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By Joseph Wallace, M. A.
of the Springfield Bar
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago, IL

WILLIAM J. CONKLING. - No history of Springfield would be complete without proper mention of William J. Conkling, wh resided here for over half a century. He was one of the oldest and ablest lawyers practicing at the Springfield bar, and was probably the oldest notary public at the time of his death, having served continuously in that position after being first appointed by Governor Bissell on the 1st of June, 1857. His life was one of public usefulness and activity, and at the same time he carefully conducted his private interests, so that he was enabled to enjoy the fruits of his earnest labor.

Mr. Conkling was a native of New York City, born November 21, 1826, his parents being Stephen and Sarah (Belknap) Conkling. The former was born in New Jersey, October 22, 1788, and the latter in Newburg, Orange county, New York. Their marriage occurred on the 1st day of September, 1818, and they became residents of New York city, where Mr. Conkling carried on mercantile and other pursuits until 1831, when they removed to Mount Vernon, Ohio. He was living at that place when there occurred the wonderful phenomenon of falling stars, of which he was a witness. Believing their were better opportunities in districts further west, he emigrated to Illinois in August, 1839, settling in LeRoy, McLean county, where he turned his attention to agricultural pursuits.

William J. Conkling, who was then but thirteen years of age, became an active assistant of his father in the work of field and meadow, and later he continued farming and commenced school teaching when he was about twenty-two years of age. In September, 1850, he entered college, and with advanced literary knowledge serving as a foundation for professional learning, he came to Springfield, arriving here on the 18th day of January, 1853, and entered upon the study of law under the direction of his brother, James C. Conkling.

By thorough and comprehensive reading he secured admission to the bar on the 14th of October, 1854, and on the 15th of November following Mr. Conkling entered into partnership with Erastus Wright, one of the oldest settlers in Sangamon county. This was not a law partnership, however, but was formed for the transaction of real estate business. The two gentlemen were associated in this business until the 23d of May 1857, and Mr. Conkling remained a real estate operator and probably handled more property than any one man in Springfield. He traveled all over the state for his brother and also closed out Mr. Wright's business. He entered much land and continuously bought and sold real estate, owning large amounts of property outside of Springfield at the time of his death. He was also engaged in building, and thus materially aided to the improvement of the capital city. At the same time Mr. Conkling was continuously engaged in the practice of his profession and long maintained a leading position in the ranks of the legal fraternity. On the 18th of January, 1876, he received the appointment of public administrator by Governor Beveridge and was appointed by each successive governor of this state, being still an incumbent of that office at the time of his death. He was likewise engaged in the prosecution of claims against the government.

On the 11th of September, 1855, Mr. Conkling was united in marriage to Miss Olivia Jenette Holton, a native of Thetford, Orange county, Vermont, the wedding being celebrated at the home of Mrs. O. B. Heaton, who was a sister of Mrs. Conkling and who resided at Virden, Illinois. By this marriage there were three children, who are yet living: Ella G. became the wife of Henry P. Buckley, of Springfield, on the 9th of March, 1876; William H. is now assistant postmaster of Springfield and a real estate dealer; and Grace H. the youngest daughter, married George W. Leaverton, of Springfield, a boot and shoe merchant.

In early life Mr. Conkling was an ardent advocate of the Whig party and its principles, and upon the organization of the new Republican party he joined its ranks. His life was ever such as to command for him the respect and good will of all those with whom he was associated, and his career was ever characterized by honorable and just dealing with his fellow men, by fidelity to trust given to his charge, by courtesy and other qualities which command respect in every land and clime. His death occurred at his residence, No. 808 South Fourth street, at 9:55 a.m. on Sunday, February 7, 1904, at the age of seventy-seven years two months and seventeen days, and thus passed away one of the pioneer men of Springfield, who had aided greatly in the development of the capital city and Sangamon county.

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