BLACK, GEORGE N. - Probably there is no one man in the history of Springfield and Sangamon County whose labor, influence and co-operation have been a stronger moving element in their business, political, intellectual and moral development, than the subject of this sketch. Mr. Black rose to prominence through the inherent force of his character, the exercise of his native talent and utilization of opportunities, and the high regard in which he was uniformly held comes through the fact that he was largely an ideal of American manhood. While he had controlled extensive and important business enterprises, they were largely of the character that promote public progress as well as individual prosperity, and his efforts were directed along many lines in which the community has been the sole recipient of benefit. His connection with the public interests of the city were of a most practical and helpful character, for he aided in shaping the municipal policy and in promoting the educational, aesthetic and moral development of Springfield. His patriotic citizenship and interest in community affairs found manifestation in his zealous labors for improvements instituted through aldermanic measures, through his efforts in the upbuilding of the public library, and through the institutions of many trade interests affecting the material growth of this portion of the State.
Mr. Black was born in Berkshire County, Mass., March 15, 1833, a son of William M. and Persis (Fuller) Black. In the paternal line he was descended from good old Revolutionary stock. His grandfather, who came from Scotland to America in 1775, served for two years as a captain in the American Army and then as Clothier General of the State of New York, throughout the remaining period of the war. In the maternal line Mr. Black was a direct descendant of John Alden and Dr. Samuel Fuller, both of whom came to America in the Mayflower in 1620. Mr. Black's death occurred April 22, 1908, and the city lost one whom it had come to hold in the highest regard and esteem.
After attending the public schools Mr. Black acquired an academic education and at the age of fifteen years came West, locating in Vandalia, Ill., where he engaged in clerking for his brother in a general store for two years. In 1850 he came to Springfield and began his business career as a clerk in the dry goods house of Colonel John Williams, whom he served in that capacity for six years and then became a partner in the business, this relation being maintained for twenty-five years, during which time the enterprise proved a highly profitable one. In later years Mr. Black had been engaged in the promotion of various interests, and success in a marked degree always attended his ventures. He was President of the Aetna Foundry and Machine Company and a former Director and Treasurer of the Springfield furniture Company. He was also the sole owner of the business conducted under the name of the Barclay Coal and Mining Company, of Springfield, and a Director of the Sangamon Loan & Trust Company, of the Springfield Iron Company and of the Springfield Electric Light and Power Company, all of which are prosperous concerns and are important factors in the business and commercial life of the city.
No citizen took a more active interest in the development of Springfield or worked harder to secure its growth than did Mr. Black, who gave freely of his time and means for the establishment of manufactories and the building of railroads, upon which two enterprises the building and prosperity of a city always depend. He was instrumental in the building of the Pana, Springfield & Northwestern Railroad and was a Director and Secretary of the company for many years; this line is now a part of the Baltimore & Ohio Southwestern. He was one of the ten influential men who built the Gillman, Clinton & Springfield Railroad, now a branch of the Illinois Central, and served as a Director and Treasurer of the company. He was one of the prime movers toward securing contributions for the Springfield & Northwestern Railroad, contributing most generously himself, and continued to operate the road as Receiver and General Manager until 1880, when it passed into the hands of the Wabash Railroad Company. He was one of the promoters and a Director of the St. Louis, Peoria and Northern Railroad Company, and through the advancement of shipping facilities he contributed in no small measure to the material upbuilding of Springfield and to the development of natural resources of this portion of the State.
Mr. Black also took an active interest in city and State politics. He served as a member of the Municipal Council and for sixteen years was Receiver for the United States Land Office at Springfield, to which position he was appointed by President Lincoln in 1861. He was an active and an influential Republican and for eighteen years was Chairman of the Republican Central Committee, showing in his control of the political forces strong powers of management and thorough understanding of the conditions, and so controlling all factional elements as to produce harmonious results.
Mr. Black, being a lover of books, had one of the finest private libraries in Springfield, embracing many choice and rare volume. He was Director of the City Public Library from its establishment and was later president of the same. He traveled extensively throughout America and the Old World and was man of wide information, possessing that liberal culture which comes from travel and study. He was noted for his social qualities, as well as for his eminent business ability, and in religious faith he was a Presbyterian, having been a regular attendant at the First Presbyterian Church since he first came to this city.
On the 24th of October, 1859, mr. Black was married to Miss Louisa I. Williams, of Springfield, Ill., and they became the parents of four children, of whom two are living: John W. and Anna Louisa, the latter the wife of Dr. Steriker, of Springfield. The family has long maintained a foremost position in the leading social circles of the city. Mr. Black, however, numbered his friends in all walks of life, for he was ever quick to note true character worth, and upright manhood could always win his respect and his friendship. On the other hand, there is no man in Springfield who did not honor and esteem George N. Black, for throughout his entire career he manifested those sterling traits - honor in business, patriotism in citizenship and fidelity in social and home relations - which in every land and clime command confidence and good will.