Lee County Biography

WILLIAM H. VAN EPPS


William Henry Van Epps is numbered among the former merchants and farmers of Dixon, but at present is not engaged in any special line of business. He was born in East Bethany, Genesee County, N. Y., December 18, 1842. He is descended from early Holland ancestry who settled in the Empire State in Colonial times. His grandparents, John A. and Deborah (Housman) Van Epps, removed to Western New York in 1813, going to their pioneer home in Genesee County with teams. Grandfather Van Epps was a valiant soldier in the War of 1812 and for his services received a pension until his death in 1816. Hon. William H. Van Epps, father of our subject, was born in Schenectady County, N. Y., August 12, 1812, and passed the early years of his life in Genesee and Monroe Counties. He had an active, intelligent mind and made the best -of his opportunities for obtaining an education, which was completed by a course at Wyoming Academy. Thus well equipped for his struggle with life, at the age of eighteen he embarked in the mercantile business at Brockport, a fine situation for business purposes, as it was located on the banks of Erie Canal, then the great highway of travel for Western-bound emigrants.

Later Mr. Van Epps, Sr. was engaged in business at Caryville, where his store was burned. He then settled in East Bethany of which he was the principal merchant for several years. In 1837, he came to Illinois, and was a pioneer of Fulton County, engaging in business at Bcrnadotte and as there were no railroads in that part of the country then, his goods had to be shipped to him by rivers. Some years later he returned to New York on account of his wife's failing health, and resided in Bethany until 1854. In the year above-mentioned, Mr. Van Epps once more became a resident of the Prairie State, and for twenty years was a prominent merchant of Dixon, where he kept a general store and aided in building up the business interests of city and county. When he first settled here, Rochelle was the nearest railroad station, Dixon was but a village and the surrounding country was not very thickly settled. He lived to see the wonderful development of the count}*- and bore an honorable part in bringing it about. He died October 8, 1877.

The maiden name of the mother of our subject was Charlotte R. Churchill. She was born in Genesee County, N. Y., in 1813 and died at East Bethany in 1848. Afterward Mr. Van Epps was again married in 1850, taking as his wife, Mary A. Peck, a native of East Bethany, who survived him ten years, her death occurring December 27, 1887. William H. was the youngest of four children by the first marriage, the others being Marion and Ellen, who died in Fulton County, IL., and Adelia, who died in New York. Of the second marriage there were two daughters—Louise P. (Mrs. George Steel), and Katie, who died March 7, 1862, when five years old. The maternal grandparents of our subject, Josiah and Charlotte (Rumsey) Churchill, were natives of Vermont and pioneers of Genesee County, N. Y. The Churchills and Rumseys went from their native Connecticut to Vermont before the Revolution and were residing at Hubbardton when the battle was fought there. Afterward members of the families made their way back to Vermont or Massachusetts. In 1783-84, some of them with other families returned to the Green Mountain State, and from there the grandparents of our subject finally removed to the State of New York. Grand­father Josiah Churchill was in the small force of the American Army which attacked the British at Queenstown Heights near Niagara, in October, 1812, and was wounded. William Henri Van Epps laid the foundation of his education in the public school of his native town. In 1854, he came to Fulton County, 111., and resided with an uncle, James Churchill there for one year. Later he attended school in Dixon under William Barge and the Gow Brothers, eventually concluding his education in the Chicago University. In the intervals of attending school he was acquiring excellent business habits as a clerk in his father's store. In 1861, our subject attended the first war meeting held at the Court House and his name was the eighteenth on the roll of volunteers, who after­ward became Company A, Thirteenth Illinois Infantry. For two weeks he was with the company every day, drilling under Capt. A. B. Gorgas, but he was persuaded by relatives and friends to leave the company, a decision which he afterward had good cause for regretting. His father then gave him an interest in a dry-goods store at Morrison, 111., with J. R. Ashley as a partner. He remained in that village until August, 1862, and then came home to join the Express Battery, a company of which William Snyder was Captain.

Upon going to Chicago and finding the regiment already filled, Mr. Van Epps and thirteen others enlisted August 12, 1862 in Company B, First New York Marine Artillery. In September of the same year he went South with his regiment, by way of Ft. Hatteras and Newbern to Roanoke Island, and was stationed there on the gunboat "Sentinel" until Desember 1. During that time, there was much sickness in that unhealthy locality and fifty or one-fifth of the men died. On the 1st of December, our subject and twenty-five others were detailed to go on an expedition up the Neuse River on the gunboat "Seymour." The most that the "Seymour" accomplished was in helping to save the gunboat "Lockwood" from falling into the hands of the enemy below Kinston, where the battle was fought. Returning on the sick list, Mr. Van Epps was sent to the hospital in Newbern for treatment. The same month he received a medical director's discharge, which was later supplemented by his regular discharge on account of disability. Ever since that ten days trip he has been troubled with deafness. After his return from the South at the close of his military experience and as soon as his health permitted, Mr. Van Epps entered into the mercantile business with A. J. Brubaker and Albert S. Ferguson, under the firm name of Brubaker, Van Epps & Ferguson, succeeding his father. Upon the withdrawal of Mr. Ferguson, the title of the firm was changed to William H. Van Epps & Co. Until 1870 Mr. Aran Epps devoted himself exclusive to his business affairs, and then went to California, spending one year there and in Oregon. Returning to Dixon, he sold out his interests in the mercantile business and afterward carried on general farming and stock-raising, making a specialty successively of Devon cattle, Merino sheep and purebred Short-horn cattle. In 1876, he bought a lot and built a store in Yankton, Dak. and the following year erected the double house on the corner of Galena Avenue and Third Street, Dixon. In 1878, he built the two-story brick store, No. 17 Main Street, and in the summer of 1888 erected the fine three-story brick block, corner of Galena Avenue and Main Street. In 1886, he sold part of his farm, retaining sixty-seven acres. During the thirty-seven years in which he has resided at Dixon he has been closely occupied with his business interests and in many ways has contributed to the advancement of the city. In December, 1877, Mr. Van Epps was married to Miss Leah, daughter of Jacob and Lena Emery, and a native of Bedford County. Pa. One daughter has blest their wedded life—Charlotte Isabel. They have a home replete with those comforts which add to the pleasure of living, and made pleasant by its tasteful arrangements, and whoever crosses its threshold is sure of a cordial reception from genial host and gracious hostess.

Source: Portraits & Biographical Lee County 1892 Pg 319

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