William W Davis.

History of Whiteside County, Illinois from its earliest settlement to 1908 : illustrated, with biographical sketches of some prominent citizens of the county (Volume v.1) online

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Online LibraryWilliam W DavisHistory of Whiteside County, Illinois from its earliest settlement to 1908 : illustrated, with biographical sketches of some prominent citizens of the county (Volume v.1) → online text (page 70 of 72)
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twenty years.

Four children were born unto Judge and Mrs. McPherran but the only
daughter, Mabel, died in 1897 at the age of thirty-one years. Edgar With-
row, the eldest son, was admitted to the bar in both Michigan and Illinois
and is now land commissioner for the Duluth; South Shore & Atlantic Rail-
road and lives at Marquette, Michigan. He married Miss Mabel Alice Wil-
kinson and they have two daughters, Elizabeth and Sarah. Ralph Stewart
McPherran, the second son, pursued a course in chemistry and metallurgy
and was graduated from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. After
spending ten years with the Allis-Chalmers Company at Milwaukee, Wis-
consin, he is now holding a position in the line of his profession with the
J. 1. Case Threshing Machine Company, of Racine, Wisconsin. Charles
Chase McPherran, the youngest son, is a chemist and metallurgist and suc-
ceeded his brother in the service of the Allis-Chalmers Company. He mar-
ried Mis.? Fredericka Augusta Wholrab, a granddaughter of Colonel Lind-
wurm, an old resident of Milwaukee.

Judge McPherran, because of his long residence in Sterling and his
active and honorable service in behalf of public interests, was one of the
best known citizens here. He was made a Mason in Washington Lodge,
No. 164, A. F. & A. M., at Washington, Pennsylvania, affiliated with Char-
tiers Lodge, No. 297, at Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, June 23, 1856, and joined
Sterling Lodge, No. 202, June '21, 1862, while 'on the 6th of March, 1896,
he became a member of Rock River Lodge, No. 612. He was exalted to the
Royal Arch Degree of Sterling Chapter, No. 57, R. A. M., June 27, 1900,
was created a Knight Templar in Sterling Commandery, ' No. 57, October
80, 1900. and was an exemplary member of the craft. He was long an earnest
Christian man and prior to his death united with' the Presbyterian church,
of which Mrs. McPherran is also a member.

He possessed rather a retiring disposition but spch was his genuine
worth that the measure of respect and confidence accorded him was no lim-
ited One. He might have attained to distinguished honors in political and
public life had he so desired. As it was, he was prominent in both state and
municipal affairs and in 1873-4 represented his district in the Illinois assem-
bly, becoming identified with some of the most important legislative meas-
ures enacted during that period, being the author of several bills which
today occupy a place among the statutes of the state. Public spirited in an
eminent degree, he was interested in all that pertained to local advancement
and national progress and when called to positions of honor and trust dis :
charged his duties with marked fidelity and promptness. He was especially
interested in" the library of Sterling and to him, more than to any other
citizen, the city is indebted for its present excellence. His home life was


largely ideal and he found his greatest happiness in the quiet enjoyment
of the companionship of his wife and children. He died December 11, 1903,
at the age of sixty-nine years. Few lawyers have made a more lasting im-
pression upon the bar of Whiteside county, both for legal ability of a high
order and for the individuality of a personal character which impresses itself
upon a community. He stood for high ideals, not only in the practice of
law but in every walk of life, and while his retiring disposition limited in
a way his circle of intimate friends, there were none who knew him that
did not entertain for him the highest respect.


Anthony A. Thome, whose position in the public regard and confidence
of his fcllowmen is indicated by his recent election to the mayoralty of Rock
Falls, is also well known as a representative of industrial life here, being
?enior partner of the firm of Thome & Decker, general blacksmiths, in which
connection he is enjoying a growing and profitable patronage. His life
record began in Jordan township, this county, on the 1st of January, 1864.

His parents were Anthony A. and Maria (Van Buskirk) Thome, natives
of Alsace-Loraine. Germany, and New York respectively. The mother be-
longed to an old colonial family and on the maternal side was descended
from Captain Braddock, of Revolutionary fame. Her father was a native
of New York and died in middle life. Our subject's paternal grandfather,
who also bore the name of Anthony A. Thome, died in Germany at an
advanced age.

