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Delaware County, Iowa


 Biography Directory

Judge Frederick Benjamin Doolittle





Judge Frederick Benjamin Doolittle

Judge Frederick Benjamin Doolittle

     In the history of Delaware county reference can be made to none who more truly deserves to be ranked with its honored and valued citizens than Judge Doolittle, who was connected with many epoch making events in its annals and who in every relation of life bore himself with such signal dignity and honor as to make his record one well worthy of emulation. He was identified with railroad building, with banking interests and was well known as a most judicious and successful investor, placing much of his capital in the safest of all investments, real estate.

     A native of New York, the Judge was born at Bovina, Delaware county, December 24, 1825, a son of William and Polly Ann (Hubbell) Doolittle, a grandson of Benjamin and Hannah (Kilburn) Doolittle, and a great-grandson of Abraham and Hepzibah (Tyler) Doolittle. He spent the first ten years of his life in the Empire state and then accompanied his parents on their removal to what was then the far west, the family home being established in Monroe, Michigan, where the son availed himself of the opportunities of attending school as an alternative to the farm work, which engaged much of his attention through his youth. He assisted in the arduous task of clearing and developing the fields and then ambitious that his labors should directly benefit himself he, in 1845, contracted with his father to pay for his time, and secured a position in a nursery near the old home. During the winter months he

taught school and through the closest economy he was able to save from his earnings enough to purchase a half interest in the nursery at the end of a year. At that time he had not attained his majority.

       Still later, with the belief that he might have better opportunities west of the Mississippi, Judge Doolittle disposed of his interest in the business and removed to Delhi, Iowa, where he established the Silver Lake Nursery, in connection with which he soon built up a large, growing and profitable business, his trade extending widely over the west. In that way he laid the foundation for his future success. As his financial resources increased he kept investing in choice land in eastern Iowa and thus in time became the owner of a number of valuable farms, which he most carefully cultivated and improved. He thus did much for the agricultural development of the state and became one of its largest landowners. With notable prescience he discerned something of what the future had in store for this great and growing western commonwealth, arid acting according to the dictates of his judgment, he garnered in the fullness of time the rich harvests of his investment. His business interests were always of a character that contributed to the upbuilding and welfare of the state. In 1860 he laid out the town of Delaware and was instrumental in securing the crossing of two railway lines there-the Illinois Central and the Davenport & St. Paul section of the Milwaukee road. The success of the latter was attributable in large measure to his foresight, for just as the project was being abandoned, recognizing what it would mean to the city, he immediately organized the Delaware County Construction Company and built the line. He became one of the directors of the new company and for several years was its treasurer. He also figured prominently in financial affairs and in 1884 secured control of the Hopkinton Exchange Bank, which became known as the Hopkinton State Bank, Judge Doolittle remaining as its president from that time until his demise, wisely directing its interests and activities. His judgment was sound, his enterprise unfaltering, his sagacity keen and discriminating and the reliable business methods which he displayed in the conduct of his affairs made him one of the most honored as well as one of the most valued citizens of the community.

       Judge Doolittle was married twice. At Dubuque, on the 4th of March, 1851, he wedded Anne Comber, a daughter of Thomas Comber, of Withyham, England, who died in 1876. To them were born six children: Harriet Elizabeth, the wife of C. H. Furman, of Delhi; Frederick William, deceased; Ollie Rosella, the deceased wife of C. B. Phelps, of Pana, Illinois; John Comber, a physician and business manager of The Retreat, a well known sanatorium of Des Moines; Nellie Anne, the wife of Frank E. Williamson, of Hopkinton; and Minnie Augusta, the deceased wife of Judge George M. Perry, of Texas.

      On the 25th of November, 1880, at Delhi, Judge Doolittle married Mrs. Hannah C. Harger, of that place, whose former husband was Charles Harger. She was the originator of the idea of screening windows and doors of houses, in which fact she takes a pardonable pride. Had she secured a patent on the same undoubtedly an immense fortune would be hers, but she takes more pleasure in the knowledge of the great blessing this has been to mankind. She could not keep the flies from getting under the netting over her baby's crib and it occurred to her that it would be a good idea to put netting at the windows of the room. As this kept the room free from flies, Mr. Harger soon began spending his leisure time there and they decided to put netting at all the windows of the house and also made a door frame which they covered. The frames for the first room were made by Mrs. Harger by nailing laths together. As their dog soon learned that he could easily break through the netting of the door, they sent to Dubuque for wire netting to be used in place of the cotton, but suitable material could not be secured and special wire netting was made for them. Theirs was undoubtedly the first house in the world to be screened against flies and insects. The following year the family visited Fulton, New York, and introduced the idea there, and it was from this start that the universal practice has come.
      Judge Doolittle reached the venerable age of eighty-seven years, his life record being ended by death on the 19th of November, 1912. It would be almost impossible to overestimate his worth as a citizen, for he contributed to public progress along many lines and ever took an active and helpful interest in promoting general good. On attaining his majority he indorsed the principles of the Whig party, with which he voted until the organization of the republican party, when he joined its ranks. He was ever afterward one of its stalwart advocates, yet was never an office seeker. He served, however, as county judge and as the first internal revenue collector in his county. As prosperity attended him he gave generously to many public projects and institutions. He was most liberal in building churches, schools, bridges and roads, was ever ready to aid educational plans and projects and was one of the most generous patrons of Lenox College, at Hopkinton, among other gifts, making possible Doolittle Hall, which was dedicated to the memory of his son, Frederick W.

      Perhaps no better estimate of his life and character can be given than by quoting from a contemporary biographer who has written: "Judge Doolittle's sturdy honesty and integrity stamped him as a man of the highest character. He had shared with the pioneers in the stress and strain of the hard days, helping his neighbors through all to better things and came to be greatly loved for his fair dealings and justice to all. His success in business, in his real-estate undertakings, in his banking enterprise and in his industrial developments made him an honored and respected citizen. Although not a church member he had established for himself a strict code of morals, which he recorded in several small volumes which he published. In 'Thoughts Plucked from Meditation' (1904), he pointed out the value of creed and character: 'Our characters will be as we build them. Our creeds will be as we adopt them. God does not give us our character or our creeds. Each individual of necessity builds his own character and may choose his own creed. He may form a creed easy of comprehension. The writer is content with a creed of his own formulating, which consists of only eight syllables, namely: Love and trust God. Love and help man. . . . We cannot divest ourselves of our character. Neither can it be changed, only as we change it by changing our course of action. The spirit with which we meet our experiences in this life determines our character, whether it be good or whether it be bad. The character we develop as we go through life constitutes and is ourselves, our identity as distinguished from others. It cannot be taken possession of by another and substituted as the character of anyone else. It is emphatically non-transferable. The character determines our future, both before and after death. No person can avail himself of the merits of another's character. We build our own characters and thereby fix our own destiny."



~ source: History of Delaware County, Iowa and its People, Illustrated, Volume II. The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1914, Chicago. Page 30-34 .  Call Number 977.7385 H2m; LDS microfilm #934937.

~transcribed and contributed by Constance Diamond for Delaware County IAGenWeb


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