IRA MERCHANT, a civil engineer of Bloomington, is the son of Daniel P. and Anna E. (Carey) Merchant, and was born in Morris County, N. J., in February, 1837. His father, a native of Connecticut, was taken by his parents when an infant to New Jersey, of which latter State the mother was a native. The Merchant family are of English ancestry, and the father of our subject was a farmer by occupation.
The boyhood and youth of Ira Merchant were passed on his father's farm in New Jersey, while he pursued his studies in the district school. When eighteen years of age he left his native State, and going across the Mississippi River into Missouri, was employed as an engineer on the North Missouri Railroad, under James P. Lowe, a noted engineer from Massachusetts. From this gentleman our subject obtained most of his knowledge of surveying.
He continued with Mr. Lowe until the outbreak of the Civil War, and then enlisted as a Union soldier in Co. C, 28th Ill. Vol. Inf., serving faithfully for two and one-half years. He was wounded at Holly Springs, Miss., his left wrist being pierced by a ball from the enemy. He also took part in the battles of Ft. Henry, Donelson, Shiloh, the advance on Corinth, Hatchie River [Battle of Hatchie’s Bridge], and the siege of Vicksburg. After receiving his honorable discharge he was mustered out in the fall of 1863.
After his retirement from the army Mr. Merchant came into Sangamon County, Ill., where he was soon afterward elected County Surveyor, in which position he served for a term of two years. He was then employed to survey what at that time was called the Burr Oak Farm, owned by M. L. Sullivan, of Ford County, the greatest farm at that time in the Western States.
He was then employed to make a preliminary survey on the Peoria & Rock Island Railroad in the fall of 1868. After completing this work he came to Bloomington, being soon afterward employed as City Engineer, which position he has held nearly ten years. He was Superintendent and Engineer when the water works were constructed, and has been connected professionally with most of the important improvements in the city since coming here.
Although holding office under different administrations Mr. Merchant never directly or indirectly solicited any appointment to the office he filled. He is also engineer of farm drainage, of which department he makes a specialty, laying during the year 1886 over sixty miles of tile.
Mr. Merchant was married in Cass County, Ill., to Miss Mary Arenz, and they became the parents of one child, a daughter, Ella, born in 1860, and now the wife of Charles H. McWarter, of Mason City, Iowa. Politically Mr. Merchant is a Mugwump, and socially is a member in good standing of the G. A. R.
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), 438. Transcribed by Judy Rosella Edwards.