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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. 189-190.

WILLIAM R. DERBY, who was for many years prominently identified with the history of this community, was numbered among the honored pioneer settlers, having become a resident of Cook County in 1834. He was born in Dorset, Bennington County, Vermont, on the 17th of March, 1805, and was a son of Sylvester Derby, whose birth occurred in the same locality in 1780. In 1816 the father removed with his family to Genesee County, New York, where he remained until his death, which occurred at the ripe old age of ninety years.

William Derby spent the first sixteen years of his life at his parents' home, and then began to learn the trade of a wool carder and dresser, which he followed for nine years. He later engaged in the hotel business for nearly two years, and in 1834 he emigrated westward to try his fortunes on the broad prairies of Illinois. He settled on section 34, township 37, range 11 about three miles southeast of the village of Lemont. At that time there were only two houses between Joliet and Chicago. The latter place was a small village, and the most far-sighted could not have dreamed of the prominence and importance which were to make it the metropolis of the West and one of the important cities of the world. Mr. Derby had for neighbors a brother-in-law, Jeremiah Luther, Orange Chauncy and Joshua Smith, all natives of Vermont except Mr. Luther, who was born in New York. When Mr. Derby came to Cook County he had a span of horses, harness and wagon, some household effects and $40 in money. He disposed of his team in order to pay for his land when it came into market, and he was thus enabled to purchase one hundred and forty acres. It was wild land, but with characteristic energy he began its development, and in course of time transformed it into a fertile farm. He built a log house, in which he lived for about twenty-five years, and then erected a two-story brick residence, which he made his home until 1879, when he sold his farm (then containing two hundred acres) and removed to Lemont.

Mr. Derby was married on the 28th of June, 1830, in Castile, New York, to Miss Eliza N. Luther. Together they traveled life's journey for about half a century. On the 5th of April, 1880, Mrs. Derby was called to the home beyond. She was beloved by all who knew her and her friends were many, By their marriage were born four children, of whom two are now living. Sylvester L., the elder, was born in Castile, New York, September 18, 1836, and at a very early age was brought to Lemont, where he has since made his home. He graduated from the high school of Chicago, and during his early business career followed farming, but in 1879 he disposed of his land and removed to Lemont, where he embarked in the lumber trade, and also in the manufacture of lumber in Michigan. His standing as a business man is above reproach. His systematic methods, his enterprise and his fair and honorable dealing have gained him the confidence and esteem of all with whom he has been brought in contact. He enjoys a liberal patronage, and has a well-equipped lumber-yard. On the 24th of September, 1855, he was married to Charlotte D. Russell, of Dover, New Hampshire, and to them were born five children, four yet living, namely: Mrs. Ida E. Brown, Sylvester O., O. R. and J. A. L. The three sons are associated with their father in the lumber trade. They are thorough business men, of sterling integrity, and the firm is one of prominence in the community. Sylvester L. Derby has been honored with several offices of trust, the duties of which have ever been discharged with promptness and fidelity. In politics he is a Republican. In 1892 he was President of the Illinois Retail Lumber Dealers' Association. Although he is now nearing his sixtieth birthday, he is still hale and hearty as a young man of twenty-five, and is recognized as one of the leading citizens of Lemont.

John T. Derby, the younger son of William R. Derby, was born in Lemont, October 29, 1840, acquired his early education in a log schoolhouse at Gooding's Grove and later was graduated from Castile University. He began life as a school teacher in the town of Palos, Cook County, and for several years continued teaching in Cook and Will Counties. He studied law with Judge J. P. Atwood, of Chicago, where he was admitted to the Bar, and in 1873 was chosen Assistant County Superintendent of Schools under George D. Plant, which position he held until the close of Mr. Plant's official term. He was the first City Attorney of Lemont, and was a member of its first Board of Education. On the 7th of May, 1862, was celebrated his marriage with Clara H. Dakin, of Millerton, Dutchess County, New York, and by their union were born three children, of whom Nettie E. and Edward D. are now living. Mrs. Derby died February 1, 1885, and in 1886 Mr. Derby married Miss Abbie E. Jones, of Du Page, Will County, Illinois. He is at present engaged in the practice of law, and is a radical temperance man, who supports by his ballot the Prohibition party.

William R. Derby, whose name heads this record, was an advocate of Democratic principles and was often called to office by his fellow-townsmen. He served as Supervisor, was also Justice of the Peace for five years, was Township Treasurer sixteen years and Township Clerk for several years. In these various offices he was ever true and faithful. All who knew him respected him for his upright life and straightforward dealings and for a public and private career which were alike above reproach.


– Submitted by Sherri Hessick on November 23, 2008.


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