One of the old and respected citizen of Rock Island County, a man who stands high in the estimation of all who know him, is J. Silas Leas, who although now spending the closing years of his life in retirement, was at one time engaged in some of Rock Island County’s principal manufacturies.
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He was born October 31, 1830, in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, his parents being Christian H. and Julia Ann (Brandt) Leas, both of whom were also natives of that state. His mother died when the subject of our sketch was but two years of age. In his early boyhood Mr. Leas attended the public schools of his home county and also the private academy of Professor Burns. Upon the completion of his course in the academy Mr. Leas entered the employ of his father who was a merchant, and served as his clerk for a number of years.
In 1850 the family decided to come west, and on the 2d day of May in that year they arrived in Rock Island, their new home. Here the father again opened a general merchandise business, and his son was again for a short time employed as his clerk. Later he was taken into partnership, the firm name being C. H. Leas & Son. In 1854 this firm built the first flour mill in Rock Island, and later disposed of their store in order to devote all their attention to the milling business.
In 1861 they disposed of the mill, and the subject of our sketch purchased an interest in the manufacturing firm of Wycoff & Barnard of Moline, a firm engaged in the manufacture of mill machinery. The firm name was changed from Wycoff & Barnard to Wycoff, Barnard & Company and then changed to Barnard Si Leas Manufacturing Company and incorporated under the same name. For nineteen years Mr. Leas traveled for his firm and after that time he devoted his special attention to the securing of patents on his partner’s inventions. The business prospered, and from a small beginning the plant was enlarged until today it is one of Moline’s chief industries. In 1898 Mr. Leas sold his stock in the concern to Charles A. Barnard, and since that time, as has been said, he has lived a life of retirement. In addition to his interest in this firm Mr. Leas was also for a number of years one of the directors of the Moline National Bank.
On June 29, 1903, Mr. Leas was married to Mrs. Emily Francis (Hersey) Lambert, the daughter of Elijah and Emiline Hersey, who lived in Rock Island for many years. Their happy married life was of short duration, Mrs. Leas dying on January 29, 1907.
Mr. Leas has always been a Republican, and in the early days of Rock Island he served two terms as assessor, being elected upon the Republican ticket.
He has since his majority been prominently connected with the Masons, being a member of Trio Lodge which he joined when twenty-one years of age. Later when Rock Island Lodge was formed he was one of the charter members, and served three terms as master. He is also a member of Barrett Chapter, No. 18, Rock Island Council, No. 20, and of Rock Island Commandery, of which latter organization he is past eminent commander.
During Mr. Leas’ lifetime he has accumulated considerable Rock Island real estate, the rise in value of which has brought him handsome profits.
In his long and active business career he had a reputation of highest integrity and of business ability, a man of extraordinary foresight in placing investments and a good and public spirited citizen of Rock Island.