Search billions of records on


Source: Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois with Portraits 3rd ed. revised and extended (Chicago: Calumet Book & Engraving Co., 1895), pp. 109-110.

JOHN O’LEARY was for more than half a century one of the most popular and progressive citizens of South Evanston.  He was born in Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland, in 1803.  His father, Capt. John O’Leary, commanded a vessel engaged in the East India trade, and died at sea, of a fever contracted in the tropics.  This occurred during the early childhood of the son, who soon after had the misfortune to lose his mother, and at the age of ten years became the protege of an uncle named Breen, in London.  There he grew up, and at the age of twenty came to New York City, where he became a paving contractor.

In 1836 he became a resident of Chicago, and was engaged in paving that city for two years.  In 1838 he went to Ravenswood, then called Belle Plain, and bought forty acres in the subdivision since known as Sunnyside, which he sold two years later.

In 1840 he bought half a section of land in South Evanston and settled there, engaging in farming.  When the town began to grow he subdivided and sold much of his farm.   He also did an extensive real-estate business, dealing in lake-shore property at Wilmette and other points.  Many people were distrustful of the lake shore, fearing that much of the land would be washed away, but he foresaw that it would eventually be the most desirable and valuable property contiguous to the city, and invested largely therein.   Of his original farm he sold eighty acres for Calvary Cemetery.

In 1851 he went overland to California, where he remained two years, being more successful than the average miner, and clearing over $3,000.  News was not in those days as readily communicated as now, and he returned home on account of a report which reached him that his wife was dead.  His joy can easily be imagined on finding the rumor a false one on his return.

Mr. O’Leary was one of the original stockholders of the Chicago, Evanston & Green Bay Road Company, which maintained a paved roadway from 1860 to 1884 as a toll-road. He was a member of the Roman Catholic Church from boyhood, and a life-long Democrat in political sentiment.  He took a keen interest in public affairs, serving, though unwillingly, as Highway Commissioner and County Supervisor.

While a resident of New York City, Mr. O’Leary married Miss Margaret Matteson, who was born in Ireland and reared in England, and still survives, at the age of eighty-eight years.  Of their ten children, one died in childhood.  John, the second, enlisted in 1861 in Company C, Twenty-second Illinois Volunteer Infantry, and died while in the service, in August, 1864.  Daniel, the third, is now a resident of Oklahoma.  The others are residents of Evanston, and are named as follows:  Mary (Mrs. Gerherd Brienen); Ellen, widow of Michael Lynch; William, Margaret, David P. and Arthur, the sons being engaged in business at Evanston.

After a long and useful career Mr. O’Leary passed away at his home in South Evanston, March 23, 1892.  He was a man of remarkable loquacity, good humor and kindness of heart, who could not fail to become popular with every one whom he met.

                                -- Submitted on 10/11/99 by Sherri Hessick ( )