IAGenWeb Project - Allamakee co.

Cornelius Selector Stilwell


The name of Cornelius Selector Stilwell is inseparably interwoven with the history of Waukon, where for more than forty years he has made his home. His life work has been the expression of ability in educational circles and in the practice of law and along other lines he has contributed to public progress, his work being an element for growth and development in the city of his residence and in much of its beneficent and charitable work.

Mr. Stilwell is a native of New York, his birth having occurred at Holland, Erie county, June 26, 1838. His father, Ezra Graves Stilwell, the second son of Ard and Anne (Fairchild) Stilwell, was of Scotch ancestry, and was born at Fairfield, Vermont, on the 6th of August, 1806. His death occurred at Fulton, Wisconsin, December 19, 1852, while his wife survived him for about forty years, passing away on the 27th of March, 1892, in Waukon. She was born at Alstadt, Cheshire county, New Hampshire, April 2, 1809, and was the youngest daughter of Calvin and Jemima (Todd) Howe, of English descent. Both the paternal and maternal grandparents of C. S. Stilwell removed with their families to western New York, settling in Allegany and Wyoming counties. Ezra Graves Stilwell and Polly Howe were married on the 4th of May, 1828, and unto them were born the following named sons and daughters: Calvin; Ard A.; Eliza J., who became the wife of U. F. Lewis; Sophronia A., the wife of L. N. Lewis; Cornelius S.; Hilas H.; Alonzo C.; and Ezra G.

Cornelius S. Stilwell, whose name introduces this review, received careful home training and enjoyed the educational opportunities offered in the public schools of New York until thirteen years of age, when the family left the Empire state for the middle west, arriving in Rock county, Wisconsin in the fall of 1851. The family home was established in Janesville and C. S. Stilwell, then but thirteen years of age, secured a clerkship in a store owned by a Mr. Shumway, in whose family he lived while thus engaged. In 1852 the Stilwell family settled at Fulton, Rock county, Wisconsin, and the father and two of his sons, Ard and Cornelius, were employed in a large flouring mill at that place, the last named acting as grist clerk. It devolved upon him to weigh and number the grists, weigh back and deliver the ground product to the proper customer, make the necessary entries in the “custom” book, which included entering the name of each customer; the kind of grain, the number of pounds, the number of the grit, the number of the sacks, the date the grist was received and the date it was to be ready for delivery; the weight of the ground product, and the date the grist was actually delivered to the owner.

Thus much responsibility devolved upon Mr. Stilwell, who was then not yet fourteen years of age. The position was an important one, for on occasions there were as many as forty or more grists in the mill at one time, each awaiting its turn for grinding.

While in Fulton Mr. Stilwell attended the village school during the winter seasons from 1852 to 1855, inclusive, the summer months being spent in the mill and at work at the carpenter’s trade in connection with his brother Ard. His two sisters were married in Fulton and in 1856 the others of the family removed to Evansville, where was located a seminary in which Cornelius S. Stilwell became a pupil. The seminary was then conducted by Professor Smith, and later he attended the college of which Professor D. Y. Kilgore was president, pursuing a literary, scientific and normal course. He was graduated third in the normal department in 1861, at which time only twelve of the fifty-six men and women passed the rigid requirements of the Wisconsin state board of Normal regents. Mr. Stilwell during his connection with the school often occupied the place of teacher during the enforced absence of one or another of the teaching force, and his work in that connection proved profitable in giving him short reviews in Latin, French, mathematics and rhetoric. His college work was done during the summer seasons, while the winter seasons were devoted to teaching in Rock, Dane and Green counties of Wisconsin, that he might thus provide the funds necessary to enable him to continue in school.

On the 2d of October, 1862, in Green county, Wisconsin, was celebrated the marriage of Mr. Stilwell and Miss Elizabeth M. Bowen, the youngest daughter of John and Isabella (Stewart) Bowen. On the same occasion was celebrated the marriage of his brother Hilas H. Stilwell to Eliza M. Bowen, and after the wedding feast was over the two grooms and their brides were accompanied to Evansville by their many guests and were there entertained by the Stilwell family, after which they started on a round of festivities which included various visits to relatives and friends. A half century later the two couples celebrated their golden wedding at the home of Mr. and Mrs. C. S. Stilwell in Waukon, on which occasion were present nearly forty relatives and hundreds of friends. It was indeed a notable occasion and it is a matter of interest to know that all four are still living, also a number who participated in the original wedding festivities.

Following his marriage Mr. Stilwell was elected principal of the schools of Albany, Wisconsin, and removing to that place entered upon his duties there. Two years later he came with his family to Iowa, settling in Allamakee county, and for a short time engaged in the milling and lumber business at Buckland. He was first called to public office in an appointment from his brother to the position of deputy treasurer of Allamakee county, and since that time he has made his home in Waukon. He has been recognized as an able and faithful public official during more than twenty-three years, serving as justice of the peace, and it is a widely recognized fact that no man has been more loyal to a public trust than has Mr. Stilwell. Since 1870 he has been numbered among the members of the Allamakee county bar, having in the meantime read law in the office of C. T. Granger, late chief justice of the Iowa supreme court. Following his admission to the bar Mr. Stilwell began practice and his record has been notable in a number of cases which he has won. He would never enter upon a cause for the sake of the fees, nor would he undertake a case that he did not believe in the justice of his client’s position. His success is undoubtedly due in considerable measure to the fact also that he would allow himself to accept no more business than he could handle honestly, thoroughly and for the best interests of his clients. No practitioner at the Allamakee county bar has been more careful to conform his practice to a high standard of professional ethics, and for more than forty years he has been recognized as an able and conscientious minister in the temple of justice, and now, although over seventy-five years of age, Mr. Stilwell is giving close attention to the law business of the firm of Stilwell & Stilwell, besides giving his personal attention to his outside affairs.

