat. Guta's granddaughter remembers family accounts that Guta had difficulty giving birth. The nature of her illness the night of the Fish Rock fire in 1904 was not disclosed in the newspaper accounts at the time. Isaac and Guta's surviving children were Joseph Lionel, born in 1887 and Margaret, born in 1895. Margaret married Samuel Lewisohn, son of mining magnate Adolph Lewisohn, who built Prospect Point, now Young Life Camp, on Upper Saranac Lake. Margaret and Sam's children still have and treasure the Fish Rock guest book that Isaac filled with his sketches, many of them of fish he caught. They agreed to have the guest book digitized for this web site.