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Fayette County, Iowa  

 History Directory

Past and Present of Fayette County Iowa, 1910

Author: G. Blessin


B. F. Bowen & Company, Indianapolis, Indiana


Vol. I, Biographical Sketches



~Page 566~


Honorable William Larrabee

Photo in source book

The career of ex-Governor William Larrabee is too familiar to the people of Iowa, and especially of Fayette county, to need any encomium on the part of the biographer, a mere statement of facts being deemed sufficient to show that he, as the representative of a sterling old family, has endeavored to perform his duty at all times as he saw and understood the right, without courting the plaudits of his fellow men. His genealogy is traced to the French Huguenots who came to America early in the seventeenth century.

Adam Larrabee, the father of William, was born March 14, 1787, and was one of the early graduates of West Point Military Academy, and during the war of 1812 (March 1, 1811) he was commissioned a second lieutenant, promoted to Captain of his company February 21, 1814, and on March 30th following, at the battle of Lacole Mills, during General Wilkinson's campaign on the St. Lawrence river, he was severely wounded in the lung, but finally recovered. He married Hannah G. LESTER, who was born June 8, 1798, and died March 15, 1837. Captain Larrabee reached the age of eighty-two years, dying in 1869.

William Larrabee, of this review, was born at Ledyard, Connecticut, January 20, 1832, being the seventh child in a family of nine children. His boyhood days were spent upon a farm and he early became familiar with hard work in the fields, attending the neighboring schools during the brief winter months until he reached the age of sixteen years. He made the best use of his limited advantages and taught school during the winter months of the next two years. He was not to be discouraged by obstacles, one of which was the loss of his right eye when fourteen years of age by the accidental discharge of a gun. The homestead was only two miles from the seashore, and in those days it was the custom for boys in New England to follow the sea. William's three oldest brothers had chosen this occupation, while the fourth remained upon the home farm. Believing that better opportunities awaited him in the Western states than in his home country, young William, in 1853, made the long journey to Iowa, locating Garnavillo, Clayton county, where his older sister, Mrs. E. H. Williams, had previously located. He taught one term of school at Hardin, and during the three following years he was employed as foreman of the Grand Meadow farm of his brother-in-law, Judge Williams. In 1857 he purchased a one-third interest in the Clermont Mill, at Clermont, Fayette county, becoming sole owner of the same within three years. He operated this mill until 1874, when he sold to S. M. LEACH. When the Civil war began he offered his services, but was rejected on account of the loss of his eye. Being informed that he might be admitted as a commissioned officer, he raised a company and was elected as first lieutenant, but was rejected for the same disability.

After selling his mill Mr. Larrabee again turned his attention to agriculture, and also started a private bank at Clermont. He started a nursery on his farm and carried it on for several years.

Mr. Larrabee was always more or less interested in political matters, but his active political career did not begin until 1867. He was reared a Whig and when the Republican party was organized he at once identified himself with the same and has never changed his views, remaining loyal to its principles. The only public office he had filled prior to the date mentioned above was that of secretary of the school board. In the fall of 1867 he was elected to represent Fayette county in the state Senate, and being re-elected to the same office from time to time, he served continuously for a period of eighteen years,  having been always nominated by acclamation, and for several years the Democrats made no nominations to oppose him. During his long service in the senate, Governor Larrabee was a member of the ways and means committee, and it is said that he never missed a committee meeting, and many of the important measures passed by the Legislature owe their existence or present form to him. He won the reputation of being a persistent worker for what he believed to be the best interest of his constituents.

In 1881 Mr. Larrabee was a candidate for governor, but Governor Sherman's forces having already been well organized, he was too late in entering the contest. But he received the nomination in 1885 and was subsequently elected the state's chief executive, having been inaugurated January 14, 1886, and re-elected in 1887,  and his record as the twelfth governor of this great commonwealth was such as to win the commendation of all classes, being always alert for the best interests of the state. After he was governor he published a valuable work dealing with the history of transportation, and entitled, "The Railroad Question." issued in 1893. In 1898 he was made chairman of the board of control in charge of public charities and penal institutions for Iowa, which position he resigned in 1900. He was president of the Iowa commission to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition at St Louis in 1904.

Governor Larrabee's domestic life dates from September 12, 1861, when he married, at Clermont, Ann M. Appelman, daughter of Capt. G. A. Appleman, long a well known citizen of this county. Seven children have been born to the Governor and his wife, Charles, Augusta, Julia, Anna, William, Frederic and Helen."

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