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Charles Aldrich


Posted By: County Coordinator
Date: 3/11/2009 at 17:34:23

Charles Aldrich, By John M Brainard…. The founder and curator of the Iowa State Historical Department was born October 2, 1828, in the town of Ellington, Chautauqua county, New York, son of Stephen and Eliza (Nichols) Aldrich. He is of the ninth generation form the immigrant ancestor, George Aldrich of Derbyshire, England, who arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, Nov 6, 1631, the genealogical line since being (2) Joseph, (3) Samuel (4) Peter, (5) Sylvanus, (6) Stephen, (7) Stephen and (8) Stephen, the last named being the father of our subject. The father was a blacksmith in early life and afterwards a merchant lumberman and farmer. He was a kindly, impulsive, energetic and well informed man. He had been honored as county supervisor and justice of the peace upon the organization of the town of Coldspring, Cattaraugus county, New York in 1838. The mother died in 1880 at the residence of her daughter Mrs Jane Aldrich Lee at Olean, New York, whither Charles, in 1882, sent the remains of his father, who died in Iowa, and the parents sleep side by side in the shade of towering pines in the beautiful cemetery by the Allegany river. Stephen Nichols, his grandfather on his mother’s side had been a sailor, visiting many portions of the globe and ending his days as a farmer in Broadalbin, New York. The maternal grandmother was Lucy (Kennicott) Nichols, of whom we have no particulars save that she was a Kennicott, an aunt of Robert Kennicott, the distinguished western naturalist.
His elementary education was such as the common schools afforded, and at sixteen he attended Jamestown Academy for a year, but his real education began in June 1846, when he entered the printing office of the Western Literary Messenger published by Clement & Faxon in Buffalo, New York. In this office he served an apprenticeship to the printer’s art, and after working in the villages of Attica and Warsaw, New York, and Warren, Pennsylvania, in June 1850, established. The Cattaraugus Sachem, a weekly newspaper, at Randolph, New York, which he conducted on e year. A file of The Sachem is in the Iowa Historical Department. Removing to Olean, in the same county he established the Journal, Which he conducted five years, ad then returned to the home farm in Little Valley, where he set up in a modest office the Hamilton Freeman, at Webster City, Iowa. The press typed and office fixtures had been hauled across the country from Dubuque over the prairie roads and through sloughs without bottom. The prospect a Republican paper in a village of two hundred inhabitants the county al told having but fifteen hundred and the official patronage in the hands of the Democrats was to the most encouraging to one with less vigor and confident hopefulness. He came quite naturally to be a Republican, for he was a Freesoiler long before his majority. At the age of nineteen he was chosen secretary of the first Freesoiler anti slavery convention held in Cattaraugus county, New York. It was in the midst of the discussions of the slavery questions and words were not minced on the frontier in political contests. This result to The Freeman and its patrons, justified the venture and party line were soon readjusted on a more satisfactory basis. Subsequently Mr Aldrich was connected with the publication and editing of the Dubuque Times, Marshall Times and as a writer for the Chicago Inter Ocean and many other papers.
He has served the state in five of its legislatures. He was chosen chief clerk of the house of representative in 1860, 1862, 1866 and 1870 and was elected a member of that body by Hamilton county in 1881, serving in the session which began in the following January. It as during this session that he introduced a bill to prohibit the issuing by the railroad of free passes to public officers. This bill was favored by two or three of the leading companies ad opposed by others. It became the exciting topic of the session and was hotly debated on the floor of the house and in the newspapers. Mr Aldrich’s remarks in its defense were copied by leading journals throughout the country form New York to San Francisco. No speech of ay Iowa man had ever had so wide a circulation. But the bill failed to become a law. This topic was discussed by Mr Aldrich and the late Judge N M Hubbard, of Card Rapids, in the North American Review for January 1884.
In 1869, doubtless through the good offices of his abiding friend, the late Hon J B Grinnell, Iowa College conferred upon him the degree of A M. In 1883 he was one of the founders and is still a member of the American Ornithologists’ Union. He is also a member of several state historical societies.
IN 1883 Mr Aldrich stated for the Holy Land with his friend, Jacob M Funk of Webster City They traveled in England, Ireland, Belgium, German y, Italy and France but went no further east than the city of Naples, on account of the cholera which had begun its march across Europe. Mr Funk came home two weeks in advacne of Mr Aldrich who then visited the Channel Islands, Winchester, Selbourne, Canterbury, Stratford on Avon, Oxford, Cambridge and Birmingham. He also heard an eloquent charity sermon by Cardinal Manning and was kindly received by Cardinal Newman. He crossed the Atlantic twice later on but did not go beyond England.
