JOHN FRINK

Source: Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois with Portraits 3rd ed. revised and extended (Chicago: Calumet Book & Engraving Co., 1895), pp. 139-140

JOHN FRINK, who was probably as well known as any man in the United States, outside of National public life, was a leader in the operation of transportation lines before the days of railroads, as well as in railroad building and operation. He was born at Ashford, Connecticut, October 17, 1797, and died in Chicago May 21, 1858. He represented the seventh generation of his family in America, being descended from John Frink, who settled at New London, Connecticut, previous to 1650. The last-named took part in King Philip’s War, as a Colonial soldier, and for his services in that conflict was awarded by the General Court of Connecticut a grant of two hundred acres of land and permission to retain his arms.

John Frink, the father of the subject of this notice, removed about 1810 from Ashford, Connecticut, to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, becoming the proprietor of the Stockbridge Inn, a noted hostelry, which is still kept there. He afterward kept taverns at Northampton and Palmer, Massachusetts. His death occurred at the latter place in 1847, at the age of sixty years.

While a young man, John Frink, whose name heads this article, started out in the operation of a stage line. One of his first ventures was the establishment of a stage line between Boston and Albany, by way of Stockbridge. His partner in this enterprise was Chester W. Chapin, of Springfield, Massachusetts, afterward conspicuous in railroad operations. A branch to New York City was soon added, and the undertaking was entirely successful, becoming a prosperous medium of travel. Mr. Frink was subsequently instrumental in the establishment of a stage line between Montreal and New York, an undertaking of considerable magnitude in those days.

About 1830 he made a trip, by way of Pittsburgh, to New Orleans, and was so favorably impressed with the development and progress of the West that he determined to transfer the field of his operations to a new territory. Accordingly, in 1836, he came to Chicago, and soon after his arrival purchased the stage line in operation between Chicago and Ottawa, Illinois. He soon afterward established a connecting line of steamboats on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, between the latter point and St. Louis, and the route thus completed immediately became a popular thoroughfare. Another stage line was shortly afterwards put into operation between Galena and Chicago, by way of Freeport. Galena was then the metropolis of the Northwest, and this line of stages became the most important overland route of travel in that region. Another extensive undertaking was the establishment of stages between Chicago and Madison, Wisconsin. The business was conducted at the outset by the firm of John Frink & Company, later known as Frink & Walker. This became one of the most powerful business concerns in the Northwest, and its operations eventually extended to Des Moines, Iowa, and Fort Snelling, Minnesota. All competition was driven out of the way, even though business was sometimes conducted for a season at a loss, in order to maintain their supremacy. An immense number of men and horses was employed. The stage sheds were located at the northwest corner of Wabash Avenue and Randolph Street, with extensive repair shops adjacent; and the principal stage office was on the southwest corner of Dearborn and Lake Streets, opposite the Tremont House, then the principal hotel of Chicago.

One of the most important features of the business was the carriage of the United States mails, and the securing and care of the contracts for the same kept Mr. Frink in Washington a large portion of the time, and brought him in contact and intimate acquaintance with the leading politicians and public men of the nation. These contracts, which involved large sums of money, were faithfully carried out, a fact which enabled him to hold them in spite of aggressive competition. He was a man of rare executive ability, excelling the various partners with whom he was associated in that respect to such a degree that he was kept constantly on the move to regulate the administration of business. He was a man of fine physical make-up and of most unusual colloquial and conversational abilities, which made him popular in any circle where he chanced to be. He was extremely fastidious in dress and the care of his personal appearance, and required the most scrupulous care and thrift in all his employes. No man who failed to keep matters under his charge in first-class order could remain a day in his employ.

When the steam locomotive became a practical success, Mr. Frink at once saw that it would supersede the horse as a means of propelling passenger vehicles. He accordingly began to close out his interests in the stage business, transferring his capital and energy to railroad building and operation. He was one of the prime movers in the construction of the Chicago & Galena Union Railroad, and also the Peoria & Oquawka, now a part of the great Burlington System, and in the Peoria & Bureau Valley Railroad, at present a branch of the Rock Island System. He did not live to witness the ultimate completion of these lines, but their success vindicated his foresight and judgment.

Mr. Frink was first married to Martha R. Marcy, who died in Chicago in 1839, leaving three children: John, Harvey and Helen. The last-named became the wife of Warren T. Hecox, one of the original members of the Chicago Board of Trade, and all are now deceased. For his second wife he chose Miss Harriet Farnsworth, who was born in Woodstock, Vermont, July 2, 1810, and died at Wheaton, Illinois, March 7, 1884. Her father, Stephen Farnsworth, was a descendant of Matthias Farnsworth, an early settler of Groton, Massachusetts. The descendants of the last-named, in direct line, were Samuel, who was born at Groton, October 8, 1669; Stephen, born in 1714, died at Charleston, New Hampshire, and who took part in the French and Indian War, in which two of his brothers were killed. Stephen, Jr., father of Mrs. Frink, was born in Charleston, New Hampshire, June 20, 1764. He moved to South Woodstock, Vermont, where he became a prominent farmer and miller. He served as a member of the Vermont Legislature, and was a Justice of the Peace for a great many years.

Mrs. Harriet Frink was one of the earliest members of St. James' Episcopal Church of Chicago, and when Trinity Church was formed on the South Side she joined that society. She afterwards became a member of Christ Church, and continued to be a communicant thereof until her death, both she and her husband being buried from that church. Their children are George, Henry F., and Eva, Mrs. John W. Bennett, all of whom reside at Austin, Illinois.

[Submitter’s Note: Henry Farnsworth Frink’s biography is also in this book and is on-line at http://www.rootsweb.com/~ilbiog/hffrink.htm)

— Submitted by Sherri Hessick on May 6, 2001

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