William Travers is a former NYAC president, the namesake of Travers Island, and a 1981 NYAC Hall of Fame inductee.
Travers graduated from Columbia College in 1838 and began his career on Wall Street. Using his earnings as a stockbroker, Travers founded the Saratoga Race Course in 1863. The annual Travers Stakes, known as the “Midsummer Derby”, is the oldest thoroughbred horse race in the United States and is named in his honor.
As a successful stockbroker and NYAC member, Travers was a well known New York socialite. The New York Times referred to Travers as “the most popular man in New York”; he was also a business partner of Leonard Jerome: the “King of Wall Street,” and maternal grandfather of Winston Churchill. At a time when the Club was struggling financially, Travers used this popularity to entice many business leaders and aristocrats to join the NYAC, helping to right the ship.
After addressing the Club’s financial woes, Travers facilitated the purchase of the first City House and Hog Island, now known as Travers Island.
The first City House opened on February 5th, 1885. Travers purchased the property, located at 6th Avenue and 55th Street, from a former business partner, and enticed many friends and colleagues to buy bonds to help finance the building’s construction. He also personally oversaw the furnishing of the new City House and paid for whatever the Club could not afford.
In 1887, the Club sought a replacement for the Mott Haven athletic ground. As president, Travers spearheaded the purchase of Hog Island in Pelham, which he thought was the most suitable alternative.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck before the purchase of the island could be completed. Travers died due to complications from diabetes on March 19th, 1887. The NYAC officially purchased the property in 1888 for $58,500 and renamed the island in his honor.