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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. 183-184


JONATHAN CLARK, prominent among Chicago contractors and builders, was born at West Walton, in the county of Norfolk, England, May 28, 1828. His parents were William and Christina Clark, and his father died when Jonathan, the eldest of four children, was only seven years old. At the age of eight he was put to work herding sheep on the Norfolk commons and keeping the birds off the fields of grain, for which he received two shillings (fifty cents) per week. He went out to service on a farm at twelve years of age. His earnings during the last year of service he saved to pay his way to America. Previous to that time he had contributed his wages to the support of his widowed mother and his younger brothers.

On the 21st of September, 1848, Mr. Clark sailed from England, and arrived in Chicago on the 27th of November, via New York, being nearly ten weeks on the journey. He came by way of the Lakes directly to Chicago, penniless and friendless, but resolute and ready for whatever came. His first employment was hauling wood into Chicago. The winter was very severe, and he froze his feet, and, through the dishonesty of his employer, he lost his wages. In the spring of 1849 he worked six weeks for Jefferson Munson, of Downer's Grove, and then returned to Chicago and became an apprentice to P. L. Updyke and John Sollitt, with whom he spent three years, learning the trade of carpenter and joiner, and at the expiration of that time receiving the sum of $200 for his services. He spent six months as a journeyman, and then began contracting on his own account, and was successful, accumulating money from the start. By saving his earnings, he was able to pay his brother's passage to America in 1849, and in 1850 the two brought over the remainder of the family.

In 1860, in company with his brother, Mr. Clark went overland to Denver, where they fitted up the first express building and the postoffice. After spending the summer there, they returned in the fall by team, as they had gone. On the Platte River Mr. Clark's horse was stolen, and while trying to recover it, he traveled on foot in the night, and was surrounded by wolves, barely escaping with his life. The thief was captured, and Mr. Clark's companions wanted to try him, but as that meant conviction and hanging, he refused to allow it, and the offender was permitted to accompany the outfit to Omaha, and to go unpunished. In 1867 Mr. Clark was appointed by Gov. Oglesby to superintend the construction of Illinois buildings at the Paris Exposition. There the United States Government, recognizing his worth, secured his services in the Department of Works, and appointed him assistant to the Superintendent of the American portion of the exposition. Before returning to the United States, he visited his old home and portions of Switzerland and Germany.

During the years he was engaged in contracting, Mr. Clark did an immense business, and erected many residences, stores and business houses. Among them were the Bowen Block, McCormick Hall Block, Kingsburg Music Hall, Kingsburg Block, the Chicago Water Works, Bigelow Hotel, the Young Men's Christian Association building and Academy of Design, the Brother Jonathan building and the First National Bank building. The reconstruction of the Chicago Water Works was the first job he did after the fire, and the embers were still hot when he began work on it. The Bigelow Hotel occupied the site of the present postoffice, and disappeared in the great fire. Mr. Clark was both builder and owner of the Academy of Design, which was the first building ever erected in Chicago for a fine-arts exhibit.

In 1852 Mr. Clark married Miss Alice Sardeson, a native of Lincolnshire, England, but then a resident of Chicago. Of the marriage, five children were born and all are now living in Chicago. They are: Euna, the wife of Shea Smith, of Shea Smith & Co.; F. W.; George T.; Retta M., now the wife of Dr. Kauffman, of Chicago; and J. Y. The sons F. W. and G. T. are members of the firm of Jonathan Clark & Sons Co., contractors, who have erected many buildings, notable among which are the Art Institute and the Government buildings at Ft. Sheridan. The senior member of this firm is not now actively connected with the company, but is employed in erecting and managing buildings, of which he has about a score, built on ground held on ninety-nine-year leases.

Mr. Clark is a Republican, a member of the Union League and Sunset Clubs, and a Thirty-second Degree Mason, in which order he has held many high offices. He attends, but is not a member of, Dr. Thomas' Church. In his later years he has traveled largely through the United States, including the Pacific Coast and Florida. He has a fruit farm and an elegant residence at Fruitland Park, in the latter State.

Jonathan Clark is numbered among the men who have made Chicago, and given it the character which it bears. Through trials, by perseverance and an honest course, he has risen to prominent place in the city which he has made his residence for almost half a century, and where he is an honored citizen, who bears his years with dignity, and grows old gracefully in the midst of a large circle of devoted friends.

— Submitted by Sherri Hessick on April 3, 2002

DISCLAIMER:  The submitter is not related to the subject of this biography nor is she related to anyone mentioned in the biography.