Nearly a quarter of a century spent in breeding strawberries covers the
business career of William Walter Thomas, of Anna, Illinois, who, from a
small and humble beginning has built up one of the largest enterprises
of its kind in the country, an industry to the development of which he
has given some of the best years of his life and in which he has had
remarkable success. Mr. Thomas has not confined himself to his breeding
interests alone, for he has always identified himself with movements of
a nature calculated to develop and enlarge the business activities of
Anna, but he takes special pride in the work which he chose as the
medium through which to gain a position among the leading men of his
section, and it has been through individual ideas and original
experiments that the Thomas Pure-bred plants have reached their
perfection. Mr. Thomas is a product of Union county, and was born in
1871, a son of James Thomas, a native of England, one of the earliest
fruit growers of Southern Illinois.
Mr. Thomas attended the district schools of Union county, and from earliest boyhood has made his own way in the world. At the age of eighteen years he established himself in a nursery and fruit-growing business, but gave up the former when he became interested in the growing of strawberry plants, and year by year this industry has grown until now the Thomas Pure-bred plants have a reputation that extends all over the country. After long and extended study as to what was the most perfect soil in which to grow his plants, what conditions suited them best in climate and what were the hardiest and most productive varieties, he began to experiment with the different plants, and he has succeeded in developing a product that it would be hard to better, either in vigor, stamina, excellence of quality or amount of production. It is one of Mr. Thomas's chief sources of pride that the same customers purchase his goods year after year, and he also considers that a pleased customer is the best advertisement that he can secure for his goods. The growth of his business has been sure and steady, rather than phenomenally rapid, but the growth has been constantly increasing, and one of the most important features of it is that it has been caused as much by the honest and above-board dealings of the firm as by the excellence of the article Mr. Thomas has to sell. He is president of the Jonesboro Store Company, at Jonesboro, Union county, and with a business associate owns and operates 200 acres of land at Makanda, which are devoted to apples, peaches and pears. This is in addition to his plant business.
Mr. Thomas has been active in political matters, and at present is serving as chairman of the Republican County and Congressional Committees. Fraternally, he is connected with Lodge No. 520, of Free and Accepted Masons, of which he has been master several times, is connected with the Royal Arch Chapter, and is also affiliated with the Eastern Star, of which Mrs. Thomas is also a member. They are associated in the work of the Presbyterian church, and are well and favorably known in church and charitable work.
In 1890 Mr. Thomas was married to Clola McGuire, who was born in Jackson county, Illinois, in 1871, and two children have been born to this union: Edna, a student of Belmont College, Nashville, Tennessee, who now resides at home and is twenty years of age; and James William, sixteen years old, who is attending college at Lebanon, Tennessee.
Extracted from 1912 A History of Southern Illinois, by George W. Smith, volume 2, page 792.
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