Henry A. Myers

Henry, c. 1889

Henry, 1889

My dad’s paternal grandfather, Henry A. Myers, was born in Hillsboro, Montgomery County, Illinois, on May 26, 1867. Henry’s parents were Andrew J. Myers and Emily J. Holmes. Great-grandfather Henry was the second of four children. His older sister Minnie was born in 1866 and his younger brothers Albert and William were born in 1869 and 1874 respectively. In 1870, Henry’s family lived in the Town of Ashland, Cass County, Illinois. The Myers family also spent time in nearby Oakford and Petersburg in Menard County, just a stone’s throw from Abraham Lincoln’s pre-presidential stomping grounds and final resting place in Springfield.
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By 1880, the family had moved to Bloomington, Illinois (pop. 17,180). Although Henry was just 12, his occupation was listed as cooper in the 1880 census, as was his father’s. Henry was shown to have attended school as well. A cooper crafted casks, barrels, buckets, tubs, butter churns, and other containers. In 1884, when Henry was 17, he and his father lived in Peoria, Illinois, and worked their trade for the cooperage of William Hughes, which employed about thirty men and manufactured every kind of barrel that could be made out of elm and oak. (Eventually the rest of the family also came to Peoria, although some mystery remains about Henry’s mother, Emily.)

Henry's signature on his marriage license, Oct. 1889

Henry had some schooling and could read and write. This is his signature on his marriage license, Oct. 1889

Henry married Lillie Caroline Herpst on October 17, 1889 in Litchfield, Montgomery County, Illinois. They settled in Peoria. Their daughter Minnie was born in 1891 and daughter Phrona in 1893. Henry is listed in the 1893 Peoria City Directory. He was still working as a cooper and lived on Garden Street. However, Henry and his father were not listed in the Peoria directories and city censuses from 1894 through 1901. It took some digging, but I finally found the family (Henry’s father Andrew included) in Red Rock Township, Noble County, Oklahoma in the 1900 U.S. Census. Whaaat? I discovered that Noble County was part of the Cherokee Strip land run of 1893. If you are fascinated by crazy historical events, read more here. The 1900 Census listed Henry’s occupation as farmer and indicated that he rented the farm he worked. Apparently Henry was one of the thousands of disappointed landseekers who were not successful in staking a claim. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Henry and crew working at Greeley School in Peoria; Henry Sr. at far left, Henry Jr. at far right, c. early 1920s

Henry and crew working at Greeley School in Peoria; Henry Sr. at far left, Henry Jr. at far right, c. early 1920s

By 1902, the family had moved back to Peoria, where Henry would live for the rest of his life. He and Lillie had two more children, Hattie in 1903 and Henry, Jr. in 1908. Henry’s father Andrew lived off and on with Henry and his family until Andrew’s death in 1905. After returning to Peoria, Henry started a concrete contracting business. In the early years, he used a team of horses to haul his cement mixer to jobsites around town. Henry, Jr. (my Grandpa Hank), would follow in his father’s footsteps, as would my father and brother—that makes four generations of strong-willed (and maybe a little bit hard-headed) Myers men who learned a valuable trade from their fathers! xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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Henry and Marie, c. 1930s

Henry and Marie, c. 1930s

Sr. & Jr., c. early 1920s

Sr. & Jr., c. early 1920s

Henry’s wife, Lillie, died in 1922. Two years later, Henry married Marie Arnold Enders, a German-born widow from Petersburg, Illinois, where Henry spent time visiting friends and relatives after Lillie died. Henry died on November 27, 1942, at age 75, survived by Marie, three children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild. His daughter, Phrona, and her daughter, Bonnielyn, preceded him in death.

Henry was surely a hard worker, energetic, a good manager, and adaptable. He was a tradesman and entrepreneur. He owned a home and a shop. I imagine he was also a bit restless and impulsive, getting caught up in land rush fever. I suspect he must have been a good salesman to persuade Lillie to join him in Oklahoma with two small daughters!xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
If Henry were alive today, I would ask him to tell me about the move to Oklahoma. Was Henry part of the initial rush on September 16, 1893? Did Lillie and the children accompany him or did they follow later? Were they with a group or on their own? Did they travel by horse or wagon the whole way or did they float down the Illinois River to the Mississippi? What was the impetus for moving back to Peoria?

Henry, c. late 1930s

Henry, c. late 1930s

Tell me what questions you would have for Great-grandfather Henry!

11 thoughts on “Henry A. Myers

  1. I would ask him how he went from cooper to farmer to concrete as occupations. He seemed very adaptable
    but was he trained in concrete work?

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    • Darlene, that would be a great question. Dad reminded me that Henry had a block plant where he manufactured concrete blocks (that seems a little easier on the body than finishing, and so maybe he happened into that later). He must have had some exposure to concrete work somewhere along the way, maybe doing general labor when he returned from Oklahoma? The farmer thing was pretty random based on his prior life experience; he must have just dived in in hopes of acquiring land. Txo

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  2. It was fun to get acquainted with your Great Grandfather. The historical details you provided were fascinating! Who would have ever known about the Cherokee Strip land run in 1893? The “Myers man stance” was confirmed in the Greeley School construction photo. Strong men! Great photos! Great job!

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    • Auntie, I hadn’t really noticed until you pointed it out, but definitely see Dad and Hank, Jr. in Henry, Sr.’s whole demeanor…that body shape, those large hands, and yes, the stance! I love the details in that Greeley School photo, it’s a classic! xo

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  3. What an interesting background to discover. I was especially interested in the Cherokee Strip land run and all that history. I was thinking of the 160 acre homestead ranch land in New Mexico. I wonder if it was similar in its allocation of land. What an experience they would have had! Great job!

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    • Thanks, Mom ;). I imagine the homesteading experience in Illinois was so different than it was west of the Mississippi, in all of its hard landscapes. The reality had to be quite shocking for Midwesterners used to deep, fertile topsoil, green pastures, and water! Definitely an adventure! xo

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  4. Pingback: Andrew J. Myers | The Singing Oak

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