Philip M. Crapo, numbered among the honored dead of Burlington, was a man whose life work was of the greatest benefit to his fellow-men. With a humanitarian spirit and a breadth of view that enabled him to realize the needs of the city, the conditions that would work for its improvement, and the possibilities for achievement, he put forth strenuous and effective efforts, the far reaching effects of which will be felt for years to come. He was born June 30, 1844, and died Sept. 20, 1903, his loss proving a universal sorrow in Burlington, and largely throughout the State and nation wherever he was known.
Philip Madison Crapo was a native of Massachusetts, born June 30, 1844, in Freetown. The Crapo family is of French lineage, but he also traces his ancestry back to the Pilgrim Fathers, and was very proud of this American line. His paternal grandfather, Benjamin Crapo, was born in Massachusetts, and was a descendant of Pierre Crapo, who was rescued from a French war vessel that was wrecked prior to 1700 near the Massachusetts coast, near Plymouth Colony. Pierre Crapo married Penelope White, a granddaughter of Peregrine White, the first white child born in Plymouth Colony.
Philip Crapo, Sr., father of him whose name introduces this review, was born in Massachusetts, and became a sea captain. He wedded Hannah Crapo, also a native of the Bay State, and a daughter of Richard Crapo, who was a farmer there. The fathers of both Richard and Benjamin Crapo were soldiers of the Revolutionary War. Of the six children born unto Philip and Hannah Crapo only one is now living, Mrs. William A. Ashley, of Long Plain, Massachusetts. Philip M. Crapo was reared in New Bedford, Mass., where he acquired a good education at the common and high schools. He was but eighteen years of age when, in response to his country's call for aid to crush out the rebellion in the South, he enlisted as a defender of the Union, becoming a member of Company E, Third Massachusetts Infantry. He did valiant service for his country in the Civil War, returning to his home with a most creditable military record. Seeking first a favorable location for an active business career and one which would give full scope to his industry and ambition — dominant qualities — he removed to the West, settling in Flint, Mich., where he engaged in business as a civil engineer. After assisting in constructing a portion of the Flint & Pere Marquette Railroad he was employed in the adjutant- general's office to assist in compiling a military record of the State, and was also in the office of his uncle, Governor Crapo, while he was filling the office of governor.
In 1868 he came to Burlington as the special or general agent for the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company, having charge of one of the southern districts of the State. His territory was subsequently increased so that it comprised the entire States of Iowa and Nebraska, and he remained in charge of the company's vast interests in these States up to the time of his death. In 1882 the Connecticut Mutual Insurance Company made him its financial correspondent for Iowa and Nebraska. He then resigned as general agent and devoted himself entirely to the management of the company's investments. In acknowledgment of his efficiency in this direction, Mrs. Crapo was made the recipient of a testimonial from the company, done on parchment in German text and rolled in a morocco leather satin-lined case. This is one of the mementos of the life work of her husband that she cherishes dearly. In part it says, "And of the thousands of farms on which his loans were made, the company did not own a single farm, and never lost a dollar ... and foreclosures were very rare."
In addition to his extensive business interests in connection with the insurance company, Mr. Crapo was actively concerned in local affairs, at one time being local editor of the Hawk-Eye, and afterward a frequent contributor to its columns. Every movement which had a bearing upon the material, intellectual, social, and moral welfare of Burlington was of deep interest to him, and every progressive measure received his endorsement and found in him an active champion. He was a strong advocate of a wagon bridge in connection with the railroad bridge not then completed across the Mississippi River at Burlington. By a vigorous effort he at one time expected to bring the Iowa Central Railroad into Burlington, hoping that its line might cross the river here instead of at Keithsburg, and only the refusal of the directors to lease or sell the Burlington & Northwestern Railroad prevented the consummation of the plan. In 1887 Mr. Crapo organized the Burlington & Illinois Bridge Company and secured a charter from Congress authorizing them to bridge the Mississippi River. After much labor and a large expenditure of money Mr. Crapo prepared the way for the erection of a combined railroad and wagon bridge, which would have given independent railroad facilities to Burlington, and also established a more satisfactory communication with the farming districts of Illinois; but when the work was completed, and the tax-payers of Burlington expressed themselves as willing to vote a large tax to aid the project, a majority of the members of the Bridge Company declined to assume the responsibility for the construction of the bridge, and the work has not yet been done.
