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Fayette County, Iowa  

 Biography Directory


portrait & Biographical Album of Fayette County Iowa

Containing Full page portraits and Biographical Sketches of

prominent and Representative Citizens of the County

Lake City publishing Co., Chicago

March 1891



~Page 197~

Phineas F. Sturgis

Hon. Phineas F. Sturgis, of West Union, banker, farmer and stock-dealer and late a merchant of this city, is a native of Pennsylvania, born in Fayette County in December, 1830. His parents were Enos and Diana (Jones) Sturgis, both of whom were born in the same county as their son, the father in March, 1803, and the mother in 1806. Her death occurred in 1883 but Mr. Sturgis is still living at the old home at the advanced age of eighty-seven years. The grandfather of our subject was also named Phineas and was born in Pennsylvania, in the year 1777. He was a son of John Sturgis who was born near Philadelphia, about 1750, served as a soldier in the War of the Revolution and fought at Brandywine, Monmouth and Germantown and was encamped with Washington's army at Valley Forge during the dreary winter of 1777. The Sturgis family was founded in America by brothers of that name who emigrated from England, their native country, about the year 1700 and settled in Massachusetts, Canada and one in New Jersey, whence he removed to Pennsylvania.


The subject of our sketch is descended from the last branch of the family. He received his education in the public school of his native State and attended the Jefferson College of Cannonsburg, pa., but did not complete the course of study in that institution. After leaving college he engaged as clerk in a dry-goods store of Uniontown, pa., and in 1851, nearly forty years ago, came to the then frontier State of Iowa, locating in West Union which at that time contained about seventy-five inhabitants, the county of Fayette having been organized only the previous year (1850). Mr. Sturgis first secured employment as a clerk in the dry-goods store of Woodle & Brunson, but the next year formed a business partnership with Daniel Cook in general merchandising which continued until the death of the latter in 1854. Three years later Mr. Sturgis removed to Clear Lake, Cerro Gordo County, where he opened two general merchandise stores, one at the town of his residence and the other at Mason City which he operated three years. At the breaking out of the war in 1861 he closed his business in that county and returned to West Union, where he soon after re-embarked in the general mercantile business which he continued until 1872 when he sold and purchased a farm near the city. In 1878 he purchased lands in the State of Kansas, one tract of which with his usual sagacity, he purchased near the thriving city of Beloit and in 1885 laid out eighty acres of that land into Sturgis' Addition to the city of Beloit, from the sales of a part of which property he has realized handsome profits. He also owns and operates a farm adjacent to that city.


On the 31st of January, 1856, Mr. Sturgis and Miss Rachel Irwin, of West Union were married. She was the only daughter of John and Catherine Irwin, deceased, and was born in Union County, pa. They have two sons living and have lost one son and one daughter, both having died at the age of nine months. The elder son, Henry Clay, married Miss Dora Scoville, of Fayette County, and is engaged in banking in Oelwein, Iowa, where they make their home. Lew I. was for many years employed by the United States Government in the pension department at Washington. He married Miss Ella Rogers of that city and at the present time is engaged in the cattle business. He resides with his father at the old home at West Union.


Mr. Sturgis has always been a man of enterprise, has no hobbies, is thoroughly practical in his methods in politics as well as business, has done his full share in improving and building up the town and has added to it many structures some of which were costly and remain as ornaments to the city. A few years ago, in company with his son, Henry Clay, he founded the Citizens' Bank of Oelwein, the business of which institution has been carefully and successfully conducted by the son as cashier and resident partner. In politics Mr. Sturgis was in early life a Clay Whig, but after the breaking up of that party by the passage of what is known as the Kansas and Nebraska Bill, repealing the slavery restriction compromise of 1820, he assisted in organizing the Republican party of Iowa, was active and influential in both local and State politics for many years, acquiring a State-wide reputation as an unselfish, reliable, discreet, sagacious and effective politician and enjoying in a marked degree the confidence of public men. Mr. Sturgis has always had an aversion to holding official positions himself, his ambition not being in that direction, and for this reason he was dubbed by his friends with the sobriquet of 'the Thurlow Weed of Iowa.' Without solicitation on his part, however, he was nominated and elected on the Republican ticket in 1863 a member of the Tenth General Assembly of Iowa, and at the commencement of the session was placed on the Committees of Ways and Means, Internal Improvement, Judicial Districts and Organization of the Counties, besides serving on several important special and select committees raised by the House during the session. At the close of his term he declined to become a candidate for re-election. Again in 1876 he was chosen by the State Legislature and commissioned by Gov. Kirkwood, a Trustee for the College for the Blind at Vinton, Iowa, which position he filled for four years with credit to himself and friends and with honor to the institution. At the end of his term he declined a re-appointment. The Republican State Convention in 1880 again honored Mr. Sturgis by choosing him a delegate to the Republican National Convention at Chicago, in June of that year, where he was witness of, and participated in that memorable six days' struggle of the intellectual Republican giants of the Nation, resulting, as all remember, in a drawn battle and compromise candidate for nominee for president in the person of Gen. Garfield. Mr. Sturgis zealously supported Mr. Blaine for president until the thirty-sixth and last ballot when his delegation in a body voted for Garfield. Shortly after he withdrew from active politics but is still, as ever, a close observer of public events as well as a careful student of the annals of the race.


Mr. Sturgis is a man of positive convictions, has firmness of character with strong will power, possesses great courage, is fond of books, has always been a general reader, has a retentive memory, is deeply versed in biography, in ancient and modern history, in fact is considered authority on most biographical and historic subjects. Of all the books which he has read those of which he is most fond are Gibbon's Rome, Plutarch's Lives and Shakespeare. He is of the opinion, however, that Lord Bacon produced most the plays contained in Shakespeare's works. His private library is among the largest and best selected in this section of the State. The religious views of Mr. Sturgis not being very fully expressed lead us to believe him as rather favoring the advanced opinions of such men as Thomas and Swing. He has been a member of the Masonic fraternity for more than thirty years, and Mrs. Sturgis is a consistent member of the Baptist Church.



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