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. 528-531.

MARTIN NELSON KIMBELL, one of the most public-spirited of Cook County's pioneers, who ably bore his part in promoting its moral and intellectual progress, as well as aiding in its material prosperity, was born in Stillwater Township, Saratoga County, New York, January 24, 1812. He was the eldest child of Abel Kimbell and Maria Powell. The former was born at Pownal, Bennington, County, Vermont, and was a son of Noah Kimbell, a native of Rhode Island, who removed to Vermont while a young man. The last-named was of Scotch-Irish descent, and a farmer and miller by occupation. He joined the Continental forces and took part in the battle of Bennington. Abel Kimbell, in early life, removed to Saratoga County, New York, where his death occurred in 1833 at the age of forty-two years. He was a veteran of the War of 1812.

Mrs. Maria Kimbell died in Saratoga County, New York, in 1830. Her mother, whose maiden name was Nelson, was of Dutch descent, and her father's name was Frost Powell. He was of English-Welsh extraction, son of Obadiah Powell, a Quaker, who died in Saratoga County at the age of nearly one hundred years. Some time previous to the Revolutionary War he removed thither from Dutchess County, New York, with his wife Betsy, bringing all their belongings on a pack pony. They became the parents of three sons and eight daughters, all of whom lived to extreme old age. During the Revolutionary struggle, Obadiah Powell was much censured by his neighbors on account of his non-combatant principles and most of his personal property was confiscated. He was steadfast in his convictions, however, and lived to become one of the leading farmers of the county. At the age of ninety-eight years he husked several baskets of corn and carried them to the loft of his carriage house. His house was a favorite gathering-place of his numerous descendants, including the subject of this sketch, who was the recipient of considerable attention from the old gentleman on account of his being the first great-grandchild. About 1840 Frost Powell moved to Wisconsin, settling near Waterford, in Racine County, where he died a few years later.

Martin N. Kimbell was but six years old when the family moved to Windham, Bradford County, Pennsylvania, and a few years later another removal was made to Tioga County, New York. Though his parents were able to equip him with little other education, they implanted in his mind those upright and honorable principles which, with the habits of industry, frugality and sobriety acquired in early youth, admirably fitted him for the battle of life. At the age of twelve years he began working out among the neighboring farmers, his first wages being $4 per month. The money earned in this way was spent for schooling—most of his education being obtained after he had passed the age of eighteen years. At the age of twenty he returned to Saratoga County, New York, where he was employed as foreman upon a large farm at the extraordinary salary of $11 per month, the other help receiving from $6 to $8. So satisfactory were his services that he was offered still farther advance in salary but after a few years he again went to Tioga County and taught school for several terms at a salary of $15 per month, boarding around. Having heard wonderful tales of the great West, in 1836 he came to Chicago. His first employment here was at farm work and teaming. In the fall of the same year he made a claim to a quarter-section of land in Jefferson Township, now inside of the city limits, and in the spring of 1837 built a shanty of hay on his claim. In 1838 he purchased this land, paying to the middle man who secured the title from the Government, the sum of $2.50 per acre in annual installments of $100. The same year he built a frame house near the location of his late residence, and engaged in active farming operations. Four years later he rented a hotel on Milwaukee Avenue, at the corner of the thoroughfare now known as Warner Avenue. This house was at that time known as ''The Prairie Grocery,'' but he changed its name to ''Live and Let Live.'' Although this enterprise was quite successful, he resolved to abandon it because it did not provide satisfactory environment for his growing family and two years later he returned to his farm, which was his home during the rest of his life. At one time his farm comprised two hundred and seventeen acres, most of which has been subdivided in city lots. In addition to his farming operations he engaged for some years in jobbing and general contracting. In 1849 he began to grade and plank the highway known as Milwaukee Avenue, and built about three miles thereof, and was afterward employed for five years as superintendent of the Northwestern Plank Road Company. His winters were spent in getting out oak plank for this purpose in the Desplaines woods, and some of the timber is still found in the grade of that thoroughfare. Mr. Kimbell was also interested in several other enterprises, and was for eleven years a director of the National Bank of Illinois. He was always a firm friend of the cause of education. Two terms of school were kept in his house, during which time he boarded the teacher gratuitously, and he often contributed money in excess of his school tax for the purpose of securing capable teachers. The first schoolhouse in his district was built by himself and two neighbors at their own expense. He was a school officer for thirty years, giving of his time and labor for the benefit of the public schools without hope of reward.

In early life he was a Democrat, but upon the passage of the fugitive slave law he renounced that party, and during the agitation which followed that act, he several times sheltered runaway negroes in his house, and rendered them other assistance in escaping from their pursuers. He made no secret of these acts, but such was the respect with which he was held in the community that no one interfered with this practical demonstration of his principles. Upon the organization of the Republican party, he became one of its strongest supporters, and consistently held to that course ever after. He was a member of the first Board of Supervisors of Cook County, and served as Deputy Sheriff at one time. Three of his sons served in the Union Army during the Civil War, in Battery A, First Illinois Light Artillery, and Mr. Kimbell spent most of his time for three years in sanitary and benevolent work for the soldiers. The first contribution of $300 which he raised, was the proceeds of a ball at the Jefferson Town Hall. In this and other ways he subsequently contributed largely to the funds of the Sanitary Commission.

Mr. Kimbell was married on the 31st of August, 1837, to Sarah Ann Smalley. Her father, Nehemiah Smalley, died in 1836, soon after coming to Chicago with his family. Mrs. Kimbell was born in Madison County, New York, April 16, 1816, and has been an able helpmeet of her husband during their long and laborious career. Of their children, Charles B. is now living retired at Hinsdale, Illinois; Julius W. is their second son; Spencer S. is the third; Anne Maria (now deceased) was the wife of Jacob Stryker; Frank A. is a resident of Missouri; Angeline, Mrs. E. H. Smalley, resides at Caledonia, Minnesota; Martin N., the fifth son, resides on part of the old homestead; and Edward C. is a resident of Los Angeles, California. Three of the sons still reside near the old homestead. All are well-known business men, and the firms with which they are connected and manage, have furnished more stone and brick for Chicago buildings than any other firm in existence. Mr. and Mrs. Kimbell had twenty-eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, beside seventeen children and grandchildren by marriage, at the time of his demise. When congregated at the old homestead, this family exceeds in number the gatherings which took place at the house of Obadiah Powell in Mr. Kimbell's childhood.

Mr. Kimbell was a Universalist for fifty-seven years. He contributed toward the building of five churches in the city of Chicago, and was a member of the Church of the Redeemer. All the members of the family cherish the same faith.

Endowed by nature with a strong and vigorous constitution, he always enjoyed good health until about the year 1890, when he began to have trouble with his feet, which gradually developed into gangrene. This continued to increase steadily until, in January, 1895, it was decided by a council of physicians that in order to save, or even prolong his life and relieve the intense suffering he was enduring, it would be necessary to amputate his left leg above the knee. This was accordingly done, with his full consent, and with the hope on the part of the family that his otherwise robust constitution would enable him to rally from the operation. But his advanced age of eighty-three years was against him, and he sank gradually until the end, which came February 13, 1895. The last years of his life were spent in quiet retirement, surrounded by his numerous family, enjoying the fruits of a life of hard and honest labor, combined with temperance, benevolence and frugality, a useful and exemplary life well   worthy of emulation  by  rising generations.


– Submitted by Sherri Hessick on May 26, 2007.


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