Reared to the occupation of farming, the father of our subject always
followed that pursuit. The opportunities of the new world were attractive
to him and thinking to enjoy the better business chances on this side of the
Atlantic, he came to America and settled first in the state of New York,
later becoming one of the early residents of Whiteside county, Illinois. Fol-
lowing his removal to ihe west he took up his abode in Jordan township,
where he cultivated a good tract of land and successfully engaged in farm-
ing operations until his removal to Dixon, Illinois, where he is now living
retired. He served as a soldier of the German army ere leaving his native
land. His wife passed away in 1905, at the age of seventy-three years, and
her death was the occasion of deep regret to many friends who had come
to esteem her' for her many good qualities. In the family were five children,
four sons and a daughter: Katy. the wife of J. P. Johnson, a resident of
Grafton, Nebraska; John, who makes his home in Dixon, Illinois; Anthony
A., whose name introduces this record; Henry, of Harmon township, White-
side county; and George, of Montmorency township, this county,

Anthony A. Thome was reared in Nelson township on the home farm
and attended 'the district schools, mastering those branches of learning which
enable one 'to successfully cope with the problems which continually arise
in a practical business career. He lived at home until he had attained his


majority and when twenty-one year? of age, thinking to find another pur-
suit more congenial than that of farming, he began learning the blacksmith's
trade, which he has followed continuously .since. No doubt one feature of
. his success has been his persistent purpose, while his business advancement
may also be attributed to his unflagging industry and his straightforward
dealing. He first established a smithy in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he re-
mained for three years, and then came to Rock Falls and opened a shop,
which he conducted alone for about fourteen years. He then admitted John
Decker to a partnership and the firm style of Thome & Decker has since been
maintained, while a liberal patronage has been enjoyed by the partners.
They are both practical workmen and their expert service has given them
.1. right to expect and receive a generous share of the public trade. They
have a splendidly equipped shop and conduct a general blacksmithing

In 1888 Mr. Thome was married to Miss Lily Johnson, a daughter of
William and Lorette (Proctor) Johnson. Her father came from Vermont
at a very early day and settled near Morrison in Whiteside county, Illinois.
He continued a resident of this county throughout the remainder of his life,
dying in 1903, at the age of eighty-four years. Mr. and Mrs. Thome have
six children : Mabel, Roy, Clyde, Eftie, Anthony and Dora. The eldest
daughter, Mabel, is now the wife of Urban H. Eakle.

Mr. Thome has been an Odd Fellow for twenty years, holding member-
ship in Advance Lodge, No. 590. He is a stalwart advocate of republican
principles, has served as a member of the school board for six years and
as alderman for four years gave evidence of his loyalty to municipal affairs.
He was also elected as mayor of Rock Falls in 1907 and in his official
capacity he stands for all those interests which are a matter of civic virtue
and of civic pride. He has thus made a good record in citizenship and in
business life and deserves classification with the representative men of White-
side county.


John B. Gait, living retired at No. 1204 West Third street, Sterling, has
through intense and well-directed energy become one of the prosperous citi-
zens of Whiteside county, where he located at an early period in its develop-
ment. There are few residents of the county who have more intimate or
accurate knowledge of its history. He came here with his parents when
this was a frontier region and the family were prominent in reclaiming it
for the purposes of civilization. As one looks abroad today over the fine
farms with their splendid improvements it seems hardly possible that it is
within the memory of living man when almost the entire countryside was
wild and unbroken prairie, much of it being still in possession of the govern-
ment. Wild game w T as quite abundant here in the early days another proof
of the unsettled condition. Comparatively few roads had been made and in





June the prairies were starred with millions of wild flowers and in December
covered with one unbroken, glistening sheet of snow.

