JAMES W. ATHEY — Hale and hearty, bearing with great ease and dignity his burden of eighty years, James W. Athey, of Leroy township, is a typical representative of the hardy and courageous pioneers of Benton county, and has the distinction of having been the first man to locate in the township of which he is now a resident. For nearly three score years he has occupied his present farm, on section 24, and during that time has been an active and prominent factor in the development of this part of the county and in the advancement of its material welfare. The son of Judson W. Athey, an early settler of Iowa, he was born October 26, 1829, in Parke county, Indiana, on the banks of the beautiful Wabash.
Locating in Parke county, Indiana, when a young man, Judson W. Athey took up a tract of timbered land and began the improvement of a farm, living and laboring there a number of years. In 1846, following the tide of emigration westward, he drove across the country to Iowa county, Iowa, being three weeks in making the long trip. Locating in Como township, he took up one hundred and sixty acres of raw prairie land, and having erected a log cabin began the improvement of a homestead. Settlers were then few and far between, Muscatine being the nearest marketing place, while Cedar Rapids was a mere hamlet, with few houses and one grist mill. He carried on general farming for a number of years on his homestead, but spent his last days in Marengo, Iowa, dying December 23, 1862, at the age of sixty-two years, his birth having occurred June 23, 1800, in old Virginia. He married Susanna Justus, who was born in Ohio, March 10, 1809, and died on the home farm, in Como township, February 14, 1851. Of the eleven children born of their union, three are living; namely: James W., the subject of this sketch; Howard, of Los Angeles, California; and Milton J., of Belle Plaine, Iowa.
Brought up on a farm, James W. Athey had very limited educational advantages, attending school but six weeks while living in Indiana, and but a short time in Iowa. On attaining his majority, four years after coming to this state, he purchased a small claim on Walnut creek, near Belle Plaine, and lived on it two years, carrying on mixed husbandry. Selling out at that time he came to Benton county, in November, 1852, and at once assumed possession of the eighty acres of land in section twenty-four, Leroy township, 80 acres in section 25, and 45 acres in section 2, Iowa county, which his father had entered for him sometime before, receiving a deed of the land from the government, this sheepskin being now in the possession of Mr. Athey. This part of the county was then thinly populated, his nearest neighbors being seven miles away, there being a few settlers at Big Grove, north of his farm. Mr. Athey was exceedingly fortunate in his operations, in course of time becoming an extensive landholder, having title to six hundred and forty acres of land in Benton county. He has divided generously with his children, giving them an excellent start in life, and now owns and manages only two hundred and forty-five acres. For forty or more years Mr. Athey was prosperously engaged in buying and shipping stock, but in 1904 turned this branch of business over to two of his sons, who are carrying it on with characteristic enterprise and success.
Mr. Athey married first, July 14, 1853, Sarah Catherine Brown, who was born in Richland county, Ohio, May 13, 1833, and died on the home farm in Leroy township in November, 1865. She bore him six children, of whom three are living, as follows: Alexander, born October 28, 1857, resides at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin; Judson W., born March 13, 1862, lives in Atchison, Kansas; and John M., of Leroy township, born May 9, 1864. Three have passed to the higher life, Emma, Mary A. and Elizabeth.
Mr. Athey married on May 31, 1866, Minerva Merrifield, who was born in Greene county, Ohio, April 3, 1838, a daughter of Francis, and Barbara (Meyer) Merrifield, both natives of Virginia. She came with her parents to Iowa county, Iowa, in 1851, driving across the intervening county, and on the farm which her father bought in Como township both he and his wife spent their remaining years. Of the ten children born to Mr. and Mrs. Merrifield three survive, namely: Mrs. Athey; Isaac, of Kensington, Kansas; and Matilda, widow of Samuel Smith, late of Iowa county. Mr. and Mrs. Athey are the parents of four children, namely: James M., of Poweshiek county, Iowa; Clinton, of Blairstown, Iowa; Cora E., wife of William Smith, of Leroy township; and Roy, of Leroy township.
Politically Mr. Athey has been a life long Republican, and cast his first presidential vote in 1850 for Millard Fillmore, the president that signed the deeds to his land. Religiously he and his wife are conscientious and valued members of the Methodist Episcopal church, and contribute liberally towards its support.
Picture of James and Minerva Athey