COBUS J. KEISER. The name which our subject bears is inseparably connected with the history of the thriving town of Mt. Olive in which he makes his home. Indeed, no one has done so much for the place as he, for every enterprise of any importance that has served to aid in the upbuilding of the community has found in him a supporter. We therefore with pleasure present this sketch to our readers, as well as the lithographic portrait on the opposite page.
Mr. Keiser was born in Hanover, Germany, September 4, 1844, and comes of a good family, the members of which are characterized by temperate, industrious and enterprising habits. His father, John J. Keiser and his mother, whose maiden name was Geske Heien, were born, reared and married in Hanover, where their children were also born. In 1854, with their family they sailed for America from Bremen, and on landing in New Orleans, proceeded up the Mississippi to Alton, spending the succeeding winter in Madison County, Ill. In the spring of 1855, they settled on section 14, Mr. Olive Township, the one hundred and twenty acre farm being then in its primitive condition. The father died soon afterward, on the 6th of September. He was a noble man, and died in the faith of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. His widow, who long survived him, was a lady of many marked characteristics. She possessed excellent executive ability, and managed to keep her children together, provide them with good educations, and lived to see them all prosperous in life. She died at the home of her daughter Anna in 1889, at the ripe old age of seventy-eight years. She, too, was a member of the Lutheran Church.
The subject of this sketch, after acquiring a good education in the public schools and the State University, entered upon his business career. We feel safe in saying that none other has done so much to make Mt. Olive one of the busiest commercial points in this part of the State. By so doing he has not only secured a fortune, but has become one of the most prominent men of the county. Since 1866 Mr. Olive has grown to its present proportions. In that year, Mr. Keiser with his father-in-law, J. C. Nieman, established a small mercantile house, and the next spring embarked in general merchandising. That was the beginning of the business which has grown and developed until it occupies several of the largest store rooms of the place, and represents every branch of merchandise known, except drugs and lumber. Their business houses are model structures, and the stock of goods contained therein, whatever it be, is complete.
When the Wabash Railroad was built through Mr. Olive, in 1870, Mr. Keiser assumed control of all of the business at this point, and was thus connected with the road until 1877, when more important and pressing business interests caused him to resign. He gave a decided impetus to the growth of the town by opening up a coal mine and organizing the Mt. Olive coal Company. He became one of the most extensive stockholders, and was made Superintendent and active Business Manager, continuing as such for some years. A shaft was sunk four hundred feet to a rich vein of coal, seven feet thick and of superior quality. The output was about sixty carloads per day, and a second shaft was completed in 1879, but after some years, owing to a delinquency and a lack of energy on a part of some of the stockholders, the business was transferred to the hands of the Consolidated Coal Company of St. Louis, which has realized a handsome profit therefrom. However, the transfer was made much against the will of Mr. Keiser.
Seeing the need of a flourmill, and anxious to aid in the upbuilding of industries, in 1876, Mr. Keiser and Henry Prange erected the large Anchor Mills, which have proved of such value to the city. After some years of successful operation, the firm title was changed in 1881 to Keiser Bros., Andrew J. Keiser succeeding Mr. Prange. The mill under went a radical and important change in 1887, and is now supplied with all the modern and best milling machinery. The capacity is about two hundred barrels per day, and is run to nearly its full extent. The shipments are both foreign and domestic, and the leading brands of flour which they manufacture are the "Patent Loaf" and "Triumph." To the mill is attached an elevator with a capacity of twenty-five thousand bushels, and the firm also does considerable grain buying at Warden and Gibson City, Ill.
The increase of business connected with the mercantile firm of Keiser, Niemeyer & Co., awoke the owners to their need of a bank, and in 1882 C. J. Keiser established and located the bank in his large brick building, at the corner of Main and Poplar streets. It is a private bank and is supplied with all the appliances and appointments for doing a general banking business, including a fine vault and burglar-proof lock safe for the accommodation and safety of their depositors. Mr. Keiser is President and General manager, with Theo. Koch, Cashier, a model young man. Mr. Keiser has also been instrumental in securing excellent railroad facilities to Mt. Olive. He was the prime mover in building the branch of the Peoria & St. Louis Railroad, from Mt. Olive to Alhambra, Ill., where it connects with the Clover Leaf, running into St. Louis. In this undertaking it was necessary to make large expenditures of money and time, and the successful completion indicates the business ability and energy which has marked the career of Mr. Keiser through life. Again, when the Jackson & Southeastern Road decided to run a branch through Mt. Olive, the company found Mr. Keiser at the front with his money, all eagerness to assist. He gave valuable lots for depot purposes, and in other ways aided in the establishment of the road.
In every good cause Mr. Keiser is equally liberal, and when the magnificent German Lutheran Church was built - the finest edifice of the kind in the city, and one of the largest in the county - he gave the beautiful lots on which it is located, together with $3,000 for the building. He also gave to the city the lot on which the City Hall and Public Library are located.
After having marked out his business career, Mr. Keiser, on the 9th of November, 1866, led to the marriage altar Miss Mary C. Nieman, the accomplished daughter of John C. Nieman, whose sketch appears elsewhere in this work. She was born January 21, 1848, and until her marriage lived with her father and stepmother, for she had lost her own mother when young. She has been a true helpmate to her husband, taking a deep interest in all his business, and aiding him by her words of encouragement and sympathy. Unto them were born several children, of whom the following survive: Paulina, Amanda, Adolph, Edward and Bertha. Mrs. Keiser adheres closely to the Lutheran faith, and is a true Christian woman. She neglect no opportunity for doing good, and in social circles is a leader. When doing so much for public interests, Mr. Keiser did not neglect his family. He has been ever watchful for their welfare and happiness, and provided for them a palatial residence, which is built of brick in the latest style of architecture, and is complete in all its appointments. It possesses every feature for comfort and enjoyment, is heated by furnace and supplied with hot and cold water, is beautifully and tastefully furnished and adorned with many works of art, which indicates a cultured and refined taste.
In local political circles, Mr. Keiser is also a leader. He was for seventeen years Postmaster of Mt. Olive, has been President of the Town Board for six years in succession, from 1877 to 1883, and elected again in 1891. When the new township was formed out of the north half of Staunton township, he was elected the first Supervisor in 1883, and held that office until 1891, during which time he did much toward reducing the enormous courthouse debt by securing a large reduction of interest that was being paid. As before intimated, he is a Lutheran in religious belief, and for a long while he has been Superintendent of the Sunday school. He is also an officer of the church and one of its most active workers. His frank, open countenance bespeaks a life above reproach, and his friends are found not only in Illinois, but in adjoining States as well. Although his life has been a busy one, his time is never so occupied that he cannot greet his acquaintances with a gentlemanly courtesy, and the poor as well as the rich, if their lives are deserving, receive his kindly recognition. His fortune has been acquired in the legitimate channels of business, and his possessions he has generously shared with those in need of aid.