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Biography of Justin Dewitt Bowersock

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Justin Dewitt Bowersock. The secret of human leadership is a matter both of determination and temperament. Some men achieve it by a rugged aggressiveness which bears all before them, leaving in their wake many painful bruises and some wounds which never heal; other progress, perhaps even more rapidly, endowed with a decisive elasticity, a considerate and friendly spirit, a broad and attractive outlook, and obtain the enthusiastic cooperation of those who are best qualified to advance laudable enterprises and movements, either private or public in their character. It is to the latter class of elastic, able and pleasing leaders that Hon. J. D. Bowersock unmistakably belongs; and his successes have been of a strikingly broad and varied type, so that it is difficult to determine whether he stands highest as a promoter of the practical interests of his home city and county, or as a man of public affairs.

Born at New Alexander, Columbiana County, Ohio, September 19, 1842, the son of Israel and Adaline (McDonald) Bowersock, Mr. Bowersock’s early education and practical training were obtained as a pupil in the common schools and as a clerk in a store of his home town. In 1860 he moved to Iowa City, Iowa, and engaged in merchandising and the produce husiness, but did not have a chance to expand, or as horsemen would say, to “strike his gait,” until he located at Lawrence in 1877. His coming brought a mutual expansion, as he was well prepared by experience and disposition to take advantage of the opportunities which confronted him.

To one of less versatility and foresight, the outlook would have seemed discouraging. As stated by a local writer: “Lawrence in 1877 was under a cloud. There was little building of any kind going forward. The city and county was burdened with debt. Out of five banks, four failed. Business men were discouraged. Wood-paved streets had proved a costly experiment, and a street railroad had been junked. A private party had expended a fortune in trying to harness the Kaw River and, having bankrupted himself, the citizens of Lawrence made an effort to take up the work, and they also failed to complete the water power.

“At this time a young man, who had been in the general merchandise and grain business in Iowa City, came to Lawrence. Charles S. Gleed, some years ago, wrote: ‘From the day J. D. Bowersock landed in Lawrence, there was something doing.’ He restored the wreck of the almost abandoned water power, and, in spite of flood, and drift, and ice, maintained it; increased the capacity of the Douglas County mills from 100 to 400 barrels a day; erected the Douglas County Elevator and Warehouses; built the Lawrence Paper Mill and Iron Works; organized the Douglas County Bank, now the Lawrence National; doubled the capacity of the Ice Factor; constructed the first Opera House; and when the Steel Trust bought the plant of the Consolidated Barb Wire Company, he utilized the vacant buildings for the Lawrence Paper Manufacturing Company for the manufacture of corrugated specialties, etc., an industry now giving employment to more men than any other in Lawrence.

“Neither flood, nor fire, nor tornado, more than temporarily checked his enterprises. The great flood of 1903 utterly destroyed the Douglas County Mills and wrecked the power plant, incidentally wiping out more than $100,000 worth of property without insurance. And now a larger mill and one of the best water power plants in the West, with turbine steam auxiliary electrically developed, replaces those destroyed by flood. The manufacturing district of Lawrence was in the wake of the tornado of 1911, and the paper mill, iron works, ice plant and flour mills suffered largely, but were at once restored, better than before. In 1911 the Opera House was destroyed by fire, and was at once replaced by the modern, steel reinforced concrete structure, a credit to the builder and the city. In 1913 the reinforced concrete tube elevators of the Bowersock Mills and Power Company were erected, giving the mills a storage capacity of upwards of half a million bushels of grain.” In all the enterprises mentioned in the foregoing Mr. Bowersock, despite his years, is actively and vitally interested; in fact, he is president of them all.

A list of the public offices which have been conferred on Mr. Bowersock, and which he so signally honored, include the following: Mayor of Lawrence two terms, 1881-85; member of the Lower House of the Legislature, 1886, and of the State Senate, 1895; Congressional Representative, from the Fifty-sixth to the Fifty-ninth, inclusive, 1899-1907. At his first election to Congress, as the representative from the Second District, he received a majority of 2,000; at his second election, 2,500; at his third, 4,000; and fourth, 6,000. In a word, the gentleman from the Second had always “grown upon” those who continued to know of him and his works. In 1907, while still a member of Congress, he received a strong support from his district for the United States senatorship.

While mayor of Lawrence Mr. Bowersock abolished the liquor saloons, and was instrumental in relieving the city of its $100,000 indebtedness, incurred for the development of the Kansas State University when the commonwealth was in financial straits. After the city had repaid in interest amounts equal to the original principal, and the state had grown rich, it was believed by the people of Lawrence that Kansas should assume the $100,000 indebtedness; and, under Mr. Bowersock’s leadership, it did. He went to the Legislature largely to push through the Quantrill Raid Relief Bill. By that measure, which was finally passed, upwards of $400,000 was secured to reimburse widows and other deserving victims of the historic raid and massacre. One of the prime movers in securing the location of Haskell Institute at Lawrence, it was Mr. Bowersock who made the final payment which proved the deciding step. Among the congressional measures with which his name is prominently associated is the Anti-canteen Bill, which he introduced and engineered through the House of Representatives, and which directly led to the legislation prohibiting the sale of beer and liquor in the emigrant stations of the United States.

In regard to his more personal affairs–Mr. Bowersock had been a trustee of the Plymouth Congregational Church, of Lawrence, for more than a third of a century; had been a member of the “Old and New” Club since 1878, and was long president of the Lawrence Commercial Club and the Merchants Athletic Association, and had been president of the Lawrence Clearing House Bank since its organization. He is a Mason of the thirty-second degree.

On the 5th of September, 1866, at Iowa City, Iowa, J. D. Bowersox was married to Miss Mary Gower, daughter of James H. Gower, a well known pioneer of the Hawkeye State. The six children born of their union were Fred H., who married Fanny, daughter of I. O. Pickering, of Olathe, Kansas, and who is now a patent lawyer of Bridgeport, Connecticut; Justin D., Jr., who married Frances Mattison, of Kansas City, Missouri, and is an attorney identified with the Fidelity Trust Company of that city; Hortense, the wife of Irving Hill, vice president of the Lawrence National Bank and manager of the Lawrence Paper Manufacturing Company; Jean, who married Prof. Eliot Blackwelder, who holds the chair of geology in the University of Illinois; Mary G. (second), who is the wife of Paul Dinsmoor, assistant manager of the Lawrence Paper Manufacturing Company, and Margery, who married William Dalton, superintendent of the box factory of the Lawrence Paper Manufacturing Company.

As husband and father, Mr. Bowersock completes the record of a well-rounded character, who had performed his full duty to society, the city of his residence, the state and the nation.


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