Transcribed by Mary Ann Kaylor
GEORGE A. BALLOU , one of the leading retail grocers of Springfeild, commanding the largest exclusive trade in groceries in Sangamon county, is a self-made man who has worked energetically and persistently to obtain a competence and today is classed among the successful merchants of Illinois' capital city. He was born in Derry, New Hampshire, December 31, 1836, and was the second in order of birth in his father's family. Alexander McGregor Ballou, the father, was of both Scotch and French lineage and was born in 1804. He died when his son George was only sixteen years of age, leaving a widow, who in her maidenhood bore the name of Susan M. Jones. She was born July23, 1814, and is now in her ninetieth year. Her parents were Alvin and Lucy Jones. Her maternal grandfather, Samuel Aikin, who was a Revolutionary soldier, lived to the advance age of ninety-five years. She can remember when he would carry her on his back at times to church. She can also remember a visit of President Jackson to Nashua, New Hampshire. At the age of twenty years she became the wife of Alexander Ballou, the wedding ceremony being performed by Rev. Mr. Sergeant. Ten children were born of this union, but one died in childhood. Of the nine who reached adult age four of the sons became soldiers of the Civil war. Alexander M., the eldest child, is married and lives with his family on the old homestead farm in New Hampshire; Samuel O., died in Libby prison during the Civil war; John died in New Hampshire; David died in the Government hospital at Washington during the war; and Mary W. resides in New Hampshire. Mr. Ballou of this review has but one relative in Illinois - his sister, Mrs. Susan M. Shutt, of Auburn.
In his boyhood days George A. Ballou attended the public schools and between the ages of sixteen and eighteen years worked on the arm through he summer months and was employed at making shoes in the winter in order to help support he the other members of the family. His mother then married again, becoming the wife of William Hall, a widower. By this union twins were born, one of whom is now deceased, while the other, William Hall, was named for his father, who died in May, 1880. Mrs. Hall is, therefore, again a widow and she makes her home in Boston with her son, William Hall. On the 24th of July, 1903, there appeared in the Boston Globe a sketch of her life, together with her picture. If she lives until July, 1904, she will have attended the ninetieth anniversary of her birth.
At the time of his mother's second marriage this left Mr. Ballou to work for himself and for a year he followed the shoemaker's trade, during which time he save two hundred dollars. With that money he had determined to educate himself and attended the Boscowen Academy for a year, this school being conducted in the old home of Daniel Webster. He afterward resumed work at the shoemaker's trade, at which he earned twenty-five dollars. During his school years he had received a paper, The Western Gazeteer, which told of the advantages in the west for young men, and after consulting an aunt and uncle concerning the proposed step he at the age of twenty years started westward by way of the city of New York, Philadelphia and St. Louis to Canton, Missouri, where he arrived with but a single one dollar gold piece. There were no railroads and on foot he followed the stage route for a distance of twenty-five miles and then applied to a farm house for work. The good farmer took a liking to him and asked him if he could teach school, stating that he was one of the school directors of the district. Mr. Ballou replied that he could, but he had to walk over twenty-five miles in order to take the required examination, which he successfully passed, receiving a first grade certificate. A walk of another twenty-five miles brought him to his first school and he began teaching for twelve and a half dollars per month. By this time his only dollar had been entirely spent. He encountered during these journeys many things that appealed to him as very amusing and displayed the difference between the west and the east. He had been teaching school for two years before he wrote his mother and announced the fact that he had become identified with educational work in Missouri. He afterward taught in both Iowa and Illinois, his last school being at Alexander, Illinois, on the Wabash Railroad, for which he received seventy-five dollars per month. Among his pupils was Hon. William H. Hinrichsen, afterward secretary of state, who attributes the good start he made in education to the careful training of Mr. Ballou. "Buck," as he is familiarly known, is a prominent character in the west.
While in Alexander, Mr. Ballou met the lady whom he made his wife - Miss Mary Jane Robertson, who was also a school teacher. She was born in Illinois, January 23, 1836, and they were married in Jacksonville in September, 1864. After their marriage they continued teaching until the end of the school year. In the spring of 1865 they removed to Springfield, where Mrs. Ballou's father, Brice H. Robertson, was engaged in the grocery business in partnership with a Mr. Smith. It was at this time that Mr. Ballou's experience as a grocery merchant began. He had two hundred and fifty dollars, with which he purchased his father-in-law's grocery store, an old pioneer establishment located on North Sixth street. The stock was very limited, only a few cans of goods being upon the shelves, but Mr. Ballou began the business on more progressive methods, purchasing groceries on thirty days' time. He opened his business on the 16th of May, 1865, and conducted it for about six months, during which he realized one thousand dollars from his sales and then sold his tore for an equal amount. He next opened a grocery store at the corner of Reynolds and North Sixth street and his trade followed him. In six months the old stand was vacant and he returned to that place, where he carried on business for twenty consecutive years. He there made and saved twenty thousand dollars, never clearing less than one thousand dollars a year above his store and household expenses. From 1865 until 1877 he purchased lots on North Sixth street and built thereon five houses. A financial panic occurred in 1877. At that time Mr. Ballou had distributed in five different banks the sum of five thousand dollars, one thousand being in each bank. Two of the banks failed and he drew his money from the two of the three, but he altogether lost only about six hundred dollars, being later reimbursed by the banks. After twenty years of continued success at this first location he removed to where the Hankins grocery is now located and continued business there. For about a year he did an exclusive wholesale business in a three-story building. However, he met with financial reverses through no fault of his own. He then made a trip to the east to visit his mother and took new courage from her inspiring words. Returning to Springfield he again began empty-handed, save that he possesses a piece of property, which he mortgaged for two thousand dollars in order that he might again engage in trade. His credit, however, was very good, for all with whom he had had business dealings knew him to be a straightforward, honorable man. For a time he conducted business on the site of the Hankins store and when he removed elsewhere his trade followed him. He is now located in the Keys block, conducting a business which in 1903 amounted to seven thousand dollars. He employs twelve salesmen, which indicated in some manner the extent of his trade. One of the secrets of his success is his capability in buying. He makes purchased by the car loads, carrying on both a retail and wholesale business, and without doubt he has the largest exclusive trade in groceries in Sangamon county and has a reputation as a merchant that is indeed enviable.
Unto Mr. and Mrs. Ballou have been born seven children: John W., who married Kate Arnold and has five children, is assisting his father in business; Brice A., who married Ida Hagerhorst and has three children, is manager of the St. Louis Union & Cracker Company, of Springfield; George A., who married Caddie Puffenberger and has one child, is an engineer on the Chicago & Alton Railroad and lives in Springfield; Frank O. wedded Mary Arnold, a sister of Mrs. John W. Ballou. The three children who have passed away are Mary, who died in infancy; David, at the age of three years; and Edward, at the age of sixteen.
Mr. Ballou was a member of the city council for several terms in the '80's. Politically he is conservatively independent, but was elected to the city council on the Democratic ticket, and is most faithful and progressive in the discharge of all duties relative to municipal affairs and to the welfare of his country. He holds a continuous membership medal with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows for twenty-five years affiliation in good standing with the order and all dues paid up. His name is honored wherever he is known because his life has been straightforward, his methods commendable and his course such as will bear the closes investigation and scrutiny. Starting out in life for himself at the early age of sixteen years, he has bound the business opportunities he sought and though hardships and trails have been met he has overcome these by determination, strong will and honorable purpose. Not all the days have been equally bright, but his courageous spirit has enabled him
to persevere in the face of difficulties and today he stands among the representative and successful men of his adopted city.