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Carroll County Biographies


California is a wonderful land; its inhabitants have become renowned the world over for a spirit of energy, enterprise, pluck and perseverance that has never been seen elsewhere; it is a land of gigantic undertakings and grand achievements. Even in this country of great attainments its success is unparalleled. Here, as elsewhere, the moral is true, that a steady and persistent following of right courses, diligent attendance to business, and the adoption of correct methods is the truest source of successful advancement. It is a pleasure to write the history of the lives of Californians; there is always variety, instruction and interest, yet never in the recollection of the writer has he undertaken a sketch more full of all that is valuable for the purpose of either private reading or of public study than the life of the Hon. Joseph Steffens. No man in this part of California occupies a position of more prominence as a public-spirited and far-seeing citizen than he. In his office of President of the Board of Trade of this city, he has accomplished great work for the development not only of Sacramento, but also of Central and Northern California. It is impossible to do full justice to this subject, yet facts and particulars can be given which will enable one to form as close an acquaintance as can be had, without a personal meeting.

He was born January 15, 1837, in the township of York, Upper Canada. In 1840 the family removed to Carroll County, Illinois, where they resided for many years. As with so many others of our prominent men, the early life of Mr. Steffens was passed upon a farm, the summer being spent in work and the winters at school, and it was there that he laid the foundation from which he has reached his present height. Not being of a very robust nature, his parents feared that he could not endure the severe labor of regular farm employment. Accordingly, when nineteen years of age he entered the Rock Island Seminary, where he took an academic course; later he entered “Bell’s Commercial College,” Chicago, as a student of mercantile branches. Upon completing a course he taught school for several terms; but, being anxious to devote himself to commercial life, he became a clerk for G.M. Clayton, dealer in paints and oils, at Freeport, Illinois, in 1859. He remained with this firm three years, and there perfected himself in the line of trade in which he has been constantly engaged ever since. Desiring to test for himself the truth of the stories current in the Middle States, and to take advantage of the opportunities afforded an ambitious young man in this glorious State, he decided to come hither.

In the summer of 1862 he crossed the plains with Levi Carter of Stockton, passing through Sacramento on his way, and arrived at San Francisco September 9 of that year. He found employment almost immediately with Fuller & Heather, dealers in paints and oils, as bookkeeper, the salary being but $50 a month. His abilities in this line of trade, his knowledge of the business, and his active attention to the interests of his employers won their confidence, and he was soon promoted to better positions. He remained with this house until its consolidation with that of Cameron, Whittier & Co., under the name of Whittier, Fuller & Co., now so well known in the paint and oil trade; it being the leading firm on this coast. Fuller & Heather had had two houses, one in San Francisco and the other in Sacramento. Upon the consolidation, the stores of the two firms were merged into one, located on the corner of Fourth and Pine Streets, where Mr. Steffens continued for a year. At the end of this time, in 1869, he was sent to Sacramento to take charge of the business here. He continued to act as manager of the Sacramento house until 1874, at which date he was admitted a member of the firm, and has since that time been a resident partner, controlling the financial affairs of the house in this part of the State. He is director of the California State Bank. Such in brief, is a record of the life of the Hon. Joseph Steffens, but to give a fair understanding of the important part performed by him in the history of this section would be to almost write the history of this period, so active a part has he taken in all public matters. He has been President of the Board of Trade since December 1882, and is the most active and responsible member of that valuable board; the annual reviews issued by the Board of Trade are documents of great value.

We shall not, however, in this place refer to this subject at greater length, as in another portion of this volume the matter is treated fully, with the assistance of both president and secretary of the board. Mr. Steffens is also an active member of the Sacramento Improvement Association, and is President of the California Museum Association, and takes a most lively interest in it. He is distinctively a business man but interests himself intelligently in local and national politics, as they affect the well-being of the nation, and the community in which he resides, and where he has so much at stake. He is not a politician, however, although frequently importuned to enter political life. In 1884 he was induced to permit his name to be used in the city election as a candidate for mayor on the Republican ticket. So close was the election that after one week’s canvass, out of 4,000 votes polled, he lacked but thirty-one of being elected – a high tribute to the esteem and popularity of a business man, whose hold on the hearts of his fellow citizens had been gained by a life of intelligent devotion to their common welfare.

