Afton owes much to the enterprising spirit and business ability of Francis Marion Crowell, whose identification with the town dates from the time of its establishment, and he is now conducting one of the leading department stores in this part of the state, displaying marked executive force, energy and determination in the control of his interests. He was born on a farm in Tallapoosa County, Alabama, March 14, 1859, his parents being Dr. Marion and Nancy A. Crowell, the former of whom was born at Mecklenburg, North Carolina, February 15, 1830, while the birth of the latter occurred in Henry County, Georgia, on the 14th of April, 1835. The father was a large landowner of Alabama and was numbered with the medical fraternity of that state until after the close of the Civil war, during which period, in common with many other residents of the south, he suffered heavy business reverses. In 1875 he went to Conway County, Arkansas, where he purchased a farm and also continued to follow his profession. In association with his sons he later engaged in merchandising at Solgohachia, in that County, where his demise occurred. He took a leading part in all projects for the development of his community, building with his own funds the first schoolhouse in the town, while his home was used as a house of worship by both the Methodist and Congregational denominations. He was a progressive, public spirited citizen and one of the most highly respected pioneers in Conway County.
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His son, Francis M. Crowell, was the youngest in a family of five children and his education was largely acquired at home. He obtained a thorough knowledge of the principles of merchandising through assisting his father in the management of his store and for a time he was also employed in the post office at Solgohachia, Arkansas. He remained at home until he was twenty-one years of age and then came to Indian Territory, securing a clerical position in the general store of John Scott at Fort Gibson and becoming intimately acquainted with many of the prominent pioneer settlers of that region. Following his marriage he removed to Ottawa County and for three years cultivated a farm situated three miles west of the present site of Afton. Starting on a small scale, he gradually increased his holdings until he was the owner of twelve hundred acres in Ottawa County, successfully continuing his farming operations until 1916, when he disposed of all of his land. In 1886 he erected a small building, in which he opened the first store in Afton, the only other structure in the town, at that time being the section house. Gradually people began settling here and with the increase in population his business expanded. He was the owner of the only safe in this section and as no banks had as yet been established in the County, farmers and stockmen would deposit their funds in his keeping. He acted as a private banker until the Bank of Afton was opened in 1898 and he remained a stockholder and director of that institution until it became known as the First National Bank. He continued to conduct his store until 1904, when he sold out in order that he might devote all of his attention to his agricultural interests. His place was known as the Orchard Hill Farm and over half of his twelve hundred acres was under cultivation. He was very successful in the cultivation of the soil, conducting his operations along the most modern and scientific lines, and he also engaged in dairying and the raising of high grade stock. In 1915 he re-entered business circles of Afton, organizing the Crowell Mercantile Company, of which he has since been the head. He carries a large and well selected stock of high grade merchandise and his establishment is up-to-date in every particular. He makes it his purpose to be ever ready to meet the demands of the public and his reasonable prices, trustworthiness and courteous treatment of patrons have secured for him a large and constantly increasing trade.
Mr. Crowell was united in marriage to Miss Mary E. Duncan, who was born on a farm in the Flint district of the Cherokee Nation, her parents being prominent members of that tribe of Indians, and to this union four sons were born: Earl V., the eldest, was graduated from the School of Mines at Salt Lake City, Utah, and is a fine mathematician. He is connected with the Guiberson Corporation of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and his creative genius has led to the invention of several valuable oil-drilling devices, including the Guiberson-Crowell spiral plug; Al B. is also associated with the Guiberson Corporation, in addition to which he has oil interests. He is a veteran of the World war, serving in France with the Forty-second Division; Francis M., Jr., is engaged in merchandising at Afton in connection with his father and has been called to public office, serving as Mayor of the town. He is married and has two sons, F. M. and Theodore; Hunter Kent, the youngest member of the family, has become well known as a designer of hats, formerly doing work of that character for some of the largest concerns of St. Louis, while he is now connected with a house in New York City.
Mrs. Crowell is identified with the Eastern Star and she and her husband are earnest and active members of the Methodist Church. It was through the efforts of Mr. Crowell that the first Church and also the first school building were secured for the town. When national issues are at stake he casts his ballot in favor of the candidates and measures of the Democratic Party, but at local elections he supports the man whom he deems best qualified for office, regardless of party ties. His fraternal connections are with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Modern Woodmen of America. During the World war he served on the Council of Defense, while he also aided in promoting the various Liberty Loan drives and other war measures, and his patriotism and loyalty have ever remained unquestioned. There is no phase of Afton’s development with which he has not been identified and his efforts have been of a most practical character, the sound judgment of a capable business man being manifested in all of his opinions concerning the best methods of improving his community along material, intellectual, political and moral lines. His business career has been marked by continuous progress, for he is a man of resolute purpose and keen sagacity, who carries forward to a successful termination whatever he undertakes. As one of the pioneer residents of Afton he justly merits the honor and respect which are universally accorded him.