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Joel Moore O’Brien is proprietor of the largest department store in Allen County. The present business is the outgrowth of many years of successful experience and gradual development beginning with a single stock of groceries. Mr. O’Brien had proved himself a merchant of unusual sagacity and had been one of the principal factors in recent years in the development and progress of his home city.
The O’Brien family had long been identified with the development of this section of Kansas. Mr. O’Brien’s grandfather Daniel Cornelius O’Brien was one of the Kansas pioneers. He was born in Ohio and in 1857 came to Kansas, homesteading 160 acres in Allen County, and keeping his home on the farm until his death in 1872. He died the same year J. M. O’Brien was born. The latter was born at Humboldt November 10, 1872. The old O’Brien farm on which Grandfather O’Brien lived and died is located three miles north of Humboldt. Daniel C. O’Brien owned the first store ever established in Humboldt. His son, William C. O’Brien, was one of the first mayors of the town, assisted in organizing the municipality, and also conducted the first grist mill and sawmill in this section of the state. Daniel C. O’Brien was first a whig and later a republican.
Isaac N. O’Brien, father of the Humboldt merchant, was born in Pike County, Ohio, in 1835, grew up and married there and at the time of his marriage was serving as clerk of the District Court. Coming to Kansas in 1857, he was one of the early farmers in the district around Humboldt, but in 1887 removed to Chanute, where he conducted the mill, electric light plant and a store for several years. In 1891 he returned to the farm near Humboldt, finally retired in the village, and died there in 1904. During the Civil war Isaac O’Brien enlisted in the Seventh Kansas Regiment of Infantry, took part in some of the guerrilla warfare and also helped repel Price’s invasion. He was always a loyal republican. Issac O’Brien married Maggie P. Moore, who was born in Pike County, Ohio, in 1845, and died at Humboldt, Kansas, in 1905. Their children were: D. C. O’Brien, a dealer in coal and coke at Cincinnati, Ohio; Joel M.; Grace, of Baltimore, Maryland; Harriet, of Kansas City, Missouri; Bertha, wife of L. K. Meek, the leading banker at Mulhall, Oklahoma; Pearl, wife of Chester Squire, their home being on the old Squire farm south of Humboldt; George H., who conducts a meat market at Rawlins, Wyoming.
J. M. O’Brien grew up at Humboldt, attended the public schools of that city, and also at Chanute, where he graduated from high school in 1891. He then spent two years in Baker University, graduating from the Commercial Department. After considerable employment and experience with others he engaged in business for himself on November 1, 1897. On that date he opened a grocery store in Humboldt and having made a success of one line he had added others from time to time until his large store is now completely stocked with nearly everything necessary for the supply of merchandise required in this community. In 1907 he put up a substantial business block in which his store is located at the west side of the Square on Eighth Street and Bridge Street. This store building as much as anything else gives a metropolitan appearance to the business district of Humboldt. The store had three entrances, had a double basement, and the building extends back from the street 140 feet. The trade had been built up on careful and conscientious merchandising principles, and now comes from a country of a radius of fifteen miles around Humboldt. From ten to fifteen clerks are employed in the different departments of the store.
Mr. O’Brien also had considerable farm lands in Allen County, owned two dwelling houses in the city, in addition to his own modern home at 908 Central Avenue. He was organizer and is president of the Humboldt National Oil and Gas Company. Mr. O’Brien is a republican, served two terms as a member of the Humboldt City Council, is active in the Methodist Episcopal Church, being chairman of its board of trustees and chairman of the building committee which is now constructing a handsome new church edifice. For five years Mr. O’Brien served as superintendent of the Sunday school. Fraternally he belongs to Humboldt Camp No. 987, Modern Woodmen of America, Humboldt Lodge No. 30, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Fraternal Aid Union, and Knights and Ladies of Security.
On January 7, 1903, at Humboldt he married Miss Adele C. McElroy, daughter of W. T. and Melissa McElroy. Mrs. McElroy is still living at Humboldt, while Mr. McElroy, now deceased, was the pioneer editor of the Humboldt Union. Mrs. O’Brien died at Humboldt December 19, 1903, survived by one child, Max, who was born November 27, 1903. On December 31, 1913, at Erie, Kansas, Mr. O’Brien married Mrs. Austa (Cowan) Van Druff. Her father was the late Doctor Cowan of Valley Falls, Kansas, a prominent pioneer physician of that section.