Mr. Steffens is a gentleman of quiet and pleasant manners, captivating address, and of social and cultured tastes. He is an eloquent and effective speaker, and a graceful writer. His speeches are full of matter worthy of preservation; being sound, thoughtful and argumentative, gracefully and clearly expressed, and interspersed with wit and happy humor; noteworthy among them may be mentioned the address at the opening of the Exposition of the Citrus Fair at Ashland, on the completion of the California and Oregon Railway, where he appeared as a representative of this city, at Placerville, where he likewise represented Sacramento on the completion of the railroad to that point, and his letters and address at the time of the Margaret E. Crocker flower festival. These are not only interesting and valuable for their reference to important events and persons connected with the history of Sacramento, but they reflect the highest credit upon their author for ability, culture and taste. The letters written by Mr. Steffens to the Record-Union during the course of a journey made through the East in 1881, in company with Mr. Albert Gallatin, during which they traveled some 12,000 miles, are of peculiar interest, and contain thoughts and suggestions of great value; and a noteworthy feature about them is the correctness of the forecast, and predictions as to what the future would bring forth in this happy land. Mr. Steffens is the owner of much property in this city, his palatial residence at No. 1224 H Street being one of the most notable structures in the city, and is pointed out to strangers with pride by our citizens. Mr. Steffens was married January 15, 1865, in San Francisco, to Miss E. Louise Symes, of Hoboken, New Jersey; they have four children, whose names are Joseph Lincoln, Lulu, Laura and Lottie

Transcribed by Debbie Walke Gramlick. An Illustrated History of Sacramento County, California. Pages 446-448.

The Joseph Steffens (Sr) House was added to the National Register in 1985 - Building #85000771) It is also known as the Rammed Earth House off of Elkhorn Rd., Milledgeville. The home was built by Joseph Steffens Sr. in 1825. Joseph Steffens was born 5 July 1800 in Chippewa, Willoughby Twp. Canada and died 23 December 1881 in Carroll Co Il. He is buried at the South Elkhorn Cemetery. His marriage to Mary Ann Graham was 25 Feb. 1821 in Canada. She was born 23 July 1803 and died in 1837. His second marriage to Orrinda Miller occured on 14 November 1838 in Toronto Canada. She was born 23 March 1819 in Ontario Canada. Joseph was a Methodist Minister.

Children with Mary Ann all born in Canada were:
Alfred Steffens 18 January 1822 married Martha Ellen Hawes 24 Oct 1855
Richard Steffens 04 October 1823 died 15 Oct 1880, married Mercy Jane Hammond 25 Oct 1860
George Steffens 10 Oct 1825
Ephraim Steffens 04 Jan 1828 died 3 Jan 1903 in FL married Susan M. Johnston
Edmund Steffens in 1829 died 16 Oct 1901 buried at South Elkhorn Cemetery
Melissa Steffens 26 Jul 1831
Mary Ann Steffens 15 Sep 1833
Joseph Steffens Jr. 15 Jan 1837 married Elizabeth Symes 15 Jan 1865 in California (Bio above).

Children with Orrinda were:
William Steffens 14 Jan 1854 Elkhorn Grove, Carrol Co IL. He died in Wright Co Iowa 13 May 1937. He married Susan Dewald in Carroll Co. 16 April 1876.

Steffens, Joseph, House ** (added 1985 - Building - #85000771) Also known as Rammed Earth House
Carroll County - Off of Elkhorn Rd., Milledgeville (less then 1 acres, 1 building)
Historic Significance: Architecture/Engineering Architect, builder, or engineer: Steffens,Joseph
Architectural Style: Other Area of Significance: Architecture
Period of Significance: 1825-1849
Owner: Private Historic Function: Domestic
Historic Sub-function: Single Dwelling Current Function: Vacant/Not In Use

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