Mr Aldrich has devoted much time to the work of securing just and necessary legislation for his state. We will enumerate briefly a few of these measures. In 1858 he secured the passage of a law for the publication of the laws in two newspapers in each county. In this work he had the hearty support of Cyrus C Carpenter, afterwards governor, Of James F Wilson, who became one of our United States senators, and of Captain Thomas Drummond, the brilliant Iowa journalist, who was killed at the battle of Five Forks, Virginia. This law was repealed some time in the 790’s but it had served a good purpose while it was on the statute book. The change in county government (1860) form the old county judge autocratic and often corrupt or inefficient system, to boards of supervisors was due to the agitation started and continued by him. The publication of the proceedings of the boards of supervisors the lists of county expenditures and the sheriffs’ sales of real property were secured by laws drafted by Mr Aldrich. He drafted and secured the passage of Iowa law of 1870 which protects from wanton destruction our harmless and useful birds. Of this pioneer measure he has always been very proud. It still remains in the Code of Iowa, though slightly amended. In the session of 1882 he introduced and secured the passage of the bill which gave to Judge James W McKinzie’s widow a continuance of his salary for some months. McKenzie was the soldier who waved the answer back to Sherman from Allatoona to Kenesaw. He had died while in office from the effects of his army service. He also introduced a bill providing for a state board of pardons, which passed the house but was not reached in the senate. Up to this session neither house had ever had a legislative calendar. Mr Aldrich introduced a resolution directing the adoption of this sensible and alto her indispensable custom but it was pounced up on and fought by sundry economists with more than ordinary bitterness. He secured its reference to the committee on rules and taking a roll call explained the measure to members individually, promising to pay the expense of printing if after a weeks trail the house should discontinue the morning calendar. As members promised to stand by this experiment he checked their names. When the majority was secured he got the resolution reported back but with out recommendation so cautious and conservative were the committee. When it came up it was passed and the appearance of the first morning calendar made the custom a permanent one in Iowa legislatures. The senate provided for morning calendars tow or three days later, and that excellent measure of the economy continues as a fixed custom to this day. In old times Iowa official publications were only bound in sleavy paper covers In 1862 Mr Aldrich secured the adoption of a measure which after some experiments resulted in the permanent binding of our public documents. He drew up the program for securing the repeal of the old Granger law of 1874 ad the substitution of the commissioner or Massachusetts system. This law passed in 1878 and is yet on the statute book. Upon the publication of Pool’s Index to Periodical Literature, he urged upon the board of the state library trustees ad advocated the idea through the press of beginning at once collection of the magazines of this country ad England. This work proceeded slowly at first but he persisted in his efforts until it became the settled policy of the state library and the collection is now one of the largest in the United States. It is one of those acquisitions of which every Iowan may justly feel proud.
Mr Aldrich has labored to develop a sentiment in favor of republishing such of the early laws of the territory and state as have been long out of print. The first volume (1838-9) has been issued and at this writing (July 1902) the second is in press. The departmet has also issued the following historical works Census of 1836, two handsome pamphlets: Hon Irving B Richmans “John Brown Among the Quakers” and other sketches: the hitherto unpublished journals of the special session of the territorial legislature of 1840, and Shambaugh’s History of the Iowa Constitutions. He has also published five Biennial Reports of the Historical Department. It has been found necessary to reprint a few numbers of The Annals the editions having been exhausted. Mr Aldrich hopes to publish Captain F E Lander’s Historical and Geographical Atlas of the united States, and a second and revised edition of Judge Fulton’s Red Men of Iowa.
Believing that our public documents would become of the highest value for historical purposes. Mr Aldrich applied in 1859 to the secretary of state Hon Elijah Sells for a full set. I cannot give them to you said Mr Sells for the reason that the state does not posses a set. Waste had even then been going on for several years. Mr Aldrich younger then at once gave up the effort thinking an imperfect set was not worth procuring. He would do differently today and save such as could be secured.
In 1862 Mr Aldrich locked up his newspaper office and entered the Union army. He was made adjutant of the Thirty-second Iowa Infantry and served as such for eighteen months when he resigned and returned to Iowa. Soon afterward he was preparing to re-enter the service as major of the Tenth Calvary when orders came discontinuing the organization of that regiment. Subsequently Gen M M Crocker tendered him a position on his staff as he was about to proceed to his command in the department of Arizona but he was obliged to decline because of private business.
