The important part which Chris Mathes has taken in advancing the material up building and commercial progress of Burlington has made him one of the real upbuilders of the city, and his labors, both for the development of his private business interests and for the county's welfare, have been of such a character as to entitle him to distinction and honor. Few men have been so uniformly respected, and his closest friends are found among the leading business men and citizens of prominence in Burlington.
Mr. Mathes was born Aug. 31, 1833, in Ludwigsharfen, on Bodensee, in Baden, Germany. His father, S. Mathes, was a prominent business man of that town, interested in a pottery. He was also a successful teacher, and filled the position of postmaster. He became actively involved in the revolution of 1848, speaking and writing in behalf of the cause of freedom as opposed to the practices of monarchical rule, and was recognized as a leader in the movement to secure greater liberties for the people. He came to America in 1849, but returned to Germany in 1850, and his death occurred there in 1863. His wife bore the maiden name of Julia Wiedenhorn, and her death occurred in 1864. In their family were four sons and four daughters. Those now living in America are Otto Mathes, a resident of Burlington: and Mrs. Fackler, of Cincinnati, Ohio. (Otto died May 10, 1905)
Chris Mathes, the youngest son of the family, attended the public schools, and also continued his studies under private instruction. His father was serving as post-master of Ludwigsharfen at the time of the revolution, and his son Chris was appointed postmaster at Engen March 1, 1849, and although only fifteen and a half years of age at the time, he successfully conducted the office till June l, 1852, when he resigned to come to America. He successfully passed an examination which won him the place, and took charge of the office in a town of two thousand inhabitants, and also had charge of the mails for thirty-three villages, covering five rural mail routes. He discharged his duties in a most commendable manner from March, 1849, until June 1, 1852, when he came to the United States in order to avoid military service in the Fatherland. He came to this country with a brother and sister, taking passage on the sailing vessel, "Corinthian," bearing three masts. They were thirty-seven days in making the voyage from Havre, France, to New Orleans. Mr. Mathes brought with him a letter of recommendation to the German consul at New Orleans. He had intended remaining there, but on account of the yellow fever the consul advised him to go North, and he made his way up the river to St. Louis. He found that fever and ague there prevailed, and being unable to obtain employment he went to Alton, Ill. The Chicago & Alton Railroad was then being built. He worked in a general store there from Dec. 1, 1852, until March, 1853, for four dollars per month, after which he went to Cincinnati, Ohio; but again he was unsuccessful in his search for work, and he joined a brother in Buffalo, N. Y., where for a year he was employed in a grocery store. He was able to read and write the English language when he arrived in this country. Some of his relatives located in Cincinnati in 1854, and he joined them there, finding employment in a retail store and manufacturing drug house. He afterward traveled for a year in the West, Southwest, and North for a company engaged in the manufacture of pocketbooks and bank cases, carrying many samples, and he found that an enjoyable occupation, for he traveled largely by water — on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.
Mr. Mathes arrived in Burlington Oct. 12, 1857, and bought out a candle, lard, and oil factory, the firm of Hecker & Mathes succeeding that of Miller & Hageman. The business was thus continued for four years, when Mr. Mathes purchased his partner's interest, becoming owner at the time that President Lincoln was inaugurated, March 4, 1861. He continued business alone until 1880, being engaged in the manufacture of soap, lard, oil, and candles, at the corner of Osborn and Agency Streets, where now stands the hide house. In March, 1867, he suffered through fire and the reduction in market prices a loss of sixteen thousand dollars. The steaming factory and rendering establishment were completely destroyed, but with determined purpose he set about to retrieve his losses, and continued in business until 1900, although he discontinued his manufacturing interests in 1880. He did not close out his tallow and hide business, however, until 1900.
