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In considering those among Rock Island’s citizens whose activities have been directed toward developing that City’s industries, and whose foresight has been rewarded in a most substantial manner, one’s mind instinctively turns to the subject of our present sketch, Samuel Sharpe Davis.
He was born February 1, 1858, at Covington, Kentucky, his parents being John B. and Anna E. (Sharpe) Davis. To this couple three children were born: Thomas B., Samuel S., and Mary. The parents were of Scotch-Irish origin. Thomas Bodley Davis, the paternal grandfather was a native of Pennsylvania. In early life he moved to Kentucky, and for some years served as captain of a steamboat plying between Pittsburg and New Orleans on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Upon one of the trips up river from New Orleans he was stricken with yellow fever, and died for the completion of the journey. At the time of his death he was thirty-four years of age. The maternal grandfather, Samuel K. Sharpe, was a native of Kentucky. He was a practicing physician and surgeon. The greater part of his life was spent in Maysville, Kentucky. He removed to Rock Island with his wife in 1875. Her death occurred in 1881 at the age of seventy-six years. Her husband survived her nine years, his death occurring in Rock Island in 1890, at the extreme age of ninety years. Dr. Sharpe was a remarkably strong man, both physically and mentally, and was of pronounced religious conviction, giving his adherence to the Presbyterian faith. In politics he was a Democrat.
John B. Davis, the father of our subject, followed the calling of his father, that of a river captain, almost his entire life, principally upon the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. For some time he had charge of Canadian Government boats carrying the supplies of the Hudson Bay Fur Company on the Saskatchewan River. At the outbreak of the Civil War he enlisted in the Second Minnesota Volunteer Infantry. He was promoted to the rank of Major and for nearly three years he served with his Regiment. He was with his Regiment in the battles of Chickamauga, Mill Springs, Corinth and Tullahoma. At the battle of Chickamauga he was wounded. During the time that Major Davis served with his Regiment it was attached first to the command of General Buell and later to that of General Thomas.
After the close of the Civil War Major Davis went to Augusta, Arkansas, and later located at Memphis, Tennessee, in 1868. He settled permanently in Rock Island in 1874. He spent the greater portion of his life upon the river in command of the different river packets. After coming to Rock Island he was one of the Diamond Jo Line captains until about one year before his death, which occurred in 1890, when he was sixty-one years of age. His wife still makes Rock Island her home. Politically, Major Davis was a staunch Democrat. He was a prominent Mason and a devoted member of the Presbyterian Church, in which faith he died.
Having thus passed rapidly over the points of interest in the lives of the forebears of our subject, we now come to treat of his life. His education was obtained in the schools of Memphis, Tennessee, and in Rock Island. In 1873 he was employed as clerk on the steamer Montana, a boat commanded by his father. He continued in this service for several seasons, attending school during the Winter months. In 1876 his father had a Government contract to carry supplies from Bismarck, Dakota, up the Missouri, Yellowstone and Big Horn Rivers to the place where the Custer Massacre occurred. Upon this expedition he was accompanied by his son. Upon their return to Rock Island the son was employed as clerk for J. H. Langley, who was agent for a line of boats in the St. Louis and St. Paul trade. On January 1, 1878, he was employed by Thomas Yates in Moline, where he was engaged in the plumbing and steam fitting business. He continued in this employment until the death of Mr. Yates, which occurred in 1881. Mr. Davis and his brother, Thomas B. Davis, had obtained a number of valuable patents upon steam appliances, and together with Jacob Riley of Rock Island, they formed a partnership known as “Davis & Company.” They bought out the business interests of the Yates estate both in Rock Island and Moline. In 1882 the Davis Brothers bought out Mr. Riley’s interest in the business and continued it themselves until 1891, when the Davis Company was incorporated by them.
Meanwhile our subject was engaged in many important operations. He planned and superintended the construction of the Moline water-works, which was begun in the Spring of 1884. He also installed the first electric light plant in the City of Moline. In 1886 he constructed the Davis Block in that city, and as secretary and manager of the Merchants’ Electric Light Company, lighted the streets of Moline. Eighty arc lights were installed, which superseded the old street gas lamps with which the city had formerly been lighted.
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In 1887 the Peoples Light & Fuel Manufacturing Company was organized. Of this organization Mr. Davis was elected secretary and general manager. He purchased the stock of the Moline Gas & Coke Company and merged the institution with that of the Merchants Electric Light Company.
In 1888 the Merchants Electric Light Company of Rock Island was organized. In the Autumn of that same year a power plant was erected in Moline, so arranged as to utilize that city’s splendid water power in its operation. The machinery of the Peoples Light & Fuel Manufacturing Company of Moline, as well as that of the Merchants Electric Light Company of Rock Island, was removed to this new power plant. This arrangement led up to the formation of the Peoples Power Company in 1893. This latter organization, which included the companies in which Mr. Davis was already interested, bought out the Rock Island Brush Electric Light Company and the Rock Island Gas & Coke Company. Both of these plants were removed to Moline, where they were located at the foot of Fourth Street in that city. Mr. Davis planned the reorganization and also the construction of the new plants. He sold his interests in the Peoples Power Company in 1906.
On September 21, 1892, occurred the marriage of Samuel Sharpe Davis and Miss Apollonia Weyerhaeuser, the daughter of Frederick and Sarah Weyerhaeuser. One child has been born of this marriage, a son, Edwin W. Davis.
Mr. Davis in his church allegiance is a Presbyterian and is a trustee of the Broadway Presbyterian Church of Rock Island. In politics he is a Democrat, but he has never desired or held public office. Fraternally he is a member of Trio Lodge, No. 57, Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons; of Barrett Chapter, No. 18, and of Everts Commandery, No. 18, Knights Templar. He is also a member of the Knights of Pythias and of the Modern Woodmen of America. Such are the interesting events in the career of a man who, through business sagacity and acumen, has risen to a commanding position in this locality’s financial and industrial circles. Mr. Davis is a man universally liked by all who are acquainted with him. Although at all times a busy man he is easily approachable, In manner he is unassuming and without ostentation. He is one of Rock Island’s most public spirited and progressive citizens, and no movement for the real advancement of the city is launched that does not receive his active and hearty cooperation, and where the project is one that requires financial subscription his gift is always a liberal one. In fine it may be said that Mr. Davis is preeminently an organizer and an executive, a man of great business talent, and a courteous, kindly gentleman.