Edwin L. Furness, BiographyPorter County biographical sketches . . . .

Transcribed biography of Edwin L. Furness

EDWIN L. FURNESS. For nearly sixty years Edwin Leigh Furness has maintained his home in Porter county, and he stands today as one of its venerable and revered pioneers, known and honored for his sterling character and his worthy achievement. For many years he has resided in his attractive home at Furnessville, Westchester township, in the extreme northern part of Porter county, and the little village mentioned was named in his honor. He has been prominently identified with the civic and industrial development and upbuilding of this section of Porter county, has stood exponent of the most loyal citizenship, and during the long years of his residence in the county he has maintained secure vantage ground in popular confidence and esteem. Mr. Furness is a scion of the staunchest of New England stock, and is a representative of a family whose name has been worthily linked with the annals of American history since the early colonial era in New England, that cradle of much of the nation's progress and prosperity. A number of his ancestors served as patriot soldiers in the war of the Revolution, and the Furness family and its allied kinsfolk have given valiant soldiers to the other polemic conflicts in which the nation has been involved.

Edwin Leigh Furness claims the fine old Pine Tree state as the place of his nativity, and the family of which he is a worthy representative was early founded in that New England commonwealth. Mr. Furness was born in the city of Portland, Maine, on the 9th of May, 1832, and throughout his long and useful career he has exemplified most fully the sterling qualities, the thrift and the enterprise which have ever characterized the true New England type. He is a son of Benjamin Chadbourne Leigh Furness and Mary J. (Roberts) Furness, the former of whom was a son of Thomas and Martha (Leigh) Furness. Enoch Dyer, the maternal great-grandfather of him whose name initiates this review, was a sea captain and shipbuilder, and was a staunch and devoted patriot during the climacteric period of the War of the Revolution. Within the time of the great struggle for national independence he donated to the government a vessel, of which he was made captain and in command of which he gave most effective and important service in behalf of the patriot cause. During his life he steadfastly refused a soldier's pension, but after his death his children applied for this merited recognition and received a large amount from the government. Captain Dyer maintained his home at Cape Elizabeth, a picturesque and romantic spot off the coast of Maine, and was a citizen of influence in his section. He was of staunch English ancestry and he left to posterity the gracious heritage of a good name. The Leighs likewise are an old English-American family of distinction. Major Thomas Leigh, maternal great-uncle of Edwin Leigh Furness, of this sketch, served as a gallant officer in the War of 1812, and later became the owner and operator of large woolen mills at South Berwick, Maine, these mills having borne his name Leigh Mills. He was a citizen of wealth, influence and high standing. Mr. Furness when a mere boy used to play with this soldier's discarded sword and military uniform.

Benjamin Chadbourne Leigh Furness, father of him to whom this review is dedicated, was born at South Berwick, York county, Maine, and received a liberal education. At the age of nineteen years he became second mate on the brig "Baltimore," of Portland, and while on a voyage from Portland, Maine, to some distant foreign port the captain and first mate of the vessel both died. Under these conditions second mate Furness assumed command, and he so effectively carried forward the mission to which the vessel had been assigned that the owners of the same placed him in permanent command of the ship. This position he retained for a number of years. He died of yellow fever in the port of New Orleans. He was about forty years of age at the time, and thus gave final hostage to the "merciful, merciless sea" -- by having an ocean burial. His devoted wife was about thirty-seven years of age at the time of her death. Of their three sons Edwin Leigh Furness is the only one surviving. William Henry, the eldest son was a building contractor by vocation, and passed the closing years of his life at Furnessville, Indiana, as a farmer, he having been a specially zealous member of the Christian church. The second son died in infancy. Edwin Leigh Furness was but eight years of age at the time of the death of his devoted mother, and soon afterward he went from Portland, Maine, to South Berwick, the same state, to make his home with his paternal grandmother. While pursuing his boyish studies in an academy at that place he became imbued with an ambition to enter a seafaring life, for which he doubtless had an inherent predilection. He ran away from home and found a position on a vessel bound for foreign ports, his age at the time having been fifteen years. He was absent from home for a year, and that year was a most interesting and eventful one to him. He visited Charleston, South Carolina; Wilmington, North Carolina; and London, and also the picturesque old city of Bangor, in North Wales, and the voyage, with all its incidents, was one of intense interest to the adventurous youth. He visited New York City before his return to his home, and he reverts with much satisfaction to this early maritime incident in his career. The captain on parting with him said: "Don't go to sea -- it is a dog's life, from captain to cook, but if you are bound to go, Ned, come with me." After returning to his native state the young seaman resumed his educational work, and that he made good use of the advantages afforded him is evidenced by the fact that he eventually proved himself eligible for pedagogic honors and was for several years a successful and popular teacher in the common schools of his native state.