Many other business enterprises have felt the stimulus of the efforts and keen discernment of Mr. Mathes. In 1888 he turned his attention to the paving-brick business, being active in the organization of the Granite Brick Company, of which he was secretary, treasurer, and manager until 1902. In this enterprise he was associated with Charles Starker, E. Hageman, Carl Nies, C. Heil, W. W. Baldwin, and the company was incorporated for twenty-five thousand dollars. They manufactured paving brick exclusively, and Mr. Mathes sold his interest to the new company in 1902. In 1876 he became a partner of C. G. Ward, constituting the Silver-Spring Mineral Water Company. Mr. Mathes acting as bookkeeper and also as secretary and treasurer, In 1880 he purchased his partner's interest and reorganized the business under the name of C. Mathes & Brother. Five years later he bought his brother's interest and took his son, H. A. Mathes, into the business under the firm style of Mathes & Son. Since 1900 it has been carried on under the name of H. A. Mathes. For some years Mr. Mathes was also a director of the Iowa State Savings Bank. He has thus been the promoter of many leading enterprises which have contributed to the business development of the city.
In 1866 Mr. Mathes was one of the organizers of the German-American School Association, became a director, and was president for a number of years. This company conducted a school in Burlington, owning property at the corner of Seventh and Washington Streets, but when the public-school system of the city was improved, discontinued its school.
In 1868 Mr. Mathes was elected a member of the county board of supervisors for one term, doing much for public progress through the exercise of his official prerogatives. His incumbency in that position covered fifteen years, and from January, 1891, until January, 1905, he served as chairman of the county board, his course being eminently satisfactory to the entire county. He won high encomiums from Democrats and Republicans alike, for he never allowed partisan prejudice to interfere with the faithful performance of his duties. In 1892, under his regime, new county insane asylum and infirmary buildings were erected, at a cost of about fifteen thousand dollars, but these were destroyed by fire on the 15th of July, 1901. With the exception of one shed all of the buildings were burned, twelve in number, including the barns as well as the house. In 1902 new buildings were erected, including the county asylum, infirmary, barns, and other out-buildings — a blacksmith shop, engine house, and others, — making in all twelve buildings. These buildings for the inmates are of stone and brick, lessening the liability of fire, and the cost of construction was seventy thousand dollars. The barns and ice-house are frame structures. Mr. Mathes was chairman of the board of supervisors at the time when all these improvements were made. During his incumbency over a hundred steel bridges were erected, together with a large number of stone culverts and arches. It was his plan to make improvements of a lasting and permanent character, and he thus did much for the county along the line of substantial improvement. In 1882 he served as alderman at large of Burlington. Mr. Mathes gave his political support to the Republican party until 1883, when the prohibition law went into effect and demoralized all the industries that he had fostered. He then joined the ranks of the Democracy, and has since been one of its advocates. He was nominated and elected to a position on the board of supervisors without his solicitation, and was re-elected again and again when other candidates on his ticket were defeated — a fact which indicated his personal popularity and showed the confidence reposed in him by his fellow townsmen. Again he was a candidate in 1904, but in that year, in the great Republican landslide, he was defeated, which has been a matter of uniform regret, expressed by Republicans as well as Democrats, for no county supervisor has done as much for the county as did Mr. Mathes, whose first interest seemed always the welfare of the general public, and whose efforts were of a most practical and far-reaching character. He assisted in organizing, in 1897, the State Association of County Supervisors at Des Moines, and was its first president. In 1893 he organized the Board of Supervisors' Association of the First Congressional District, was its president the second year and again in 1903. He is now the oldest member of the board of supervisors of the State.
Mr. Mathes became a charter member of the Commercial Club upon its formation in 1888, and has since been identified therewith. He became one of the seventy-five charter members of the Crystal Lake Club, is now serving as one of its directors, and was vice-president for many years.
In Burlington, in 1859, Mr. Mathes was married to Miss Rosa Seibel, who was born in Germany and came to this city in 1857, her parents having previously died. They have two children: Herman A., the elder, is agent for the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company at Burlington, and has his own bottling works. He married Miss Petty Heil, and they have a son, William A., who is with the Bicklen-Winzer Wholesale Grocery Company. The daughter, Ottillie J., at home, was for several years chairman of the program committee of the Woman's Musical Club, of this city, which indicates her position in musical circles here. The family home is at 726 North Fourth Street, and was erected in 1871. Mr. Mathes is recognized as a man of unfaltering honor and integrity, who has a wide acquaintance in this city and throughout the State, and his friends are among the leading representatives of business and social circles in Des Moines county.
