WILLIAM B. PANHORST, whose death occurred in June, 1879, was one of the best citizens of Staunton, and of the leading representatives of the German population of the county. He was born at Langerrich in Prussia, April 5th, 1828. He attended school till about fourteen, and when nineteen made up his mind to come to America. He arrived in this country in the year 1847. He had no friends or relatives on whom he could depend for assistance, and he was obliged to make his own way in the world as best he could. Nothing better offering he found employment in St. Louis as laborer in a brick yard, and the next year obtained a situation in the same business at which, however, he could make better wages. He was industrious and economical, and in a few years had saved enough money to enable to him to bring over his parents and sisters from Germany. They came to America in the year 1854. Of this family only one, (Mr. Panhorst's sister), is now living.
In 1854 Mr. Panhorst engaged in the brick business at Edwardsville, and in 1855 came to Staunton, where he began making brick in partnership with Philip Menk. February 29th, 1856, he married Dorothea Elizabeth Ruther. Mrs. Panhorst was born at the village of Eystrup, near Hoge, Hanover, May 11th, 1837, and was the daughter of Frederick Ruther, who emigrated to America with his family in the year 1847, and first settled on Smooth Prairie, in Madison County, and afterward, in 1850, moved to Staunton. His partnership with Mr. Menk lasted two years, and then Mr. Panhorst engaged in the brick business on his own account, and followed it until January, 1864, when he formed a partnership with James Taylor and opened a store in Staunton. He had at that time by his energy and industry accumulated a capital of two thousand dollars. The partnership with Mr. Taylor continued for six years, during which time the firm did a large and profitable business. After going out of the store in 1870 he was occupied in no regular business till 1871, when in company with Henry Voge he embarked in the enterprise of sinking a coal shaft at Staunton on the line of the Wabash railway, which had recently been constructed. This shaft was one of the first sunk along the line of the railroad, and at the time the enterprise commenced many doubted that it would ever prove a financial success. A large outlay of money was required, and Mr. Panhorst staked his whole fortune on the success of the shaft. Operations were begun in February, 1871, and the first coal was shipped the following October. It was necessary to sink the shaft 325 feet, at which depth a vein of coal of superior quality was struck. The mine was opened at just the right time to prove a fortunate investment to its owners. Prices ranged high, and a ready market was found for all the coal that could be furnished. A contract to supply the engines of the Wabash road proved remunerative, and for several years he and his partner made money rapidly. He terminated his connection with the coal shaft in April, 1877, disposing of all his interest to his partner, Mr. Voge. From that date he was not actively occupied in business. His health began to fail him, and in spite of everything which could be done for his restoration, for the few months preceding his death he declined rapidly. He had in contemplation a trip to Germany, thinking that a voyage across the ocean and a visit to the land of his birth and childhood would be of service in restoring vigor to his impaired constitution, but he became so weak that he found the long journey impossible. In the spring previous to his decease, on the recommendation of his physician, he went to Hot Springs in Arkansas, but the separation from his family seemed to counteract any good effect to be received from a sojourn there. He sent for his oldest son for company, but all the time his condition became worse, and after a stay of three weeks he returned to Staunton. After coming back from the Hot Springs he had no sincere hope of recover. He had the courage, however, to face death calmly and cheerfully. He spoke of the event with resignation, and to the very last close of his life retained the use of his faculties. He adjusted all his business affairs, and called his friends and relatives to his side, and one by one bid them goodbye, and left directions as to his funeral. He died June 23d, 1879, in the fifty-second year of his age. Although in the midst of harvest, when every farmer in the surround country was busy with his crops, the funeral was the most largely attended that every took place in Staunton, which showed the marked respect and esteem in which he was held. The funeral services were conducted by the pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran church, and of the German and English Methodist churches, and his remains were interred in the Ruther cemetery, one mile north of Staunton.
His children were eight in number: Frederick William, John Christopher, Sophia M., Carrie M., Wm. Henry, (who died August 24th, 1868, one year and eleven months of age); George Otto, (who was born February 25th, 1869 and died May 12th, 1872); Albert E. and Henry Otto.
Personally Mr. Panhorst was a man of great industry and energy. He began life with only his own resources upon which to rely, and the competency which he accumulated was the direct result of his own labor, and his wise and enterprising investments. He was trained to habits of economy, but still was liberal in his expenditures, educating his children and surrounding his family with every necessity and comfort. His parents had been connected with the Evangelical Lutheran church, in which he received his education. In later years he was a man of liberal spirit and contributed to the support of the churches of each denomination. He was a good and useful citizen, and his business enterprise was of much importance in promoting the growth of Staunton. The opening of the Staunton coal mine in particular, for which he furnished the entire capital, has been of great benefit to the prosperity of the town. He was always ready to assist the less fortunate and give them his advice and counsel. He took an active interest in politics and public matters, and supported the principles of the republican party with great zeal and devotion. His influence and sound judgment made him one of the best political organizers in his part of the county, and in the county campaigns his help was always largely relied on by the republican leaders. He held many offices of trust. He was a member of the board of trustees of Staunton for several years, and filled the position of president of the board. He was twice elected a member of the board of supervisors from Staunton township, holding that office shortly after the adoption of the township organization, and again in 1878. He discharged every trust with the same fidelity and ability he carried into his own business affairs. He was genial, pleasant, intelligent, public spirited, and high minded, and by his death the county lost a valuable citizen.