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Harlan, Edgar Rubey.
A Narrative History of the People of Iowa.
 Vol III. Chicago: American Historical Society,  1931

p. 86

     JEFFERSON SCOTT POLK. Time gives a perspective which often serves to heighten the fame of an individual when at closer range public judgment does not give definite and accurate accounts of work accomplished and its far-reaching results. Jefferson Scott Polk is one whose names shines with brighter luster on the pages of Iowa's history as the years go by, and it is seen how far-reaching was his opinion and how sound his sagacity in relation to the duties of the state and its upbuilding. His work was of a character that contributed in full measure to the development of Iowa along lines which have worked to its greatest good, and, moreover, there were in him substantial qualities of manhood and friendship which endeared him to all with whom he came in contact. The humblest found him approachable and the greatest recognized in him a peer. Such were the characteristics of a man to whom Iowa owes a debt of gratitude for his efforts in her behalf.
     There was back in him a long line of Irish ancestry, traced down from Baron Sir Robert Pollock, of Ireland, son of Sir Robert Pollock, of Scotland. The second son of Baron Sir Robert Pollock, of Ireland, served as an officer in Colonel Porter's regiment under Cromwell and when he established the family in America, in 1672, he changed the spelling of the surname. On the voyage to the new world he was accompanied by his wife, Mrs. Magdalene Pollock, a daughter of Colonel Tasker, proprietor of Broomfield, Castle and Moneen Hall, estates on River Foyle, near Londonderry. Further history of the ancestry of Mr. Polk has been written by a contemporary biographer as follows: "Colonel Tasker was a chancellor of Ireland and had two daughters, Barbara and Magdalene. The former married Captain Keys and they went with the army to India, where he accumulated a large fortune. Later they returned to Ireland, and their descendants still own Broomfield and a part of Moneen. The younger daughter, Magdalene, became the wife of Colonel Porter, who died soon afterward, and later she married Colonel Porter's friend, an officer in his regiment, Captain Robert Bruce Polk, with whom, as stated, she came to Maryland in 1672. There she died in 1727, leaving Moneen, bequeathed to her by her father, to her youngest son, Joseph Polk, whose daughter, Ann Polk, was married in 1754, in Sussex County, Delaware, to Daniel Morris, Jr., and became the mother of Rhoda Ann Polk, the wife of Ephraim Polk III, so that in two distinct lines the ancestry is traced back to Captain Baron Robert Bruce and Magdalene (Tasker-Porter) Polk. Their son, Ephraim Polk, of Somerset County, Maryland, and his wife, Elizabeth Williams, were the great-great-grandparents of Jefferson Scott Polk. His great-grandparents were Ephraim Polk II and Rhoda Ann Morris, also of Sussex County. His parents were Jehosephat and Sallie (Moore) Polk. The family were strong adherents of the Scotch Coventanters and strict Presbyterians.
     "Ephraim Polk III moved with his family from Sussex County, Delaware, to Scott County, Kentucky, in November, 1783, after marrying Rhoda Morris, who was a relative of Robert Morris, the Philadelphia financier and patriot who saved Washington's army from starvation at Valley Forge during the hard winter of 1777, and by his business genius financed the Revolution. In the ranks of that barefooted, suffering host at Valley Forge was Ephraim Polk, who in the preceding September had taken a number of horses from Delaware to the army and after their delivery joined Colonel Williams Wills' Philadelphia regiment, later the Third Continentals of Pennsylvania. He served until the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.
     "Because of Indian warfare and the continued persecutions of the savages Kentucky was still known as the Dark and Bloody Ground when Ephriam Polk settled in Scott County. In 1814, while preparing to join Jackson at New Orleans, he died. He had a family of eleven children, nine of whom reached adult age, married and reared families.