John B. Gait was born in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, May 7, 1835,
at the family home, bordering the Conestoga creek. Several generations of
the family had previously resided in Pennsylvania. The ancestry was Scotch
and the first settlement in America by any of the family was made in Penn-
sylvania about 1710. There is a Gait family cemetery at Piqua Valley,
Pennsylvania, not far from the old Piqua Valley Presbyterian church. Rob-
ert Gait, the founder of the family in America, was the father of James Gait
and the grandfather of Thomas Gait, the last named being the great-grand-
father of the subject of this review. Thomas Gait and his wife, Isabelle,
both died in Pennsylvania. Their son, James Gait, was born in that state,
March 19, 1757, and on the 3d of February 1791, wedded Mary Martin, who
was born in 1772. He died October 7, 1821, in his sixty-sixth year, while
his wife passed away August 2, 1847. They were the parents of eleven chil-
dren, as follows: Eliza, William, James, Catharine, John, Alexander,
Thomas, Lydia, Mary, Isabelle and Martin.

Of this family John Gait, a native of the Keystone state, followed mer-
chandising there for a number of years prior to 1844, when he journeyed
westward to Illinois, settling in Sterling. He became one of the early mer-
chants of the city and also purchased a farm that included the present site
of the town of Gait, which was named in his honor. After residing in Ster-
ling for two years he located upon his farm, which he purchased from Mr.
Passmore. There was a log cabin of one room and thirty acres had been
broken. The remainder of his farm he purchased from the state and govern-
ment. The family never lived in the log cabin, however. It was in the
spring of 1846 that the family removed to the farm and with characteristic
energy the father began its improvement, erecting there one of the first brick
houses in the county. It contained eight rooms and is still standing one
of the landmarks of the early days and a. mute witness of the history that
has been enacted in that part of the county. In the early days the family
hauled grain to Albany on the Mississippi river and the pork market was at
Galena and La Salle, where dressed pork sold for a dollar and a half per
hundred. Mr. Gait of this review has known wheat to sell here for as low
as twenty-five cents per bushel, and other farm products also brought very
low prices. His father in the early days would go down the river to St.
Louis to buy his groceries and dry goods the frontier settlers being thus
far separated from the source of supplies. John Gait continued to supervise
his agricultural interests until his demise, which occurred in 1866 when he
was in his sixty-sixth year. His wife long survived him, passing away in
1898 at the remarkable old age of ninety-four years. They Avere Presby-
terians in religious faith and were numbered among the worthy pioneer
people of the county, contributing in substantial measure to its early devel-
opment and progress.

In their famliy were thirteen children, eight sons and five daughters,
of whom four are now living: Elizabeth M., who resides in Sterling ;. John
B., of this review; Letitia, the widow of D. M. Crawford, of Sterling; and


Frances, the widow of John Buyers, also of Sterling. The daughter Eliza-
beth resides with her brother John. She always remained at home with her
parents, giving to them the utmost filial devotion and love, caring for them
through all the years of old age, the mother being ninety-four at the time
of her demise. Her kindly spirit, neighborly assistance and her many good
traits of heart and mind have endeared her to those with whom she has been
brought in contact. The deceased members of the family are : James ; Mary,
the wife of James A. Gait; Robert A., Thomas, Alexander, Joseph, William,
Henry and Josephine. Thomas was a physician and at one time mayor of
Rock Island. William and Henry died in infancy. Joseph was a student
of medicine in New York city at the time of his death, and Robert was a
farmer and merchant.

In the maternal line John B. Gait is descended from Captain Robert
and Jean Buyers, the former a captain of the Continental army in the Revo-
lutionary war. Their son, Robert Armour Buyers, was a native of Penn-
sylvania, but of Scotch descent. He followed the occupation of farming and
as a companion and helpmate for life's journey chose Elizabeth McCalla.
He died of typhoid fever at the comparatively early age of thirty-five years
and his widow survived him for but a few years. They left a daughter,
Mrs. Sarah Maria Gait, and two sons, John M. and James A. Buyers.

