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Stephen L. Dows


Posted By: Emmet County IAGenWeb Coordinator (email)
Date: 2/13/2011 at 20:05:14

A broad-minded, generous-spirited man, capable and enterprising in business and yet never so engrossed in commercial and financial affairs as to exclude the other interests of life which come from a recognition of man's duty to his fellowman, to his community and his country, Hon. Stephen L. Dows ranked with the foremost men of Iowa and in Cedar Rapids, where he made his home, and indeed wherever he was known his memory is cherished and revered by those with whom he came in contact.

Mr. Dows was born in New York city, October 9,1832, a son of Adam and Maria (Lundy) Dows. The ancestral line is traced back to one of the old families of New England and the name was originally spelled Dowse... "Stephen L. Dows was a little lad of four years when his parents removed to Troy, New York. He attended the public schools there to the age of fourteen years, when he entered upon an apprenticeship to the machinistís trade, mastering his duties with promptness and capability. The west, with its broader opportunities, however, attracted him and with the desire to try his fortune in the rapidly developing Mississippi valley, he made his way to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1848. His cash capital it the time consisted of seventy cents. He was in a way a soldier of fortune, having no definite plans, but he recognized the fact that industry and determination will always win. The first year was spent in the lumber camp at Badenoquett, Michigan, where his salary was but twelve dollars per month. He then crossed the peninsula and Lake Superior, made his way through the untravelled wilderness and arrived in Marquette, Michigan, in 1849, being one of the first white men to spend the winter there. He found employment in the machine shops, ran the first engine and aided in building the first steamer launched on Lake Superior. After two years he returned to Badenoquett, where he was once more connected with the lumber business until 1853, when he secured the position of superintendent of a lumber mill at Muskegon. Two years later, or on the 12th of April, 1855, he arrived in Cedar Rapids and subsequently operated a sawmill and conducted a lumber business in both Linn and Jones counties. Each change that he made marked a forward step in his career. He afterward became superintendent for the Variety Manufacturing Company, but in 1860 he went to Colorado, attracted by the discovery of gold at Pikes Peak. A year convinced him that fortunes were not to be had for the asking there and he returned to Cedar Rapids. In August, 1862, prompted by a spirit of patriotism which at that time dominated every other interest of his life, Mr. Dows offered his services to the government, enlisting as a member of Company I, Twentieth Iowa Infantry, in which he was made first lieutenant. Subsequently e was appointed acting brigade quartermaster of the First Brigade, Second Division, Army of the Frontier, but exposure and overwork at length forced him to leave the service, his health having been undermined. Following his return from the war he began railroad building under contract and was not long in reaping the results of his former labor and experience. His efforts in that direction were of material benefit to the state, as well as the source of gratifying income for himself. Contract followed contract and he employed a large force of workmen and conducted a most extensive and profitable business, becoming one of the leaders in his line in the west. As his financial resources increased he made large investments in realty and many tracts which he owned were converted into town sites in Iowa, Minnesota and Dakota. His investments were wisely placed and his capable control of his business dealings gained for him the high regard and honor of all with whom he came in contact. Mr. Dows made extensive investment in Cedar Rapids real estate and in 1874 erected the Dows block, one of the finest office and business structures in the west at that time. A contemporary biographer has written: "Self-made in the strictest sense of the term, he educated himself, became a skillful machinist and later developed into one of the most farsighted business men Cedar Rapids has known. He was also largely interested in Cedar Rapids banks and served for many years as a director of various local financial institutions."

Mr. Dows was married October 31, 1855, to Miss Henrietta W. Safely, a daughter of Thomas Safely, of Waterford, New York. She was born in Scotland, November 12, 1834, and when two years of age was brought by her parents to the new world, the family home being established at Waterford, where they remained until 1851, when removal was made to Sugar Grove, Linn county, Iowa. Mr. and Mrs. Dows began their domestic life in Mount Vernon, but after a year went to Cedar Rapids, where Mrs. Dows became a recognized leader in the social, religious and charitable circles of the city. She held membership in the First Methodist church, took a prominent part in all of its activities and gave most most generously toward its benevolence. The poor and needy ever found in her a friend and in all of her good work she was guided by tact, kindliness and ready sympathy. She passed away August 7, 1893, at the age of fifty-eight years, and no where was her loss so keenly felt as in her own home, for she was a devoted wife and mother, counting no personal sacrifice or effort too great if it would promoted the happiness and welfare of the members of the household.

Mr. and Mrs. Dows were the parents of six children: Minnie Marie, who died at the age of fifteen years: Elma, the wife of Benjamin Thane, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Elizabeth, the wife of Thompson McClintock, also of Pittsburgh; Henrietta, the wife of James E. Blake, of Chicago; Stephen Leland, who died July 5, 1899; and William G., of Cedar Rapids.

Following the death of his wife Mr. Dows gave to St. Luke's Hospital as a memorial to her its splendid operating room with its equipment, said to be one of the finest in the United States.

Mr. Dows gave unfaltering allegiance to the republican party from the time that age conferred upon him the right of franchise. In 1875 he was elected to represent his district in the state legislature and served in the sixteenth and seventeenth general assemblies. He was made a member of a number of important committees, including that of railroads, manufacture, appropriations and penitentiaries. He was connected with much constructive legislation and ever placed the public good before partisanship and the general welfare before personal agrandizement. A contemporary writer has paid a fitting tribute to his memory : "Like his wife, Mr. Dows was ever deeply interested in that which worked for the betterment and advancement of the community. He was naturally an enthusiast in the cause of education, serving for many years as a trustee of Coe College of this city and of Cornell College, at Mount Vernon. Fraternally be was a Knight Templar Mason and an Odd Fellow. He began with nothing, not once but several times, for he made and lost several fortunes before he gathered the last and largest one. He had worked and worked hard at anything that came to his hands, from primitive railroad building to digging gold. He traveled Illinois and Iowa on foot because he bad nothing with which to pay for conveyance; later he built railroads in every direction and did it at a time when the financing of such a project was a difficult problem. He frequently took what seemed like desperate chances, but his unusual business sagacity enabled him to be on the winning side. He served in the Civil war with distinction, for he was not too busy with private affairs to forget the duty which be owed to his country and to humanity. His life was typical of the great, growing west, to which growth be contributed so largely. He was a man of action rather than of theory and with determined purpose carried forward to successful completion whatever he undertook, and in his death Cedar Rapids lost one of the most rugged, honest, capable and honorable men that the city has ever known."

Contributed by: James M. Richmond. Source: "Iowa: Its History and Its Foremost Citizens", Volume III, The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, Chicago, 1915, page 1293-1296.


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