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Much has been written in this historical work of the banks and bankers of Rock Island and Moline. However, in estimating the financial strength of Rock Island County the banks and bankers of its smaller municipalities are deserving of very prominent mention, for they are the tributaries of larger financial institutions and have an important part in swelling the stream of the county’s prosperity. To the village bank comes the farmer from the surrounding countryside and deposits the golden fruits of his toil. From the proprietor of that bank its customers may ask and receive sound financial advice. He is their friend and adviser as well as their banker. The farm loan, that solid rock of financial investment, is placed with him, or is negotiated through some larger banking institution through his agency. Upon the stability and security of these smaller banks, as well as upon the honor and integrity of those in control of them, rests the whole superstructure of the confidence and trust reposed in them.
With these thoughts in mind we are now to consider the life and character of Martin Schoonmaker, the banker at the Village of Reynolds in this county, one of Rock Island County’s most influential citizens. He was born October 21, 1834, in Green County, New York, his parents being Christian and Sylvia Schoonmaker. Both Mr. Schoonmaker’s parents were natives of this country. His paternal grandfather came to America from Germany at a very early date. Martin Schoonmaker received such education as was afforded at that early time in the common schools of his native county, receiving sound instruction in the common branches of learning.
About April 16, 1856, Mr. Schoonmaker left New York State and came to Illinois, locating at once in Rock Island. Financially he was in sore straits, without either employment or friends. Upon coming to Rock Island he stopped for two or three days with Mr. C. H. Stoddard, a man very prominent in Rock Island County before his death. Mr. Stoddard informed the young man that there was plenty of employment to be obtained at or near the village of Edgington, which was just opening up as a farming community. Meeting Mr. Daniel Edgington, after whom the village was named, upon the streets of Rock Island, arrangements were made with him to take the young stranger down into the lower end of the county. He accompanied Mr. Edgington to his farm, and after remaining there for a day or two found employment with Mr. Mathias Agy, a neighboring farmer, to whom he hired out at a salary of sixteen dollars a month. The employment only continued for two months, when our young adventurer was again seeking work. He found employment very speedily at the store of a Mr. Burrall, and here he received seventy-five cents a day for his toil. Afterward Mr. Schoonmaker owned this store, but as he himself says, it was in those early days of his struggle beyond the wildest dreams of his ambition. After he left the employ of Mr. Burrall the young man went to work for a Doctor Tyler, who owned a large farm in the lower end of the county. Here he was engaged in the laborious occupation of mowing hay with a scythe, this being long before the era of the mowing machine and the hay-loader. For this work he was to receive seventy-five cents per acre. Again, as Mr. Schoonmaker himself says, at that time he would have considered any man who would have prophesied that he would own such a farm as that little short of insane, yet in due course of time, this very farm upon which he had toiled for Dr. Tyler, came into his possession.
After some years of farming Mr. Schoonmaker entered the agricultural implement business at Edgington. From that he branched out into the general mercantile business. Then he entered the livery business at Muscatine, Iowa, later returning to the mercantile business at Edgington, and later at Reynolds. Then he entered the grain business, and this he followed for twenty-one years. In the meantime Mr. Schoonmaker started the Reynolds bank, the first bank ever in that village. At first this was operated as a private banking institution, and it continued to be so operated for about ten years. At the expiration of that time Mr. Schoonmaker sold out his business interests, including the bank and the grain business, his intention being to retire upon the competence that he had acquired through his industry and sagacity, and to enjoy a well earned rest from the cares of business life. This he did for a time, and being opportuned by some of the Reynolds citizens to open a State bank, he yielded to their requests, and proceeded to complete the organization of the State bank. Subscription for the bank stock was very soon completed, and at the first meeting of the stock-holders of the new institution Mr. Schoonmaker was unanimously elected the bank’s first president. This office he has held ever since.
Mr. Schoonmaker, during his long business career at Reynolds, has been one of that village’s most public spirited citizens. To him probably more than to any other single individual is due the credit of building up the village. He always had a firm faith in its future, and never hesitated to put his money into building enterprises. He has had built eleven dwelling houses, a large grain elevator and a bank building, a business block and office building.
In political faith Mr. Schoonmaker was, in his early years, a staunch Democrat, but differing with the majority of his party on some of the issues it advocated, he left its ranks and has ever since voted the Republican ticket. Mr. Schoonmaker has held several public offices in Rock Island County, and although they were in fact minor offices, and somewhat local in their nature, they serve to demonstrate the esteem and regard in which he was held by his neighbors. He was a member of the Board of Supervisors for eight years and chairman of the Board committee at the time of the building of the new court house in this county. The bonds voted for this enterprise were $125,000, which issue, through Mr. Schoonmaker’s agency, were sold for $130,000 to H. N. Harris & Company, of Chicago, a very advantageous financial operation for Rock Island County. February 12, 1860, Mr. Schoonmaker was married to Miss Elizabeth Bouttinghouse, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Bouttinghouse, Sr. He was bereaved by the death of his wife July 6, 1870, after ten years of happy married life. On February 29, 1876, Mr. Schoonmaker married Miss Jennie C. Smith. Five children were born of this second marriage, three of whom are living; Elizabeth, Laura and Martin Fay. The daughter, Elizabeth, is now the wife of T. I. Ash.
In bringing to a close this biographical sketch it seems that no words of flattery are necessary to gloss over Mr. Schoonmaker’s long and honorable career. He has spent a long and useful lifetime in Rock Island County. He is so well known that his life and character speak for themselves. Coming to this county at an early day he found natural opportunities which he improved, and he is now enjoying the natural and well-merited reward of his foresight.