DAVIS, JOHN ROBERT , President of the John R. Davis Baking Company and Mayor of the city of Jacksonville, was born in his home city, May 23, 1864, a son of John and Fannie (Bonner) Davis. In 1848 his father emigrated to the United States from Scotland, his native land, coming direct to Jacksonville, where he at once engaged in working at his trade, that of a shoemaker. When the news of the discovery of gold in California reached the East, he joined a company of men bound for the new Eldorado and started overland with his family, traveling by ox-team via Council Bluffs. His family at this time consisted of his wife, who was a native of Ireland, and to whom he had been married in Jacksonville. Mr. Davis remained in California for five years, operating in the gold fields of that State with a fair measure of success. Returning home by way of Cape Horn in 1854, he devoted the remainder of his life to his trade in Jacksonville. His death occurred in 1901, and that of his wife in 1902. Mr. Davis was one of the most highly respected residents of the city, a man whom others delighted to honor. A consistent member of the Centenary M. E. Church, he served as Steward and Trustee of that society for many years. During his residence in California he was made a Mason, and upon his return to Jacksonville became a member of Harmony Lodge, No. 3, A.F.&A.M. He was also a member of Illini Lodge, No. 4, I.O.O.F. Mr. and Mrs. Davis became the parents of seven children, as follows: John, Mary and Sarah, all deceased; Albert R., a member of the John R. Davis Baking Company; John R.; George P., who is connected with the Railway and Warehouse Commission, of Chicago; and Mary, wife of Edward Kinney, of Jacksonville.
John R. Davis received his education in the public schools of Jacksonville. At the age of seventeen years he began learning the baker's trade, and for three years was employed at that vocation. He was then appointed Baker's Instructor in the Illinois Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, resigning at the end of nine years, upon the election of John P. Altgeld to the Governorship. At that time he established himself in the bakery business at Jacksonville, an undertaking which he has been rarely successful. Upon his election to the Mayoralty in 1900 he received his brother, Albert R., and his sister, Mrs. Kinney, into partnership with him, organizing the company which now operates the industry.
Always actively interested in affairs pertaining to the municipal welfare, in 1898 Mr. Davis entered the City Council as Alderman from the Second Ward, and at once became recognized as an earnest champion of much-needed city improvements. In 1900 he became the nominee of the Republican party for the office of Mayor of Jacksonville, and was elected by the largest majority ever accorded a candidate for the office up to that time. For the first time in the history of the city an unwritten law regarding second terms was violated, when he was re-nominated for the office and reelected by a majority of 400 votes greater than that accorded him at the first election. On this occasion his candidacy was upon a platform of continued public improvements, which had been inaugurated on an elaborate scale during his first term.
On April 18, 1905, he was reelected for a third term by a majority of 302, after one of the most bitter contests in the history of the municipalities of Illinois, in which a desperate effort was made to effect his defeat. During his administration the city of Jacksonville has witnessed the greatest era of municipal advancement during its entire history. Through his efforts a satisfactory system of street cleaning has been inaugurated for the first time, and has proven entirely satisfactory. The work of street improvement has included the paving of the following streets: Hardin Avenue, East Street, Lafayette Avenue, Prospect Street, Grove Street, Park Street, Westminster Street, Caldwell Street, Pine Street, Court Street, South Church Street, Fayette Street, Clay Avenue, Morton Avenue and the Public Square. The work accomplished during the period from 1900 to 1905 has been greater than all that had been done up to that period. He was also instrumental in enlisting the support of Samuel W. Nichols in the work of enhancing the public park system of the city, the direct result of which was the gift by Mr. Nichols of $10,000 for the new park on Morgan Lake, and a vote by the taxpayers for its perpetual care and maintenance. He also was instrumental in securing further park improvements, including fountains, the pagoda in the Public Square and the steel arches on the four sides of the square. When first elected he advocated the policy of taking the city cemeteries out of politics and placing their control in the hands of a nonpartisan commission, a policy to which the Council, at the request of the citizens, agreed. In 1904 he succeeded in organizing a complete police and fire patrol system, which, with the fire engine purchased during his administration, gives the city a fine fire service. With John A. Ayers he enlisted the cooperation of eastern capital in the movement for a more adequate water supply, with the result that the Council has granted a franchise to Macky & Gardiner, of New York, enabling them to institute a new waterworks system, with the Illinois River as the source of supply. Though the public improvements noted have entailed an expense upon the city greater than during any similar previous period, all accounts against the municipality have been promptly met at the beginning of each month, and the city is in better financial condition than at any other time for a quarter of a century.
An ardent Republican, Mayor Davis has been actively identified with the workings of his party since attaining manhood. For several years he has been a member of the Morgan County Republican Central Committee, and since 1900 has been its Chairman. In 1900 he was Chairman of the Morgan County delegation to the Republican State Convention, and placed Richard Yates in nomination for the Governorship. Just prior to his second election to the Mayoralty, he received the nomination for the office of State Senator, but was defeated by a majority of 121, though the district ordinarily was almost overwhelmingly Democratic.
Mr. Davis is prominently identified with the industrial and financial interests of Morgan County. He was one of the organizers of the Ayers National Bank, in which he is a director; was one of the organizers of the Whitehall Sewer Pipe and Stoneware Company, a corporation whose plant is located at Whitehall, Ill., though controlled by Jacksonville capital; and is a Director in the Whitehall Railway company. He is also a Trustee and President of the Board of Directors of the Illinois Central Hospital for the Insane, and a Director of the Odd Fellows' Orphans' Home at Lincoln, Ill. In Grace Methodist Episcopal Church he serves as Steward. In his Masonic relations he is a member of Harmony Lodge, No. 3, A.F.&A.M., Jacksonville Chapter, No. 3, R.A.M., Hospitaler Commandery, No. 31, K.T., and Mohammed Temple, N.M.S., of Peoria, Ill. In Odd Fellowship he is connected with Illini Lodge, No. 4, in which he is a past officer, and has been an officer in the Grand Lodge of that order for many years, having served as Grand Marshal for two terms. He is also a member of Jacksonville Lodge, No. 152, K. of P., in which he has been an officer, and of Jacksonville Camp, No. 912, M.W.A. He was married January 1, 1890, to Esther Woodall, a native of England, and a daughter of John and Mary (Hall) Woodall, who settled at Winchester, Ill. Mr. and Mrs. Davis are the parents of two daughters-Lillian, aged twelve, and Esther, aged seven.
Though a comparatively young man, Mr. Davis has become recognized as one of the leaders in the spirit of progress which has characterized Jacksonville during recent years. In fact, it should be stated that he is the father of the modern city, with its varied improvements. A successful business man, with a predilection for public affairs, he has been able to accomplish a vast amount of good for the city of his nativity, and in all his operations in this direction has given evidence of the possession of a most unselfish public spirit. So firmly has he become intrenched in the confidence and affections of fair-minded and discriminating citizens that it is commonly said that no public trust can be too high to be reposed in his hands with any feeling except that of perfect security.