Marshall County


Hon. George F. WIGHTMAN is a well known civil engineer of Lacon, one who has a very wide circle of friends and acquaintances, and who is truly a representative citizen of Marshall county, of which he has been a resident since 1846, save for the period mentioned further along in this sketch. He was born in Ontario, Canada, near St. Catherine, February 5, 1827, and is the son of Samuel and Anna (ROY) WIGHTMAN, who emigrated from that country in 1836, when our subject was but nine years old, locating in Mercer county, Illinois. There the father secured a tract of government land and commenced its improvement. He was a natural mechanic and in addition to carrying on the farm engaged in mechanical pursuits, having a shop on his place. He did all kinds of mechanical work and the WIGHTMAN shop was patronized by all who were in need of repairs of any kind, or who wished some new contrivance made. His house was a station on the underground railroad, and many a poor slave was sent by him on the road to freedom, our subject on more than one occasion acting as conductor, taking the escaped slaves to a station at Andover, in Henry county, from which place they were sent on their way. The father died in 1863 at the age of seventy years.

The subject of this sketch remained upon the home farm until he was seventeen years of age, and in that time only attended school two weeks, his primary education being attended to by his mother, who was a well educated woman. In 1846 he spent two months on a boat on the Mississippi river, after which he helped take a barge up the Rock river as far as Dixon, that river being then a navigable stream. His time, however, was principally spent in labor upon the farm or in the shop with his father. Having thoroughly mastered the cooper’s trade, on leaving home he came direct to Lacon, where he entered the employ of William Fisher & Co., in their cooper shop and packing house and after working about four years was made foreman. For thirteen years he remained with that company, working, however, only in the fall and winter season. In the summer he took up civil engineering in company with General CURTIS on the survey of the Air Line railroad. He was employed on this work and in the office of the general engineer in Lacon for some time. General CURTIS was a West Point student and during the rebellion was in command of the Army of the Arkansas. His son, Samuel CURTIS, now residing at Omaha, was also engaged with Mr. WIGHTMAN in the survey of this road.

In 1859 and 1860 Mr. WIGHTMAN was engaged in steamboating on the Illinois river, having the command at different periods of three vessels, the Edmonia, the Movastar and the Diana. His run was from La Salle to St. Louis, and his vessels were for freighting purposes only. For the first season or two he did a fairly prosperous business, but later it fell of perceptibly. He continued, however, in business until the breaking out of the civil war when he secured a position in the quartermaster’s department. After the battle of Pittsburg Landing he enlisted in the Independent Tennessee Infantry and served until after the capture of Vicksburg, when he again engaged in steamboating, as captain of Mississippi river transports for the government, and also on a gunboat. He continued in this line until the close of the war on the Mississippi river and at Galveston, Texas, and was there made superintendent of ocean and river transportation with headquarters at Galveston. He was on the transport, Diligent, at the time of the Red river expedition, and was engaged in carrying dispatches. Later the boat was sunk near Austin, Mississippi. He was mustered out of service and honorably discharged at Galveston, in April, 1866, one year after the surrender of Lee.

Returning to Lacon, Major WIGHTMAN again engaged in his old occupation as a civil engineer, and made the survey of the Keithsburg, Lacon & Eastern railroad, which is now a part of the Central Iowa railroad, and was its chief engineer. He was also chief engineer of the Chicago, Lacon & Keokuk railroad, making its survey. He was assistant engineer in building the road from Lacon to Wenona, which now forms a part of the Chicago & Alton railroad. His work in this line was always satisfactory to those by whom he was engaged and his reputation as a civil engineer was second to none in the locality. While still engaged in these duties, he was nominated on the republican ticket as a representative from the twentieth senatorial district to the general assembly of the state. He was triumphantly elected and served with credit to himself and constituents, declining a re-election. It was during this session that the ever memorable contest occurred resulting in the election of John A. Logan as United States senator. Major WIGHTMAN was loyal to General Logan for whom he had the greatest respect, admiring his ability both as a warrior and statesman. While still serving as representative he was appointed by President Hayes as postmaster of Lacon, duly qualified and served one year, making an efficient officer.

After serving about one year as postmaster, the position of civil engineer for he city of Peoria was tendered him by its mayor and common council. Resigning his position he accepted the offer from Peoria and at once removed to that city, where for twelve years he continued to act as civil engineer. Those twelve years were busy ones and during that time the present fine sewer system of that city was inaugurated, as was also the brick paving, he being a  pioneer in this line in the state of Illinois. Brick paving is now extensively used throughout the whole country, but when Major WIGHTMAN first advocated the system he was laughed at by almost the entire community. His experimental block, however, satisfied the people, and at the end of twelve years there were laid in that city about five miles of brick pavement. The sewer system, of which mention has been made, reflects great credit upon his ability as an engineer, and during his term about thirty miles of sewer were constructed. He also laid two miles of asphalt. His entire attention while in Peoria was given his professional duties and his work was eminently satisfactory.

On the 8th of July, 1893, he severed his connection with the work in Peoria and returned to Lacon. He is now vice-president of the Peoria, Lacon & Northern railroad, with a capital stock of $1,000,000, which has recently been granted a charter to build a railroad from Peoria to Spring Valley, a distance of fifty-two miles, and open up Lacon, Putnam and Granville with the coal center, and also open up the finest agricultural country in the state without a railroad. Major WIGHTMAN has made the survey and is at present (spring of 1896) engaged in securing the right of way. Among those interested with him in the road may be mentioned Edward HOWLETT and Dr. McILVAINE, of Peoria; Judge McNABB, of Putnam county, and Hon. Robert B. FORT, of Lacon. In addition to the railroad work now occupying his attention our subject has been made civil engineer in the survey and construction of the Asylum for the Incurable Insane at Peoria. The buildings are now in process of erection.

On the 1st of January, 1849, Major WIGHTMAN was united in marriage at Lacon, with Miss Dorcas LINDSAY, at the residence of Dr. BOAL, she being an orphan and reared in the doctor’s family. To them were born two children: Charles R., who is a civil engineer and is engaged in business with his father, and Laura, now residing with her father, is the widow of William BELLOWS, of Lacon, who was an engineer on the Chicago & Alton railroad, and was killed in a wreck while on duty, leaving three children: George, William and Annie.

Major WIGHTMAN is not a member, but is a supporter of the Episcopal church. He was made a Master Mason in Lacon lodge, No. 61, about 1850, and was one of the first initiated here into the mysteries of that ancient order. He has also been made a Royal Arch Mason, and holds membership in Lacon. In the work of the order he has ever manifested a commendable interest and has filled nearly all the chairs. In politics he is an uncompromising republican, and firmly believes in the principles of that party. He was a delegate to the Bloomington convention in 1856, at which time the party was formally brought into existence in this state. He was also a delegate to the state convention in 1858, and favored Abraham Lincoln as the party-s candidate for the United States senate. Mr. WIGHTMAN has never sought office, but served as county surveyor for some years. As a citizen, friend and neighbor he is highly esteemed by all, and his life affords a good example to the young.

Extracted May 2011 by Norma Hass from The Biographical Record of Bureau, Marshall and Putnam Counties, Illinois, 1896.

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