Virgil Marion Blanding was born December 8, 1827, at Grenell Mills (now Aldenville), Wayne County, Pennsylvania, and died March 3, 1907. His father, Reba Blanding, was one of the original proprietors of Grenell Mills, but spent his later years on his farm nearby. His mother was Beulah Ann Grenell. Both branches of the family were of Hugunot stock; the known line of descent on the father’s side running from William Blanding, who emigrated to America and settled in Boston in 1640, where he soon after became “selectman.”
His four great grandfathers, Noah Blanding, John Martin, Michael Grenell and Elijah Marshall, were soldiers in the Revolutionary War, the last named being a member of Arnold’s expedition against Quebec and one of the first inside the enemies works. He was wounded, made a prisoner and exchanged, and afterwards fought under General Wayne at Stony Point, continuing on active duty until the close of the war, from which he emerged with the honorable record of a brave, faithful and gallant patriot. The maternal great grandfather, Michael Grenell, was participant in the battle of Saratoga, and in that engagement distinguished himself by his courage and devotion.
Mr. Blanding received a thorough common school education, and after courses in several academies entered Bucknell University at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, the leading Baptist collegiate institution of the State, from which he graduated in 1852 as valedictorian of his class, with degree of Bachelor of Arts. Three years later he received from his Alma Mater the degree of Master of Arts.
After graduation he started to read law, but shortly after was made cashier of the Pennsylvania Coal Company, which position he resigned because of failing health, and came West, arriving in Rock Island July 4, 1856. He resumed the study of law under Judge Ira O. Wilkinson, and in 1858 was admitted to practice. He was appointed City Attorney of Rock Island about this time and served several terms; was also elected in 1858 County Superintendent of Schools. He was twice a candidate for County Judge on the Democratic ticket; though defeated, his vote cut down the regular Republican majority six or eight hundred votes each time, thereby demonstrating his personal strength and standing.
In 1862 Mr. Blanding went to St. Louis and entered into law partnership with M. L. Gray. While he was here he enlisted in the militia of the State of Missouri and was honorably discharged on account of sickness; re-enlisted in Company A, St. Louis National Guards. In connection with this it is interesting to observe that nearly every member of the Company, both officers and privates, was a member of the bar.
After the close of the Civil War Mr. Blanding returned to Rock Island to practice law, until 1868, when he engaged in bridge and railway construction, which business he continued to follow to the end of his active business career.
In politics Mr. Blanding was a Democrat. He was elected Mayor of Rock Island in 1888 and his record as an accomplished parliamentarian and impartial presiding officer has never been excelled in the history of the City.
Mr. Blanding was closely identified with Masonry since 1855, at which time he was made a Master Mason at Honesdale, Pennsylvania. He has been Worshipful Master of Trio Lodge, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons; High Priest of Barrett Chapter, No. 18, Royal Arch Masons; and when Everts Commandery, No. 18, Knights Templar was organized at Rock Island, he was honored with the highest position in the gift of its members, serving as Eminent Commander; was also District Deputy Grand Master under Grand Master DeWitt C. Cregier of the Grand Lodge of the State of Illinois; was also Grand Orator of Illinois Grand Lodge, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, for the year 1901.
Mr. Blanding was married in 1863 to Anna McNeil, who was born in Wheeling, West Virginia. They have two children, Lowrie C. and Marion J. Blanding.