1889 Bio Index
E. W. IRWIN, a native of Cambria County, Pennsylvania, was born April 7, 1820. He is a son of Edward and Elizabeth (Decker) Irwin, natives of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. He was reared in his native county, near Johnstown, on a farm, and received a limited education in the subscription schools, in the old log school-house. Not satisfied with such meagre knowledge, he devoted his leisure hours and evenings after his day's work was done to his books, and in this way acquired an education equal, if not superior, to many college educations at the present day; he is a close observer, and is endowed with an unusually retentive memory, both of which have been of great assistance to him in his self-education. He is the second in a family of five children; his father died when he was seven years of age, leaving the mother with a family of small children to support; so, as soon as he was able it fell upon him to assist in their maintenance. When only nine years old, a mere child, yet a veritable man in courage and determination, he made his first business venture; he was hired as driver on the tow-path of the Pennsylvania Canal, receiving $8 per month and board for his services. He kept this position for three years-his wages being increased after the first year. At the end of this time he was much gratified at being promoted to the position of steersman, receiving as wages $15 per month. He was held in the employ of the canal and railroad companies until 1849, when the Pennsylvania Central Railroad was being constructed, and he secured work with this company. He remained with them as a laborer and contractor until 1865; the last three years and a-half he served as night police, being sworn into the service by the government; in this as well as all other positions he was faithful in the discharge of his duties.
In April, 1865, Mr. Irwin started to Iowa, and arriving there, settled in Washington County, on a farm, where he remained until March, 1870. He brought his family, consisting of his wife and seven children with him. When he came to Shelby County in 1870 he located on the land which is now section 31, Jefferson Township. The fall previous he had purchased 200 acres of wild land here, and he began the improvement of this. Mr. Irwin's brother-in-law, William Constable, came with him to this wild, new country, and their families were the only ones in what is now Jefferson Township; their nearest neighbor was four miles distant. When moving to the new country, they came to Avoca by rail, and there hired teams to convey them and their effects to their destination; this was not easily done, as teams were scarce and roads were bad in those days. They finally succeeded, and all went well until they reached Harlan, late in the evening. There was but one small hotel, and when the emigrating party arrived, consisting of twenty-three persons in all, there was much wonderment as to how and where they were to be stowed away for the night. Mr. John B. Swain, one of the oldest settlers of the county, was the landlord, and he was equal to the occasion, and soon had everything in ship-shape for his guests. His family, however, were compelled to stay up all night, but that was a small affair in those pioneer days. The next day the travelers continued their journey, and landed safely at their respective places of abode. It was spring time, and the waters were soon so high that the families living on opposite sides of the creek were cut off from all communication with each other for three weeks. But Mr. Irwin decided to put a stop to this isolation, and improvised a ferry out of a wagon bed, and by means of a rope thrown across the stream, attached to some bushes, he succeeded in drawing himself across. This is but one of many incidents which might be recounted of the adventures and hardships undergone by the pioneers of the State of Iowa.
In 1881 the town of Irwin was laid out, and derived its name from the worthy subject of this sketch, Ebenezer W. Irwin, through whose efforts the town was founded. It is built upon land owned by Mr. Irwin, who gave a good portion of land as an inducement to settlers. Mr. Irwin has served his township in an official capacity since its organization. From the very beginning he has filled the office of trustee and school director without a break. He is a staunch Republican, and has always taken an active interest in the political affairs of the country. Mr. Irwin was married August 25, 1844, to Miss Mary A. Homer, daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth (Beam) Homer, natives of Pennsylvania. Mrs. Irwin was born in Johnstown, Cambria County, Pennsylvania, October 23, 1824. They are the parents of eleven children - John (deceased), Sarah, wife of L. W. Wilson; David S., Ruth(deceased), Clarinda, wife of William Kimble; Evalina, wife of Miles Reynolds; Julia (deceased), Lucretia, (deceased), Ellen, wife of Chauncey Randall; Priscilla (deceased), and Etta, wife of W. J. Wicks. Mr. and Mrs. Irwin are worthy members of the Christian church.
Source: 1889 Biographical History of Shelby County, Iowa, pp. 364-365. Transcribed by Marthann Kohl-Fuhs.