Not only was Mr. Crapo the president of the Burlington & Illinois Bridge Company, but he was also prominent in connection with many business positions of marked importance. He was the president of the Burlington board of trade, the president of the Burlington & Henderson County Ferry Company, the president of the Burlington Commercial Club, a trustee of the city for the ferry franchise, trustee of the public library, and a trustee of the Congregational church. He took special pride in the fact that he started the movement for the paving of the principal streets of the city with brick, addressing the city council by strong resolutions prepared and introduced by him at a session of the Commercial Club, the board of trade, and public meetings of the citizens called together by him for that purpose. He was conspicuous for his advocacy of the improvement of the Mississippi River, and his efforts in behalf of improved waterways were acknowledged by his appointment upon a committee to prepare memorials to Congress by not less than five of the great conventions called to consider the question of the improvement of the waterways.
These varied interests show the extent and scope of his activity, and indicate his value as a citizen, for his labors were of a most practical character. Many improvements looking to the betterment of Burlington found him a champion. He was truly public-spirited, and was never so happy as when busily engaged upon some public enterprise. His own time, his own labor, his own money, were given lavishly where the public interest was involved. He never entered into any movement in a half-hearted manner, but gave his full effort to carrying forward to successful completion whatever he undertook. In politics, as well as in all civic movements, he occupied a prominent position, and few men were more familiar with the political issues and events, and few enjoyed a wider acquaintance among men of prominence throughout the entire country. He was always a Republican, and served his party as chairman of the county and congressional committees, as well as in other capacities. He was nominated for the position of State senator and in 1887 was prominently mentioned for the office of governor.
It was, however, more largely as a private citizen of great public spirit and marked business capacity that he was best known to his fellow-townsmen. He worked indefatigably as a member of the Commercial Exchange, and as its president took an active part as a member of the Ferry Company, and did effective service on numberless committees. He was a friend of the old soldier, realizing fully the debt of gratitude which the country owes the boys in blue; and they, in turn, owe to Mr. Crapo a debt of gratitude for what he did in their behalf. He did more, perhaps, than any other man in Iowa for the magnificent Soldiers' Home at Marshalltown. His loyalty to Burlington and his faith in its citizens was demonstrated a number of years ago when the question of the location of the National Soldiers' Home was being discussed. A meeting was held in Burlington to consider ways and means of procuring the location of the home in this city. The matter was taken up with enthusiasm by the citizens, Mr. Crapo being one of the leaders in the movement. The tract of land south of Burlington known as Picnic Point was selected as the site of the home, and part of the money was subscribed for it. The national board that had the location of the home in charge visited Burlington, and an effort was made to induce the board to consider Burlington as the site. The board, however, announced that it would reserve its decision in the matter until its meeting in Leavenworth. Mr. Crapo was then appointed as a committee of one to go to Leavenworth and push Burlington's claim. At the meeting there, the board announced that no offer of location could be considered unless such an offer was accompanied by a guarantee bond of one hundred thousand dollars. There was not sufficient time for Mr. Crapo to communicate with the citizens of Burlington, but without hesitation he himself signed the bond. Although his efforts proved fruitless, it was through no lack of energy on his own part or that of his fellow-citizens. Afterward Mr. Crapo was questioned as to what he would have done if the citizens of Burlington had failed to support him in his guarantee of the bond. He smiled and said that he had not thought of it, and that he had too much faith in the enterprise and the public spirit of the citizens to think such a thing could be possible. He said, however, he would have personally carried out the contract, and every one acquainted with Mr. Crapo knows that he would have done so. Having failed in his efforts to secure the national home, Mr. Crapo turned his attention to the organization of the Iowa Soldiers’ Home, and made a strenuous effort to have its location at Burlington, but again without success, the building going to Marshalltown. In the work of building and furnishing that institution Mr. Crapo was untiring, and has always been known as the "father of the home."
