submitted by Ronna Thuman, November 14, 2007


The death of Judge Viele, which occurred last Wednesday evening, was a surprise to our citizens, notwithstanding that is ripe old age made his hold on life daily more uncertain. It was his unvarying custom on retiring for the night—which, in his latter years, he always did at 7 o’clock—to take the members of the family severally by the hand, and bid them good night with words of blessing and farewells, conscious that each good night might be the last. On Wednesday evening he retired as usual, and on one of the family going into his room at 9 o’clock, as was their nightly custom, he was found to have just expired, having evidently fallen asleep, and passed away without a struggle or a movement. Nothing that we can say can add to the even record of his long life, or increase the esteem with which he has been regarded for so many years as a neighbor, a citizen and an honored official. To an active, purposeful life has come this serene close, and with scarcely a jar, his years have been merged into eternity.

Philip Viele was born in Pittstown, Rensselaer county, N. Y., Sept. 10, 1799, and was the oldest of a family of nine children. One brother, Charles Viele, of Evansville, Ind., and three sisters, Mrs. Judge Rohrer, and two others living in Davenport survive him. He was educated at Union College, Schenectady, N. Y., and afterwards studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1824. The same year was one of intense political excitement; Wm. H. Crawford, John Quincy Adams, Gen. Jackson, and Henry Clay bing candidates for president, and Mr. Viele three himself into the contest with all the enthusiasm of youth and took the stump for Jackson. He at once made a reputation for eloquence and ability, and in the campaign was known as the “boy orator.” In the “Annals of Iowa,” which contains a finely written and full sketch of his life we find this statement by a former citizen of Keokuk who knew him at that time “No speaker, old or young, in eastern New York could draw such large crowds and rouse them to the same pitch of excitement as Judge Viele.”

On account of his services to his party, and the high esteem in which he was held, Dewitt Clinton, governor of New York, tendered to him the of Surrogate of Rensselaer county, which he held from 1827 to 1835. This was an important and lucrative office, and prosperity smiled upon him; but having gone security for a friend whose failure threw the burden upon himself, he felt morally bound to pay the debt, and giving up all his property, even his homestead, started with his wife for the west to begin the battle of life anew. This was before the days of rapid travel, and after a month’s journeying by stage and steamboat they landed on the 2nd of June 1837 at this place which was then a village of twenty cabins set among the brush and trees. Here he opened a law office and soon had a good practice, for the times. In the political campaign of 1840 he took an active part, and in 1846 was elected Probate Judge on a reform ticket and did such good service toward bringing about a better state of things, that he was reelected for three successive terms.

The questions involved in the Kansas-Nebraska excitement again drew him into the field, and he threw all his efforts and influence on the side of anti-slavery, and was enthusiastically chosen president of the first republican convention of Iowa, which was here at Iowa City in 1856. As a mark of the esteem of his fellow townsmen, he was, without regard to party, on four different occasions elected mayor of the city.

When in 1870, what is now the Burlington and Southwestern railroad was being talked of, and was likely to fail for want of encouragement, Judge Viele made speeches in its favor, and did much to secure its success. He was made treasurer of the road, and the station of Viele was named in his honor. In 1872 he was stricken with partial paralysis and never afterward recovered his bodily vigor.

He was married in 1828 to a most estimable lady with whom he lived happily until her death in 1869. Their lives were bound up in each other, and his almost reverent regard and tributes to her memory had in them something touching. Death seemed only to have separated them bodily, for he was a firm believer in spiritualism and was happy in the consolation which his faith gave him, and in the nearness which he felt for the departed. He left no children but after the death of his wife adopted his niece Miss Maria C. Newton, who with her parents have since resided with him, and from whom he has received every attention and comfort which his declining age could ask or desire.

We feel that this voluntary tribute is due to these friends, who have so well seen to it that he whose long life has been so richly filled with kindness to others, has in his helpless years known naught but kindness in return. The children of Fort Madison, especially knew him as their friend, and it has been his custom for years to celebrate Christmas day by opening to them his house and with kindly words and wishes to each, give them presents. On last Christmas over five hundred children received his gifts. He will have no sincerer mourners that they; and no grander monument will treasure his memory, that the hearts of these children who knew him as their friend.

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