Herbert Franklin Sheldon. The original settlers of a new state, county or city, irrespective of any intrinsic qualities which they possess, are subjects of peculiar interest to succeeding generations. Men are interested in recalling their accomplishments and delight to treasure in memory the slightest incident connected with their persons and their settlement. As the years go by the pilgrims of New England are gradually elevated from the level of ordinary humanity and placed before our contemplation on pedestals challenging the admiration and respect of posterity. Each successive step in the settlement of the country as adventurous pioneers have pushed out from the populous centers into the rapidly receding wilderness had brought to notice enterprising men who have connected their names indissolubly with rising states and embryo cities.
The subject of this sketch, Herbert Franklin Sheldon, was born October 12, 1831, in the Town of Westfield, County of Chautauqua, State of New York. He is of Puritan ancestry and traces his lineage in an unbroken line for almost 300 years to one, Isaac Sheldon, who, with his brother, John, came to this country from England about the year 1624.
Mr. Sheldon is of the eighth generation from Isaac. In another line he is also a lineal descendant of William Brewster, the famous Pilgrim who came to this country on the Mayflower in 1620. His father, Tichenor Sheldon, was born and reared in the Town of Pawlet, Rutland County, Vermont. His mother, Lucinda Brown, was born in Attleborough, Massachusetts. Later her people removed to Pawlet, Vermont. Mr. Sheldon’s parents soon after their marriage in 1826 migrated to Western New York, which was then a dense forest of heavy timber. Here the pioneers of that country with heavy toil felled the forest, built rude homes, opened public highways, planted orchards, erected schoolhouses and places of worship. Here young Sheldon was inured to all the hardships and discomforts incident to the life of a pioneer. His education was acquired in the district schools of the country and in Westfield Academy. He commenced teaching at the age of eighteen and taught winter terms for a number of years. He remained on his father’s farm until he was twenty-six years old.
At that time Horace Greeley, the greatest editor that this country had ever produced, was the owner and editor of the New York Tribune. He was the oracle of the young men of that day in New York and the New England states, and he said, “Go west young man and grow up with the country.” Influenced to some extent by that suggestion, young Sheldon in October, 1857, left his home in New York to seek a home in the West. He first went to Northern Iowa, but when he learned of the severity of the winters there he determined on a more southern location. Taking a boat at Dubuque, he went down to Hannibal, Missouri. The Hannibal & St. Joe Railroad was just starting, having a track laid out thirty miles to a place they had named Shelbina. Getting on board a construction train, he went out to the end of the road. Four or five miles south of Shelbina he took a school and taught there a five months’ term. In the spring following he rented a farm in that neighborhood for one year and then returned to his home in New York, and then to Dorset, Bennington County, Vermont, where he was married to Miss Ellen Maria Sargent. Together they returned to the farm he had rented. Missouri at that time was a slave state and most of their neighbors held slaves and the environment was anything but pleasant for those who had been reared in the atmosphere of a free state. So in October, 1858, they started across Missouri, a distance of 300 miles, traveling in a covered wagon (prairie schooner), their objective point being Lawrence, Kansas, thence south thirty-seven miles to Ohio City, Franklin County, the town and county having been organized the year previous, 1857. Here they decided to locate, purchasing the southeast quarter of section 12, township 18, range 19, 160 acres at $5.00 per acre, $800. This land joined Ohio City on the south. The improvements consisted of a log cabin 16 by 20 feet and twenty acres broken and fenced. Mr. Sheldon’s great ambition in life at that time was to be the owner of a well improved farm of 160 acres.
As to political aspirations he had none. To be a good citizen; to enjoy the confidence and esteem of his neighbors and friends; to aid in the development of his county and state educationally, religiously and morally was his ruling passion. How well he succeeded in this is best told in the records of the City of Ottawa and the County of Franklin.
In August following his settlement in Ohio City, both Mr. and Mrs. Sheldon were attacked with fever and ague, the bane of nearly every pioneer in Kansas at that period. It undermined their health and made life almost intolerable. The process of acclimation continued for more than a year and its bad effects were felt for a much longer period. There was quite a large migration to Franklin County in 1857, mostly young men who came out to pre-empt land, stayed one year and returned to their homes in the East. Mr. Sheldon is of the opinion that there were more inhabitants in Franklin County in 1857 than there were ten years later, in 1867.
