Mathias L. Dunlap was born September 21, 1814, at Canajoharie, N. Y. His parents were William I. and Margaret Dunlap, who were farmers in moderate circumstances. At the age of sixteen he chose to make a living for himself. He accepted a clerkship in a store at five dollars per month, which position he held until November, 1836, at which time he concluded to go west and join his father's family, who had removed to Troy Grove, Illinois, near Ottawa. He arrived at Chicago in December and taught school at Troy Grove during the winter. The next summer he clerked in the dry goods store of O. H. Thompson, Chicago, and during his spare time he completed the study of surveying. He became bookkeeper for Hugnin & Brown, contractors on the Illinois and Michigan Canal, and in August, 1839, located on the prairie sixteen miles west of Chicago, at that time a wilderness. During the next ten years he spent a part of his time in surveying; he surveyed the west half of Cook county and the greater part of DuPage.
He was married to Emeline Pierce, January 7, 1839. The surviving children of this marriage are: H. J. Dunlap, editor of the Gazette, Champaign; Capt. Oscar Dunlap, of Grand View, Dakota; Merton, the county clerk of Ford county, Illinois; Albert, grain dealer at Savoy ; Ernest, a farmer near Savoy; Henry, proprietor of Rural Home fruit farm; Mrs. C. H. Risser, of Davenport, Iowa, and Mrs. R. G. Risser, of Kankakee, Illinois. Mr. Dunlap took an active part in politics all his life. Formerly he was a democrat and later a "Free Soiler," and when the republican party was organized he united with it and never deserted its ranks. His children are all republicans and do good work for the party at every election. He was postmaster and justice of the peace at his home in Cook county for many years; he was elected to the legislature in 1854 and was one of the leaders in getting the free school bill passed that winter. He was a member of the first board of supervisors of Cook county after township organization was adopted. He removed to this county in 1856, and located on the farm south of Champaign, and continued in the nursery business, which he had begun in 1845. He planted a large orchard and disproved the idea that fruit could not be grown upon the prairie. In September, 1853, he began writing for the press under the name of Rural, and for twenty-two years was the agricultural editor of the Chicago Tribune. His writings became familiar to all reading farmers, both east and west, and had a beneficial effect on agriculture. He was editor of the Illinois Farmer from 1860 to 1865 and at one time had a controlling interest in the Champaign Union. He was tendered the position of Commissioner of Agriculture by President Lincoln, soon after the latter's election in 1860, but was obliged to decline it on account of private business.
The location of the Illinois Industrial University (now the University of Illinois) at this place was due as much to his influence and labor as to any other man, and he always insisted that the school should remain a purely agricultural college. He was a member of the first board of trustees of the University.
Commencing life in the backwoods of New York with only six months schooling, he mastered the higher mathematics, became a leader in every community in which he resided, raised a large family, gave all his children a practical business education and at the time of his death had acquired a competency for his children. He died February 14, 1875, at his home near Savoy.
His widow, Mrs. Emeline Dunlap, is now sixty-eight years old and still resides at the old home. She is a woman of great ability and was of much assistance to her husband during his eventful and useful life. She is yet well preserved and will doubtless live to a good old age, beloved by her children, honored and admired by all who know her.
Early History and Pioneers of Champaign County by Milton W. Mathews and Lewis A McLean; Published by the Champaign County Herald, Urbana, IL, 1886, Pages 96, submitted by Leslie Rankin.