John B. Gait was only nine years of age when he came with his family
to Whiteside county. One can hardly imagine the conditions that then ex-
isted here. There were only four houses on the south bank of the river
beyond Sterling and the county seat was a small village, giving little promise
of industrial or commercial importance. The removal of the family from
the city caused Mr. Gait to spend his life in the usual manner of farm lads
and while the work of the fields became familiar to him he also acquired a
knowledge of the common branches of English learning as a pupil in the
public schools. The first school he ever attended was at the corner of Broad-
way and Fourth streets in Sterling, held in a small frame building and
taught by James McElmore. He later attended a school taught by Mrs. Worth-
ington and William Cole. He likewise spent a short time as a student in
Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, and then began farming on his own
account, continuing in that business until he came to Sterling. He is now
the owner of the original farm which his father purchased in Hopkins town-
ship upon his arrival in Whiteside county. The place comprises three hun-
dred and twenty-nine acres of rich and productive land and John B. Gait
resided thereon until about 1877, when he removed to the city. In the
meantime he had made judicious and extensive investments in property in
other parts of the country. He owns twenty-two hundred and forty-nine
acres north of Duluth in St. Louis county, Minnesota, in the Messaubic iron
range. He spent one year as a commercial traveler, but during the greater
part of his life has concentrated his energies upon agricultural pursuit's or
investments. He has, however, traveled broadly for pleasure, visiting Alaska
and many parts of the western country as well as the older east, the southern
district around the gulf of Mexico and the upper sections of the country


surrounding the Great Lakes. He has no active business interests now save
the supervision of his property and other investments.

Mr. Gait has never married and lives with his sister, Elizabeth M. Gait,
at No. 1204 West Third street, where they own a pleasant modern residence.
They are members of the Presbyterian church, of which their father was
one of the founders and also the first elder. Politically Mr. Gait is a stalwart
republican, casting his first presidential vote for Fremont and for every
republican candidate for president since that time. Before the organization
of the party he was an abolitionist, being in hearty sympathy with the move-
ment to blot out slavery in America. He has in many instances been identi-
fied with the movements for reform and improvement and in Whiteside
county is known as a representative and valued citizen. He has witnessed
the transformation of the county from a wilderness to its present fine devel-
opment and has borne his share in the work of progress as the years have
gone by. He can remember when Sterling was but a small village and when
outlying districts were largely unimproved prairie land. He has seen deer
on the site of the present city and has seen them swim across the river to the
island. He has lived to witness a remarkable change in all the countryside
and has always cooperated in the work of improvement. The name of Gait
has been long and honorably associated with the upbuilding of this section
of the state, and John B. Gait, like the others of the family, has stood for all
that promotes progress.


No history of Whiteside county would be complete without extended
mention of John D. Fenton and the family of which he is a representative, for
the name has figured in connection with the development of this part of the
state from the time when the first white settlers founded homes within the bor-
ders of -the county and undertook the work of reclaiming the district for the
uses of the white race. Fenton township was named in honor of his father, Jo-
seph Fenton, who was a native of Burlington county, New Jersey, and was of
Irish descent. When a young lad of nine years he was bound out to a mas-
ter whom he served as an apprentice until he had attained his majority. When
his term of indenture had expired, he went on a flatboat to New Orleans, mak-
ing the long trip down the Mississippi river at a time when all the produce
was carried in that manner to the southern market. Following his return
to the north he was married to Mis.? Elizabeth Durrell, also a native of Bur-
lington county, New Jersey, and of Danish lineage. She was reared in a
Quaker family but was not regularly bound out, as was the custom in those
days, for the Quakers did not believe in that practice. Following his mar-
riage, Joseph Fenton carried on farming in the east until his arrival in White-
side county, Illinois. He became the first settler of what is now Fenton town-
ship, that district being named in his honor. He was a quiet home man who
avoided all political contests and devoted his energies to caring for his fam-


