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John Foster Thompson


Posted By: Gordon Felland (email)
Date: 1/2/2006 at 21:24:27

John Foster Thompson, president of the Winnebago County State Bank at Forest City, has long been an honored and prominent resident of the county. In the paternal line his ancestry is traced back to Isaac and Sarah (Bell) Thompson, natives of Belfast, Ireland, and both related to the famous Sir Thomas Cruse, an earl, who was compelled to flee from his country on account of his participation in the revolution of 1798. He came to the United States and passed away soon afterward. Isaac Thompson was the grandfather of John Foster Thompson, whose parents were Mathew and Martha (Spaulding) Thompson, the latter a daughter of Abel Spaulding, who served with distinction in the Revolutionary war and was a noted physician and surgeon. Through that line the ancestry is traced back to Aquila Chase, who settled in Newbury, Massachusetts, in 1640, and to this family belonged Bishop Philander Chase. Mrs. Martha Thompson was also an own cousin of Salmon P. Chase, secretary of the treasury under President Lincoln. Mathew Thompson was born at Head Elk, Cecil county, Maryland, in 1791, and served as first lieutenant in the War of 1812. In 1857 be removed from Ohio to Clayton county, Iowa.

John Foster Thompson, son of Mathew Thompson, was born at Carey, Ohio, September 3, 1848, and was nine years of age when the family home was established in Iowa, where he attended the district schools. On the 27th of May, 1863, at the age of fourteen years, he enlisted at Elkader, Iowa, under A. F. Tipton,
who was recruiting Company I of the Eighth Iowa Cavalry. However, he was not mustered into Company I but was transferred and mustered into the Fourth Iowa Battery. He made a most creditable military record although but a boy in years and was wounded in the Red River campaign. While at the front he captured the bugle of a Confederate soldier, on which he has had inscribed the words: "Captured from a detachment of the rebel army, war of 1861-5, in northwestern Louisiana, U. S. A., April, 1864, by John F. Thompson, a bugler in the Fourth Iowa Battery, who was at that time fifteen years and six months old." When Mr. Thompson returned home at the close of the war he entered the McGregor high school and for a time divided his time between teaching and attending school, meeting the expenses of his course by his work as a teacher. In 1869 he became principal of the high school at Strawberry Point, Iowa, and he also served as deputy county superintendent there. In 1872 he began the practice of law at Forest City, where he also entered the real estate and collection business. In further preparation for the bar he pursued a special academic course in the Iowa State University and also the regular law course, winning the regular LL. B. degree in 1874. He was then appointed deputy register of the state land office at Des Moines but in 1876 resigned and returned to Forest City, where he again entered the line of business in which he had formerly been engaged, organizing his interests under the name of the Winnebago County Bank as senior partner in the firm of J. F. Thompson & Company. This was the first bank of Winnebago county. After returning to Forest City in the summer of 1876 he resumed the practice of law which be had successfully followed for a number of years. In 1878 James H. Easton, president of the First National Bank of Decorah, Iowa, bought a half interest in Mr. Thompson's business at Forest City and the firm name was changed from J. F. Thompson & Company to that of Easton & Thompson, which firm continued the banking business, Mr. Thompson continuing the practice of law. In 1896 he organized his bank into a state institution changing the name to the Winnebago County State Bank, of which institution he has been the business manager during all these years, and is now and has been for many years its president. He, with his wife and his son, Merle M. Thompson, own a large majority of the capital stock, the bank being capitalized at fifty thousand dollars with a surplus of more than twenty-five thousand dollars.