     "The fourth child was Jehosephat Polk, who was born in 1800 and became one of the most prominent men and successful farmers of his state. He was a man of wonderful industry and business activity and was extensively engaged in raising hemp, on which he won premiums at the World's Fair in New York. Losing his fortune by paying security debts for kinsmen, he afterward became manager of R. A. Alexander's great Woodburn stock farms, in which service he died. He was for many years an elder in the Presbyterian Church. He married Sallie Moore, and Jefferson S. Polk was the fourth of their family of six children. The eldest son, Marcellus M. Polk, was a leading attorney at the Kentucky bar, while another son, James E. Polk, was for years a prominent wholesale merchant of Cincinnati."
     Jefferson Scott Polk, whose name introduces this review, was born in Scott County, Kentucky, February 18, 1831. He attended the public schools and was graduated from the college at Georgetown, Kentucky. His early preparation for the bar was made under the direction of R.L. Cable, of Georgetown, who was afterward head of the Rock Island Railroad Company at Chicago. Mr. Polk continued his studies in Transylvania University at Lexington and following his graduation was admitted to the bar, in March, 1854, and entered upon the active work of the law in partnership with his brother Marcellus at Georgetown. The same year - on the 25th of January - Mr. Polk had been married in Georgetown to Miss Julia Ann Herndon, daughter of John Herndon, a prosperous planter of Scott County Kentucky, and a representative of one of the old Virginia families. Following the removal to Kentucky the Herndons took active part in the civil and military affairs of Scott County and participated in the contest with the Indians during Wayne's campaign in the War of 1812.
     Attracted by the growing opportunities of the West, Jefferson S. Polk removed to Des Moines, Iowa, which at that time contained a population of about one thousand. He at once opened an office and for a year engaged in law practice and in the real-estate business, improving his opportunity for judicious investments in property, which, increasing in value, became the source of considerable wealth in later years. he had been a resident of Des Moines for three months ere his first client came to him and then his fee was but fifty cents. After a year he was admitted to partnership with the firm of Crocker, Casady & Polk, and for an extended period the firm occupied a conspicuous place at the bar of Central Iowa, being connected wit hmost of the important litigation of that period. When General Crocker joined the Union forces, in 1861, the firm style of Casady & Polk was assumed, and when, twelve or fifteen years later, P.M. Casady withdrew from the practice of law Mr. Polk was joined by F. M. Hubbell. Concerning his early professional career, one of the local papers said at the time of his death:
     "As a young attorney Mr. Polk soon made his mark. He was quiet, gentlemanly, and studious, and at the same time watchful of his clients' interests and ready for legal fights of any kind. he was of tall, straight figure- a giant in stature- of abundant health and of tireless vigor, physically as well as mentally adapted to the work of hewing and shaping great business enterprises. He had a strong will and tenacity of purpose and was accustomed to follow boldly the course his own judgment pointed out. He became one of the greatest lawyers of the state and had no superior among the members of the Iowa bar of that day. His great force as a pleader in court, the clarity of strength of his illustrations, were demonstrated in a dramatic way only a few months ago when he appeared in court himself in defense of his company."
     For a quarter of a century the law firm of Polk & Hubbell practiced successfully at the Polk County bar, and occupied a place of leadership, but opportunities in other directions also attracted them and their efforts became a potent force in the development, upbuilding, and improvement of the city. They became owners of the Des Moines water works, and other business interests gradually precluded the possibility of law practice. In this connection a contemporary biographer has written:
    "The history of his undertakings in business lines is practically the history of the industrial development of Des Moines. In 1867 he was associated with Mr. Hubbell and other companies in organizing the Equitable Life Insurance Company, which for over forty years has held the confidence and the faith of the public and is one of the strongest financial institutions of the state. It was the pioneer in the field of life insurance in Iowa, and as secretary of the company for fourteen years Mr. Polk largely directed its affairs. Three years after the organization of the insurance company Mr. Polk with F. M. Hubbell and B.F. Allen, incorporated the Des Moines Water Works Company, with a capital of three hundred thousand dollars, and secured a city franchise in 1871. The plant was at once constructed, mains were laid to all parts of the town and the residences of Des Moines were supplied with water by the Holly system, and the city became the possessor of a water supply of unsurpassed purity. Mr. Polk was prominent in the management of the company's affairs until 1889, when he withdrew.
