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One of the conspicuous figures in the history of Hancock county, Indiana, is the distinguished business man and capitalist whose name introduces this review. At the venerable age of eighty years, and mentally alert as in his more active days, he is still identified with the interest of the city of his residence, honored as a citizen whose long and useful career has conferred credit and dignity upon the community and whose abilities in numerous enterprises have brightened his fame, not only within the limits of the county where so much of his life has been spent, but in business and financial circles throughout the state. Holding distinctive precedence as a financier and possessing a strong mentality, an invincible courage and a most determined individuality, he has long been looked upon as a natural leader of men and director of opinion in all matters relating to financial, commercial and industrial affairs.
Nelson Bradley, president of The Greenfield Banking Company, was born in Clermont county, Ohio, May 19, 1822. His father, William Bradley, a native of London, England, was born in the year 1777 and was graduated from Oxford University. He was a profound and erudite scholar and engaged in educational work in his native country. When little past twenty years of age he came to the United States and located in Clermont county, Ohio, where he achieved much more than a local reputation as an educator, being one of the earliest and most successful teachers in that section of the state. During the war of 1812 he entered the American army and served with honor till the close of the contest, taking part in its operations in northwestern Ohio. Receiving his discharge at Sandusky, he returned to Clermont county, where he was united in marriage, when past forty years old, to Miss Mary DeWitt, a native of Bracken county, Kentucky. He then turned his attention to agriculture and was thus engaged until the death of his wife. He lived a long and useful life, passing his later years in the town of Felicity, Ohio, where his death occurred at the advanced age of ninety-one. He was the father of four sons, viz: Wellington, who died when twenty years old; Harvey, a distinguished physician and surgeon of Clermont county, Ohio, died after thirty years of successful practice; William, a retired farmer living in Maxwell, Indiana, and Nelson, whose name heads this review.
Nelson Bradley’s early years were spent on a farm. The advantages for obtaining an education were restricted to a few months’ attendance at the log school house of the pioneer settlement, where for some years his father was teacher. By firmness of purpose and energy of character, which have always been among his most pronounced qualities, he succeeded in acquiring sufficient knowledge of the ordinary branches to serve him as a basis for the business career which marked his course in after life. The inclination for trade which indicated the bent of his mind was quite early developed, and while yet a mere boy he made frequent visits to Cincinnati, thirty-five miles distant, with produce. There were then no railroads to the metropolis, the city depending upon the river trade and such traffic as came by wagon.
He remained on the home farm until his thirtieth year, meantime, on the 29th day of September, 1844, entering into the marriage relation with Miss Elizabeth Gray, who was also born in Clermont county. Starting with but three acres of his own and renting land of his father, he began farming with more courage and resolution than financial strength. Subsequently, with his father’s assistance, he purchased 100 acres of land, which he improved and operated until 1852, when he purchased twenty acres on the newly-constructed Bellefontaine railroad at the present site of McCordsville, Hancock county, Indiana. In September of that year he moved and the following spring opened a general store which proved a profitable enterprise. Public-spirited and energetic, he soon succeeded in having a post-office and railway station established, both of which were placed in his charge. In connection with the store he did an extensive business in buying corn, hogs, cattle and produce. He also bought and sold land in the vicinity and never hesitated when a favorable opportunity presented itself to engage in any undertaking which promised to inure to his financial advantage. Mr. Bradley’s career as a careful business man soon brought him to the favorable notice of the people of Hancock county and in the year 1863 he was elected county treasurer. He held the office two terms and in discharging the duties of the position proved himself worthy the confidence reposed in him. He did not move to Greenfield until 1866, but continued during his incumbency as treasurer to conduct his business at McCordsville; it was not until the expiration of his second official term that he disposed of his interests there and engaged in mercantile trade at Greenfield. His career at McCordsville covered a period of thirteen years, which were, in some respects, the most prosperous of his life, in that they established upon a firm footing his reputation as a sagacious and progressive man. For two years prior to 1871 Mr. Bradley was engaged in the grocery trade, but in the latter years severed his connection with that business and, in partnership with J. Ward Walker, Morgan Chandler, H. A. Swope and S. T. Dickerson, established the Greenfield Banking Company, of which he was elected president. It had a capital of $50,000 and from the beginning proved successful, as well as popular, in that it was managed by gentlemen of superior business abilities, whose integrity as well as financial standing was beyond question. Subsequently it was re-organized as a state bank and so successfully his it been conducted that there has not been a year that the institution has not paid a liberal dividend.
Mr. Bradley is still president of the bank and he has filled the position with marked ability and fidelity to the interest of stockholders and depositors. It is one of the most reliable financial institutions of the state, and to his sagacity and discretion is due much of its prosperity. For twenty years Mr. Bradley was interested in the manufacture of flour in Greenfield, having been a half-owner in the Hancock Flouring Mills.
Mr. Bradley took the lead in many public enterprises and to him more than to any other man is due the credit of introducing into Hancock county the splendid system of highways for which it has long been noted. He was a large stockholder in every gravel road centering in Greenfield, taking a part in the construction of these, besides aiding with his means and influence the promotion of all other internal improvements. He was manager of the old National road for several years and when the county took in hand the matter of free turnpikes he advocated the measure with all the power at his command.
