Biography of Austin H. Jennings
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Austin H. Jennings. For many years the name of Jennings has been honorably associated with business enterprises of importance in Kansas City, through the efforts of Austin H. Jennings, who is president of the Crystal Springs Ice, Fuel & Grain Company and is interested in other concerns that occupy a prominent place in the commercial field. Although not quite so active as in earlier years, Mr. Jennings continues one of the most stable and dependable of the city’s business men and one of the most reputable and highly esteemed citizens. Mr. Jennings was born May 25, 1850, on a farm near Delaware, Ohio. His parents were Austin H. and Jane H. (Pratt) Jennings.
Austin H. Jennings was born in Ohio, a descendant of an old north of Ireland family that had emigrated to the United States in colonial days. The parents of Mr. Jennings were pioneers in Delaware County, industrious but of limited means, and he had no educational opportunities in his youth, in fact was educated by his wife after their marriage. All his life he had the highest respect for every educational measure and was one of the willing organizers of what became the Ohio Wesleyan University, in which institution a number of his children were educated, assisted by their father as he was able, but of enough enterprise and independence to earn the means for themselves. Mr. Jennings was a farmer and through his industry and prudence acquired enough land to assure him a competency and was considered a man of means for that time when he died. He was married to Jane H. Pratt, who was born in Devonshire, England, and accompanied her parents to Ohio. Her father was a copper and followed that trade all his life. After marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Jennings settled on land that was yet in the wilderness, paying $1 an acre for the same. They endured every pioneer hardship, from having to travel on pack horses all the way from Virginia to Zanesville, Ohio, to building a primitive log cabin and subsisting as best they could until Mr. Jennings had succeeded in clearing land and getting in a crop. In this primitive home, later replaced by a comfortable one, thirteen children were born and of the eight survivors Austin H. Jennings is the oldest.
It was from homes like this that brave and hardy young men responded when President Lincoln called for soldiers to preserve the Union. Although Austin H. was too young to be a soldier, he can recall when his oldest brothers, Robert P. and Harvey S., enlisted as privates in Company C, Fourth Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Robert P. had already completed his medical education and was prepared to enter into practice, but his patriotism, in spite of somewhat impaired health, led him to set aside a career to which he had looked forward long, and enter the army. After four months he was discharged for disability but later was appointed an assistant surgeon in the Fifty-first Regiment and served in this capacity until the Civil war was over. Harvey S., the second of the soldier brothers of Mr. Jennings, served with such conspicuous bravery throughout the entire war, that after the battle of Chancellorsville, when he captured two of the enemy, he received a commission as second lieutenant by a vote of Congress. He never accepted this commission because of his unwillingness to be separated from his comrades in General Hancock’s corps, in the Army of the Potomac, with whom he had fought on the battlefields of Winchester, Gettysburg and at other points. He was thrice wounded and did not recover sufficiently to return home until three months after the war ended.
Austin H. Jennings attended the public schools in Delaware County and after completing the high school course, decided on a year at college. Not to be outdone by his older brothers, who had worked their way through college, he determined to be equally independent and in order to secure this college training accepted honest labor of any kind, such as shoveling gravel and shearing sheep. After his collegiate year was completed he made his way to Illinois with Gibson City as his objective point as he had secured a school to teach there. He walked the distance of thirty miles from Bloomington to Gibson City and during the year he remained there, teaching the first school, the town was laid out.
Mr. Jennings returned then to Ohio and for one year was a student in the Ohio Wesleyan University. He then spent four years as a clerk in a clothing store and during this time was able to accumulate enough capital to warrant his embarking in business for himself, but just then a partnership was offered and probably if his health had not failed, Kansas would never have been able to claim one of its worthiest citizens.
In 1878 Mr. Jennings came to Kansas to look over the country with an idea of locating here and became well satisfied and returned to Ohio in order to settle up his affairs and for his family, but his father’s sudden death interfered with his plans. It was necessary for him to assist in closing his father’s estate and it was not until 1883 that he returned to Kansas, accompanied by his family, and located at Winfield, in Cowley County, which was then the home of a brother, who was engaged there in the practice of law. The country in that vicinity was new and Mr. Jennings acquired the ownership of six farms. He became interested in several ways and rebuilt his health while living in the open for a year. An investment in wheat proved a fortunate venture and later he went into the business of buying claims and renting them out and subsequently drifted into the real estate and bond business, in which he continued to be interested for eighteen years. He was appointed during this time, receiver for the McCollum-Cochran Company of Winfield and cleared up the case, paid all debts and returned the store to the owners. He resided on his farm land for six years and during this time introduced the first alfalfa in Cowley County, Mr. Jennings’ foresight continually leading him along progressive ways and seldom directing him wrong.
Mr. Jennings was married February 9, 1876, to Miss Laura Sidle, who was born in Pleasant Valley, Ohio. Her parents were natives of Pennsylvania and Ohio. Mr. and Mrs. Jennings have two sons, Austin H., Jr., and Frank H. It was in order to give his sons better educational advantages that Mr. Jennings moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and resided there two years. He then became interested in the Crystal Springs Ice, Fuel & Grain Company, building up the plant in 1902. He went into this business with no previous experience but his general knowledge of business made the undertaking successful. He is president of the company, while Frank H. is vice president and Austin H. is general manager. The ice is wholesaled to retailers and the business is now conducted by the two young men. Mr. Jennings was the organizer of the Northwestern Garage & Storage Company, of which Frank H. is general manager. The older son, Austin H., is also in the employ of the Government and has charge of the handling of mail and parcel post packages at Kansas City, Kansas.
Mr. Jennings has additional interests to those already mentioned, being the owner of much city property both business and residential. He was one of the organizers of the Peoples National Bank, Kansas City, Kansas, and for several years was one of its directors. In his own material prosperity he has not been unmindful of the wants and needs of others, ever being generously disposed and has been a liberal supporter of education and religion. In 1886 he was instrumental in having a meeting called to secure the location of a Methodist school at Winfield, and donated the first $500 for the purpose. It is now a flourishing institution and bears the name of the Southwestern University of Winfield and he has been a constant supporter of the same from its beginning.
Politically a republican, Mr. Jennings supports this party from principle, never having been willing to accept any public office. He belongs to the Blue Lodge in Masonry, while both sons have advanced to the thirty-second degree. Both he and wife belong to the Methodist Episcopal Church and in earlier years were very active in its various departments of work. They naturally have a wide circle of friends.