As indicating his natural bent in the direction of historical affairs it may be recalled that while a resident of Webster city he aroused public interest and secured the placing of a beautiful brass tablet in the new courthouse, commemorating the names of deeds of the Company ( C) contributed by Hamilton county to the Spirit Lake expedition of 1857. In1894 the legislature appropriated the funds to erect a monument to mark the spot where the massacre began and Governor Jackson appointed Mr Aldrich a member of the commission which had charge of the work. Another legislature provided for the erection of a monument near Sioux City to mark the grave of Sergeant Floyd, a member of the Lewis and Clarke expedition who died there in 1804, and was the first American soldier buried in Iowa soil. Mr Aldrich was a member of the Floyd Memorial association, which brought the subject to public attention. In 1872 he was appointed by Governor Cyrus C Carpenter a member of the commission to investigate and report upon the titles of settlers of the Des Moines valley who had lost their homes by adverse decisions of the United States Supreme Court. They continued in office until the early part of 1875, their labors resulting in the passage of an act by congress for a new commission and a report to the general government. Mr Aldrich was appointed by President Grant as the Iowa member of this commission, whose recommendation for relief passed the house, but failed in the senate. In the year 1875 he was a member of the United States geological survey under Dr F V Hayden which was engaged that year in Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. His letters to the Chicago Inter Ocean were widely read, often copied and very interesting .Father Boren, the pioneer miner in the La Plata valley, Colorado and the discoverer of Boren’s Gulch, named a mountain for Mr Aldrich. The name “Mount Aldrich” is recognized in the United States geological reports.
For the past eighteen years the historical department of Iowa has engaged the chief attention of Mr Aldrich. It is his development and will remain his most enduring monument. It had its origin in a taste acquired in early youth for the collection of autograph letters, portraits and other personal mementoes of distinguished persons living and dead. In 1884 when this had grown to considerable magnitude, he tendered it to the state. It was accepted by the trustees of the state library whith the conditions that it should have suitable cases, be kept separate form other collections and that he shold be privileged to make additions to it form time to time. He has devoted much time ad means to increasing and caring for this “Aldrich Collection” and devised the cases in which the material is kept. These cases have been adopted for like purposes I libraries and other collections. They are superior to those containing the great collections in the British Museum.
In 1892, upon Mr Aldrich’s showing to the legislature that body established the Historical Department and gave it rooms in the Capital building. Its development was of slow growth at first for it is seldom that the public’s appreciation of the higher things of life keeps pace with the wider views of their promoters, but in 1897 the legislature made an appropriation of twenty-five thousand dollars with which to erect a building and purchase the grounds therefore. After a site was bought the Executive Council deemed the amount too small to erect a suitable building and decided to await the action of the next legislature. During this periold the campaign of popyar education went on and the legislature of 1898 appropriated thirty thousand dollars more for this purpose. New and much larger grounds were secured and one wing of that building which when completed will cost three thousand dollars was commenced in 1898 and is now occupied by the Historical Department. The educational value of this great work Is fully recognized. It is collecting an saving form destruction the material from which the history of the state will be written sooner or later, its walls are adored with portraits, and marble busts of many of its distinguished citizens are to be place in the art room .A museum of articles mainly illustrating the pioneer conditions of the state is a very interesting feature and is viewed by thousand of people every year. The department is collecting and preserving early and current files of state newspapers and periodicals so useful for purposes of reference. In connection with the department there is published a quarterly. The Annals of Iowa, through which the public is brought in tough wit the work of the institution.
Mr Aldrich had made a addition to the Kendall Young Library in Webster City, consisting of several hundred volumes mainly in natural history, and which is believed to contain the best collection of books on the birds in the state. Among them is a set of the work of John James Audubon, with all the original illustrations in colors In full morocco binding. He has also made considerable gifts to the Masonic Library at Cedar Rapids, and the public libraries of Boone, Burlington and Council Bluffs.
On July 29, 1851 he was married at Knowlesville, New York to Miss Matilda Olivia Williams who was born August 8, 1836, in Dansville, New York and died in Boone, Iowa September 18, 1892, the family having removed there in 1891. Her parents were Aaron and Olivia (Nichols) Williams. Her grandfather Stephen Williams had been a soldier in the Revolutionary war and was seriously wounded In the battle of Trenton December 26 1777 losing an eye an dafter wars the other through sympathetic affection. He as blind fully half his lifetime. She was in full sympathy with all her husband’s ambitions and was well and widely known throughout the state and sincerely mourned at her death. She was a member of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and a lover of the birds. Mr Aldrich was married a second time November 12, 1898 to Miss Thirza Louisa Briggs of Webster City a lifelong friend of his first wife. Their home in Boone is an ideal one, a center of rest and pleasure to their old friends.
Mr Aldrich’s mental equipment is most versatile, with the faculty of immediate concentration upon the subject in hand and untiringly persistent to its end. His style of writing is concise, lucid, with a dash of quaint, applicable humor an excellent power of description. There is no straining of high flown expressions. He had always too much to say thus to waste space. In disposition he is a maker of friends and loyal to them when secured. His enemies, if he had them are managed by letting them alone, though in his newspaper days the editorial belt may at times have been ornamented with distinguished scalps. He is found of the society of young people to whom he has long been helpful in many ways. In religion he is liberal, believing the best expression of faith is in deeds of charity and sympathy with suffering humanity, rather than in creeds and dogmas. His life has been an illustration of this thought, for most of his work has been done without pecuniary reward. May he live many years to continue this helpfulness.

1902 Boone County History Book


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