He has builded for himself in Burlington two monuments more enduring than bronze or granite — the public library and Crapo Park. He found in the library an ill-assorted collection of books that were looked after in a dilatory manner, the collection containing little that was of real value, while a small tax was exacted from the citizens who wished to make use of the collection. Mr. Crapo's interest being aroused in behalf of the public library, he undertook the work of pushing the enterprise with characteristic energy. It required some money to clear the collection of debt, and he furnished the needed sum. A new law had been passed which enabled cities to establish free public libraries. Mr. Crapo led in the agitation, and from the beginning was a firm friend of the library. His donations to the fine structure and to its splendid contents represent a handsome fortune. He never wearied of enriching the institution, of which he was justly proud, and he gave of his time and of his labor as freely as of his wealth: and to his eternal vigilance, no less than to his magnificent generosity, is due the fact that Burlington today possesses one really fine public structure in its library, which will compare favorably with those which are a source of pride to much larger cities.
Again, his work in behalf of what is known as Crapo Park of Burlington was equally commendable. Conceiving the idea that Burlington should have a public park, he recognized no obstacles, and overcame all difficulties by determined purpose, giving freely of his means as well as of his time and energies. As the result, Burlington has a park of about one hundred acres which, in the course of time, after the original plans are carried out, will be one of the finest in the State, if not in the entire West.
Mr. Crapo was married in Burlington, Sept, 6, 1870, to Miss Ruth A. Ray, and this union was blessed with seven children: Edith R., now the wife of Martin T. Baldwin; Philip Ashley, Chester F., Ruth K., Clifford M., Lucy H., and William M. With the exception of Philip, all survived the father. This son, like his ancestors, showed his patriotic spirit, and in the country's hour of need, in 1898, he responded to the call for troops for service in the Spanish-American War, and died of typhoid fever at Jacksonville Fla., in September, 1898. His remains were interred in Aspen Grove cemetery. His sketch appears elsewhere in this work.
Mr. Crapo was always deeply interested in military affairs, and when the National Guard of Iowa held its encampment at Burlington, in 1888, the camp was called Camp Crapo in his honor, and his name has been adopted by the local organization of the Sons of Veterans in Burlington.
Mr. Crapo was most generous in his charity, yet thoroughly unostentatious, and the general public knew little of his many benefactions. He extended a helping hand to many, and desired nothing in return save that no one should know aught of the gift. When he passed away, the newspapers all over the country recorded his death. His portrait has adorned many magazines and books. Friendship Lodge, No. 11, Knights of Pythias, of which he was a member, published resolutions of respect, as did the Business Men's Club, while C. L. Matthies Post, No. 5, G. A. R., and Company H, of the Fifty-fourth I. N. G.. acted as escort at his funeral. The Woman's Relief Corps also attended the funeral in a body, and H. G. Marquardt, mayor, issued a proclamation closing all business houses during the obsequies. Resolutions of respect were also adopted and published by the library board, by the Shakespearean Club, and by the old soldiers in the home at Marshalltown. The publishing house of A. C. McClurg & Company, of Chicago, sent a letter to the librarian' expressing sorrow for the death of Mr. Crapo, and a memorial was sent from the Connecticut Mutual Life Association. No one with whom he came in contact failed to respect him. Men differed from him in opinions, and he was ever fearless in spreading his own views, yet all esteemed him for his fidelity to his honest convictions. He had the good will and confidence of men throughout the country, — men high in authority and men in the lowly walks of life: and in Burlington, where he was best known, he was well termed one of its best-loved citizens.