After almost half a century of active endeavor John A. Widney feels that he is justified in retiring from business, and, resting upon his laurels, he can enjoy the success which the years have brought him. He was for a long period one of the enterprising agriculturists of Oxford township and has not entirely relinquished all connection with his former life. He was born in Spring Run, Franklin county, Pennsylvania, March 27, 1840, and is a son of Alexander E. and Margaret (Hammond) Widney, also natives of Franklin county, where they were married and resided until 1855, when they came to Illinois. They located first at Mount Car­roll and in 1858 came to Oxford township, Henry county, where Mr. Widney engaged in agricultural pursuits, though before his advent here he had given his attention to mercantile business and farming remained his vocation during the remaining years of his life.

While the Mexican war was in progress he recruited a regiment for service and was accorded the rank of lieutenant colonel of the Eleventh Pennsylvania Volunteers. He lived to see the Civil war brought to a successful close, although he took no part in that conflict, and he also witnessed the great change which transformed the character of this county from the early 50s, when he came here, to the end of the year 1884, when his death occurred. His widow lived until June, 1906, when she was laid by his side in the cemetery at Woodhull.

John A. Widney grew to manhood on the home farm and received a good education, first in a little log school in his native county, later the public schools of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and after his parents came to Illinois, in the schools of Mount Carroll. After coming to this state he engaged in teaching in Oxford township through the winters of 1860, 1861 and 1862, and in the spring of the last year. On the pth of August, 1862, he and eight of his pupils enlisted in Company D, One Hundred and Twelfth Illinois Volunteer Infantry. He served throughout the war, was advanced to the rank of corporal and was then detailed as a member of the regimental band. Later he was offered a lieutenancy but this he declined as he did not want to leave the band.

On being discharged from the service he returned to the life of a farmer, which he followed for twenty-seven years in Oxford township, near the village of Woodhull. He was progressive in his ideas and met with unequivocal success. In 1891 he was active in the organization of the State Bank of Alpha, the first institution of its kind established in the village, and for seven years was its cashier. In 1898 he retired from participation in the banking business, having witnessed the enterprise assume gratifying proportions, and has since enjoyed a well deserved rest in his comfortable home in Alpha.

On the 26th of October, 1865, after his return from the army, Mr. Widney wedded Miss Sarah A. Gillette, a daughter of David and Mary (Dixon) Gillette. The family came to Illinois in 1852 from Sullivan county, New York, in fact Mrs. Gillette was a cousin of Governor Dix, the famous war governor of that state. They located first in Stark county but the next year came to Henry county, settling on the land now occupied by the village of Galva, which at the time was not even laid out and in which the Gillette home was almost the first one to be built. Shortly after the outbreak of the Civil war Mr. Gillette enlisted in the Seven-: teenth Regiment of Illinois Volunteer Infantry, and after the close of hostilities returned to his Galva home, where he engaged in business as a carpenter contractor. Indeed many of the houses of the village were constructed by him. He died in December, 1862, while his wife survived until January, 1899.

Mr. and Mrs. Widney are the parents of six children, three sons and three daughters: Stella B., the wife of George H. Robinson, of St. Louis, Missouri; Burton G., who has marrie'd and is the cashier of the North Henderson Bank; Grace E., who is the wife of Dr. W. E. Mabee, of Galesburg; Leo E., of St. Louis, Missouri; Stanley W., of Chicago; and Alice, wuo is the wife of Professor E. B. Conant, a member of the law faculty of the University of Nebraska, in which in­ stitution Mrs. Conant is a teacher of voice culture. In fact both Mrs. Mabee and Mrs. Conant have received fine musical educations, being graduates of the Knox Conservatory of Music, of Galesburg, and as vocalists of no ordinary ability are prominent in the musical circles of their respective localities. All of the children completed the course of study prescribed by the high school of Woodhull and were given the advantages of higher education.

Politically Mr. Widney is a democrat and has always been intelligently inter­ ested and active in public matters and prominent in the councils of his party. During Cleveland's first administration, from 1885 to 1889, he was postmaster of Woodhull and has held other positions, for he has served as school treasurer of Oxford township for twenty years and still holds that position, and has been a member of the village board of Alpha and its president for one term. Perhaps the most convincing evidence of his popularity, however, was that displayed in the election of 1890. He was nominated by his party for sheriff of Henry county and received the largest vote ever cast on a straight democratic ticket, reducing the majority of the republican candidate, which normally amounted to about two thousand, to a bare seven hundred.

While the Grand Army retained a post inWoodhull he was active in its ranks as he still is in the Methodist Episcopal church to which he and his family belong, for he has been trustee and steward for a num­ ber of years and treasurer of the Sunday school. Mrs. Widney is also prominent in church work, having been superintendent of the Sunday school for the past eighteen years and a delegate to the national general conference of the Methodist Episcopal church, from central Illinois, which met in Los Angeles, California, in 1908. The Widney home has always been a popular social center and prominent in the life of the village, for a refined and cultured atmosphere pervades it and there a genuine hospitality is extended to friend and worthy stranger alike.


History of Henry County

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