Ranking among Rock Island’s prominent men, who have been honored politically and who have achieved a high standing in the realm of business, stands the subject of this sketch, Thomas J. Medill.
He was born in Milan, Illinois, March 16, 1859. His parents were Thomas J. and Eliza A. (Dickson) Medill. The father, when a young man, emigrated from the north of Ireland to America, and here he married Miss Eliza A. Dickson, the daughter of William Dickson, and a native of Erie County, Pennsylvania. William Dickson, of whom a more extended biography appears elsewhere in this volume, laid out the town of Camden Mills, the name of which was afterward changed to Milan, in 1843. Mr. Medill’s parents enjoyed a long and happy life together and were greatly beloved and esteemed by all who knew them. The death of the mother occurred February 5, 1898. The father survived his wife scarcely a year, passing away January 9, 1899.
Our subject spent his boyhood and early manhood in the Village of Milan and on a farm in Bowling Township, and after completing the curriculum prescribed by the village school of that period he entered upon an apprenticeship to the paper maker’s trade.
At that time there were three paper mills in active operation in the vicinity of Milan, and the manufacture of that commodity was one of the main supports of that village. After mastering his trade Mr. Medill continued in that line of occupation for seven years, when he was offered a position in a promoting company which made a business of installing the Holly system of water works machinery, and which was then operating in the south-west. Later he returned to this county and settled in Rock Island, opening a real estate office. In this business he was a pronounced success, his acumen and sound judgment rendering him particularly competent to pass upon realty values. Consequently, in 1887 he was asked to take a leading part in the formation and organization of the Black Hawk Homestead Building, Loan and Savings Association, of which Mi. Medill became secretary, the active management of the association being entrusted to him. The success of the venture is due largely to his progressive, yet judicious management, and today the association is one of the foremost in that line operating in Rock Island. Mr. Medill still continues as its secretary and has the guidance of its affairs.
In 1893 Mr. Medill was candidate for mayor of Rock Island upon the Democratic ticket, the party of his choice and of his father before him, and to which he has always given his allegiance. He was elected, and upon the expiration of his term he again turned his whole attention to the duties involved in the management of the Building and Loan Association. In 1897 he was again a candidate, and was again elected. During Mr. Altgeld’s administration as governor of Illinois, Mr. Medill was appointed by that executive as president of the board of trustees of the Illinois Western Hospital for the Insane, located at Watertown. At that time the immense institution had not been built, but as is customary the board of trustees was appointed before the actual erection of the institution, and it became a part of their duties to select a site and in a measure super-intend the erection of the buildings. Largely through Mr. Medill’s efforts the present site within this county was selected, and this spacious retreat for the reception and cure of the mentally afflicted was commenced during his incumbency. In 1896 he was proffered by his party the nomination for secretary of state for Illinois, but declined the honor. Mr. Medill is an active partisan in behalf of the Democratic party, but is as scrupulously fair and honorable in political matters as he is in business transactions. He has frequently been a delegate to his party’s city, county, district and state conventions.
Mr. Medill was one of the organizers of the Rock Island Club, an institution formed for the promotion of the industrial, commercial and general welfare and advancement of Rock Island, and which also has many delightful social features. Three times Mr. Medill has been chosen as president of the Rock Island Club, and he is now a member of the board of directors.
Fraternally Mr. Medill is connected with the Masonic Order, of which he has been elected to the office of Worshipful Master; the National Union; the Modern Woodmen of America; the Knights of the Globe; the Fraternal Tribunes and the Elks. Mr. Medill was one of the organizers of the fraternal society known as the Fraternal Tribunes, which, it will be remembered, was first formed in that city. Mr. Medill was one of its chief promoters.
In 1903 occurred the marriage of Mr. Medill and Miss Lucy Kinner, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Kinner, of Rock Island. Of their union one child has been born, a daughter, Frances V. Medill. At the time of the writing of this sketch, Mr. Medill had recently purchased one of the handsomest of the smaller residences in Rock Island. It is located on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Nineteenth Street, and until the time Mr. Medill purchased it, was owned and occupied by Hon. Elmore W. Hurst.
As one of the most important works under-taken by the City of Rock Island during Mr. Medill’s administration as mayor may be mentioned the construction of the great system of reservoirs by which the, city is supplied with water, and which by its triple method of aeration, filtration and sedimentation is designed to remove the impurities naturally existing in the water as it is taken into the reservoir directly from the river.
In conclusion it may be said of Mr. Medill that as a man he is honorable, upright and conscientious; as a citizen untiring in his efforts for the advancement of Rock Island, and in business he possesses acumen, keen insight and great general ability. These have been the characteristics and guiding principles of his life, and to them is due the fact that he is one of Rock Island’s most respected and highly esteemed citizens.