Benjamin L. Washburn is a retired merchant of Carterville and vice
president of the Carterville State & Savings Bank here. He was born in
Smith county, Tennessee, December 1, 1855, a son of the late Hon. James
M. Washburn, of whom more extended mention will be made in succeeding
paragraphs. Benjamin L. Washburn grew up on a farm adjacent to
Carterville, attended the public schools and Ewing College, entered the
profession of teaching and made it a business in Williamson and Franklin
counties for fifteen years. His last pedagogical work was as principal
of the Carterville school and his identification with the same ended in
1885. In the spring of 1886 he engaged in mercantile business in
Carterville, selling hardware and kindred commodities, as proprietor of
the business, until 1904, when he disposed of his stock and has since
been leisurely engaged with the affairs of his farm and stock. In a
modest way he is developing speed horses and he has entered some of them
as competitors for purses in the trotting races of the local circuit.
During his earlier career and when an active merchant he entered into the spirit of material development in Carterville by the erection of some of its business houses. Nor did he confine his attention to this field, for he was one of those who promoted the Carterville State and Savings Bank, being chosen a director and its vice president. He has served on the city council and the board of education and is a Democrat, having been loyal to the tenets of the party since his earliest voting days.
On September 13, 1882, Mr. Washburn was married in Marion to Miss Ella Spiller, daughter of Elijah Spiller, a native son of Jackson county, Illinois. Her paternal grandfather founded the family there as a settler from North Carolina, his arrival being in its pioneer era. Elijah Spiller married Parazette Roberts, and Mrs. Washburn and Ed. M. Spiller, of Marion, are the issue of the union. Mrs. Washburn, like her husband, was a teacher in the public schools. The Washburn household comprises two children, Elizabeth M. and Prank H., the latter a dental student of the St. Louis University. Bessie, as all her friends know her, is a graduate of Armstrong's School of Music at Alton, Illinois, (class of 1910.)
Mr. Washburn is identified with the Masonic fraternity and successfully lives up to its fine ideals. He is also a Knight of Pythias. He is well known and influential and his activities and accomplishments place him among the successful men of his day and locality. He has not fallen to the spirit of commercialism, as is the modern tendency, but his whole aim is given rather to bettering conditions and improving citizenship. In the development of the coal interests here he was not only a moving and interested investor, but his father was a stockholder in the first coal mine opened and operated in the Carterville district.
Mr. Washburn is the son of one of the men most prominent in the history of Carterville, Judge James M. Washburn, born in 1826 and died in April, 1910. The "Souvenir History of Williamson County" gives the following interesting account of an interesting man, which is presented with only slight paraphrase.
Judge Washburn came of hardy pioneer stock in Smith county, Middle Tennessee. He was born fifty-one miles east of Nashville, September 13, 1826. His parents were farmers of simple and frugal habits and pure lives, who bequeathed that priceless heritage, together with its usual accompaniment of a vigorous constitution, to their children. His father, Lewis Washburn, died on the last hour of 1872, at the age of seventy-five years and six months, while his mother tarried a couple of years longer and died in May, 1874. Her maiden name was Nancy More. She reared ten children and died aged seventy-nine. James was the sixth child and was reared and educated in his native state. He taught school four or five years, farmed, sold goods, read law, was admitted to the bar and married, all before he was twenty-three years old. Prom this his life record can be read.
He was an exceedingly ambitious and active man, full of life and energy, of great endurance, unwearied diligence and iron will. He always had a dozen, more or less, different enterprises on hand, and so good was his management and so wise his plans that they rarely or never miscarried. He did not come to Marion till the autumn of 1857. He studied law with Hall & Washburn, an older brother, from’44 to’46, was admitted to the bar in 1845 and was elected county surveyor, but resigned to come to Marion. He lived in Marion for a decade (engaged in the practice of law and in mercantile business with Frank Sparks), and after spending a couple of years on a rented farm just out of town he bought the farm where Dr. Ferrill now lives, near Carterville, and made it his home for twenty-two years. In 1862, while living at Marion, he was elected to the lower house at Springfield and served one term. In 1869-70 he was a member of the constitutional convention which framed our present state constitution. In the fall of 1870 he was elected to the state senate for the fiftieth senatorial district, which is composed of the counties of Jefferson, Franklin, Williamson, Jackson, Randolph and Monroe. By a new arrangement coming in with the new constitution he drew a two years' term and after its expiration was assistant secretary of the senate for three years and during the session of 1875. In 1876 he was returned to the house and served another term of two years.” From 1872 to 1880 he was also master of chancery at Marion and from 1873 to 1893 was a member of the state board of agriculture, and as such was the Illinois commissioner for the Columbian Exposition at Chicago in the latter year. In 1884 he had been elected county judge for Williamson county and served four years.
In 1874, while assistant secretary of the state, in company with his son, William Smith Washburn, William T. Davis and Charles H. Denison, he started the Egyptian Press newspaper and only severed his connection with it a short time before his demise. During that long period of eighteen years, with a multitude of other matters on hand financial, political, official, business and family, whether as co-partner, associate editor and manager or sole owner, manager and editor, he acquitted himself creditably as the publisher of the principal Democratic organ of the county. In 1894 he rented it to Casey & Watson and in 1895 to Casey alone, when Casey bought a half interest and in 1902 he sold it to Casey entirely.
Mr. Washburn had the misfortune on September 15, 1897, to lose his house and all it contained' by fire and on the 13th of the November of the following year his wife died. His children being all grown, these misfortunes broke up his family relations and he spent four years in traveling. Coming back to the town of his boyhood he made the acquaintance of Miss Jennie Turner, to whom he was united in marriage in Smith county, November 3, 1901. She is a member of the Baptist church. His first wife was Sarah M. Smith, a native of Virginia. They were for nearly half a century active members of the Missionary Baptist church and both died in that communion. Their children were William Smith, of Chicago; Dr. C. L. Washburn, a physician and farmer about five miles northwest of Marion; and Benjamin L., residing in Carterville.
The following tribute to Mr. Washburn is from the pen of Mark Erwin, the historian, and was written in 1876:
“James M. Washburn commenced the practice of law in this county over fifteen years ago, and has since been a Democratic politician of considerable prominence. During the war he was very bitter at times, but was elected to the state senate in 1876. He was admitted by all parties to be honest and upright in his daily work, and is now the leader of the party.”
The demise of this interesting and venerable citizen occurred in 1910, when his years numbered eighty-four, and took from the community one of its finest and most public-spirited characters.
Extracted from 1912 A History of Southern Illinois, by George W. Smith, volume 2, page 1076.
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