Hon. Chris Mathes Presented a Beautiful Loving Cup. A Token of the Appreciation of Long and Faithful Service. Judge Power Made Presentation.
One of the happiest incidents that has ever taken place within the grim walls of the county building occurred at eleven o'clock yesterday morning. The board of supervisors was busy at work, completing its labors and getting ready to make way for the new board, several of the new officials were patiently waiting to be sworn into office, the auditor was closing up his books, preparatory to handing them over to his successor, when Judge J. C. Power stepped into the office, followed by a delegation of perhaps fifteen or twenty, including a bunch of newspaper men and other good citizens. The judge begged to interrupt the proceedings of the board, and immediately addressed himself to the chairman and to the assemblage.
He said that all would agree with him that ours is the best country upon earth and that Iowa is the best State in the Union, and it is a matter easily demonstrated that Des Moines is the best county in the State. This, of course, she owes to the men who have made her what she is; and in no small degree to the men who have managed her public affairs. She has been singularly fortunate in selecting good, competent, and faithful men to manage her public affairs. It is always a credit to a man to fill an office in a manner that is for the best interests of his community, but it is more especially to be noted when a man virtually neglects his own affairs, in order to minister the public business, and when he does this in a manner that no reasonable man can find fault with.
Thus while we have had very many faithful officials, the services that the present chairman of the board of supervisors has rendered are simply unequalled. Judge Power spoke of the fact that although enormous sums of public money had passed through Mr. Mathes's hands, no one had ever accused him of having an itching palm, not the slightest suspicion ever having attached to his management of the finances of the county; he spoke of the great services that Mr. Mathes had rendered the county in actively furthering the cause of good roads, and of the changes worked in the county buildings, of the fine institution, which is a credit, not only to the county, but to the State. He referred to the fact that the man who looked after the business and the finances of the county with unceasing vigilance never forgot the poor and the unfortunate, and gave of his own and of his valuable time without stint to make the wards of the county happy. But valuable and varied as the services had been, which Mr. Mathes has rendered his county and his fellow-citizens, perhaps the greatest service that he has rendered has been to the generation who will be the voters and the office holders of tomorrow. He has shown them the worth of good, true, loyal, efficient, faithful service, and the appreciation shown him will not be lost upon them. “And now it becomes my most pleasant duty, Mr. Mathes, in the name of your many friends to ask you to accept this token of their appreciation of your faithful and untiring service; and when you have enjoyed a period of well-earned rest, perhaps to again take up the burdens and to assume the duties which you have discharged with such pains-taking care and such marked success."
The surprise was complete, Mr. Mathes had not the remotest idea what was desired of him, when the judge asked permission to break in upon the regular proceedings. He soon gathered himself together, however, and replied in a few words, coming from the heart. He accepted the gift in the spirit in which it was tendered, and deeply touched by the words of commendation from a political opponent, he was actually beginning to grow proud of his record. The judge replied that the sentiments were not his alone, although he shared them fully and completely, but virtually those of the community, and after a hearty hand-shake the ceremony was over, and the board resumed its deliberations.
The pretty keepsake consists of a three-handled solid silver loving cup, on a solid silver tray, and a large spoon. On the cup is engraved the following:
TO HON CHRIS MATHES.
In token of your long and faithful service,
to Des Moines County.
January 2, 1905.
The platter is inscribed with the names of the following citizens, who had chosen this method of showing their appreciation of the valuable and unselfish services rendered the community by the Hon. Chris Mathes.
Thos. Hedge. W. W. Baldwin, Lyman Edwards, J. L. Waite, Geo. S. Tracy, Carl Lohmann, H. C. Mohland, C. E. Perkins, Wm. Carson, W. P. Foster, Max E. Poppe, Strause Bros., A. C. Zaiser, C. C. Paule, E. Hagemann, Chas. Armknecht, G. H. Higbee, John C. Power, Alex Moir, F. O. Grandstaff, L. C. Gieseker, J. W. Blythe, Geo. C. Boesch. H. S. Rand, Theo. W. Kriechbaum, J. T. Remey, H. A. Leipziger, Thos. Stivers.