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Source: Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois with Portraits 3rd ed. revised and extended (Chicago: Calumet Book & Engraving Co., 1895), pp. 419-422

* This sketch is taken from the “History of Chicago,” by permission of the publishers Munsell & Co.

CHARLES C. P. HOLDEN was born at Groton, New Hampshire, August 9, 1827. His father's name was Phineas H., and his mother, prior to her marriage, was Miss Betsey Parker. His genealogical record shows his earliest American ancestor to have been one Richard Holden, who, in 1634, with his brother Justinian, came from Ipswich, England, in the sailing-ves­sel “Francis,” settling in the locality which after­ward became Watertown, Massachusetts. Mr. Holden's maternal grandfather was Lieutenant Levi Parker, a patriot who served in the army of the Revolution, taking part in the battle of Bun­ker Hill and not returning to his fireside until after the surrender of Cornwallis. He chanced to be with Washington at the time of Arnold's treason and Andre's capture, and served as one of the guards at the execution of the gallant British officer who was punished as a spy, and whose conspicuous bravery Lieutenant Parker sincerely admired.

Mr. Holden's father, with his family of nine children, came West in 1836, reaching Chicago June 30. With hired ox-teams he at once set out for the prairie, where he pre-empted one hundred and sixty acres of Government land, selecting as a location Skunk's Grove, on the “Sauk Trail,” in the edge of Will County, thirty miles south of the future city. He was the first settler in that region, his nearest neighbor being two miles and a-half distant, and his children being compelled to walk three miles across the trackless prairie to receive instruction in the rude log hut which served as a schoolhouse.

Among such surroundings Charles rapidly developed great physical strength. When not more than ten years old he drove a breaking team of five yoke of oxen, his father holding the plow, and was able to do all that usually fell to the lot of farmers' boys in those early days. When he was fifteen, his father placed him in Sweet's gro­cery store, on North Water Street, near Wolcott, now North State Street, where for six months he worked hard for his board. At the end of that time, however, his employer presented him with a pair of cassimere pantaloons, which the young clerk highly prized.

In the spring of 1847 his patriotic ardor, no less than his love of adventure, prompted him to en­list in Company F, of the Fifth Regiment of Illinois Volunteers, and after serving until the end of the Mexican War he was mustered out of serv­ice at Alton, Illinois, October 16, 1848. He immediately secured employment in the book store of A. H. & C. Burley, where he remained until March, 1850. On the 19th of that month he joined a party which set out from Old Fort Kearney, Missouri, for California. The route was overland, and the pilgrims took up their weary journey with two teams. They reached Hangtown July 12 and at once began mining on the Middle Fork of the American River. Young Holden spent two seasons on this stream, passing the second at Coloma Bar. In the fall of 1851 he began farming and stock-raising at Napa Valley, which pursuits he followed until Decem­ber 1, 1853, when he turned his face eastward. He took passage on the steamship “Winfield Scott,” bound from San Francisco for Panama, but the vessel was wrecked in a fog on the reef of Anna Capa Island, at midnight, December 2. As soon as the grinding of the ship's bottom on the rocks aroused the three hundred or more passengers to a comprehension of their danger, they buckled on life preservers, promptly given them by the officers, and anxiously awaited their sup­posed fate. They recalled the doom of the ill-fated “Independence,” which had gone to the bottom a few months before with four hundred souls on board. The officers of the “Winfield Scott” did their duty nobly, the furnace fires were promptly extinguished and the first boat­loads of impatient, terror-stricken voyagers were landed on the shelving rocks, which, however, seemed a veritable haven of refuge. The pass­age to these rocks was perilous, but every one was safely transported. The stranded passengers and crew, however, underwent torments of hunger and thirst upon a barren ledge until rescued, seven days after the wreck, by the steamship “California,” which carried them to Panama. The “Scott” was abandoned to the pitiless buffet­ing of the elements and ultimately went to pieces. Neither cargo, express matter (except the money), mail nor baggage was rescued. The destitute passengers made the best of their way across the isthmus and were taken to New York by the Pacific Mail steamer “Illinois,” landing January 3, 1854. Mr. Holden returned to Chicago, reach­ing this city March 18, 1854, precisely four years (lacking one day) from the date of his departure.

