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HON. JOHN LARUE FORKNER, As a volume of biography on Madison County would hardly be complete without the name of John L. Forkner, who as supervising editor of the present history is naturally modest concerning his own life record, the publishers take upon themselves the responsibility for the preparation and publication of the following sketch of a man who has been known in Madison County for nearly fifty years, and in many important relations with the business and civic life of his home city of Anderson and the County of Madison.
John LaRue Forkner was born near the village of Millville, in Liberty Township, Henry County, Indiana, January 20, 1844. His grandfather, Isaac Forkner, born in North Carolina in 1775, settled during the early twenties in Indiana, at Centerville, Wayne County, from there moving to Henry County, Previous to coming to Indiana, he had been a soldier in the War of 1812, having entered the service from his native state. Micajah Forkner, father of the Anderson citizen, was born in Virginia, in 1812, and was a young boy when the family moved to Indiana, Micajah Forkner married Elizabeth Allen, a daughter of Hugh and Mary (Brooks) Allen, natives of Kentucky, She was born in 1814 and died in 1849, Micajah Forkner, who for many years was a merchant and farmer, died August 11, 1879, at the age of sixty-seven.
John L. Forkner was reared on a farm, attended the district schools until 1856, when his parents went to Millville he alternated between village school and clerking in his father’s store. In 1862, at the age of eighteen, he started out to fight the battle of life for himself. In the general store of Lontz Brothers at Hagerstown, Indiana, he was employed as a clerk until the spring of 1863, when he found a similar employment. in the store of Honorable Lafe Develin in Cambridge City, In December, 1864, he went to Tipton, Indiana, to represent the interest of an older brother in the mercantile establishment of Forkner & Allen, and remained there until February, 1866, The latter date marked his location at Anderson, where he has had his home and chief interests ever since.
Mr. Forkner soon after locating at Anderson, where he first worked as a salesman in different stores, became interested in local politics, and in 1868, was the successful candidate on the Democratic ticket for the office of city clerk, He was re-elected in 1870, and served three years. During the same time he was also deputy clerk of the Madison County courts, under Hon. William C. Fleming, and under T. J. Fleming, until the fall of 1872, When, in the latter year, Albert J. Ross, was elected sheriff, John L. Forkner became his office deputy, and filled that place for two years, In 1872 he was local editor and business manager of the Anderson Democrat in addition to his duties as deputy sheriff and has been more or less connected with the Madison County press for the past forty years as a contributor to the newspapers, In 1874 he was nominated on the Democratic ticket, and elected County auditor, and as his popularity showed no signs of abatement, he was re-elected in 1878.
During his last term as auditor, Mr. Forkner purchased a third interest in the Exchange Bank of Anderson, and when he left office in 1883 be took up the duties of president of the bank. In 1892 the bank was reorganized and made a national institution under the name of the National Exchange Bank, in which he became cashier and remained in that position until 1912 when he retired, a period of twenty years, and accepted the position of secretary and treasurer of the Pennsylvania Glass Company, having been a stockholder in that company since 1891.
The early political honors already mentioned by no means exhaust the services of Mr. Forkner in a public capacity, In 1884 he was chairman of the County Democratic Central Committee, and his local leadership largely contributed to the signal victory gained by his party for Grover Cleveland, and for the state and County tickets in the campaign of that year, In 1891he was elected to the city council as a Democrat from the Second Ward, overcoming a large normal majority on the other side, While a city councilman he took an active part in securing for Anderson an electric light and sewerage system, and also the construction of many miles of brick-paved streets, He was elected mayor of the city of Anderson in 1902,, and again in 1904, serving two terms.
He takes pride in the fact that during his incumbency the Electric Light plant and the waterworks systems were rebuilt and enlarged and a filtering plant built that gives Anderson pure water and ample fire protection, These utilities are not only the pride of Anderson, but are patterns for other cities to follow and are large money earners for the city.
Credit must also be extended to Mr. Forkner for his liberal assistance in co-operation with other men of enterprise in taking advantage of the situation created by the discovery of natural gas and directing these resources to the upbuilding of a great industrial and commercial center at Anderson. He was a member of the board of trade at the time of the discovery of natural gas, and contributed liberally of both time and money in locating industries and otherwise improving the city, which up to that time had been only a small country and County seat metropolis. Mr. Forkner was one of the incorporators of the Citizens Natural Gas Company, and for five years was its president, He was among the original organizers of the Anderson Iron & Bolt Company, an important local industry which long held the distinction of being the only manufacturing plant in Anderson, whose stockholders were entirely home capitalists, This plant was sold to L. S. Taylor and others, and removed to Louisville, Kentucky.
In the formative days of the Union Traction Company of Indiana, Mr. Forkner was one of the men who helped to lay the foundation for the present system. He was associated in 1897 with Hon. Charles Henry; J. A. Van Nosdal and Ellis C. Carpenter of Anderson, and Phillip Matter of Marion, Indiana, in the organization of the Union Traction Company, and the construction of its electric line between Anderson and Summitville, and also in the construction of other links in the system. Mr. Forkner was treasurer of the company from its organization until it consolidated with Marion and Muncie lines.
In 1892 Governor Matthews appointed John L. Forkner a trustee of the Northern Asylum for the Insane at Logansport, and during the three years of his service he was president of the board for two years, From the time he cast his first vote, Mr. Forkner has always been a Democrat, and in his home County and district has probably done as much as any other man to promote the success of the party.
In March, 1873, Mr. Forkner married Miss Anna B. Hernly of New Castle, Indiana, At her death in 1876 she left one child, Emma Neff Forkner, She married Lee C. Newsom, who during the Spanish- American war was sergeant of Company L in the One Hundred and Sixtieth Indiana regiment. In 1878 Mr. Forkner married Miss Mary Carson Watson, of Anderson, whose father, David H. Watson, was a soldier in the Mexican war and at one time sheriff of the County, The two children of his second marriage were Wade Hampton Forkner, who died in 1882 at the age of four years; and Nellie Grant Forkner, who married Mr. Frank I. Remy of Anderson, who yet resides in the city of her birth.
Mr. Forkner is a Knight Templar Mason and a member of the Elks, and has other fraternal affiliations, In religion he holds to no particular creed, and bestows charity, without ostentation.
While few citizens of Madison County have been more actively immersed in the current activities, Mr. Forkner has also taken great pleasure and interest in the things of the past, In connection with honorable Byron H. Dyson, in 1897, he published “Historical Sketches and Reminiscences of Madison County,” a book of one thousand pages, devoted to local history and events from the organization of the County to the present time, This book has since been one of the standard sources of information concerning Madison County, and has received many tributes and compliments from the citizens of the County, and also many flattering press notices over the state, Mr. Forkner has always had a high regard and admiration for the “old-timers,” and it was this admiration which prompted him to engage in the task of writing his book. He delights in the. old songs, the old stories of long ago, and has for a number of years held the post of president of the Old Settlers Association in Madison County, In his private collection he probably has more essential data concerning the history of Madison County than any other resident, For a long time he has kept a faithful record of the important events of the County, particularly of the death of the old settlers, and his chronological tables have from time to time been published in the local press, Mr. Forkner on every hand is justly regarded as the County historian of Madison County, Though he had not held an editor’s chair for a number of years he has done much writing for the local press on a great variety of subjects, John L. Forkner stands at the present time in Madison County as one of its ablest and most honorable business men, is a citizen of eminent public spirit, and with personal success has also given many returns in the form of public service to the city and County with which he has been identified by residence for so many years.