     "His name is perhaps most widely known in connection with the development of electric and steam railway properties. He was the promoter of the street railway system of Des Moines, which had its beginning in 1866. He practically financed the undertaking, although there were associated with him F. M. Hubbell, W. B. White, and M. P. Turner, the last named superintending the construction and the securing of the franchise. Under that franchise the present consolidated system of the city has operated. An ordinance was later passed permitting the company to equip its line with electric power. The first track was narrow gauge and extended on Court Street, then the principal business thoroughfare, from the courthouse to the foot of Capitol Hill. Two years later Messrs. Polk and Hubbell sold their interests to Doctor Turner, but twenty years later Mr. Polk again became prominently connected with the railway interests of Des Moines. In 1888 he secured a charter for the Rapid Transit Company to operate their cars by steam, cable or the Patton system on all streets, but the work undertaken in this connection was unsuccessful. In the meantime, Mr. Polk built a line on Walnut Street, from the Chicago Great Western crossing to the fair grounds, a team locomotive furnishing the operative power for years. A more gigantic task, however, awaited Mr. Polk and was successfully accomplished by him. This was the consolidation of all the car lines under one management in 1889. From the time he embarked in the project until his death he devoted his splendid business talents to extending and improving the railway system to meet the constantly increasing demands of traffic. As the city grew the street railway kept pace with it. He substituted electricity for horse motive power and gave to Des Moines the second electric railway in the United States and the fastest railway service in the country, hesitating at no expense and carefully investigating every device invented for its improvement. At the time of the consolidation of the railway interests in this city there were ten lines, all having the right to charge a five-cent fare. He combined these under one system, instituted a plan of transferring whereby one might ride for twelve miles for a five-cent fare, introduced the vestibule cars that the motormen might be protected from the weather and at length secured a contract from the United States Government for carrying the mails on the Des Moines street railway lines. Since 1895 all the cars have been equipped with letter boxes into which mail can be placed at any street crossing and no matter what its speed, a car must be stopped to receive it. Within twenty-five or forty minutes from the time a letter is posted it has been carried into the central waiting room and thence to the postoffice. No other city in the country has similar service.
     "Mr. Polk's was a mind that dealt boldly with each problem and when the era of electric lines dawned he did not falter to secure the means with which to extend lines radiating from the city in every direction. He was instrumental in building the electric line from Des Moines to Colfax, twenty-three miles in length, and some other lines were projected and built to Granger, Boone and Ames and later between Des Moines and Fort Dodge, a distance of eighty miles. The construction of interurbans made necessary immense financial resources, but Mr. Polk met the contingency that arose as he had years before met and over come similar obstacles in enlarging and amplifying the street railways of the city. At the time of his death he had plans under way for the construction of interurban lines to Indianola, Winterset and Newton. ' The street railway of Des Moines,' said one of the papers, 'is the monument he left to commemorate the work he performed in the upbuilding of the city in which he made his home for fifty-two years. It will abide and endure as one of the giant enterprises of a man whom the citizens love an honor and to whom they owe very much for the splendid advancement of the city in the march of modern progress.' (George B. Hippee and Mr. Polk continued to operate the street railways until the properties were sold.)
     "At different times, especially in the twenty years' interval in which Mr. Polk was not engaged in the building of urban and interurban railways, he gave his attention to the construction of steam railroads. He was the builder of the Des Moines & Minnesota Railway, which became a part of the Chicago & Northwestern system. He began that project in 1874 and in 1881-82 he built a narrow gauge line to Waukee and with others extended it to Panora and Fonda, with a branch from Clive to Boone. In later years this became a part of the Milwaukee system. During the same period the syndicate built the Des Moines & St. Louis road from Des Moines to Albia and also organized and built the Des Moines Union Railway, a connecting transfer line between all the trunk lines in this city, with side-tracks to a large number of factories. It was Mr. Polk who secured most of the right of way and subsidies for the Keokuk & Des Moines Railway, now the Des Moines Valley division of the Rock Island system. He was connected with the building of railways, steam, urban or interurban, up to the time of his last illness. He was always a busy man, and although his wealth would have long before his death permitted him to retire he remained a factor in the management of the extensive and important interests in which he was connected."
