William WHEELER is one of the largest landowners and wealthiest citizens of Putnam county, and yet the time was when his financial resources were extremely limited. His advancement from a very humble financial position to one of affluence is due not to any fortunate combination of circumstances or to any inheritance, but to his own earnest, persistent labor, and his life exemplifies the truth of the old maxim that honesty is the best policy. He now resides on section 18, Senachwine township, and within the borders of this township he holds seven hundred and fifty acres of land which is very productive and valuable.
Born in Licking county, Ohio, February 24, 1842, he is a son of Ira and Susan (LEE) WHEELER. The father was born in Vermont in 1805, while the mother's birth occurred in New York in 1802. They were married in Ohio, where they began their domestic life upon a farm, making their home in that state until 1848, when they came to Illinois. They settled first in Fulton county, at which time the father's cash capital consisted of only ten cents. He had a family of nine children dependent upon him for support, and although he took up a claim in Fulton county he was unable to make the payments upon it and thereby hold it. The family, however, continued to reside in that county until 1863, when they removed to Senachwine township, Putnam county, where the death of the father occurred when he was sixty-five years of age. The mother afterward went to live with a son in Madison, Wisconsin, where she passed away in 1890. She was a witness of the naval battle on Lake Erie, in the war of 1812, her uncle, William LEE, being captain of a vessel under Commodore Perry. She had one son who served for five years in the Civil war, enlisting with a Wisconsin regiment.
William WHEELER remained with his parents in Fulton county until twenty-two years of age. He was a lad of only six summers at the time of the removal from Ohio, and his educational privileges upon the frontier were very limited. He was, however, a student for a brief period in an old log schoolhouse where the methods of instruction, were very primitive. When quite young he had to provide for his own support, and his youth was largely a period of earnest and unremitting toil. In 1863, when twenty-one years of age, he came to Putnam county and purchased fifty-three acres of land on High prairie, in Senachwine township. He was able to pay but eighty dollars on the farm, going in debt for the remainder, but he worked hard and persistently, lived economically and frugally and by these methods was soon enabled to discharge his indebtedness and also purchase fifty-three acres more. He resided upon his original farm until 1874, when he sold that property and purchased three hundred and twenty acres, whereon he now resides. The purchase price was thirteen thousand two hundred dollars, on which he was able to make a payment of six thousand dollars. He resolutely set to work to meet the financial obligation he incurred, and long since lie has done this and more, for as the years have passed he has added to his property until he now owns seven hundred and fifty acres in Senachwine township and three hundred and twenty acres in Minnesota. His investments have been very carefully made, and in his business judgment concerning the value of land and the possibility of its appreciation he has been most wise. Upon his home farm he has excellent buildings, all of which he has erected or remodeled, and the farm is now lacking in none of the accessories and equipments of a model property of the twentieth century.
On the 14th of February, 1864, was celebrated the marriage of William WHEELER and Miss Melvina Tryphena READ, a native of Senachwine township and a daughter of Phillip and Tryphena (DAVIS) READ, who came to this county at an early day. Unto Mr. and Mrs. WHEELER have been born five children, and the family circle yet remains unbroken by the hand of death. Charles E., the eldest, married Fannie TERRY, of Wenona, and they reside upon the father's farm. Chettie is the wife of George CRAWFORD, a resident of Livingston county, Illinois. Ulissa is the wife of W. S. MURPHY, a merchant in the village of Putnam. Ollo is the wife of Adam SMITH, of Livingston county; and Atha is the wife of John WHERRY, of Senachwine township.
For many years Mr. WHEELER has been a member of the Christian church, and in politics he has always been a republican. His career seems almost phenomenal when we think of the conditions with which he was surrounded in his boyhood days. His parents were very poor when the family came to Illinois, and they not only had few of the comforts of life, but oftentimes lacked its necessities. It is a noticeable fact, however, in the history of the world that it is under the pressure of. adversity that the best and strongest in men are brought out and developed, and the needs of Mr. WHEELER called forth his latent powers and energies. He demonstrated in his work his willingness to perform arduous labor, combined with ability and energy, and he never found it difficult therefore to obtain employment. He was ambitions, too, to secure a farm of his own, and always worked with that end in view. After coming to Putnam county he took care of his parents, willingly assuming the burden, which he discharged with filial devotion. All that he has today has been made through his own efforts and the assistance of his estimable wife, who has indeed been a faithful companion and helpmate to him on life's journey. He has been a good manager, conservative in his dealings and careful in his investments. Today he is in possession of extensive property interests as the result of his thrift and diligence, and he certainly deserves the prosperity that has come to him. He now rents his land, owing to his health, which is somewhat impaired, and the property brings to him an income more than sufficient for his needs and wants.
Extracted July 2011 by Norma Hass from Past and Present of Marshall and Putnam Counties Illinois, 1907.