Moreover, Mr. Stilwell’s efforts in other connections have constituted a valuable asset in growth, development and public prosperity in Waukon. In 1874 he was elected the first secretary of the Waukon and Mississippi Valley Railway Company, an enterprise that has done more than perhaps anything else to make Waukon the thriving little city it is today. This railroad was later merged into and became a part of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul system. In January 1888, he became mayor of Waukon, Iowa, and was reelected in 1889, holding the office to the end of the second term.

As the years passed eight children were added to the family of Mr. and Mrs. Stilwell, including five sons and three daughters. The eldest, Mary Frances, was born at Ridott, Illinois, December 13, 1863, was graduated from the high school of Waukon in the class of 1881, and makes her home in this city. John Harrison, born at Buckland, August 23, 1867, died at Waukon, January 19, 1885. He was a bright and promising young man, making excellent progress in his studies at the time of his death, which occurred when he was but seventeen years of age. Cornelia Isabella, born at Waukon, July 31, 1869, attended the high school until graduated with the class of 1890. She was married in her father’s home December 27, 1892, to Professor F. A. Wildman, who has engaged in teaching, has served as county superintendent of schools, and is now engaged in Chautauqua work. Mrs. Wildman was also a teacher prior to her marriage. Their children are: Metta June, who was graduated from the Waukon high school in the class of 1912; Harry N.; and Wayne. Charles Edgar, born at Waukon, September 9, 1871, was graduated from the Waukon high school in the class of 1884, took up the study of law under his father’s direction, was admitted to the bar in 1893 and is now a leading lawyer of Maryville, Missouri, where he also takes a prominent part in public affairs. He was married August 20, 1902, to Angie Weed Nokes, of Malone, New York, and their children are Cornelius Bowen and William Weed. Cornelius Howe, born at Waukon, November 4, 1874, attended the public schools, became a member of the Iowa National Guard and went to the front in 1898 as a soldier in the Spanish-American war. He is now a member of Albert M. Stewart Camp of the United Spanish War Veterans. He was married at Waukon, January 19, 1910, to Mary Clark Spencer, and is now engaged in contracting and building at Waukon, making a specialty of iron and cement bridges and road work. Calvin Stewart, born at Waukon, October 1, 1877, was also a member of the Iowa National Guard and a soldier in the Spanish-American war, and now belongs to Albert M. Stewart Camp. He has held the position of junior vice commander in the state department of the United Spanish War Veterans. He read law under his father, was admitted to practice May 2, 1905, and is now the junior member of the firm of Stilwell & Stilwell. He was married December 16, 1904, to Martha Helen Falby and their children are Falby and John Calvin. Jesse Edith, born at Waukon, December 21, 1880, was graduated from the high school in the class of 1900, took a course in a kindergarten college in Chicago and was married December 27, 1905, to M. J. Barthell a financier. They have one child, Barbara, and are now living in Waukon. Lewis Bowen, the youngest of the Stilwell family, was born at Waukon, April 22, 1884, was graduated from the high school and is now engaged in construction and road work, taking charge of the construction of bridges, sometimes for his brother and at other times for various ironworkers and builders. He makes his home in Waukon, although business often calls him into other states.

C. S. Stilwell is well known as a representative of fraternal interests in Waukon. He joined both the Masonic and Odd Fellow societies in 1870, becoming a member of the lodge and chapter at Waukon and the council at Dubuque, and the lodge and encampment of Odd Fellows at Waukon. In both organizations he has retained his membership to the present time and has represented his district in the Odd Fellows grand lodge and grand encampment many times and for many terms has held the office of deputy of his district. He has likewise been greatly interested in charitable work. Soon after coming to Waukon he was elected president of a society for the express purpose of raising and distributing funds for the relief of the poor. This work was later taken up with the churches of Waukon and much good has been accomplished in relieving distress. Mr. Stilwell displays a helpful spirit toward all movements and organizations that tend to ameliorate the hard conditions of life for the unfortunate, and his broad humanitarianism is again and again manifest in all his relations with his fellowmen.

-transcribed by Linda Earnhart


Research note:
From Mark Stilwell by email, August 2007: ".... the above bio states that C.S. Stilwell was of Scotch ancestry. This is not possible through the male line as all Stilwells trace their roots, to the County of Surrey, south of London in England. Parish records, prove this. Researchers should verify and come to their own conclusions. Please see excellent site on Stilwell family at ..... (10/23/2016: this link has been removed by the coordinator because the URL no longer exists - Mark, if you see this and have an updated URL for the Stilwell family info. please contact the Allamakee co. coordinator)

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