     By the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Polk there were born seven children, only two of whom still survive: John Scott, deceased, who wedded Miss Maud Haskit; Harry H., who married Alice Kauffman; Mildred, the wife of George B. Hippee; and Sarah J., deceased, who became the wife of Albert G. Maish. Three children, Mollie, the first born, Lutie, the third in the family and Daniel the fifth, passed away ere the father's death. Mr. Polk established a beautiful home, called Herndon Hall, in honor of his wife's people, on Grand Avenue, and it became the center of a warm-hearted and generous hospitality, while at the same time the fortunes of wealth and culture were presented.
    Mr. Polk's activity ever took cognizance of the opportunities and possibilities of Des Moines, and his patriotism was expressed in practical efforts for the benefit and upbuilding of the city. He showed his faith therein by his investments in real estate and he lived to see the city grow from a population of one thousand to nearly eighty thousand. When the Civil war broke out he proved his loyalty to the Union cause in many ways. He had been reared in the faith of the Democratic party, yet he recognized that Abraham Lincoln was to be the leader of the people in the sanguinary struggle between the North and the South and gave generously to support the soldiers at the front. He was commissioned a first lieutenant in the Union Home Guards, May 28, 1861, and he never faltered in his advocacy of the federacy. He was a worker in behalf of temperance and of all forms of morality, and he gave generously to the support of almost every church of Des Moines, while his gifts to benevolent and charitable projects  were most liberal. It has been oft times said that persons can best be judged not by their treatment of their equals but their inferiors or those who are in their service. Judged by this standard the character of Mr. Polk is well established. There were in his employ about five hundred people, who found him a most considerate, just and kind master. He felt in them a personal interest and gave to them personal aid and friendship. When he felt that his life was drawing to a close he asked that some of his old and trusted employees should  act as pallbearers at the funeral service. Death called him on the 3d of November, 1907. Perhaps no better estimate of his life and character could be given than by quoting from an editorial, which appeared in a Des Moines paper:
     "Jefferson S. Polk, capitalist, financier, lawyer, philanthropist, good citizen and friend, is no more. He was a man of gentle mold. While sagacious and practical in business, he never lost sight of the finer and nobler side of life. He was domestic in his tastes to a high degree. Home, wife, children, friend were always first in his thoughts. He loved his books and his magazines and the cozy hours with them in secluded nooks. He was a man of gentle mold. While sagacious and practical in business, he never lost sight of the finer and nobler side of life. He was domestic in his tastes to a high degree. Home, wife, children, friends were always first in his thoughts. He loved his books and his magazines and the cozy hours with them in secluded nooks. he was a great lover of nature, and in his quiet walks in the groves and fields he found sweet companionship with God's emblems of life and death and resurrection. In him all the nobler and loftier and purer attributes of humanity were so rarely blended that all the world could point to him and say, 'There is a man.' Death came to him too soon. At the age of seventy-seven years he was moved from life's activities. Meeting with an accident nearly a year ago, he received injuries which proved stubborn and incurable and finally pressed him into the tomb. he had planned great enterprises. His fine brain had conceived mammoth industries and dreamed of lofty achievements. He was to make Des Moines a great interurban center, with steel arteries reaching out in every direction over prairie and woods and into villages and hamlets throughout the fertile State of Iowa. No man has ever lived in our midst who has been a greater public benefactor than Jefferson S. Polk. All the time he has been the same kind and gentle citizen and friend. He insisted on perfect courtesy on the part of his employees toward his patrons, and many men have been dismissed by him for lack of civility to women and children. Such a man as Jefferson S. Polk cannot die without leaving a vacancy in society. Grief for his departure is not confined in the circle of his home. It reaches out into the community and heads are bowed and hearts are wounded in thousands of other homes in our midst. The business world will miss him. He was always a valuable adviser, and his judgment on the practical affairs of life were lofty and clean and he placed the standard of manhood high and distinguishable. And he fitted his daily life to his ideals. The name he leaves behind is the best monument that can be reared to his memory. No marble shaft, however stately, can so grandly honor him as the record he has left on the tablet of human remembrance. He has passed away with the dying year, crowned with honored hairs of silver, a life of busy and fertile hours, love of family, respect of friends and a name unsullied by scandal or the taint of mean and polluting deeds."
