Benjamin H. Charles, who enjoys the reputation of being one of the leading municipal bond lawyers in the United States and who in the practice of his profession is accorded an extensive clientage in St. Louis, where he makes his home, was born at Chester, Illinois, April 26, 1866, his parents being Benjamin H. and Achsah Susan (Holmes) Charles.
The father was a Presbyterian minister of note who led a very active life. He was a man of positive character and high ideals and at different periods acceptably served as pastor of churches in Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri. He was graduated from Centre College at Danville, Kentucky, in 1853 and among his classmates were the late Senator Vest, Judge Phillips and Governor Crittenden of Missouri. Dr. Charles became prominent in connection with educational interests, especially in girls’ schools and was president of the Synodical College at Fulton, Missouri, from 1877 until 1888 inclusive, this being an excellent girls’ college. His last pastorate was in Trinity church at St. Louis. His wife was a daughter of the late Joseph B. Holmes, one of the early day river millers who owned two large mills at and near Chester, Illinois, the flour which he manufactured being largely for the export trade, most of it being sent to Liverpool, England. In the maternal line Mrs. Benjamin H. Charles, Senior, was a granddaughter of Shadrach Bond, the first governor of Illinois, and a grandniece of Shadrach Bond, Sr., who was with the George Rogers Clark expedition that captured Fort Kaskaskia from the British in 1778, this fort being situated about six miles above the present site of Chester. Shadrach Bond was also a delegate to congress and while there sitting was the author of the first homestead law. Ancestors of Mr. Charles in the paternal line were numbered among the early Huguenot settlers of Virginia.
Benjamin H. Charles acquired his early education in a private school and afterward attended Westminster College at Fulton, Missouri, from which he was graduated in 1885 with the degree of Bachelor of Arts. He was also a student in the law department of Yale University and there won his LL. B. degree in June, 1891. After completing his course at Westminster he taught school for three years in Fulton, Missouri, and then began his law reading in the office of John A. Hockaday who at one time was attorney general of the state and who was also one of the judges on the circuit bench of Missouri. Later Mr. Charles continued his reading under the direction of his uncle, Judge William Hartzell, of Chester, Illinois, reading law with him for about a year. He next became a law student at Yale University and after completing his course there went to Nashville, Tennessee, with his father, who was at that time president of the Ward Seminary.
After a short period in Nashville Benjamin H. Charles then removed to St. Louis and was admitted to the bar in the circuit court of this city in 1892. For a few years thereafter he met the usual difficulties and hardships that confront the professional man as he attempts to establish a practice in competition with old and experienced lawyers. Mr. Charles entered the office of Douglas & Scudder, of which Judge Walter B. Douglas was the senior partner. Their office was situated in the old Third National Bank building on Olive, between Fourth and Broadway, and was afterward removed to the old Continental Bank building at Fourth and Olive streets and still later to the Union Trust building, now the Central National Bank building. Mr. Charles remained with the firm of Douglas & Scudder from 1892 until 1903, at which time he was appointed second associate city counselor by Mayor Wells to work with Charles W. Bates, city counselor. In 1906 he was appointed first associate counselor and was reappointed in 1907, resigning his position in 1910. During these seven years his work was purely municipal and many very important cases were handled by him among which was the suit against the lighting company for two hundred thonsand dollars, the municipal bridge suit, involving three million five hundred thousand dollars of city bonds and the Tower Grove grade crossing suit. All of these cases required a vast amount of work, much of which fell to the associate counselor, especially the handling of details, which had much to do with the successful prosecution of the cases.
Resigning his position as associate city counselor in 1910 Mr. Charles took up the general practice of law, devoting much time, however, to passing on municipal bonds and in this line he has attained marked success. His practice of this character is very extensive and important and he is regarded today as one of the leading municipal bond lawyers of the United States. On the 1st of April, 1917, he formed a partnership with W. T. Rutherford, former assistant attorney general of Missouri, under the firm style of Charles & Rutherford. This firm has been retained by the city of St. Louis in connection with the bond issue of twenty-two million dollars, as special counsel. It may also be mentioned that at a former period for about two years beginning in 1897, Mr. Charles was a law partner of William G. Lackey, who until recently was the vice president of the Mississippi Valley Trust Company. He is recognized as a lawyer of great ability with high regard for the ethics of his profession and at all times careful, prudent, untiring, accurate and loyal to the interests which he espouses.
On the 30th of June, 1903, in Keokuk, Iowa, Mr. Charles was married to Miss Nancy McCandless Horne, a daughter of the late Robert Gray Horne and a granddaughter of Smith Hamill, member of a well known wholesale grocery firm at Keokuk. Her ancestors were all Scotch and Irish. To Mr. and Mrs. Charles have been born three sons: Benjamin H., III, fourteen years of age; Robert Horne and Smith Hamill, twins, nine years of age. Mr. Charles and his wife are members of the Westminster Presbyterian church of St. Louis and he is serving on the board of trustees of Westminster College. Mr. Charles has also been president of Westminster Alumni Association of St. Louis and is now serving as the president of the Yale Alumni Association of St. Louis. Politically he is a democrat. He belongs to the Beta Theta Pi and the Phi Delta Phi, the former a college fraternity and the latter a law fraternity, and he is also prominently known in the club cirlces of St. Louis, belonging to-the Noonday, University and the Bellerive Country Club.