ily and making for them a comfortable home. In the early days many hard-
ships and privations were endured such as are incident to settlement upon
the frontier. Their remoteness from cities of any size or importance made it
difficult for them to obtain supplies and they had to depend largely upon what
was raised. Mr. Fenton raised what was known as razorback hogs but he
found no market for them for some time and he had to dispose of his meat
by selling one hog at a time. He made his sales to the miners working in
the first lead mines near Mineral Point, Wisconsin. There he received at
first one dollar and a half per hundred for the meat but later had to sell as
low as fifty cents per hundred. In the early days their threshing was done by
oxen, tramping out the grain on the floor of the barn. Grain was hauled to
Chicago where wheat sold for twenty-five cents per bushel and sugar cost
twenty-five cents per pound. The family home was a little log cabin, fourteen
by twenty feet, with a puncheon floor, and they resided in this primitive dwell-
ing for about fifteen years, or until 1850, when a house of sand and gravel
was built. It is the only one in the county and is still standing today, a
mute reminder of the pioneer times and a silent witness of the facts which
have shaped the history and molded the policy of the county. Alfred Fen-
ton, a brother of our subject, was the first white male child born in Whiteside
county, his natal day being May 13, 1837. In the family were the following:
Elwood W., who in 1850 went with his brother, Joseph R., with two yoke of
oxen, to California, where they arrived after travelling five months, spent
his last days in Amador, that state; Joseph R., who, as stated, made the trip
with his brother, died in Berkeley, California. John D. was the next of the
family. Elizabeth died in New Jersey when about three years of age. Rob-
ert S. died in Erie. Alfred W. died in Erie in July, 1888. Mary E. is now the
wife of R. E. Medhurst, a machinist of Erie. Sylvester H. and Henry C. are
both residents of Erie. The father died upon the home 'farm, which he had
developed from the wild prairie, passing away September 28, 1874, at the age
of eighty years and seven days. His wife passed away in January, 1879, at
the age of about eighty years.

John D. Fenton was born near Mount Holly, Burlington county, New
Jersey, November 10, 1832. On the 7th of October, 1835, his parents ar-
rived in Whiteside county with their family of. four children. They made
the journey westward by canal to Buffalo, thence by schooner to Chicago, and
from that point proceeded with two yoke of oxen and a "prairie schooner"
to Dixon's Ferry, where a party of ten spent the night of October 6, 1835, in
a little log cabin. The next day they arrived in Whiteside county, which was
then a part of Jo Daviess county. Chicago -was at that time a little town of
no industrial or commercial importance and much of the site of the city
which is now thickly covered with business blocks and residences was a
swamp marked "bottomless.'"' After reaching this county the father home-
steaded a claim of about two hundred acres situated in Fenton township yet
a part extending over the boundary line into Erie township. It was upon
this farm that John D. Fenton was reared and experienced all of the hard-
ships and trials incident to pioneer life. He wore the coarsest kind of cow-
hide shoes for which he had to pay three dollars a pair, and at times he would


go barefooted for want of the necessary foot covering. Everything in the
home was made by hand, including all of the clothing for the children, and
in the early days Mr. Fenton went to bed many a time in order to have his
mother mend his only suit of clothes. It was very difficult to gain supplies
of any kind, not only because money was scarce but also because the towns
kept such a limited stock of goods, everybody depending upon what could
be raised for the necessaries of life.

Mr. Fenton continued to work upon the home farm until about twenty-
four years of age. assisting in the arduous task of breaking the sod and culti-
vating the prairie. He worked for neighbors at fifty cents per day and in
1857 was paid in money that proved to be almost worthless, bringing about
fifteen cents on the dollar. Thus his wages were diminished although he
had been nominally paid fifty cents per day for chopping wood. At twenty-
seven years of age he was married and began farming on his father's old
homestead, -which he continued to cultivate for several years. He then came
to Erie and taught a district school at twenty-five dollars per month. He
walked three miles and back each day to teach. He has since resided in
Erie township. The only educational advantages which he was afforded came
to him after walking to Erie and becoming a pupil, in the little log school-
house where the season covered the three winter months. He read law under
Judge C. C. Teats but was not admitted to the bar. He has, however, 'practiced
commercial law and has been "executor arid administrator of many estates.
He is always found to be thoroughly reliable and no trust reposed in him
has ever been betrayed in the slightest degree.

On the 14th of March, 1859. Mr. Fenton was married to Miss
Marcia "Wonser, who was born in P^llisville, Illinois, March 7, 1840, and came
here from Fulton county, Illinois, in February, 1840, with her parents, Mil-
den G. and Ruth M. (Churchill) Wonser. Her father died in 1883 but her
mother, who was born March 12, 1813, died the evening of April 3, 1908, at
the age of ninety-five years. The death of Mrs. Fenton occurred April 17,
1906, after they had traveled life's journey together for forty-seven years.

Online LibraryWilliam W DavisHistory of Whiteside County, Illinois from its earliest settlement to 1908 : illustrated, with biographical sketches of some prominent citizens of the county (Volume v.1) → online text (page 70 of 72)