JAMES W. CHEANEY, deceased, was one of the representative and honored men of Menard county, connected with many lines of activity and enthusing his progressive spirit into the measures which have resulted greatly to the benefit of town and county. In political, business and social circles he bore an unassailable reputation in the community where he made his home, and his death was therefore the occasion of deep and sincere regret among his many friends.
Mr. Cheaney became a resident of Menard county in 1855. His birth occurred in Fleming county, Kentucky, February 4, 1830, his parents being Edward and Sarah (Neal) Cheaney. The father was a farmer and miller, following the two pursuits in Kentucky. The son was reared in his native state and educated in the public schools. After laying aside his text-books he worked on the farm for a time. He seemed to have imbibed his father's knowledge of carpentry and was a natural mechanic and builder. Having become tired of farm work, one day while plowing he took the harness off the horse and returning to the house he told the family that he could stand it no longer, as it was too slow for him there. He then went to Frankfort, Kentucky, where he hired out to a carpenter at full pay as a journeyman, his employer never knowing that he was not an expert carpenter, so skillful was he at handling tools. After a short time spent at that place he went to Louisville, Kentucky, where he remained two or three years, and later spent some time in Fort Smith, Arkansas, but while there his health failed. In 1855 he came to Petersburg, Illinois, and as a contractor and builder formed a partnership with Messrs. Quinn and Anderson. They were associated in business for about seven years or until 1862, when Mr. Cheaney turned his attention to the lumber trade, in which he continued until elected to public office. As a lumber merchant he was a member of the firm of Cheaney & Tice and later Cheaney & Hatfield, and upon his withdrawal from the business he sold his interest to Ewing Clark.
In 1869 Mr. Cheaney was elected county treasurer and assessor for a term of four years and proved a capable official, discharging the duties in a prompt and efficient manner. On the expiration of his term he retired from office as he had entered it - with the confidence and regard of all. He then went upon the road as a traveling salesman for the Chicago Lumber Company and represented its interests in that way for twenty years. His genial manner, cordial disposition, unfailing courtesy and thorough understanding of the business made him popular with the many patrons whom he secured for the house, and his capability as a salesman made him a trusted and valued employee of the Chicago Lumber Company. About 1894 he again engaged in the lumber business on his own account in Petersburg in partnership with his son Ed under the style of E. S. Cheaney & Company, and in this enterprise he continued up to the time of his death.
Mr. Cheaney was married February 4, 1858, at the old homestead on Rock creek, to Miss Sarah Catherine Houghton, who was born in Menard county, November 11, 1836. Her father, Elijah Houghton, removed from Kentucky to Menard county about 1821 and purchased a tract of land. He married Catherine Merrill, also from Kentucky, and both were members of old New Jersey families. Mrs. Cheaney's grandfather, Aaron Houghton, was a soldier of the Revolutionary war and other members of the family served in the Black Hawk war. Mrs. Cheaney is the youngest in a family of eight children, six of whom were born of the father's first marriage. Unto our subject and his wife were born two sons and a daughter. Edgar S., born in 1858, married Miss Maggie Miller and is engaged in the lumber business in Petersburg. Mary Belle, born in 1860, is the wife of John C. Pyatt, of Jacksonville, Illinois. Dr. William J. Cheaney, born in 1870, married Lula Ayres, of Athens, and they have three children. Mrs. Cheaney belongs to the Christian church, is identified with its societies and is also a member of several ladies' clubs.
Mr. Cheaney was called to his final rest on the 23rd of February, 1902, at the age of seventy-two years and nineteen days. In his political views he was a staunch Democrat and was ever active in the party, doing all in his power to promote its growth and insure its success. He belonged to Clinton lodge, No. 19, A. F. & A. M., also to Salem lodge, No. 123, I. O. O. F., and his funeral services were held under the auspices of the latter organization. He was likewise a member of the Illinois Lumber Dealers' Association.
The following part of the obituary notice read by Elder Groves at the time of his death: "For forty-seven years he has been intimately associated with the growth and welfare of this city, as one of its most intelligent business men and public spirited citizens. He was exact and scrupulous in all of his business dealings; his word or promise in any transaction was taken without any hesitation. In his view the highest citizenship was comprehended in the morality, enterprise and integrity of the people. His style was simple and easy; be employed not many words, but such as had a well understood meaning and were direct to the point.
"Brother Cheaney was by education, instinct and from choice a gentleman; he was well informed on topics of public concern, and had the rare faculty of expressing his views with the logic of directness. I think when we come to a proper estimate of his character and seek after the secret of his sympathy and affection we shall find it in the richness and integrity of his moral nature, in that sincerity, that transparent honesty, that truthfulness which laid the basis for everything of goodness to which we do honor today. He lived in peace with his neighbors and enjoyed their friendship. He never gave up his old-time hospitality; his home was free to his friends and even the strnger found a welcome there. He was always genial in his manner, pure in purpose and clear in his opinions.
"Brother Cheaney was a public spirited man and the monuments to his enterprise will survive for years. His gifts to public and religious institutions were frequent and generous. He gave to the churches, to the poor, to public and individual enterprises. He was as unostentatious in his beneficences as he was in person and manners. He was possessed of many if not all the attributes of a Christian, but was not a member of any church; yet there was a living faith that made him fear no evil in the silent valley. He believed that some guardian angel would stand by the broken column through death's dark night and raise him up in the eternal morning.
"No man has left a better record for honor, integrity and uprightness. He was a kind and obliging neighbor and a devoted father and husband. Those who have been his associates for many years say they have ever found him a considerate, kind and helpful neighbor and friend, careful of their needs in health or sickness. Companionship with such a man is a benediction.
"There are left to mourn his departure the devoted companion of his earthly pilgrimage, two sons, one daughter, eleven grandchildren and a host of friends."