Transcribed by Pamela Wagler from: Biographical Review of Des Moines County, Iowa: Containing Biographical and Genealogical Sketches of Many of the Prominent Citizens of To-day and Also of the Past, Hobart Publishing Company, Chicago, 1905.


James kirk, who, during the course of a long and eventful life, has borne an important part in the pioneer life and development of two of the now wealthiest and greatest States of the American Union, was born April 18, 1818, in Harrison county, Ohio, the fourth son of James and Margaret (Ferguson) Kirk. His father, who was a member of a Scotch family, settled in Ireland, emigrated from that country to America, locating in Washington county, Pennsylvania, where he was married and whence he removed to Ohio, becoming the first settler of Harrison county. Here he cleared and cultivated a farm of one hundred acres, making that his residence for a long term of years, but finally bought and removed to a farm near Princeton, Ind., where he spent the remainder of his life, and where both he and his wife died, much honored and respected. They were the parents of eleven children, named as follows in order of birth: Samuel, George, Henry, James, Thomas, John, Joseph, Eleanor, Jane, Polly, and Ann. Of this family the only surviving member at the present time is James, the subject of this review.

Mr. Kirk received his formal education in the schools of his native State, attending subscription schools held in a log cabin, in which the window panes were of greased paper, the floors of puncheon, and the pupils’ seats were plain slabs without backs. Among these primitive conditions he was able to acquire a very fair knowledge of the elementary branches of learning, which he has since largely supplemented by intelligent reading and reflection. Attending school for only a small part of the year, the major portion of his time as a youth and young man was devoted to the work of his father’s farm, of which he thus gained a perfect knowledge by hard practical experience, and laid the firm foundation of his future success. The larger share of his active life has passed as a farmer in Jasper county, Iowa, whither he went in the fall of the year 1865, to become one of the county’s early pioneers and to take up the burden of advancing civilization in that then undeveloped county, now one of the richest agricultural sections of the State of Iowa. For thirty years he was closely identified with its upbuilding and progress, as it was not until 1895 that he sold his fine farm there and removed to Burlington, where he has since continuously resided, enjoying a well-earned rest from the arduous toil of earlier years.

On July 11, 1843, Mr. Kirk was united in marriage to Miss Eleanor Marchbank, who was born Feb. 16, 1817, in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, the daughter of William and Nancy (Frazier) Marchbank. To Mr. and Mrs. Kirk have been born ten children: Nancy Maria, the eldest, died at the age of eight years; Margaret Jane is the widow of George P. Alford, a sketch of whose career appears elsewhere in this volume. Hannah E. died at the age of sixteen months. The remaining children are in order as follows: Rebecca Elizabeth, Mary Lavina, Joseph Alexander, James Alfred, Milton Hanna, William McCready, and Florence Ellen. William M. is now deceased, the date of his demise being Sept. 25, 1904. Until his untimely passing there had been no death in the family for fifty-three years, and the sorrow of the bereavement was such as few can understand who have not suffered a similar loss. Florence Ellen is a resident of Hastings, Nebr., where she has been a teacher in the public schools for seventeen years.

Public questions have always been a matter of deep and abiding interest for Mr. Kirk. He was originally a Whig in his political leanings, voting as such for General William Henry Harrison for president of the United States. Upon the formation of the Republican party he joined its ranks, and throughout its entire history has been a loyal supporter of its leaders and principles, having voted for sixteen Republican candidates for the presidency.

As one who has at heart the welfare of his fellow-men, he has given constant encouragement to the work of the church, and for many years was a member of the Presbyterian church at Newton, Iowa, of which he was at one time a trustee. He is a man who has achieved an undeniable success in a material way, but while he has by industry, thrift, care, and the exercise of sound business judgment acquired a goodly share of this world’s goods, he has never neglected the higher interests of life, giving willingly of his substance to advance the cause of religion and morality, and by his personal influence doing much to uphold and advance the standing of many worthy movements for the uplifting of the human race. The soul of integrity, honor, and loyalty, he had drawn around him a circle of faithful friends who admire and cherish him for the sterling virtues of his character.

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