     In his beautiful oration Dr. J. A. Wirt said: "Mr. Polk stands out preeminently as Des Moines's benefactor. He had faith in the city and believed in her future. His liberal hands, though often covered, caused the charitable institutions of the city to pulsate with new life. he was a friend alike to the rich and the poor. I could not attempt to fathom the depth of his mental capacity. In him were combined the profound thinker, the strong writer, the close reasoner. He was stamped with a pronounced individuality, rugged, simple, honest. He was quick to recognize a sham and as quick to condemn it. He acknowledged real worth and showed his appreciation of it, which is manifest in the long service of many of his employees.
     "He was characterized by that southern chivalry that always respected an honest and open adversary. He was a student in the truest sense, not only of books, for he found sermons in brooks and stones and trees. He was aesthetic in his taste, a lover of the beautiful, and the art gallery had for him great attractions. The Bible was one of his principal textbooks. He enjoyed the study of the Word which bore particularly upon childhood and had compiled from the Scriptures a Bible for children. He loved children and appreciated that book which contained the truth that would bless childhood. He was firm but kind. Those who knew him best loved him most.
    "The purpose of life is to afford opportunities for physical, mental, and spiritual development. These opportunities slip away from the sluggard. They tauntingly play before the dreamer but they surrender to the individual with high purpose, undaunted courage and indefatigable determination. He who will take the time, make the application and industriously set himself to solve the problems, gets out of life its sweetest honey. Mr. Polk as a boy fought a good fight when, amidst difficulties and reverses, he continued at school, where he laid the foundation for his future usefulness. His record is an inspiration to every young man who will honestly endeavor to solve the problem of life.
    "He believed that God set the solitary in families. He honored and held sacred the family relations. It was here that Mr. Polk was at his best, as all good men are. The dearest placed to him on earth was the place he called home, and it was in Herndon Hall that he was his true self. His conception of a home as described in the Shadows and Memories of Herndon Hall is exquisitely poetic. The architect may build a house and shelter you from the storms without but the home is made by its occupants of human love and human sympathy. Take from the house these necessary ingredients and it ceases to be a home. His attachment to his children is expressed in these words: 'While Herndon Hall stands overlooking Des Moines, the beautiful city of our adoption, it is deserted by all save an aged father and mother who look and long and weep for the return of their children without the consolation vouchsafed by the Lord to Rachel...Home must sooner or later become to the aged an oratorio of the memory, singing to all our after life melodies and harmonies of old remembered joys.' "
     The influence of such a life as that of Jefferson Scott Polk can never die. His work was of stupendous magnitude in its relation to material progress. His record was an inspiring example of justice, charity and consideration for those in his employ; of humanitarianism as expressed in generous assistance where need was manifest; in citizenship where his patriotism and devotion to the city of his adoption knew no bounds; and most of all in his home. It were well if all who knew and honored him while he was yet an active factor in life would hold to the high ideals concerning home which was expressed to his family: "Love, my dear ones, begets love. As you love your children so will they love you. Get, I beseech you, in close touch with your little ones. Get your arms around them, press their dear little hearts up to yours and keep them there. Do not let business or other pleasures cause you to neglect this duty. Your children's love for you is worth more to you than gold or diamonds, and your love to and for them is the proudest legacy you can leave them. These memories, these shadows, these dreams of loved father, mother and home will do more to make of your children good men and women, good citizens, and good Christians than all other influences combined."


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