When we think of the wonderful development of our country in the last half century we find that it is largely due to two agencies, railroad construction and civil engineering, and of both of these industries Joseph C. Straughan is a representative. The era of progress and development in the various sections of this great republic west of the Atlantic coast has been almost invariably ushered in by railroad construction, and the vast network of glistening rails that trace their parallel course over mountain and plain and through the fertile valleys, represent more than mere corporate enterprise and accomplishment, since the railroad has proved the avant courier of civilization and of that substantial and permanent improvement which has placed our national commonwealth upon a stable foundation. For many years Mr. Straughan was connected with railroad construction in the Mississippi valley and later became an important factor in opening up the region of the northwest to civilization through his labors as United States surveyor-general for Idaho.
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A native of Ohio, he was born in Wooster, Wayne County, Ohio, on the 15th of June 1849, and is of Welsh and Scotch ancestry. The founders of the family in America came to this country with William Penn and were members of the Society of Friends. Notwithstanding the fact that this religious organization was opposed to war, the great-grandfather of our subject entered the colonial service and fought for the independence of the nation. His son, the grandfather of the subject of this sketch, also fought in the war of 1812. The maternal great-grandfather of Mr. Straughan also entered the army and was the inventor of the Chambers swivel gun, one of the first rapid-firing guns ever made. With it he defeated the British at Sackett’s Harbor, a few colonial troops, and they in poor health, putting to flight a large number of the English, who supposed, on account of the rapid execution of the swivel gun, that the fort was attacked by large numbers. The inventor of this gun resided in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, which place was founded by members of his family and named in honor thereof. The paternal great-grandfather of our subject was an industrious and influential farmer of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The grandfather, John Straughan, was born in that county, and in 1803 removed to Columbiana County, Ohio, becoming one of the pioneer builders of that state. His son, Jesse R. Straughan, was born in the Buckeye state and became one of Ohio’s most renowned civil engineers. He built the Pittsburg, Fort Wayne & Chicago Railroad, the second road constructed west of the Alleghany Mountains. Both he and Hon. John Sherman, late secretary of state, were employed by the state of Ohio and were associated in the construction of many of the public works. Thus Mr. Straughan took a very active part in improving and developing that great commonwealth, and his labors were a benefit to all. He now resides in Fort Wayne, Indiana, at the age of eighty-one years. He married Caroline J. Chambers, a native of Ohio, and a niece of David Chambers, at one time a prominent member of the United States senate, popularly called “Old Eagle Eyes,” because of the keenness with which he saw into the topics of the times. Her father, Joseph Chambers, was a prosperous merchant of Morgan County, Ohio. He departed this life in the fifty-sixth year of his age.
Joseph C. Straughan, whose name introduces this sketch, was educated in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Delaware, Ohio, and like his father became a noted civil engineer, possessing very superior ability in the line of his chosen profession. For a number of years he was prominently connected with railroad building, and was engaged on the construction of thirteen railroads in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Mississippi. In 1885, in recognition of his superior ability as a civil engineer, and also of his fidelity to the Democratic Party, he was appointed by President Cleveland as surveyor-general of Idaho, an office which he filled with great capability and fidelity for nine years. His work here consisted principally in directing the survey of the public lands of the state, both agricultural and mineral; and his report on irrigation and arid lands, made to the United States senate committee sent to the west in 1889, was highly spoken of as the best and most valuable report received by that committee.
In 1879 Mr. Straughan was united in marriage to Miss Mary V. Shoemaker, of Indianapolis, Indiana, and they had two children, John S. and Virginia C. The mother died in Mississippi, in 1883, and three years later, in 1886, Mr. Straughan married Miss Alice B. Ramsay, a native of Illinois and a graduate of Jacksonville Seminary, a Presbyterian college of that city. She was one of the two lady managers for Idaho at the World’s Columbian Exposition at Chicago, and is the founder and has been president of the Women’s Columbian Club of Boise. They have a delightful home in the capital city and are very highly esteemed by a host of friends both within and without Boise, for their acquaintance extends throughout the state.
In his political affiliations Mr. Straughan has always been an ardent Democrat, unfaltering in his support of the principles of that party. As associate editor of the Sentinel, in the campaign of 1884, he rendered his party valuable service, and has ever done all in his power for its advancement. His labors for the benefit of Boise have proven an important factor in its progress. In connection with others he has made two additions to the city, and at all times he gives his support to such measures as tend to promote the educational, material, social and moral welfare of the community.