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William Meek


Posted By: Fran Hunt, Volunteer
Date: 10/3/2001 at 12:49:14

From the Portrait and Biographical Album of Jefferson and Van Buren Counties – 1890


Probably no man deserves more credit for the present prosperity of Van Buren County, and more especially of Bonaparte, that the gentleman of whom we write, for his history is much of the history of the progress and business prosperity of the community. He was a native of Pennsylvania, but in early life removed to Virginia, where he became acquainted with and married Elizabeth Johnson, who was born in that state. They removed to Wayne County Ohio, where they lived some fifteen years. They became the parent so of nine children, eight of whom lived to adult age.

Accompanied by his family, in 1829, Mr. Meek emigrated westward, locating in St. Joseph County Michigan, where for some eight years he engaged in farming and milling. The month of July 1837, witnessed the arrival of William Meek in what is now Bonaparte, Van Buren County Iowa, but then formed a part of the Territory of Wisconsin. The county was then but sparsely settled but by the business facilities and enterprise of its new citizens it has rapidly increased in importance. He secured the waterpower at this place and in company with his sons, Robert and William, built the first grist and saw mill in the county, both of which were under one roof. These he operated until 1844, when the old buildings were torn down and in company with three sons, Robert, William and Isaiah, he erected what is now known as the Bonaparte Mills, but in that early day was called the Meek Mills. For fifty miles around people came to give them their patronage and often the work so accumulated that persons were obliged to camp out two weeks, awaiting their turn to be served. After the father died, the mill was operated by the sons until 1878, when, it was town down and replaced by a brick structure, 40 x 50 feet and three stories high with basement. It is furnished with the latest improved machinery and modern conveniences and has a capacity of seventy-five barrels per day. The gristmill was attended with such prosperity, that in 1853, Mr. Meek and his sons were enabled to build what was known as the Bonaparte Woolen Mills, the first mills of the kind in Southern Iowa. The building in which they carried on operations was a stone and brick structure, but in July of 1863, it was consumed by fire. However, with characteristic energy, the brothers began to rebuild it and the result is their present factory of stone and brick, the dimensions of which are 50 x 85 feet and three stories in height, with an attic and basement. The cost of the building was $12,000 and the purchase price of the machinery was $40,000. This mill furnishes employment to some eighty-five persons and manufactures cassimere blankets, flannels and stocking yarn. Isaiah Meek and Sons also own and operate a pants factory which was put in operation in May of 1889, and which furnishes employment to some fifty hands and where the pants are made from the cassimere manufactured form their own looms. Although one hundred and thirty three persons receive work at the hands of this firm, one hundred and thirty being employed in the mills, the remaining three doing duty as traveling salesmen. In connection with their business, they also own two thousand acres of land, one thousand of which is under cultivation. William Meek, the father of the family was a pioneer in three States. His record is that of a self-made man, who without capital began life’s battle and by hard work, perseverance and good business ability came off victorious. Of indomitable will and energy he overcame all obstacles and difficulties, labored on untiringly and as a result his efforts were crowned with success. The benefit his business enterprises have been to this community cannot be estimated, but with gratitude will be remembered by the citizens of the county for years to come.

The family of Mr. and Mrs. William Meek consisted of the following children: Johnson, a resident of Lee County, Iowa; Elizabeth, wife of A.H. Woods of Van Buren County; Robert and William, partners in the extensive milling interests; Ann, widow of Thomas Charlton of Dauphin County Nebraska; Isaiah, also interested in the business; Rachel J. who became the wife of A.J. Poe and died in Missouri; Benjamin who died in 1838, when a child; Joseph is also a resident of Bonaparte. The parents of this family were members of the Baptist church and were numbered among the best citizens and most highly respected people of the community. Their acquaintance was extensive and their friends were almost numberless. The mother was called to her final rest in 1856, and after a long and useful life Mr. Meek passed to his reward in 1863.

Isaiah Meek, one of the proprietors of the Bonaparte woolen and gristmills, was born in Wayne County, Ohio, January 31, 1821, and at the age of eight years accompanied his parents to St. Joseph County Michigan, where he acquired a common school education. At the age of sixteen, he accompanied his parents to Van Buren County Iowa, and assisted in building up the large and prosperous milling business of Bonaparte, the leading industry of the place. He has always taken an active and commendable interest in anything pertaining to the welfare of the community and has done not a little toward bringing about its present prosperity and placing the county on a par with the sister counties in this vast commonwealth. His business ability is of a superior order and the upright way in which everything connected with the business has been carried on, has won for himself and the other members of the firm the respect and confidence of the community and secured to them a liberal patronage.

In 1844, Mr. Meek was joined in wedlock with Miss Cynthia Ann Ingalls, a native of Ohio, born in 1827. They became parents of six children: Nancy A., wife of T.W. Boyer, a merchant of Bonaparte; Phoebe L. wife of J.S. Moore of Keokuk Iowa; H. H. who is associated with his father in business; Byron F. a partner of the Bonaparte Woolen and Grist Mill company, and Kirk who is also of the same company.

In political sentiment, Mr. Meek is a stanch Democrat and feels a deep interest in the success of the party but has never been a politician in the sense of office seeking. He was, however, elected to the position of Supervisor but not through his own seeking. When we look back over the past and see the wonderful changes, which time and civilization have made, we cannot but exclaim; “Surely the age of wonders is upon us.” The prosperity of the community is due greatly to its pioneers and knowing this to be true we would question, what would Van Buren County have been, had it not been for the Meek family. We give them all honor for the noble work, which they have done and take pleasure in thus presenting a brief record of their career to the readers of this Album.


Van Buren Biographies maintained by Rich Lowe.
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