REYNOLDS, RALPH. - Viewed from the standpoint of diversity of experience, capacity for contributing to the well-being of the community, allegiance to those qualities which constitute the fundamentals of good citizenship, and length of association with the stable happenings of Morgan County, the career of Ralph Reynolds must be regarded as a singularly interesting and fortunate one. Mr. Reynolds was born north of Liverpool, England, November 25, 1821, and is a son of Ralph Reynolds, also a native of England.
Ralph Reynolds, Sr., a scholar and man of wide information, was educated for a sea captain, but refrained from yielding to his nautical inclination at the request of his mother. He married in England, and at the death of his wife in 1834 three sons and a daughter were left to his care. Embarking in a sailing vessel bound for the United States, he finally arrived in St. Louis, not knowing he was in a slave State, and in 1839 came to Morgan County, locating in the then small town of Jacksonville. By this time his son and namesake, Ralph, was fourteen years old, and of sufficient education and development to share in the labor of the older man. Together father and son worked on the Northern Cross Railroad (now the Wabash), which had been built by the State and equipped with wooden rails and mules for motive power. They took up the wood and laid iron rails, living meanwhile in a cabin in the timber, and, this contract having been completed, migrated to Canada to put in a bid for Government works, which, however they failed to secure. In 1845 they went to Dubuque, Iowa, leased land and engaged in lead mining for four years.
The resourcefulness of the Reynolds became apparent during the winter of 1848-49, when they gathered provisions and supplies, and made arrangements to undertake the long journey across the plains to the gold fields of California. With ox-teams and wagons they started in the early spring of 'forty-nine, proceeding by way of the Mormon trail to Salt Lake City, and thence to the sink of the Humboldt, where a contention arose in the party as to the better of two routes - that by way of the Truckee or Carson River. Ralph Reynolds, Sr., who at the start had been elected Captain of the company, ordered the big wagons and cattle on to the Cason route, but eight rebelled and went the Truckee way, to meet the bitter fate of many of the early argonauts. The more fortunate party was seven months on the way, and during that time toiled along dusty trails, crossed deserts, starved ad thirsted through the long stretches of sage covered plains, guarded the camp at night from the approach of stealthy savages, forded rivers, avoided quicksands, climbed the ascent of the Rocky Mountains, and wandered among the precipices of the Sierra Nevadas. Arriving at their destination, they bought gold dust and had it coined, and for about one month engaged in mining, until the inhaling of quicksilver undermined the health of the younger man. Thereupon they sold their mining interests to Joseph M. Douglas, who, as a result of the further development of the gold dust business, cleared up an even $1,750,000. On April 6, 1855, they embarked at San Francisco for Panama, and, upon arriving in New York, the son, still in a weakened condition, crossed the ocean to Europe, and for six years lived with his family at his old home near Liverpool.
In 1861 Mr. Reynolds returned to Jacksonville, where he owned property and had numerous business interests, and where he unexpectedly came into possession of one of the finest farms in Morgan County, and the State. He had loaned $10,000, and received no interest, and in self-defense bought this immensely fertile property. Four years later he sold the farm and since has made his home in Jacksonville, living in the same house since the close of the Civil War. The last year of his life in the country is held in pleasant remembrance because of the sojourn there of Richard Cobden, the eminent British statesman and philanthropist.
Since living in Jacksonville Mr. Reynolds has been much interested in real estate brokerage, and has consummated some of the largest deals in the county and State. The most important of these, however, was the sale of the Alexander estate, in partnership with M.P. and A. E. Ayers, for $486,000. The commissions alone would have amounted to over $90,000. The brokers, however, waived a large share of their rights, receiving only $13,000 each.
Since assisting to organize the Prohibition party in Springfield about thirty years ago, Mr. Reynolds has not voted the Republican or Democratic ticket. In the meantime he has suffered somewhat for his devotion to a high principle, and has been the defeated candidate for Mayor, and State Senator. He was President of the Board of Trustees when the city charter was adopted, and was largely instrumental in getting the same through the Legislature. The same winter W. S. Hook secured a charter for the Jacksonville Street Railroad, but Mr. Reynolds secured two amendments to the charter, one stipulating that the road should not run through the Public Square and the other that rolling stock should be operated within three years. In the face of great opposition Mr. Reynolds opened the Diamond Grove Cemetery about forty years ago, converting a 40 acre brush tract into a solemn and beautiful city of the dead, laying out the walks and drives himself, and otherwise contributing to is appropriateness and utility. So bitter was the feeling against an innovation, which since has proved of incalculable benefit to the town, that threats were made to burn his house over his head.
With his family Mr. Reynolds is a member of the Baptist Church. Two years ago he celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of his marriage, which occurred October 26, 1844. Mrs. Reynolds, formerly Ellen Perry Routt, was born in London England, in July, 1826, and comes of a fine old English family. Eight of the ten children of Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds are living: Thomas C., born September 14, 1849; Sarah Jane, born December 6, 1853, the wife of William Becraft, of Paris, Ky.; Frances Ann, born December 7, 1855, the wife of Walter Rice, of Jacksonville; Elizabeth Ellen, born March 15, 1858, the wife of William J. Stevenson, of Omaha, Neb.; Mary Emma, born May 19, 1860, living with her parents; Ralph Bright, born June 14, 1862, a resident of Jacksonville; Richard Cobden, born February 5, 1864; and Charles Walter, born June 1, 1866, a resident of Indianapolis, Ind. James C., the second of the children, who was born November 25, 1848, is deceased, as is also Humboldt C., the third child, who was born September 14, 1849. At the age of eighty-four years Mr. Reynolds retains much of the vigor, and all of the heart and interest of youth. His life has sped by with settings of increased prosperity, and he has borne well, as becomes a Christian gentleman and a high minded man, those trying experiences and discouragements which visit even the most fortunate of men.