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The IAGenWeb Project

History of Benton County, Iowa
The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, 1910; Luther B. Hill, Ed.

Page 897-900

WALTER SCOTT PALMER, who died at his home in Vinton, May 22, 1904, was at that time distinguished by being the oldest native resident of Vinton, where he had spent nearly a lifetime of successful business effort. For thirty-five years he had been in business in the same store room, part of the time as clerk. He was a successful merchant, a highly esteemed citizen, and made for himself a permanent place in the history of his locality.

He was born in Vinton, March 29, 1854, being the oldest of the four children, of Thomas S. and Nancy (Hale) Palmer. The remaining three are Etta, born February 6, 1856, received a good common school education, finishing at Rockford Seminary, Rockford, Illinois. She then entered the Vinton public schools as a teacher, but after teaching about five years was compelled to give up the work on account of failing health. In 1882 she went with her parents to California and here she died of hemorrhage of the lungs on March 2, 1884. Charles Stephen, born at Clear Lake, Iowa, April 29, 1858, finished the Vinton public schools and spent a year at the State Agricultural College, at Ames, afterward learning the trade of house painting, which he has since followed. In 1883 he went to Los Angeles, California. On December 28, 1887, he married Lulu Finall, and they still live there and have one son. Annie, the youngest, was born August 16, 1864, and died of scarlet fever on May 30, 1868.

When fourteen years old Walter S. Palmer left the public schools and entered his father's drug store, which was one of the pioneer establishments of the kind in Vinton, and remained in the business until twenty years of age. He then made a long tour, to the Pacific coast and California cities, thence by steamer to Panama and some of the Mexican and Central American states, and after five weeks' voyage reached New York city. After visiting in Ohio he returned to Vinton and again entered his father's business, and the rest of his active life was spent in the drug business. He bought the store from his father on January 1, 1880.

He was married, March 29, 1881, to Miss Kate, a daughter of W. B. Van Horn, formerly prominent in the business life of Vinton and now retired. There was one child of this marriage, Van Horn Palmer, born November 1, 1891, and died November 7, 1891. The beautiful home on South Washington street, built by the late Mr. Palmer, is now occupied by his widow.

Mr. Palmer took considerable interest in tracing the genealogy of his family, and from the results of his efforts in this direction is is possible to give a fairly complete sketch of the origin and ancestry of one of the pioneer families of Vinton and Benton county.

In a legendary way the history of the Palmer family goes back to the crusaders of the twelfth century, during the time of Richard I. These valiant knights, bearing staves or palms, returned to their native land, and for this received the distinction of being termed "palmers." Some retained this as a surname, and from one of these crusaders it is supposed that the Palmer family in America is descended.

More authentic history begins with John Edgerton Palmer, great-great-grandfather of Walter S. He was born on a farm in Kent county, England, in 1740, was a farmer by occupation, and died February 27, 1827. On January 20, 1763, he married Martha Sandwell, who died in July, 1779. They had seven children. Passing over the next generation to John Edgerton Palmer, the grandfather of Walter S., he was born in London, July 5, 1793, and, both parents dying when he was young, from the age of ten he grew up in the family of his maternal grandfather, Thomas Sharp, in Lincolnshire. He was well educated for that period, and on reaching manhood returned to London, where he was engaged in the mercantile business several years. In August, 1819, in company with his brother Charles, he took passage for America and after seven weeks landed here. They finally settled in the wilderness of Richland county, Ohio. In crossing the Atlantic they had become acquainted with the family of Joseph Ward, and after marriage had united the Palmer boys with the Ward girls they all settled down together in Ohio and became pioneers in subduing the wilderness of that region. John E. Palmer married Elizabeth Ward on July 15, 1820. She was born in Kipton, Derbyshire, England. Their homestead for nearly sixty years was the place from which they had cleared the forest, six miles northeast of Mansfield, and on that farm their eleven children were born. John E. Palmer, the grandfather of Walter S., was a strong character, very influential in his community, a zealous abolitionist whose house was a station on the "underground railroad," and for many years he served as deacon in the Congregational church of Mansfield. On July 15, 1870, he and his pioneer wife celebrated their golden wedding anniversary, and he continued to live for some years after that, his death occurring on the home farm July 25, 1877, at the age of eighty-four.

The third child of this pioneer couple was Thomas Sharp Palmer, father of Walter S. He was horn near Mansfield, July 17, 1825, and after a limited education left home at the age of seventeen and became apprentice in a cabinet-making business at Mansfield. After three years' apprenticeship he set out as journeyman, going west and then south through Tennessee to St. Louis, and thence up the river to Oskaloosa, Iowa. While working, at his trade in Oskaloosa in 1849, he was seized with the gold fever, and drove an ox team overland to pay for his passage to the coast. After six months he arrived, in the fall of 1849, at Sacramento, then a city of tents, and for two years worked in the mines with varying success. On his voyage back to the "States," his ship was nearly wrecked by storm and put into Acapulco, Mexico, where he and twenty-seven others left the boat and on horseback made the perilous journey of seven hundred miles to Vera Cruz, thence taking ship to New Orleans.

He arrived at his old Ohio home in the fall of 1851, but in the following spring again came west, and at this early date in the history of Benton county he located at the settlement at Vinton, where he was one of the first to carry on the trade of cabinet-maker. Early in 1853 he returned to Mansfield and married Miss Nancy Hale, who was born and reared within two miles of his old home. They at once came to Vinton, and in 1854 the husband started a small drug store, almost the pioneer store of that kind. He was connected with the business from that time until he sold the store to his son in 1880. In 1857 he moved with his family to Clear Lake, Iowa, and went into general merchandising, meantime leaving his Vinton store under the management of his brother-in-law, W. A. Hale. This latter business, when he returned two years later, he found demoralized, but he recuperated quickly and in a few years was a prosperous merchant and influential citizen. After selling his business to Walter S. in 1880, he removed with his wife and daughters to Los Angeles, California, and lived there until his death, in January, 1908.

Another member of this family who was a pioneer of Benton county was Captain John Edgerton Palmer, an older brother of Thomas S. He was born in Richland county, Ohio, July 6, 1821, and in 1854 brought his family to Vinton, where he became a prominent figure in local politics. At the beginning of the war he enlisted in Company A, Twenty-eighth Iowa Infantry, was elected second lieutenant, and in 1863 was commissioned captain. He served in the siege of Vicksburg, was in the Red river expedition under General Banks, and later was transferred to the Army of the Potomac. He was killed at the battle of Winchester, September 19, 1864.

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