GEORGE D. WITHEY. - Springfield has had no citizen in whom it has reposed greater confidence than in George D. Withey. This was evident on more than one occasion in his business career, and his life history clearly illustrates the power of industry and integrity as moving factors in the business world. His name is associated with the industrial development of this city, and yet it was because of the sterling traits of manhood that Mr. Withey occupied so high a position in public regard. He was born March 30, 1827, in Somersetshire, England. His father, James Withey, was a clerk of the Church of England, a position which was handed down from generation to generation in the family for four hundred years and was only relinquished when James Withey came to America in 1842. He brought with him seven sons and two daughters, and two sons had died in the mother country. James Withey had learned the carriage maker's trade in his native land and he followed that pursuit until he was given the position of church clerk. Settling in Sangamon county, Illinois, he established a carriage and wagon manufactory and was in business here for twenty years. He led an active and useful life and died in 1872. His wife, who bore the maiden name of Jane Stitch, died August 10, 1865, and they were laid to rest in Oak Ridge Cemetery. Their children were: William H.; George D.; Mrs. Caroline King; James; Mrs. Jane McCarthy; Eli; and John, who went to Australia; and two who died in England. All have now passed away.
George D. Withey pursued his education in private schools of his native country, expecting to take a position in the English army through the influence of an uncle, for whom he was named and who was connected with the military service of that country. However, the family came to the new world and he was reared in Springfield from the age of fifteen years. He and his two brothers, William H. and James, learned the wagon maker's trade with Obed Lewis, and in 1854 they organized a company for the manufacture of wagons, the business being attended with success until the spring of 1860, when a tornado swept over the city and destroyed their plant, causing a total loss. At that time they were proprietors of the largest carriage and wagon manufactory in Illinois outside the city of Chicago. They had purchased the ground and erected the plant, in which they were employing about thirty men. After the storm they immediately rebuilt, enlarging their plant to a five story fire-proof building, located on the original site, but in the spring of 1861 a livery stable adjoining their building was burned. The firm had their barrels of varnish and oil stored on the fifth floor, and the intense heat of the livery fire caused these to explode and wreck the building. They had no insurance and an indebtedness of thirty thousand dollars had been incurred. So great were his combined losses that Mr. Withey, of this review, was almost totally ruined financially, but he had an untarnished reputation in business circles, for his conduct had always been above suspicion, his methods strictly fair and honorable. After the fire the city of Quincy, Illinois, offered the brothers a bonus to remove to that place, but the citizens of Springfield finding that they intended to accept the offer, called upon them and offered to give them any financial assistance that they could if they would rebuild and remain here. They did so and at once secured a government contract which kept a large force of men at work night and day in order to complete it. In one year's time they had paid off all indebtedness and were again upon sound financial basis. For a number of years they continued the business successfully, enjoying a constantly growing trade, and at the death of William H. Withey his sons were admitted to a partnership in the firm. On the death of James Withey, Jr., the subject of this review withdrew from the business and thenceforth lived a retired life until called to his final rest, on the 17th of September, 1899.
In 1850 Mr. Withey was united in marriage to Martha T. Kimes, who was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, November 10, 1828, a daughter of Mathias Kimes, who started for Illinois about 1830, but died of fever while on the way. He left a family of five daughters and a son: Charlotte Lindsey, who lived in Kansas, but is now deceased; Martha T.; Mrs. Elizabeth J. Coe, of Mechanicsburg, Illinois; Mrs. Margaret Smith, who died at her home in Oskaloosa, Iowa; Susan, who died in 1855; and Mathias, who died in St. Louis, Missouri. Upon the death of the parents the children were taken by their uncle, Mathias Kimes, to his home at Riverton and were there reared and educated. Mrs. Withey was one of the "snowbirds" of Illinois, coming to this county in 1830. She died August 10, 1877, in Springfield. The marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Withey was blessed with six daughters, but the eldest and the youngest died in infancy. Mrs. Buck is the eldest of the surviving children. Georgia E., born December 19, 1854, became the wife of Dr. Wood, of Bloomington, Illinois, who died leaving a son Jay. Her second husband was James Williams, a son of Henry Williams, and she is now living in Chicago. Anna E., born May 15, 1858, became the wife of Clarence P. Johnson and died in Springfield in 1887, leaving a son, George Parke Johnson, who makes his home with Mrs. George Buck. Minnie J., born August 20, 1864, is the wife of Herbert Ragland, bookkeeper for the firm of Herndon & Company and has a son, Dallas Case, who is a student in the Washington University, of St. Louis, studying medicine. All of the children were educated in the public schools of this city and Jeannette E. and Anna E. are graduates of the high school. The former engaged in teaching for about thirteen years, as first assistant principal of the schools here.
After his retirement from business Mr. Withey greatly desired to look once more upon the scenes of his boyhood and to renew the acquaintances of his early life and in 1892 he made a trip to England, spending about a year in the land of his birth. While there he visited the old church which he had attended fifty years before and found his initials where he carved them in the family pew and in the cupola. The family home in Springfield was erected by Mr. Withey at the corner of Eleventh and Jackson streets and there he resided from the time of its completion until his demise. He always voted with the Republican party and became a member of the board of water commissioners at its organization and served for nine years as its treasurer. He was one of the charter members of the Phoenix Fire Insurance Company and he was actively interested in the development of many measures that contributed to the general good. He belonged to the Episcopal church and was a man of a refined and
cultured nature, whose influence was ever on the side of the right, the true and the beautiful. He was a lover of art and of his home and he considered no personal sacrifice on his part too great if it would promote the welfare and enhance the happiness of his wife and children. To his family he was a kind and indulgent husband and father and to those who came within the circle of his friendship he was ever true and loyal. His memory is enshrined in the hearts of many who knew him and his name is engraven upon the roll of Springfield's honored dead.