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Mary E. Watson. In the home of her declining years in Rantoul Mrs. Mary E. Watson is one of the noble women of this county who experienced the pioneer hardships connected with establishing a home and developing a farm out of the raw prairie. Her late husband, James Watson, for long years had a substantial place in this community. He was honored for his work and for the influence of his character and his home. It was of such men that the Holy Writer spoke when he said: “Their bodies are buried in peace but their names live for evermore. The people will tell of their wisdom and the congregation will show forth their praise.”
Mrs. Watson was born in the Blue Grass district of Kentucky, a daughter of William H. and Rachel M. Huffman. She was one of five children, the others being Susan J., Cynthia A., George W. and Wellington. She also had a half brother and two half sisters, John D., Ida C. and Donna E. The sons both died in infancy. The three sisters settled in different states, Kansas, Indiana and Illinois. When Mary E. Huffman was seven and a half years of age her mother died and she had only limited opportunities to attend school.
James Watson, whom she married when she was still a young girl, was the son of William N. and Ellen Watson of Chillicothe, Ohio. In the modern growth and development of Chillicothe some of its built up streets have stretched out to the borders of the old farm where he was born. After their marriage Mr. and Mrs. James Watson located in Champaign County and lived for a year two and a half miles east of Ludlow in a one-room house with a little summer kitchen attached. The land was owned by Mr. Watson’s father. Subsequently they moved nearer to Rantoul and lived on a rented place. By strict economy and industry they were able after one year to make the first payment on an eighty-acre tract of railroad land. When they made that payment it was one of the proudest moments of their lives. Thus they had made a beginning in getting a home for themselves and, blessed with good health and strength, they went forward in their career until Mr. and Mrs. Watson owned an estate of 440 acres in Illinois and 317 acres in North Dakota. Three children were born to their union, William Allen, John Calvin and James Ernest. James E. died in infancy in 1877. The surviving sons were well educated. They first attended the district schools, and both were students of Eureka College, John C. spending five years there and he subsequently spent two years in Harvard University, where he was graduated. William A. was for two years a student in Eureka College. The Watson family has made a notable record as educators. Mrs. Watson taught in the old home district of Champaign County. Her son William A. was a teacher at Pleasant Ridge, Ludlow Center and other districts in Champaign County. John C. taught at Menominee, Michigan, and in Chicago, and from there went to Harvard University to do post-graduate work. For fojir years he was one of the instructors in Cornell University. Finally, for the benefit of his family’s health, he went to the Northwest and bought a half section of land in North Dakota. John C. Watson married Miss Edna Hamilton of Harristown, Illinois, a former classmate, who graduated with him from Eureka College. She also had taught before her marriage. Mr. and Mrs. John C. Watson have three children, two daughters aqd one son, Constance, Malcolm and Beatrice. These grand-children of Mrs. Watson have proved equally proficient in their studies. Constance has attended the University of Dakota two years, while Malcolm has had one year of instruction in that school.
William Allen Watson married an old schoolmate, Miss Maude Anthony, and they have a daughter, Zelda Irene, who is now a successful’ teacher east of Ludlow. Zelda I. enjoys the distinction of teaching in the same schoolhouse where her grandmother, Mrs. Watson, taught fifty-two years ago. The influence exerted by a teacher upon the generations is inestimable and beyond all computation. Members of the Watson family have done a splendid work in this field and they have the satisfaction of knowing that the influence they exerted did not cease when they closed their term of school.
Mr. and Mrs. Watson were active members of the Christian Church, which Mr. Watson served many years as deacon. In later years he was elected to the post of honorary deacon.
Besides her grandchildren Mrs. Watson now has only the comfort of one living son. Her son William A., a noble young character beloved by all who knew him, passed away in 1894.
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Mr. James Watson’s health began to decline in 1916 and his life came to a peaceful close on April 26, 1917. He had lived long and usefully and a host of friends paid tribute to his memory. The name Watson stands significant of deeds of kindness and upright character throughout the length and breadth of Champaign County. Mrs. Watson is an earnest Christian woman, cultivated and refined, and has made her life of benefit to her family and to a large community. Her only surviving son, John C., at the death of his father, resigned his position as dean and professor of Latin of Nevada University at Reno, Nevada, and returned to look after the estate of his father in Champaign County and care for the mother in her declining years.
The late Mr. Watson served his community as constable and tax collector. He was one of the early day tax collectors and frequently collected large sums of public money. There being no bank available, he acted as his own banker and for all the sums he had at his home at different times the money was never molested. In later years he served as assessor of his township and supervisor and school director. Mrs. Watson has many happy memories of her early home, a log cabin in the timber near Paxton and later on a lonely prairie. Frequently she heard the howling of prairie wolves, and on some of the mornings of sunshine in winter could see the deer playing over the snow. The dark, graceful bodies of these animals made a striking contrast against the snowy background. Such were some of the features of the environment in which she and her husband began their careers, and in later life she found herself surrounded with every comfort and with the love and veneration of family and friends.