Wednesday, January 13, 2016

John Roberts & Phillip Schwab Biographies

The biographies of residents form one of the most important pieces of the history of a community. We were recently able add several early Sutton biographies to the collection at the Sutton Museum.

The family of the late James R. Griess donated material to the Museum including bound copies of The Sutton Register from 1890, 1894 and 1900. For several weeks at the start of 1894 publisher F. M. Brown included short biographies of Sutton residents, mostly local businessmen. We’ll take a look at the information in those biographies and flesh out the stories of those men for this article.

John Roberts (1836-1929)

John Roberts was a pioneer grocer in Sutton. He was born in Beaufort, Wales in April, 1836 and educated at Ebbw Vale National schools. Yes, the Welsh have a special way with spelling. The neigboring town to Ebbw Vale is Brynmawr and those are easy ones.

John and his brother William had a grocery story in the Opera House Block on the north end of downtown Sutton, west side.


 John was apprenticed to the clothing and dry goods trades from 1857 through 1861. John and his brother William joined 35 others in 1862 to make their fortune in the gold mines in the rugged mountains of the Caribo Region between Kamloops and Prince George, British Columbia.

The group contracted travel for 120 British pounds but the company failed as they reached St. Paul, Minnesota. That, and an Indian massacre at New Ulm interrupted their trip. The group  retreated to New York and booked travel to British Columbia by way of Nicaragua, this time for another 300 pounds. The arrived thirteen months later in June, 1863 where John Roberts mined for about a year before becoming manager of a firm engaged in general mechandise.
The Roberts brothers dissolved their grocery partnership at the end
of 1890. John continued in the business.

Roberts returned to England in 1878 as an agent for the mechandise firm then went into business for himself in 1870, still in England.

In the fall of 1879, John Roberts and his brother William came once again to the United States and opened their grocery store in Sutton. Their first Sutton store was in a building later occupied by Mrs. Braistch’s millinery store – do not know where that was. But when the Opera House was completed, the Roberts brothers moved into that building.

Why Sutton? How did John and William Roberts find their way to Sutton? We don’t know. The skimpy tracks that the pioneers left tell us what they did but very little about why. That story awaits someone running across a diary or an account of a conversation or some other clue. The reason why the Roberts’ ended up in Sutton could well be the best story about their lives. We’ll likely never know.

William Roberts retired in December, 1890 dissolving the Roberts Bros. firm, John continued in the grocery business. W. D. Roberts ran ads in 1894 for his bicycle shop located in the Roberts grocery store.

John Roberts married Elizabeth Davies at Llangattock church in Wales in 1870. Four children were born in England between 1871 and 1879: Margaret, William, Ernest, and Agnes. Leonard and Charlotte (aka Mary) were born in Sutton. All were living with their parents in Sutton in 1900. Margaret and Agnes were school teachers and William was with his father in the grocery store. Ernest was listed as a bookkeeper, possibly also in the business. Ernest and Charlotte were Sutton High grads (Classes of 1892 and 1900). John Roberts was on the Sutton Board of Education.

Four years after leaving the grocery
business, William was back in his
brother's store with his bicycle
business.
John and Elizabeth were members of the Methodist Church where Mr. Roberts was frequently called to conduct services. John Roberts appeared as a “Local Preacher” in Sutton in the Hastings District in the 1904 annual report Methodist Church.

The 1894 newspaper bio lists John Roberts as a reliable, liberal and popular business man and mentions that the Roberts family “…own and occupy a commodious, comfortable home in North Sutton.” It also identifies him as a republican.

For quite a long time about a century ago, a man’s political affiliation was an important public identificaton. Party affiliation was often included in obituaries. Newspapers identified with one of the political parties and openly endorsed and supported specific candidates while exposing the sins of the opposition. One fun newspaper item in that era suppliments those observations.

Two state republican officials came to Sutton where a couple of local fellows were to meet their train. No one appeared on the platform so the two visitors headed north from the depot to the Oakland Hotel which was located on the south bank of School Creek and the west side of Saunders Avenue. The men checked into the Oakland and settled in their rooms. The local fellows tracked their visitors down and informed them of their mistake. The Oakland Hotel was a democratic hotel. The men immediately checked out and walked south across the tracks to the Occidental Hotel located where the American Legion is now located. The Occidental was Sutton’s republican hotel.

 We’ve not yet identified the party affiliation of the hotel later called the Carson that was located where the Co-Op (I’m sorry, the CPI) store is now.

The Roberts family is buried in the Sutton cemetery.
For all of their early-life wanderings, the Roberts family became long time fixtures of the community and today rest in a large plot in Section 02S of the Sutton Cemetery. John died in 1929; Elizabeth (Davies) in 1917. None of their three daughters appear to have married and are all buried in Sutton: Agnes died in 1902 at the age of 23, Margaret died in 1945, Charlotte in 1966. William died in 1957 and Ernest in 1946, both with Sutton Cemetery gravestones though there may be some evidence that Ernest’s stone is actually a cenotaph (gravestone of one whose remains are elsewhere). A few researchers conflate the grave of Ernest Robert in Olympia, Washington with this fellow. Leonard Charles Roberts served in World War I, was married to Nellie and died May 28, 1944. He is buried in Peoria County, Illinois.

