George B. Franks. Considered as an art, landscape gardening is one that has a definite place in life, appealing to and satisfying that innate sense of the beautiful that all possess to some degree. Nature points the way and it is the precious gift of the landscape gardener to be able to reproduce, in limited space, her noble effects and most pleasing arrangement of tree, shrub and flower. The wonderful facility in this direction, as in other artistic talents, is largely an inherited gift, although to make it practical, of course, there must be much definite knowledge, mathematical and otherwise. Perhaps no university grounds in the country, and certainly none other in the State, have been as carefully and tastefully laid out as those of the University of Illinois and this admirable example of landscape gardening will long perpetuate the name of Franks, a name that has been identified here with flowers and gardening for almost a half century. The business, established in 1871 by the late Thomas Edward Franks, is prosperously continued by his son and partner, George B. Franks, the leading florist and very prominent citizen of Champaign.
George B. Franks was born at Champaign, Illinois, November 2, 1879. His parents were Thomas Edward and Annie (English) Franks, the former of who was born in England and the latter in Ireland. Thomas Edward Franks was a nurseryman in England before immigrating to Canada, in 1865, after which he became a landscape gardener, first near Hamilton, Ontario, and then in Cook County, Illinois, and was associated with others in laying out Lincoln Park, Chicago.
In 1868 Thomas Edward Franks came to the city of Champaign and here for three years he had entire charge of laying out and beautifying the grounds of the University of Illinois, a task he enjoyed and the result being admirable in every way. In 1871 Mr. Franks purchased property on the corner of Randolph and Vine streets, Champaign, and there started the first greenhouse in the city. In 1892 he enlarged the scope of his business, purchasing land at No. 204 East University Avenue, where he erected a nursery and greenhouse plant, and subsequently established a branch for raising cut flowers on North Goodwin Avenue. Both plants are of modern construction with every improved equipment known to the business, and there are in the older plant 15,000 feet of glass. Mr. Franks admitted his son, George B. Franks, to partnership in 1905, but continued an active factor in the business until 1911, when he retired. His death occurred October 8, 1916, having survived his wife since November 9, 1901.
George B. Franks attended the public schools at Champaign, and after completing the high school course expressed a desire for a business life, shortly afterward accepting a position in the State National Bank of Oklahoma, at Oklahoma City. The death of his mother in 1901 recalled him home, and because of his father’s loneliness, he being the only child, he decided to give up his prospects in Oklahoma and remain with his father, his tastes also having considerable influence, for he has inherited the love for flowers and the understanding methods which have made both father and son successful along this line. He applied himself to the practical details of the business and gave his father valued assistance for four years and then was admitted to a partnership in the business of which he is now sole owner, and during the last five years of his father’s life was the same to a large extent, being the active manager after 1911. When the Champaign Park Board was organized his father served as a member and Mr. Franks also has served three years as a member of this board.
On October 31, 1911, Mr. Franks was united in marriage with Miss Janet Styles, who was born in Missouri, and they have one son, who bears his grandfather’s honored name, Thomas Edward Franks. Mr. and Mrs. Franks are members of the Episcopal Church.
In political life Mr. Franks has been quite active for a number of years and in 1910 was elected on the Democratic ticket alderman of the Third Ward, in which office he served with the greatest efficiency and public spirit until May 1, 1917, when the city adopted the commission form of government, when Mr. Franks was elected on the commission and is now serving as commissioner of public safety. He was the only man who was carried over from the old form of government in Champaign. He is well known in fraternal circles, belonging to Western Star Lodge, A. F. & A. M.; Champaign Chapter and Commandery and Mohammed Temple, A. A. O. N. M. S., at Champaign, and the Eastern Star, and additionally belongs to the Elks, the Order of Ben Hur and the Knights of Pythias.