The next important event in his life was his entry into the service of the land department of the Illinois Central Railroad Company, which occurred February 20, 1855.

Seven months later — on September 17, 1855 — he was married to Miss Sarah J. Reynolds, daughter of Isaac N. and Rue Ann Reynolds, of New Lenox, Will County, Illinois. Mrs. Holden was the granddaughter of Abraham Holderman, of Holderman's Grove, Illinois, where he settled in 1830.

Mr. Holden has been a prominent figure in Illinois politics since 1858, when he went as a delegate from Chicago to Springfield to the Republican State Convention. The train that carried the delegation was decorated with a banner bearing the legend, “For United States Senator, Abraham Lincoln.” It was after the adjournment of this convention that the great commoner uttered those memorable words:

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this Government cannot endure per­manently, half slave, half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.''

Mr. Holden was elected a member of the city council in April 1861, he representing the old “fifth ward,” and continued a member of the municipal legislature until December, 1872. During his protracted term of service he had an eye single to the city's good. He worked as did few of his confreres, “public office” being, in his esti­mation, a “public trust.” Measures of genuine improvement—not for his own ward, but looking to the benefit of all Chicago—found in him an ardent champion. The improvement of streets was one of his cherished hobbies, of which he never lost sight. In this connection due credit should be given to Mr. Holden's labors. The water supply received his thoughtful considera­tion, and it was largely through his efforts that the present system of abundant distribution throughout the city took its inception and received its impulsive force. While a member of the council he was constantly agitating this question. He was the advocate of pure water, and plenty of it, for every man, woman and child within the corporate limits. Indeed had it not been for him and others like him, Chicago would have been, to-day, as poorly supplied with water as some of her sister western cities. It was through his persistent la­bor that the city authorized the building of the second tunnel under the lake, with its extension, besides the construction of the waterway ending at Ashland Avenue and Twenty-second Street.

As to Mr. Holden's influence in this regard, see proceedings of the common council for 1869 and 1870, pp. 87, 91, 111, and page 690, Proceedings 1868-9.

During the dark hours of the nation's history, Mr. Holden was conspicuously loyal. His vote, his voice and his efforts were always in support of the Union. His vote as a municipal legislator was always in behalf of aiding the National Government with men and money. In 1862 he raised a company for the Eighty-eighth regiment of Illinois Volunteers, his brother, Levi P., being elected its captain. In 1864, when a draft was ordered in case the quota of troops allotted to Chicago was not furnished through voluntary enlistment, he determined that there should be no draft in his ward—the Tenth. He organized a “Ward Draft Association” and was chosen its president. The members worked with a will, and the sum of $51,912 was raised wherewith to pay bounties to volunteers, thus warding off what Mr. Holden was inclined to regard as a threatened disgrace. Mr. Holden furnished three representatives for his family for the army—Harris Durkee, for his wife; Frederick A. Hausmann, for his sister-in-law, Rowena P. Reynolds; and Alonzo C. Ide for himself.

 His part in civic affairs has always been a prominent one. He was marshal of the city council on the occasion of the reception of the remains of President Lincoln on their way to their final resting place at Springfield, and chairman of the committee named to secure the attendance of General Grant at the great fair held at Dearborn Park, July, 1865. It was he who introduced the resolutions which were adopted by the council relative to Lincoln's funeral.1

At the time of the great fire of 1871, he was president of the council, and rendered valuable service in bringing order out of chaos and securing succor for the destitute. A detailed account of his efficient work at that trying period may be found in Andreas' History of Chicago, Vol. II, pp. 761-772.2 At the next municipal election both the great political parties—Republican and Democratic—placed Mr. Holden in nomination for the mayoralty, each also nominating a full ticket for the other city offices. But there was an element in the community which was of opinion that political considerations ought not to be regarded at such a time, and in consequence a complete “citizens’” ticket, known as the “fire-proof,” was nominated, containing the names of Joseph Medill for Mayor and David A. Gage for Treasurer. The “fire-proof” ticket was elected.