Mr. Bradley is one of Hancock county’s most valuable citizens, ready at all times to lose sight of self that the general welfare of the country might be advanced. He has always stood for progress and improvement, encouraging the investment of capital in this section of the state, aiding in liberal contributions to the development of the county’s resources, and using his influence to induce the location of factories and other enterprises. Some years ago he platted an addition to Greenfield, the greater part of which has since been sold and improved, and, by the investment in buildings of various kinds, he has been instrumental in benefiting the city. Mr. Bradley has been actuated by motives of the most scrupulous integrity and, as stated by another, "He is a man of great energy of character, with ability to plan and skill to execute, as is fully attested by his success in every enterprise which he has undertaken." It would indeed be strange if, with such abilities, he had not in the course of a long and active career, met with financial success. From the beginning until the present, his business life has been characterized by a series of continued advancements and he is now not only one of the ablest financiers but also one of the wealthiest men in Hancock county. He owns a great deal of real estate, in both city and country, to say nothing of his interest in the bank and capital invested in various enterprises. He has contributed liberally to the erection of churches and other public buildings, encouraging the moral as well as the material advancement of the community, and being ever ready to espouse any movement having for its object the uplifting of his fellow men. Originally he was a Whig and cast his first vote for that party’s candidate for governor of Ohio in 1843. Subsequently he became a Republican and, although an active party worker, his popularity with the people, regardless of party ties, may be inferred from the fact of his election to the office of treasurer in a county at that time overwhelmingly Democratic. He served as a member of the city council and while connected with that body was instrumental in promoting important municipal legislation and bringing about needed public improvements.
Although a busy man, deeply immersed in his private affairs, Mr. Bradley’s sound judgment and recognized business abilities have caused him to be chosen to public positions of honor and responsibility. He was appointed by Gov. Matthews a member of the official board of the Indiana Institute for the Blind, in which capacity he served seven years, having been reappointed by Gov. Mount. It was during his incumbency that many important improvements were made, including the repairing of the various buildings, the construction of an electric light plant and the sinking of a deep well which affords an abundant water supply. As a member of this board he displayed the same ability and unselfish devotion to duty which have always characterized him and the manner in which he looked after the interests of the institution and discharged his every function fully justified the wisdom of his appointment.
Mr. Bradley united with the Methodist Episcopal church in 1845 and his life has been that of a faithful disciple of the Nazarene. He has given liberally to the support of the gospel, not in his own church alone, but to all religious bodies, believing them to be potent factors for substantial good in winning the world to the Master. He is an honored member of the Masonic fraternity, his identification therewith dating with the year 1847, when he was initiated in the lodge at Georgetown, Ohio. He took the chapter degrees at Felicity, Ohio, in 1848, and in 1854 assisted to organize Oakland Lodge, of which he was the first junior warden. He was also a leading spirit in founding McCordsville Chapter No. 44, in which he was honored by being the first high priest. He took the council and Scottish Rite degrees at Indianapolis at a later date, as also the Mystic Shrine and attended the conclaves of Knights Templar held in Washington City and Denver, Colorado. Mr. Bradley has made large contributions to the Masonic fraternity in Greenfield, and was a member of the building committee when, in 1895, the Masons erected one of the finest temples in the state.
Mr. and Mrs. Bradley have never had children of their won, but they reared from tender years two girls, Margaret Kinney, who was the wife of John G. McCord, of McCordsville, and Amelia M. Pye, who married W. A. Watson. They bestowed upon these girls all the wealth of parental affection, gave them every advantage which warm hearts and abundant wealth could procure and reared them to lives of usefulness. These wards are both dead, the former dying when about thirty years old and the latter in 1901 at the age of forty. The doors of Mr. Bradley’s home have always been open to the needy and suffering and within its hospitable walls several children in addition to the two mentioned have found refuge, while at different times invalids have been tenderly cared for and restored to health under the gentle nursing and kindly ministrations of Mrs. Bradley. There is no more popular home in Greenfield, and the veneration in which the people of the city hold them appears to increase in strength and volume with each succeeding year. Hospitality has been with them a cardinal virtue and the influence they have exerted has been instrumental in turning many to higher and nobler destinies.
As a man and citizen Mr. Bradley has always occupied a large place in the affection and esteem of his friends and neighbors, candor and probity having marked in intercourse with his fellow men. In the social circle he has been a favorite, possessing an even temper and congenial qualities which make his company much sought. "He enjoys a good joke and a hearty laugh, and has a host of warm personal friends, endeared to him by his genial manner and kind disposition." Thus briefly are set forth the leading facts in the life and salient points in the character of one of Indiana’s eminent citizens. He has lived wisely and well, discharging, in the fear of his Master, the duties of citizenship and making for himself a record as an honorable and courteous gentleman of which his friend and fellow citizens feel proud.
source: Biographical Memoirs of Hancock County B. F. Bowen, Publisher, Logansport, Indiana, 1902 Pages 219-223.