Mr. Thompson's organization of this institution was but his initial step in the banking business in Iowa. During his business career he organized and was president of many like institutions and at one time was at the head of nine banks and loan companies. He organized the Citizens Bank of Britt; the State Bank of Thompson, of which institution he was president for seventeen years; the First National Bank of Buffalo Center; the First National Bank of Argyle, Minnesota, of which institution he was president for several years; the First National Bank of Crystal Lake; and the Security Bank of Wesley, Iowa. He also organized and was manager for many years of the Iowa Northern Land Company and the Chicago & Iowa Western Land & Town Lot Company and the Winnebago County Abstract Company; and was treasurer of the Minnesota & Iowa Southern Railway Company, which built the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad from Albert Lea to Angus; and was also treasurer of the Chicago & Iowa Western Railroad Company, which built the Forest City extension of the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Railway, now the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad, from Forest City to Armstrong. When this line of railroad was extended west he platted and laid out, on land that he owned at the time, the town of Thompson, giving it its name, and the town of Buffalo Center, both in Winnebago county. He organized the electric light company in Forest City and for several years was president of the company. These town plats with his large land holdings at that time have since been sold out by him, but he still owns eight hundred acres of land in two farms three miles west of Forest City, all under cultivation, and upon each farm he has a large and splendidly improved orchard. He likewise owns several other farm properties in Winnebago and Hancock counties, together with a half section of land in North Dakota and eighty-five acres of valuable land in Florida. He is also a member of the firm of Thompson Brothers, which deals in Iowa farm loans and has loaned over fifteen million dollars and has never had a foreclosure or default of interest.

On the 22d of November, 1875, at Forest City, Iowa, Mr. Thompson was united in marriage with Miss Julia A. Clark, eldest daughter of Judge Robert Clark, mentioned elsewhere in this work, and they became the parents of seven children, but only two are now living: Merle M.; and Paul Foster, who is a high school student. Those deceased are: John Clark, Clyde Clifton, Lulu Ann, Imogene and Ora.

In politics Mr. Thompson is a stalwart standpat republican and has made many campaign speeches in his county and district. His influence largely brought to the front Hon. J. P. Dolliver, who became United States senator from Iowa. He has served in several local offices and undoubtedly much higher political honors would have come to him had his ambition centered along that line. For two terms he has been mayor of Forest City and for several terms he was the president of the board of education, doing effective work for the interests of the schools and for the welfare and civic betterment of Forest City in general while he was acting as mayor. He has also served as president of the Board of Trade. He was appointed by Governor Larrabee and reappointed by Governor Boies a delegate to the Farmers National Congress. Mr. Thompson is a charter member of Hayden Post, No. 141, G. A. R., and its commander since its inception and served as inspector general on the staff of his brother, Colonel J. R. P. Thompson, now deceased, a department commander of Iowa.. He was made a member of the preliminary committee to locate the Vicksburg military park and has acted as special aid on the staff of both state and national commanders of the Grand Army of the Republic. He is a prominent Mason, belonging in Forest City to Truth Lodge, No. 213, A. F. & A. M., of which lodge he has been master. He has taken higher degrees in Masonry, is a Knight Templar (York Rite) and has attained the thirty-second degree in the Scottish Rite, belonging to the Des Moines Consistory. He belongs to El Kahir Temple, A. A. 0. N. M. S., of Cedar Rapids. His religious faith is that of the Methodist church. He belongs to the Iowa State Bar Association, the State Bankers Association and the National Geographic Society and is a member of the Iowa Division of the Sons of the American Revolution. He holds a commission from Governor C. C. Carpenter as second lieutenant of Company E, Military Battalion, S. U. I., the only military organization the university had at that time (187-1875). He with a few other prominent business men of Forest City contributed liberally of their money and energy in establishing Waldorf College in his town, which college now has an attendance of from four hundred to four hundred and fifty students. For two years after the establisbment of this institution Mr. Thompson was one of the faculty as professor and lecturer on common law and civil government. He has a beautiful home and a fine library, is widely read and has gained that broad knowledge and culture which only travel brings. In manner he is quiet and without ostentation, yet there is not about him the least shadow of mock modesty. In a word, he is a most capable business man, a pleasant, genial gentleman, a man of upright character and high ideals. He is a strong man, strong in his ability to plan and perform, strong in his honor and his good name

Source: History of Winnebago and Hancock Counties, Iowa, 1917, pages 195-198


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