William D. Roberts died in 1905 and is buried locally with his brother’s family.



Phillip H. Schwab (1841-1930)

Phillip Schwab was born in Germany on June 29, 1841 to Henry and Margaret (Kuhl) Schwab. The family immigrated to Sublette Illinois when Phillip was five years old.

Henry Schwab took up farming hauling his grain and hogs 93 miles to market in Chicago. Phillip attended local schools and worked on his father’s farm until September 17, 1861 when he enlisted in Co. B, 52nd Illinois Infantry with the first call for troops a few months after the shelling of Fort Sumner.

Phillip Schwab's Civil War cap and hat are at the Sutton Museum.
Both are distinctive hat wear, and spiffy too.
Phillip Schwab saw action with Grant’s Army of Tennessee in at least 23 battles including Fort Donelson, Shiloh and the siege of Corinth. He was with General Sherman in battles around Atlanta and in the march to the sea. He was wounded several times including in the left arm and knee.



He returned to Illinois and farmed for several years but remained a soldier in the state militia as a first lieutenant with Company F, 4th Illinois Infantry from 1878 to 1885. He married Mary Agnes Schaette in Washington, Illinois on January 28, 1868, the day before my grandmother was born – not sure why I told you that, just deal with it.

Phillip Schwab sold his Illinois farm and resigned his 1st Lt. Commission in 1885. He arrived in Sutton on October 14, 1885, purchased land in Clay County and soon went into business with August Grosshans in a grain and coal elevator on the Burlington railroad in Sutton.

Grosshans and Schwab moved their elevator to the K.C. & O tracks when that railroad came to Sutton about 1887. That was the Kansas City & Omaha railroad, originally affiliated with, or a branch of the Union Pacific and later sold to the Burlington and was locally known as the “Pook Eye.” for some reason. Grosshans and Schwab later dissolved that firm and Mr. Schwab bought the elevator at Lushton on the K.C. & O. line.

Schwab also purchased elevators in Clay Center and Norman on the St. Joseph & Grand Island railroad. (The 1894 news article puts the Norman elevator near Minden on the St. J. & G.I. railroad – an opportunity for more railroad history research, but not today).
Bill and Katharynne Johnson (Class of '58 and '62) donated
their great, grandfather Schwab's uniform to the
Sutton Museum.

Phillip Schwab was one of eight children of Henry and Margaret but only Phillip and a sister Margaret (Schwab) Beard of California survived to full adulthood.

Phillip and Mary Agnes Schwab had five children all born in Illinois and buried in the Sutton Cemetery. Oldest daughter Selina died in 1922. John Schwab died November 30, 1889 just months after graduating from Sutton High in the Class of ’89. Laura married Albertis H. Lewis, long-time Sutton jeweler. She died in 1955. Reuben died in 1926. Nellie married William F. Hoerger, a local real estate agent.

The Schwabs were active in the Methodist Church. He was a member of the I. O. O. F. and served as commander of Sutton’s Geo. C. Meade Post No. 19 of the Grand Army of the Republic.

Schwab was on the Sutton City Council for two years, the Clay County Board of Supervisors for four and served on the Sutton Board of Education. He was a republican. He had farms in Eldorado Township, Harlan and Hitchcock counties.

Like the Roberts family, Phillip and Mary Schwab lived in North Sutton.

Our original intent was to feature four or five of the fellows featured in those Sutton Register newspapers in early 1894, but long-windedness won out and we’ll cease here with two fellows. The other men in this set included Dr. John Birkner, A. C. Burlingame, Rev. Jacob Flook, Joel Swearingen, Joseph Grice, Luther French, William Reuter and Edward Ihrig. A few others are Samuel Carney, George Honey, Fred Hoerger, John C. Merrill and E. W. Woodruff, all who warranted having their names “etched in stone” on buildings on the west side of downtown.

This story now becomes another project as we’ll plug away at these biographies. Do you find the stories of Sutton pioneers to be of interest? Do you realize that researching these folks is not only interesting but is also involves some fun and at the end, a feeling of accomplishment?

Members of the Sutton Historical Society have been collecting and preserving the artifacts and information about the Sutton community for ten years now. We’ve made a dent in what could be done. Those who know us should realize that the probability that this same group will still be doing this ten years from now is somewhat less than 100%. We not only would appreciate some help, but this is an existential question for the Sutton Museum.

The Phillip Schwab family is buried in Section 03S of the Sutton Cemetery.
So if you have ever considered someday, maybe, thinking about getting involved in the preservation of Sutton’s story, how about giving us a call? Contact Jerry Johnson at 773-0222 or at jjhnsn@windstream.net to find out more. No obligation, no pressure. Start out slow or jump in with both feet. We would appreciate the help.

This article first appeared in the Sutton Life Magazine. For more information about this publication contact Jarod Griess at mustangmediasales@gmail.com



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