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West Benson Bonnifield


Posted By: Mary Lanigan (email)
Date: 4/22/2008 at 13:35:54

WEST BENSON BONNIFIELD, the leading banker of Ottumwa, was born in Randolph county, Virginia, on the 23d of February, 1827. His great-great-grandfather, Luke Bonnifield, was a native of England, and on his arrival in this country settled where the city of Washington, District of Columbia, now stands. There the family continued to reside until the grandfather of our subject, Samuel Bonnifield, removed to Hampshire county, Virginia, where Rhodham Bonnifield, the father of our subject, was born in 1789, and who, on reaching maturity, removed to Randolph county, where, in 1811, he married Nancy Minier, a lady of German descent. Out of family of thirteen children born to them, seven are at this writing (1878) still living. In 1836 the family removed to the tract of land then known as the "Black-Hawk Purchase," and settled in that portion now known as Jefferson county, Iowa. Here they struggled with the many adversities which encompassed all early settlers until 1840, when both parents died, leaving their large family dependent entirely upon their own exertions for support. The educational facilities in this new and sparsely settled country were extremely limited; and after a few years on the home farm, with winters spent in attending school at the "log school- house of the period," our subject decided that something must be done to obtain more extended opportunities for the improvement of his mind, and accordingly hired out for a few months, and invested his scanty earnings in tuition in what was then known as the Mount Pleasant Collegiate Institute. Here he remained until his money was exhausted, when he obtained a situation, and for a time taught school near Burlington. With the money thus earned he started with his brothers, Allen M. and M. S., in 1849, for the Alleghany College, at Meadville, Pennsylvania. There being no railroads, the brothers traveled on foot nearly all the way from Burlington to Chicago. He spent about two years in this college, when, his means becoming again exhausted, he went to Kentucky, and for eighteen months taught school. His health becoming impaired through close application to study, he was obliged to forego, for a time at least, the great aim and ambition of his life, the attainment of a good education, and went to California, where for six years he was engaged in mining and stock raising, in which pursuits he met with moderately good success. In 1860 Mr. Bonnifield returned to Ottumwa, Iowa, on a visit to some friends, and finally concluded to locate and commence business there. After conducting a private banking house for a few years, he, on the passage of the national banking act in 1863, organized and became the president of the First National Bank of Ottumwa, which position he still holds. This institution was one of the first organized, and is considered one of the safest, most prosperous and well conducted banks of the west. Mr. Bonnifield has been largely interested in the coal business; was president of the Iowa Central Coal Company; also treasurer of the Saint Louis and Cedar Rapids Railroad Company from its organization in 1865 to its completion and transfer to the Saint Louis and Northern in 1871, and is now (1878) president of the Ottumwa Water Power Company, which has a capital of one hundred thousand dollars.

Though brought up in the democratic faith, Mr. Bonnifield was an ardent supporter of the war, and has since voted with the republican party; never, however, taking an active part in politics.

He was married on the 28th of October, 1862, to Miss Alcinda Inskeep, of Hillsborough, Ohio, a lady of fine collegiate education, rare literary taste, and a devoted christian mother. They have three children, Mary Thrall, Lizzie Brooks, and Willie Benson.


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