Biography - Leonard Wyeth

Leonard J. Wyeth was one of the pioneers of Douglas county, a man of varied business interests, amassing a fortune of almost three hundred thousand dollars while a resident of Douglas county. He was of Welsh ancestry, and was born in Wendell, Franklin county, Massachusetts, January 13, 1827, and died at his home in Tuscola, January 24, 1898. He was a son of Nathan and Hannah (Kellog) Wyeth, natives of Massachusetts, and his grandfather was Gad Wyeth. In 1839 Mr. Wyeth's parents moved to Licking county, Ohio, and eight years later our subject was united in marriage to Miss Melinda Northway, a native of the town of Sherman, Chautauqua county, New York, and a daughter of Samuel Hiram and Charlotte (Seagers) Northway, natives of Connecticut and Massachusetts, respectively. Seven children were the result of this marriage, three of whom attained the age of maturity: Mrs. George Callaway; Mary, and Clarence L., whose death preceded his father's only a few months.
The prosperity and growth of the west attracted Mr. Wyeth, and in 1851 he came to Illinois and settled in Coles county. Here he resided until 1858 and then moved to Douglas county, where he afterward resided. Building a small store room on Houghton street, just opposite the court house, he engaged in merchandising with Merrill and Oliver Hackett. That was the beginning of Mr.Wyeth's business career, a career which has scarcely a counterpart in the history of the county. The parnership of Merrill and Oliver Hackett was dissolved in 1859, and a new firm was formed with Thomas D. Craddock, of Charleston, which was continued until 1864. In 1859 the firm erected a new business room on the site now occupied by Field's pharmacy. This building was sold, and another and more commodious structure was built on the site now occupied by the Conover building. In 1865 Mr. Wyeth disposed of his dry goods store to W. H. Lamb and J. M. Maris. He then formed a partnership in the building business with Jos. G. and William P. Cannon under the firm name of Wyeth, Cannon & Co. This firm remained in business until 1870, when the First National Bank was organized, Mr. Wyeth being one of the promoters of the institution. He was a director from the organization until within a few weeks of his death. In October, 1872, when W.P. Cannon retired from the presidency of the First National, Mr. Wyeth was elected to fill the vacancy, which he did until January, 1873, when H.T. Caraway was elected. In 1875 Mr. Wyeth bought the Garrett farm of eight hundred acres in Garrett township. He moved on that farm in 1875, but returned to the city in the fall of 1878, taking up his residence in the house on East Scott street which was afterward his home. At one time he lived in a home that was erected on the site of the Wamsley grocery store. Later he built a residence just east of the M. E. church, which he sold to the late Thomas E. Macoughtry. Mr. Wyeth also built the house now occupied by Farmer Cox.
Mr. Wyeth was the largest property holder in Douglas county. He amased a fortune of $300,000, represented by three thousand acres of land located in this county, $50,000 in bank stock, $7,000 to $8,000 in government bonds, besides personal property. In 1893, during a severe attack of illness, Mr. Wyeth made a division of his wealth, disposing of the greater part of his property. The will that was executed at the time was revoked. The latter part of December, 1897, Mr. Wyeth made a new division of his property. The division was about equal between his daughter, Mrs. George Callaway, and daughter-in-law, Mrs. Lizzie Wyeth. He executed deeds to them conveying what property he had alloted to each one. To Dr. Callaway, he transfered his one hundred and ninety shares of stock in the First National Bank. This will which was executed at this time bequeaths only the property which his wife was to have, consisting the homestead, seven or eight thousand dollars in government bonds, and his bank account and other personal property. All this property was given to her absolutely without any restriction whatsoever. Mr. Wyeth has four brothers and one sister living, Samuel, Albert and Thomas, of Coles county, Joseph S., of Garrett, and Mrs. Cofer, of Arcola. This town at that time welcomed every newcomer, at the very start of his business life, was as bold in his prupose as in form were the hills on his father's farm in the state of Massachusetts. Success in honorable business was the end he sought, and that end was attained by wise foresight, just means, unflagging endeavor and unimpeachable character. Out of respect to Mr. Wyeth, all of the business houses were closed during the hour of his funeral.

Extracted by Linda Lang from the Historical and Biographical Record of Douglas County, Illinois, pages 149-151.

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