Gen. James A. Guest, of Burlington, prominent in commercial, social, and military circles, was born in Lyons, Wayne county, N. Y., May 4, 1845, his parents being Joseph and Lydia (Curtis) Guest. The ancestry of the family can be traced back to Joseph Guest, who left England as a passenger on the ship "Delaware" about 1645, and established his home at Swedesboro, becoming the progenitor of the family in America. The house which he builded there of imported brick, is still standing. William C. Guest, one of the descendants of Joseph Guest, and the grandfather of General Guest, was an officer in the Seventy-first New York Regiment in the War of 1812. He commanded a company of cavalry and was stationed at Black Rock, now Buffalo, N. Y. Previous to the war he had removed from New Jersey to Lyons, N. Y., becoming one of the pioneer residents of that district. Following the cessation of hostilities with England, he went on a trip of six hundred miles through the forests to Philadelphia, taking with him a drove of horses. He died in that city, of pneumonia, the result of exposure and hardships while on the trip. His wife, who bore the maiden name of Mary Wallace, was a relative of Sir John Wallace, of Scotland, and with her parents she emigrated from Scotland to New Jersey.
Joseph L. Guest, father of General Guest, was born in New Jersey in 1809, and during his infancy was taken by his parents to New York. His mother remained a resident of Lyons after her husband's death, and Joseph there spent the days of his youth and acquired his education. He became a merchant tailor, and removing to the West, spent his remaining days in Michigan. He married Lydia Curtis, a native of Pennsylvania, who died when her son James was nine years of age.
James A. Guest pursued his education in Lyons, N. Y., completing his course in the academy there, and at the age of seventeen enlisted in defense of the Union, becoming a member of Company C., One Hundred and Sixtieth New York Infantry, thus joining the army in 1862. He was first sent to New York and thence to New Orleans, going with General Banks's expedition. They made the trip by ocean on transports and were twenty-nine days in reaching the southern port. Mr. Guest participated in twenty-one engagements with his regiment, being for two years in Louisiana, after which he was in Virginia under command of Generals Grant and Sheridan. The regiment proceeded by steamer to Fortress Monroe, where the troops joined Grant's forces, and later they participated in the movements in the Shenandoah Valley under Sheridan. Mr. Guest was severely wounded at the battle of Winchester, where Sheridan made his famous ride, and was in the hospital for two months afterward. He then rejoined his regiment, with which he served until mustered out on account of the cessation of the war. He was then serving as first sergeant, and was commissioned by Governor Fenton of New York as second lieutenant, but could not get his commission because of his regiment's being below the required numerical strength. Prior to the close of his service he was sent to Georgia to quell a negro insurrection there. In November, 1865, he was discharged, having served for three and a half years, during which time he did his full duty as a soldier in one of the most fiercely contested wars in all history.
Returning to Lyons, N. Y., General Guest pursued a course in Ames Business College, at Syracuse, and then came to Iowa, settling at Belle Plain, where he engaged in business, meeting with success during his seven or eight years' connection with its commercial interests. He came to Burlington in 1875, and became connected with the piano and organ trade, purchasing the interest of Mr. Lange in the firm of Lange & Van Meter, the leading music dealers of the city. The firm name was then changed to Van Meter & Guest. After two years Mr. Guest purchased his partner's interest, and has since conducted the business alone. Under his guidance it has continually expanded, and has now reached very extensive and profitable proportions. He now handles Chickering & Sons and other high-grade pianos, having the sole agency for Iowa and portions of other States. His business in Burlington now occupies his entire business block, three stories in height, at 106 North Main Street. He also has branch houses at Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Ottumwa, Iowa, and Monmouth, Ill., and furnishes employment to a large number of traveling and local salesmen. His trade has grown along substantial lines, and his business, conducted in harmony with modern ideas of progress in commercial circles, and in strict conformity with the highest commercial ethics, has brought to him a very gratifying prosperity.
Always deeply interested in music, General Guest has been active in securing the best musical talent for Burlington in concerts and other public performances, and in promoting musical education and culture here, and his efforts have been far-reaching in this particular. General Guest is perhaps equally well known in military circles in Iowa, having become identified at an early day with the Iowa National Guard as captain of Company 11, Second Regiment. He was afterward promoted to the rank of major, lieutenant-colonel, and then to the colonelcy. The regiment was composed of twelve companies, representing twelve towns and cities. Subsequently he was elected brigadier-general of the First Brigade, and his labors have been effective in promoting the interest of the national guard and in the formation of a military organization which is a credit to the State.
In his political views General Guest has always been a Republican, but never an aspirant for office. He is a member of Malta Lodge, No. 318, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, of which he is a past master; Iowa Chapter, No. I, Royal Arch Masons; St. Omer Commandery, No. 15, Knights Templar, of which he is past commander. He is also past grand commander of the grand commandery of the State of Iowa, and thus one of the foremost representatives among the Knights Templar of the State. In community affairs he is deeply interested, his efforts having proved of practical benefit to the city in many ways. He was president of the Commercial Exchange, the leading manufacturers' and jobbers' club of Burlington, and served as such for three years. His co-operation can always be counted upon for the furtherance of any progressive measure for the city, and his influence has been an essential factor in winning support of popular measures for the public good.
General Guest was married to Miss Louise M. David, of Burlington, a daughter of Col. John S. David, who was born in Kentucky, and was one of the prominent pioneers of Burlington. He built the first warehouse along the river here, was also engaged in the grocery business, and operated quite extensively in real estate, building a number of city blocks in the early years of his residence here. His labors largely promoted the early growth and substantial development of Burlington. The marriage of General Guest and Louise M. David was celebrated June 6, 1876, and they have one son, Lyman, who is with his father in the music business. They are members of the Episcopal church, of which General Guest has served as vestryman and warden. Their home, at No. 1020 North Fifth Street, is the center of a cultured society circle. Long residents of Burlington, they have a wide acquaintance and a host of warm friends.
The career of General Guest has been marked by consecutive progress in business and military life, and undoubtedly he could have won political honors had he so desired, but he felt the pursuits of private life as abundantly worthy of his best efforts, and these have been so discerningly directed in the fields of business activity as to win a gratifying measure of success, and gain a place as one of the leading representatives of commercial interests in his adopted city.