In 1872, Mr. Holden was an elector on the Greeley ticket, but, with his associates, went down in the political cyclone which swept the country in November of that year.

Previous to this—in March, 1869—Governor Palmer had appointed him a West Chicago Park Commissioner, and re-appointed him in 1871. He accepted the trust, and with his brother commissioners laid out the magnificent system of parks and boulevards which has so largely aided in building up the great West Side. He resigned from the board in 1878.

In 1873, he was called upon to mourn the loss of his wife, who for a lifetime had been his counsellor, his helpmeet, and the honored mistress of his happy home. She passed away July 26, after a lingering illness, and was laid to rest at Rosehill. It was a source of regret to both Mr. and Mrs. Holden that the latter's youngest sister, Rowena (who had been a member of the family since 1858), was not at home during this protracted sickness, she being absent on an extended tour through Europe and the Orient. An adopted daughter, Sarah J., remained to sustain him in his bereavement.

In February, 1873, Mr. Holden left the employ of the Illinois Central railway, after eighteen years' consecutive service, during which period he had aided in selling two million acres of the corporation's lands. He then took a prominent part in the construction of the Chicago & Illinois River Railroad, running from Joliet to Coal City, the charter and organization of which he virtually controlled; he disposed of his interest in this company, whose line ultimately became a part of the Chicago & Alton system.

In 1874, he was elected a County Commissioner, and July 4, 1877, as president of the board, laid the corner stone of the county court house. His investments in real estate proved fortunate, and he has erected several blocks, among them one at the corner of Monroe and Aberdeen Streets and another at Nos. 298 to 302 West Madison Street.

Mr. Holden's adopted daughter, Sarah J., was married, February 17, 1885, to Mr. George M. Sayre, and now resides at Elmira, New York. They have two children, Charles Holden and Gracie. Some three years later, July 11, 1888, he was married for a second time, his bride being Miss Thelena N. McCoy, daughter of Henry M. and Mary (Lakin) McCoy. She was born at Port Perry, Canada, where she received her schooling and musical education. Her mother died in 1879, and she being the eldest daughter, much fell to her lot in caring for the family, which consisted of her father, two brothers and three sisters. She bravely assumed the responsibility. The children were educated, and while caring for her household she was pursuing her musical and other studies. The western fever having seized her father, he removed with his family to South Dakota, where, in the winter of 1888, they passed through the terrible blizzard that scourged the Dakotas, and where he is now living a quiet life with his second wife, in Mitchell, of that State.

Thelena, who had in previous years met Mr. Holden, was married to him July 11, 1888, and accompanied him to their cozy home in Chicago. Her brother Charles, with his wife and three children, lives in Rapid City, South Dakota. Her brother George and wife reside in Hart, Michigan. Her eldest sister, Addie, married Dr. J. H. Reed, of Lansing, Michigan. Her sister Nettie married Dr. T. Allen, of Garnett, Kansas; and Emma, her baby sister, who was always Mrs. Holden's favorite and especial charge, was married to Mr. Lu Newman, of Chicago, in 1888. She died December 1, 1893. Mrs. Holden is of a very domestic nature, and strives to make their home pleasant. It is adorned with much of her own work, she being handy both with the brush and needle, as is clearly shown in their domestic home, which is on the great West Side in this city.

Mr. Holden's mother passed away September 23, 1869, and his father February 23, 1872. They died on the farm they had located in 1836. His sister Mary E. (Mrs. J. W. Freer) died November 28, 1845, and his sister Sarah Ann C. February 13, 1847.

In his social relations he is a member of several well-known organizations, among them the Illinois State Association of Veterans of the Mexican War, the Sons of the American Revolution, the California Pioneers' Association of Chicago, the Old Settlers' Society of Cook County and the German Old Settlers' Association. By the latter organization he was presented with a gold medal in 1888. At the age of sixty-seven, Mr. Holden still retains his mental and physical faculties unimpaired, hale and hearty in his declining years, one of the distinguished products of Chicago's cosmopolitan influence.




1 See Council Proceedings for 1866. p. 8. [Continue reading]
2 See also Council Proceedings for 1871, pp. 346, 347. [Continue reading]