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. 67-69

ORVIS FRENCH, one of the best-known citizens of Evanston, traces his lineage from some of the well-known pioneers of New England.  He was born at Barre, Vermont, January 31, 1822, and is a son of David and Delia French.  Both the parents were descended from John and Grace French, of Braintree, Massachusetts, who died at that place in 1692 and 1680, respectively.  The latter was a daughter of John Alden, of Plymouth Colony.   David French represented the fourth, and his wife the fifth, generation of the French family in America.  David French was born at Westmoreland, New Hampshire, and removed at the age of sixteen years to Barre, Vermont.  He was a tanner and currier by occupation.

Orvis French was educated at the public schools of Barre, and also spent three months at an academy at Montpelier.  From the age of fifteen years he was familiar with mercantile business.  He began as a clerk for G. W. Collamore, working the first fifteen months for forty dollars, and boarding with his parents.  He persevered in this undertaking, however, and after a few years was enabled to engage in business for himself in his native town. In 1856 he came West and located at Milwaukee.  That city being superior to Chicago in commercial importance at that time, it seemed to offer the best inducements for business.  He began dealing in dry goods at wholesale, and continued to be thus engaged there until 1867, when he came to Chicago.  In this city he embarked in the wholesale clothing trade, under the style of French Brothers & Company, his first place of business being at Number 40 Randolph Street.   He afterwards became interested in other enterprises, but when these were annihilated by the great Chicago fire, he ceased to be identified with mercantile pursuits.

Upon his removal from Milwaukee, he took up his residence at Evanston, then a comparatively insignificant village, erecting a commodious dwelling at the corner of Hinman Avenue and Greenwood Street.  He cheerfully extended his hospitality to many of the homeless refugees who fled from the city immediately after the great fire, and as a number of these desired to become permanent guests, at their solicitation he opened a boarding-house.  This establishment became so popular that it was necessary to frequently enlarge the building occupied, which was originally constructed for a private residence, and the French House became and still is a very popular hostelry.  It was patronized by the best class of people, and he was thus brought in contact with a large number of people, causing him to be widely known and deservedly popular.  His health having become impaired, in1892 he sold out the hotel and retired from active business.  In recent years he has compiled and drawn a large genealogical tree of the French family.  It includes the names of nearly two hundred own cousins of himself.

Mr. French has been twice married.  On the 10th of January, 1847, Miss Maria Earl became his bride.  She was a daughter of Oliver Earl, of Barre, Vermont.  Mrs. French survived but a few years after coming West, her death occurring on the 7th of January, 1865, at the age of nearly forty-one years.  She left a family of five children, the first-born, Ralph Eugene, having died in childhood.  The names of the survivors are Julia Martha, now the wife of William Hayden, of Evanston; Orvis Clinton, also residing in Evanston, and connected with the great wholesale grocery establishment of Durand & Company, of Chicago; Sarah Helen, the wife of Professor C. W. Pearsons, of the Northwestern University; and Josephine and Fred Earl, the latter being connected with the well-known dry-goods house of Farwell & Company.  On the 6th of September, 1866, Mr. French was married to Mrs. Martha F. Carpenter, daughter of Nathaniel Farrington, of Walden, Vermont.   Mrs. French has one son, Edward Farrington Carpenter, who is a member of a Chicago firm engaged in the wholesale boot and shoe trade.

Mr. French was reared in the Methodist faith by his mother, who was one of the most faithful disciples of John Wesley.  For some years after coming to Evanston, he was connected with the Avenue Presbyterian Church, and served as one of the Trustees of that organization.   Upon the formation of the Congregational Church he united with that society, and still retains his connection therewith.  He cherishes a chair and small table, now over seventy-five years old, which were frequently used by his mother in entertaining church dignitaries at her house, with the decanter of wine which was in those days considered an indispensable adjunct of hospitality.

Before coming West Mr. French was a contributor toward the construction of Barre Academy, and became one of the corporators of that institution, in which several men since prominent in Chicago business connections received their early training.  He is prominently connected with the Masonic order, which he joined in 1853, and was the originator of Evanston Chapter Number 144, Royal Arch Masons.  For many years he was an officer of that chapter, and in 1885 the first life membership granted by the lodge was bestowed upon him.  He is also one of the charter members of Evanston Commandery, Knights Templar, and his active and disinterested services in behalf of the order have caused him to receive many glowing encomiums from the different lodges with which he has been connected.  He is a member of the Sons of Vermont in Chicago. In political affiliations he was in early life a Whig, and joined the Republican party when it was first organized.  For three years he served as Justice of the Peace in Evanston, discharging his duties with dignity and fairness.  His whole course in life has been such as to justify the confidence of his fellow-men and insure to him a peaceful and honorable old age.

                                -- Submitted on 10/16/99 by Sherri Hessick ( )