NICHOLAS H. RIDGELY - Sangamon county has reason to be proud of its many noted men, men who have achieved distinction as statesmen, as financiers, and in the legal, medical and ministerial professions. Among the financiers, none have stood higher, and few attained the prominence of the subject of this sketch, who, for more than half a century, was connected with the banking business of Springfield.
The Ridgely family is of English origin, the first of its representatives coming from England to America early in 1600 and locating in Maryland, where the family became a prominent one in the early days of that colony. Nicholas H. Ridgely was born on his father's tobacco plantation, near Baltimore, Maryland, April 27, 1800, and was the son of Greenberry and Rachel )Ryan) Ridgely, also natives of the same state. There he grew to manhood and in the city of Baltimore received his education. He was there married at the early age of nineteen and shortly afterward, in 1820, went to Wheeling, Virginia, where he remained for several years, returning for a brief period to Baltimore. In 1829 he left that city never to make it his home again.
Coming west Mr. Ridgely located in St. Louis, Missouri, and soon after his arrival there he became discount clerk in a branch of the United States Bank, which had been established in that city. For nearly seven years he continued with that bank, but in May, 1835, he received the appointment as cashier of the State Bank of Illinois, and at once came to Springfield and assumed that responsible position. He filled that office until the bank failed in 1841, and was one of the trustees who finally wound up its business after which he carried on the banking business on his own account.
In 1852 after the passage of the state banking law, in company with others, Mr. Ridgely organized Clark's Exchange Bank, and was elected its first president. Two years later, at the age of eighteen, his son Charles succeeded James Campbell as cashier, and from that time to the present has been connected with the bank. A few years later Mr. Ridgely purchased the interests of his partners and continued the business in his individual name. In 1859 he admitted his son Charles as a partner, and the business was continued under the firm name of N. H. Ridgely & Co. Subsequently, in 1864, William Ridgely, another son, also entered the firm, and the business was continued by the three until 1866. In October, 1866, associated with his sons, Charles and William, J. Taylor Smith and Lafayette Smith, Mr. Ridgely organized the Ridgely National Bank and was elected its first president, a position he retained until his death, and it is safe to say that no bank ever secured the confidence of the people in a higher degree.
From the day of his arrival Mr. Ridgely became an important factor in the growth and development of Springfield, and was instrumental in securing the removal of the state capitol to the city, the bank furnishing the money necessary to secure its location. That note is preserved in the Ridgely family as a highly prized heirloom.
In 1848, in connection with his former banking partner, Colonel Thomas Mather, Mr. Ridgely purchased the old railroad from Springfield to Naples, rebuilt it, and gave it the name of the Sangamon & Morgan Railroad. It was later consolidated with the Great Western and is now a part of the Wabash system, being the first part of the present western division of the Wabash road to be built. In 1854 he established Springfield Gas Works, which, although private property, was of great value to the city. He became president of the company, a position which he also held until his death.
An enterprise which has been of incalculable benefit to the state of Illinois and which has relieved the people of much of the great burden of taxation, was the building of the Illinois Central Railroad. In securing the passage of the law giving the railroad its charter. Mr. Ridgely was largely instrumental, and while he was associated with the men who built the road he would not accept a directorate in it. Realizing that by the building of that road, with others, there would be an immense rise in the value of land in the state, he invested largely and became the owner of many thousands of acres, being one of the largest landowners in the state, and much of his wealth was obtained in that way.
Mr. Ridgely was twice married and reared a family of thirteen children who grew to maturity, all of whom he liberally provided for, even before his death, establishing them in homes of their own and in the various branches of business in which they engaged. He was called to his final home on the 31st of January, 1888, and it can well be said that his summons hence left a void in business and financial circles of his adopted city, although for a number of years prior to his death he lived practically retired, his sons, Charles and William, relieving him of a great deal of his responsibility in business affairs.
In early life and up to the dissolution of the party, Mr. Ridgely was politically a Whig. When that party ceased to exist, by reason of his conservative nature, he allied himself with the Democratic party, with which he continued to act until his death. He was not a politician in the common acceptance of the term and was never an aspirant for office. His interest in political affairs was that of the true citizen, one having at heart the general interest of the country, and for political purposes he was a generous contributor.
One of the best financiers of his day and daily brought in contact with all classes of people in business and social life, Mr. Ridgely was withal of a modest and retiring disposition, never seeking public attention or notoriety. In his whole life he was never accused of doing a single dishonorable deed. He was a man of few words in business transactions, and always said what he meant and meant what he said. His "yea" was yea, and his "no," no, but he well knew how to say "no" in a business transaction without giving offense or causing a man to lose his self respect.
Nicholas H. Ridgely was of the highest type of the old fashioned gentleman, a well educated, high-toned gentleman of the old school. While strong in his likes and dislikes he veiled his dislikes to that extent that it could not be public property. In his long career as a banker he maintained a spotless reputation for integrity. A man of business, he was yet fond of a day's shooting or a quiet game of whist, and seemed to enjoy life to its highest degree. He was a man of elegant taste, fond of music and art, and familiar as few are with the poets. He was keenly alive to all the beauties of nature and loved his flowers as only a lover of nature can and made somewhat of a study of horticulture. Although the greater part of his time was given to his business interests he yet loved his home. Free-hearted hospitality reigned in that home, and it was enjoyed by many of the most noted men of his day, all of whom he knew and to many of whom he was a personal friend. Surely the
life of such a man is well worth the study of coming generations, and his example worthy of emulation.