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Phillip A. Karr
McLean County, Illinois
PHILIP A. KARR is the well-known superintendent of the county poor farm of McLean county, which position he has held since March, 1893, and which he has filled in a most commendable and satisfactory manner.
A native of Indiana, he was born November 1, 1850, twenty-four miles northeast of Indianapolis, and can trace his ancestry back to 1640. The Karr family is of Scotch origin. The paternal great-great-grandfather of our subject was Captain John Karr, who served with distinction as an officer in a New Jersey regiment during the Revolutionary war, and later participated in the war of 181 2. He was one of the early members of the Masonic order in this country, and the Masonic apron which he carried through both wars is now one of the most cherished possessions of our subject. Later in life he came west and made his home with his children in McLean county, dying at the home of his son-in-law, Hiram Buck, near Leroy, in 1840. He is one of the few Revolutionary soldiers buried here.
Walter Karr, the great-grandfather of our subject, was born near Hackettstown, New Jersey, and at an early day removed to Ohio, where his death occurred. The grandfather, Philip Karr, owned and operated a farm near that of General William Henry Harrison, in Ohio. He purchased the place at an early day and continued to make his home there until his removal to Indiana, where he also opened up and improved a farm. He died in the latter state about 1849 or 1850.
He was a well-known and prominent business man, and at one time engaged in the freighting business from Cincinnati to Indianapolis with a six-horse team. He married a Miss Granger. Arthur C. Karr, our subject's father, was born in Hamilton county, Ohio, December 30, 1827, upon the farm adjoining that of General Harrison, but was reared in Indiana, remaining under the parental roof until he attained his majority. At that time he was united in marriage with Miss Sarah J. Guinn, a native of West Virginia, and to them were born nine children, of whom eight are still living, our subject being the eldest.
After his marriage, the father lived upon a farm in Indiana from 1849 until 1855, when he removed to Warren county, Iowa, locating fifteen miles southeast of Des Moines, where the family lived in true pioneer style. They reached their destination July 4, 1855, but as houses were scarce it was two months before they secured a home, which was a small log house with no floor, no nails being used in its construction. Here the father and mother, with their three children, besides two widows with three children each, lived in one room, at the end of which was a huge fire place, the back logs for which were drawn into the room by a horse.
Although the family encountered all the hardships of pioneer life, our subject still numbers it among the most pleasant and happy winters he ever spent. Game was plentiful, hunting was good and the Indians had left for their homes farther west. The father was first engaged in the sawmill business in Iowa, and at that he prospered. Later he engaged in merchandising, but failed in business during the panic of 1857. That year he was also taken ill and was confined to his bed for three years, but finally recovered, though his friends did not believe it possible at the time.
Being a natural mechanic, he next worked at the wagon-maker's trade, and was considered one of the best in Dewitt county, Illinois, where he moved September 7, 1864. He manufactured everything needed in his business, and successfully worked at his trade until cheap factory-made vehicles replaced the better ones made by hand.
He was quite prominent in Wapella and vicinity, but never aspired to office. He died March 13, 1899, honored and respected by all who knew him. In 1866 he united with the Christian church, though he had been a consistent member of the Methodist Episcopal church for twenty years previous. His widow is still living at the age of seventy-two years and is still quite bright and active.
Philip A. Karr, our subject, began his education in a primitive log school-house near Des Moines, with its greased paper window and rude furniture, and though his educational advantages were limited, he has by reading and observation become a well informed man, having a broad and practical knowledge of men and affairs that could not be derived from books. During his father's long illness he began to work in the fields at the age of nine years, cultivating a small patch of ground in order to assist in the support of the family.
On New Year's day of 1864, when it was thirty-six degrees below zero, he went three miles and cut a load of wood, which he brought home, being at that time only thirteen years of age. Since the age of ten he has been entirely dependent upon his own resources, receiving no financial aid from his father, and until twenty-two he practically supported the family, while at that time he assumed an indebtedness of three hundred and fifty dollars incurred for family expenses, and also gave his father a good home during the last twelve years of his life.
On the 9th of October, 1872, Mr. Karr married Miss Willie A., daughter of John Karr, who was a resident of De Witt county, Illinois, and to them have been born seven children, namely: Clara M., who died December 19, 1894, at the age of twenty years; Homer G., employed as night watchman at county farm; Fred T., who is engaged in farming in Old Town township; Albert, who died at the age of thirteen months; Roy, at home; Eunice, who died in infancy; and Daisy Dotty Dimple, at home.
For four or five years after his marriage Mr. Karr engaged in farming upon rented land in De Witt county, and then operated a thresher and corn sheller for about the same length of time. In this way he secured his start in life, but felt the effects of the hard times of 1876.
In 1881 he again turned his attention to farming, and two years later embarked in the brick and tile business, building the plant of a bankrupt company two miles from Wapella, and from a small beginning he soon built up an excellent trade. During the second year a stock company was formed, and he served as director and manager until July 4, 1883, when he retired from the corporation on account of his views on the temperance question.
He then organized another stock company, of which he was secretary, and commenced operating a new plant at Funk's Grove, where he did a successful business, furnishing employment to from fifteen to twenty-five men. He manufactured most of the tile used in this locality, and also shipped considerable. In connection with that business he also conducted a sawmill, and success crowned his well-directed efforts. He continued his residence at Funk's Grove when he took possession of his present office in March, 1893. By the county board of supervisors, he was appointed superintendent of the poor farm in 1892, there being six in competition against him. At the end of five years, or in 1898 he was re-appointed having two opponents.
This farm consists of three hundred acres, and as regards buildings and grounds is considered the best county farm in central Illinois. It now has from one hundred and forty to one hundred and fifty inmates, though when Mr. Karr took charge they numbered but ninety-six. He has proved a most efficient and popular superintendent, the duties of the position having never been more faithfully or satisfactorily performed.
Since casting his first presidential vote for General U. S. Grant, in 1872, he has been a stanch supporter of the Republican party and his duties of citizenship have always been most conscientiously discharged. He has served as school director and road commissioner, and in all the relations of life has been found true to every trust reposed in him.
Socially, he is a member of Shirley Lodge, F. & A. M., and the Knights of Pythias, No. 212, at McLean, in which he has filled the office of master of exchequer. Religiously, both he and his wife are earnest members of the Christian church.
[The Biographical record of McLean County, Illinois - S.J. Clarke Publishing Company - (1899)]
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