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McLean County, Illinois
History and Genealogy



JOSEPH KEENAN, banker, and Mayor of Le Roy, is one of the enterprising and self-made men of McLean County, who have contributed so materially to its present prosperity and importance. Mr. Keenan was born in Marion Township, Clinton Co., Ohio, March 10, 1828.

His father, Peter Keenan, first opened his eyes to the light a few miles from Lexington, Ky., and his grandfather, Patrick Keenan, was a native of Dublin, Ireland, where he was reared to manhood, and soon afterward emigrated to America. He located in Kentucky in the early settlement of that State, and was married to a lady of American birth and English ancestry. He engaged in farming pursuits, and after several years spent in the Blue Grass regions, removed to Warren County, Ohio, and purchased a farm near Lebanon, where he spent the remainder of his life.

Peter Keenan, the father of our subject, was a youth of fifteen years when his parents removed from Kentucky to Ohio. He grew to manhood in the latter State, and was married in Clinton County to Miss Nancy Mitchell, who was born in Kentucky, but was of Scotch and English ancestry. He carried on farming in Warren and Clinton Counties, in the latter of which he owned a farm. After the death of his wife he made his home with his children, coming West in later years, where his death occurred at the home of his son John, in Monticello, Ill., in about 1873.

The parental household was completed by the birth of ten children, of whom the record is as follows: Elizabeth A. married William Hudson, and died in Clinton County, Ohio, when twenty-seven years of age; Mary J. became the wife of C. Y. Hannen, and died in Clinton County in September, 1885; Emeline was first married to John Thonhill, who died in 1845; her second husband was Cyrus Steans, who is also deceased, and Mrs. Steans lives in Clinton County, Ohio; John lives in Santa Barbara, Cal.; Joseph, our subject, was the fifth child; Melissa married John Tribby, and died in Polk County, Iowa; Samuel lives in East Portland, Ore.; William died in Decatur, Ill., in 1882; Henry served in an Ohio regiment during the late war, and died in the service while in Virginia; Nancy married George Hannen, and lives in Iowa.

The youth and childhood of Joseph Keenan were passed in a manner common to farmers' boys. His opportunities for an education were limited, but he made the most of them, and tramped two or three miles in the winter season to the temple of learning, which was an humble log cabin built upon one of the lonely roads of Clinton County, Ohio.

His education could only be carried on during the winter season, while his summers were employed in such duties as he could perform around the homestead. He assisted his father in clearing the heavy timber from the farm which they opened up in the wilderness and in cultivating the soil.

When eighteen years old he started out in business for himself, buying produce and shipping to Cincinnati. He was employed at this for about six months, and then went to work in a cooper's shop. He was industrious and economical, and saved his money, and in due time found himself with sufficient means to purchase a partly improved farm.

Upon it was a log house, of which he took possession with his wife, and they lived there until he was enabled to put up a more pretentious dwelling, this latter being two stories in height and of hewed logs. He continued his improvements upon this land and occupied it until 1854, when he sold out and started for Illinois, via the Ohio, Mississippi and Illinois Rivers to Alton, and from there to Sangamon County, where he stopped a few weeks with his wife's brother, and in the meantime visited McLean County and prospected for a location.

After coming to this county Mr. Keenan rented land, the first season near Le Roy, and then purchased 178 acres three miles southeast, paying therefore the sum of $22 per acre. He added to his landed interests by subsequent purchases, but in 1864 sold the original tract, and the following spring removed to Le Roy.

About that time he purchased 160 acres of timber land of the late Judge David Davis, which he divided into small lots and sold nearly all of them before the close of the year. In 1866, in company with T. J. Barnett, he engaged in the dry-goods trade until August of the following year, when he disposed of his interests in the business, and renting a store building in December, 1867, opened up in the same business alone, continuing until 1882, when he sold out.

In 1872 Mr. Keenan opened a private bank which was familiarly known as J. Keenan's Bank, and which he managed in connection with his store for several years. Of this, his son, Arthur J., has been the manager since 1880. He is part owner with S. F. Barnum, of the Empire Flouring-Mills, and is also interested with the same gentleman in the coal and lumber trade, and in general farming and stockraising. In 1879 he erected a brick block in which is conducted the only first-class hotel in the town, which is known as the Keenan House, and in addition to this also owns the block where he first opened up in business in Le Roy.

Mr. Keenan was married in October, 1848, to Miss Hannah Sidles, who was born in Clinton County, Ohio, and is the daughter of Israel and Nancy Sidles. Of this union there have been born four children: Walter M. took a course of study at the State Normal University, and also at the Michigan University [ed., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor] in Ann Arbor, graduating from the latter in 1874, and is now engaged in a dry-goods commission house in Chicago; Clara B. married L. A. Reynolds, and lives in Le Roy; Arthur Jay attended the State University at Champaign, Ill. [ed., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign], and has managed the banking business of his father since 1880; Luther C. is a brick manufacturer, and lives in Northwestern Nebraska. The family residence is a model of taste and convenience, and its inmates are surrounded by all the comforts of life and many of its luxuries.

Mr. Keenan identified himself with the Republican party at its organization, and still casts his vote in support of its principles. He has filled various positions of trust, and is one of the most honored and respected citizens of this county.

His farming operations include the breeding of Norman horses, of which he has thirty-eight in number, four of them being imported animals which were secured at great expense, and the others are high grade. He is also interested in Short-horn cattle, and has a herd of nearly 150 hogs of the Poland-China breed. His landed estate now embraces 900 acres lying in West and Empire townships, each farm being supplied with good buildings and managed by reliable men.

Mr. Keenan is one of those public-spirited and enterprising citizens which are the life of a community, and without which it is impossible to build up a country or a locality. He has contributed his full share toward the agricultural and industrial interests of this section, and receives his reward in the esteem and confidence of his fellow-citizens.

Portrait and biographical album of McLean County, Ill. : containing full page portraits and biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens of the county, together with portraits and biographies of all the governors of Illinois, and of the presidents of the United States. (Chicago: Chapman Brothers, 1887), 395. Transcribed and annotated by Judy Rosella Edwards.


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