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Fayette County, Iowa
Past and Present of Fayette County Iowa, 1910
Author: G. Blessin
B. F. Bowen & Company, Indianapolis, Indiana
Vol. I, Biographical Sketches
Success is only achieved by the exercise of certain distinguishing qualities and those by whom great epoch changes have been made in the industrial world began early in life to prepare themselves for their peculiar duties and responsibilities, and it was only by the most persevering and continuous endeavor that they succeeded in rising superior to the obstacles in their way and reaching the goal of their ambition. Such lives are an inspiration to others who are less courageous and more prone to give up the fight when obstacles thwart their pathway, or their ideals have been reached or definite success has been attained in any chosen field. In the life history of the honorable gentle man whose name forms the caption of this biographical record are found evidence of a peculiar characteristic that always makes for achievement--persistency, coupled with fortitude and lofty traits, and as a result of such a life, Mr. Owens has long stood as one of the representative citizens of Fayette county, one of her best known, most influential and highly respected men.
Like many of the substantial citizens and captains of industry in this country, John Owens hails from the fair Emerald Isle, having been born in Dromore, county Down, Ireland, on December 17, 1837. His parents, Philip and Eleanor (Armstrong) Owens, were people of much sterling worth and highly respected in that country. Their son John received a very serviceable education in the schools of his home land, and when yet a small boy decided to devote his life work to the mercantile profession, consequently he began clerking in a store in his native community and learned much of the "ins and outs" of the business before coming to this country.
In the year 1856 Philip Owens brought his family to America, his wife having died when John was a boy. The voyages across the great Atlantic in those days were tedious and oft times hazardous, but the family finally made their way to Fulton City, Illinois, remaining there two years, thence came to Fayette county, Iowa, and John engaged in farming near West Union, purchasing a farm two years later in Chickasaw county, in company with two of his elder brother, and there they engaged in general farming until December 23, 1863, when John Owens decided that the life of the husband man was not so much to his fancy as that of the merchant, so he came to West Union and launched in the mercantile business. By the exercise of his rare innate ability in this line his business grew by leaps and bounds until he became the leading merchant of the county in due course of time and one of the most substantial men of this locality. For many years he was associated in business with A. D. Davis, under the firm name of Owens & Davis, which firm was dissolved in 1875, after which Mr. Owens continued alone, owning his own substantial and attractive business block, which was a convenient brick structure well adapted to his business, fifty by eighty feet, two stories and a basement, Mr. Owens occupying nearly the entire building with a complete and carefully selected line of dry goods, clothing, carpets and notions, employing six clerks continuously and often in rush seasons many more, doing an annual business of fifty thousand dollars. He was also extensively engaged in various other enterprises and for many years gave employment to more men than any other employer in West Union, or perhaps Fayette county. Soon after locating in West Union he began dealing in livestock, forming a partnership with John R. Cook in 1873; besides livestock, they handled farming machinery and they continued to do a thriving business for many years, their annual sales in livestock amounting to about six hundred thousand dollars. Mr. Owens also engaged extensively for a number of years in furnishing timber and ties to railroad companies, his annual sales sometimes running as high as twenty thousand dollars. During those years he engaged extensively in agricultural pursuits, owning one farm of three hundred and fifty acres, about two and one-half miles southeast of West Union, and three other smaller one in Fayette county, all aggregating five hundred and eighty acres. Mr. Owens was also one of the incorporators of the Fayette County Savings Bank, of West Union, and for some time was a member of its board of directors. He continued actively in business until 1904, when he exchanged his stock of goods for three hundred and twenty acres of rich farm land in Eden and Auburn townships, this county, known as the Slocum farm, which he still owns and operates through tenants, while he still resides in West Union in a comfortable and cozy home. Mr. Owens has paid all his debts dollar for dollar, this being one of his business principles, and thus honorably closed his long and interesting business career, still owning his excellent farm. Considering the fact that he is a self-made man, starting in life with but little and receiving scarcely any assistance, he forged ahead in the face of all adversity and finally became one of the foremost business men of this part of the state. It is clear that he is the possessor of superior business acumen, is able to see with remarkable accuracy the outcome of present transactions, makes few mistakes in his calculation, has an analytical mind and is a man of fortitude, energy, persistency--in fact, has the qualities that win in the battle of life in whatever field he might choose to operate. Honesty and straightforward dealing have marked his relations with his fellow men throughout his career, thus inspiring their confidence and esteem.
The domestic life of Mr. Owens began at Elkader, Iowa, on July 31, 1864, when he married Mary Rouen, who was born in county Mayo, Ireland, May 27, 1842, and who came to America with her parents when three years of age. She was a devout member of the Catholic church, in which faith she passed to the unknown on June 18, 1889. Of the eight children born to this union only two survive, Charles E., of Waterloo, Iowa, and John A., of Austin, Minnesota; those deceased are, John Francis, who died July 19, 1869, aged one year and three months; Minnie Ellen died June 16, 1870, aged five years, one month and eighteen days; Margaretta Anna died three days later than her sister Minnie Ellen, both of diphtheria; the age of the latter was one year, two months and eight days; Frances Terressa died October 2, 1878, aged five years, two months and fourteen days; Emilena Loretta died October 12, 1878, aged two years and seven months; William Augustine died January 9, 1893, aged ten years, six months and four days.
The second marriage of Mr. Owens was to Sarah A. Cavenaugh, whom he espoused on June 26, 1893; she is the daughter of Edward and Mary Cavenaugh, of Fayette, where she was born; both parents are deceased, the mother having died in 1890 and the father in 1897. Mr[s]. Owens was educated in the public schools and at the Upper Iowa University, and she taught school in the town of her nativity for ten years, after which she was employed in the public schools of West Union; she is a woman of rare qualifications, culture, refinement and is popular with a wide circle of friends.
Four children, named as follows, were born to Mr. Owens' second marriage: Robert E., born September 20, 1895; Genevieve Eleanor, born December 30, 1897; Mildred Sarah, born October 26, 1899; Gertrude Cecelia, born October 24, 1901."
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