Owing to the total failure of crops in the great drought of 1860, when no rain fell for eighteen months, when the sky was as of brass and the earth was like a furnace, hundreds of families left the territory, as starvation stared them in the face. There were deep snows in the winter of 1859 and 1860, also the winter of 1860 and 1861, especially in the latter as men made the round trip in sleighs from Humboldt to Atchison for supplies, traveling a distance of nearly 400 miles. Then again at the beginning of the Civil war the population of the state was still farther reduced by the pro-slavery element fleeing from the state as from a pestilence. It was a well established fact as early as 1856 that Kansas was to be a free state, but the struggle had been so fierce and the animosities engendered so great between the free state forces and the proslavery men that very little attention had been paid to the development of the country. Not until the close of the Civil war could the people settle down to make permanent homes for themselves and their children. In the drought and through it all, H. F. Sheldon and wife stuck to their little cabin, did their best to help themselves and neighbors and hoped for friendlier skies and better days.
The location of the county seat of Franklin County was bitterly contested from the organization of the county in 1857 to June, 1864, and the county seat might fairly be said to have been on wheels. Centropolis had it for a time, also Minneola, for one day it was located at Peoria, at Ohio City for three years and lastly the City of Ottawa secured it in June, 1864, where it had remained permanently located. Mr. Sheldon, then county clerk and register of deeds, removed the records from Ohio City to the City of Ottawa in August, 1864.
In 1866 Mr. Sheldon purchased the interest of Senator James H. Lane in the Ottawa Town Company and became an active member of that organization. One of the greatest needs of the town at that time was a first-class hotel. One D. W. Zimmerman was making an effort to build such a hotel on the four lots at the southwest corner of Main and Second streets, but failed financially. Sheldon was induced to come to the rescue. On his personal note and mortgage he borrowed $10,000 and turned it over to Zimmerman to complete the hotel, but instead of $10,000, $18,000 was required in its completion. The town got the hotel known as the Luddington House, but the transaction came dangerously near ruining Mr. Sheldon financially. In 1871 Mr. Sheldon erected on the lots adjoining the Luddington House one of the finest theaters in the state at that time, known as “Sheldon Hall.”
That Mr. Sheldon had the confidence and respect of the people of the city and county is attested by the fact that within a year of his settlement here he was elected county commissioner; that for four years he was county clerk and for eight years register of deeds; that for eighteen years he served on the board of trustees of Ottawa University and chairman of its executive committee and for two years was treasurer of the university. He had been mayor of Ottawa five terms, president of its board of education, state senator four years, and a member of the State Text Book Commission one term.
Mr. Sheldon is not a member of any church, but his affiliation had been with the Congregationalists, and he had served on their board of trustees for many years. And it is his pride that he had assisted in the erection of every church edifice in Franklin County. Mr. Sheldon was born and reared a Universalist and still holds to that belief. For many years he was president of the Temperance League, an organization for enforcing the liquor laws and maintaining sobriety in the city.
Mr. Sheldon was married three times, his first wife, Ellen Sargent, mentioned previously in this sketch, to whom he was married April 21, 1858, in Dorset, Vermont, died in Sherman, New York, February 8, 1863. The only child of this union, a daughter, died in infancy.
In February, 1867, he married Orissa A. Packard, who was born in Rockland, Maine, and died at their home in Ottawa in May, 1875. Three children were born to them: Edwin S., March 17, 1868; Fanny L., September 9, 1872, and Orissa P., who was born March 10, 1875, and died July 16, 1875.
He was married to Ellen M. Gray, July 19, 1877. She was born in Sherman, New York, and at the time of her marriage was a popular teacher in the Ottawa public schools. Of this marriage there are four children: Laura S., born July 16, 1878; Carrie B., born May 23, 1880; Warren J., born January 8, 1884, and Clarence M., born September 27, 1886.
Mr. Sheldon is a man of strong vitality and now, hearing the weight of eighty-five years, walks with firmness. His life had been one of industry, temperance and laudable achievements. All his life he had been a lover of order and peace, and when these could not be had peaceably he would fight for them. He had convictions and they pervaded and possessed his soul. He had lived in troublesome and important times. In times of storm and stress and in times of peace and order he had acted well his part. He is passing the evening of a long and busy life in the land he helped to redeem from the wilderness and the despoiler, in a community he labored to build up and make happy and prosperous. He commands the respect of all who know him. He had bravely met and discharged to the best of his ability the varied conditions of an eventful life and looks calmly and hopefully into an unexplored future.