In 1851, when nineteen years of age, Mr. Furness came to the west, and after teaching in Aurora and Kaneville he established his residence at Batavia, Kane county, Illinois, where he established a general store, and initiated the operation of a stone quarry. He returned to Maine, where, on the 17th of November, 1853, was solemnized his marriage to Miss Louise Maria Graves, who was born at South Thomaston, Knox county, that state, on the 15th of November, 1831, and whose father was one of the representative farmers of that locality. After his marriage Mr. Furness maintained his residence in Batavia, Illinois, until August, 1856, when he came with his young wife to Porter county, Indiana, where he has maintained his home during the long intervening years, which have been filled with earnest and honest endeavor and marked by generous prosperity. Mr. and Mrs. Furness lived in loving and devoted companionship, with mutual aims and sympathies, for a period of more than fifty-seven years, and the gracious ties were severed only when the loved and cherished wife and mother was summoned to the life eternal, on the 8th of November, 1910. The maximum loss and bereavement in the life of Mr. Furness was that which came in the death of his gentle and loving companion and helpmeet, but the bitterness of the chalice from which he thus drank is tempered by the hallowed memories of her beautiful and noble life. Mrs. Furness was held in affectionate regard by all who came within the sphere of her influence, and her memory will long be revered in the community in which she long maintained her home. Mr. Furness in speaking of her, says: "She is my wife," and not "she was my wife." From a far distant source came a special tribute to the memory of this noble pioneer woman when she passed forward to the "land of the leal," the same having appeared in the Guanajuato Gazette, published in the capital city of the state of Guanajuato, Mexico. This tribute is well worthy of preservation in this review and the context of the same is herewith reproduced:

"Telegraphic advices from Furnessville, Indiana, record the passing away of Mrs. E. L. Furness, of that place, on Tuesday, November 8, 1910. Mrs. Furness had made several trips to the Republic of Mexico during the past twenty years, the last occasion of her visit here being in the year 1904. She will be remembered by many of the old residents as a woman of gracious personality and great force of character, but withal of the sweetest and most self-effacing disposition. A native of the state of Maine and a daughter of the Graves family of South Thomaston, she early went west with her husband, to the states of Illinois and Indiana, where most of her life was spent and in which she enjoyed the esteem and affection of a large circle of friends. She is survived by her husband, Mr. Edwin L. Furness, two sons and four daughters. The offices and bodegas of the Dwight Furness Company in this locality and its various agencies in the Republic were closed on the afternoon of the funeral, as a token of respect."

Mr. and Mrs. Furness became the parents of seven children, and their descendants at the present date (1912) include fifty-three children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. There being five of the latter. Concerning the seven children the following brief data are given: Clara F. is the wife of Edward B. Leigh, of Chicago, president of the Chicago Railway Equipment Company, and they have one son living, also having lost a son and daughter. Winifred R. is the wife of John W. Rose, a lawyer of Lynden, Whatcom county, Washington, and they have three sons. Hon. Leigh G., a former member of the Indiana legislature, has a sketch to be found in following paragraphs. Dwight who is now a resident of Mexico, where he is head of the Dwight Furness Company, engaged in the mining business upon an extensive scale, maintains his home in the city of Guanajuato, the judicial center of the state of the same name, is one of the honored and influential citizens of that section of Mexico, and wedded Miss Anna Rogers, born in Pennsylvania, who was a Methodist missionary in Mexico at the time of their marriage, and they have ten children, five sons and five daughters. Martha is the wife of Arthur J. Moore, of Edwards, St. Lawrence county, New York, a mining engineer, and they have two sons and three daughters. Mary is the wife of Thomas C. Young, of San Diego, California, and they have three sons and one daughter. Frank, the youngest son of E. L. Furness, died at the age of sixteen years.

Edwin Leigh Furness was the first agent of the Michigan Central Railroad at Furnessville, and also was the first postmaster of the little village which perpetuates his name, his first commission as postmaster having been signed by Montgomery Blair, postmaster general under President James Buchanan, July 9, 1860. He was possessed of some financial resources when he came to Porter county, and these he employed wisely and with distinctive prescience by investing largely in land in the county. At one time his holdings aggregated several thousand acres. About the time when he made his first purchase of land Mr. Furness was already part owner of a saw mill, and also erected a stave factory and a stove and blacksmith shop, and these represented important phases of early industrial enterprise in Porter county, the while they contributed largely to the development and progress of the community. Mr. Furness reclaimed a large part of his extensive landed estate and realized definite profit from the sale of land after its appreciation in value. He still retains about six hundred acres and is one of the substantial capitalists of the county in which he has maintained his home since the pioneer days.

In his business operations during his active career Mr. Furness gained an unassailable reputation for fair and honorable dealings, and few citizens of Porter county have contributed in greater measure to its civic and industrial development and progress. He was the first county assessor, but the exigent demands of his varied private interests rendered it impossible for him to give to the office the attention which his strict and conscientious motives required, and under these conditions he resigned the position. He has never become actively identified with any religious body but has a deep reverence for spiritual verities and has been a liberal supporter of church work, besides which he has served as superintendent of the Sunday-school in his home community. He retains membership in St. Joseph Valley Grange, No. 584, at South Bend, Indiana, and for several years he served as master of the local Grange at Furnessville. For several years he was chairman or president of the Porter County Farmers' Institute, and for many terms was appointed by the Governor of Indiana a delegate to the Farmers' National Congress. Upon a commanding site in the village that bears his name stands the fine brick residence of Mr. Furness, and there are to be found evidences of culture and refinement of appreciative order. He has a fine library, selected with great care, and its many volumes give evidence of careful perusal. He and his devoted wife found great pleasure in beautifying their home, and fine old shade trees, attractive shrubbery and masses of beautiful flowers give to the old homestead place a most pleasing appearance.

Mr. Furness has lived a righteous and sober life and has ever maintained high ideals as to the duties and responsibilities that should occupy humanity. He has ordered his course on the highest plane of integrity and honor, and thus he has not been denied the fullest measure of popular confidence and esteem. His name merits enduring place on the roll of the sterling pioneers who have done noble work in the developing and upbuilding of Porter county, where he has long been a prominent and influential citizen and where his circle of friends is limited only by that of his acquaintances. He has done all in his power to foster and conserve those enterprises and measures which make for the general good of the community, and he has been kindly, helpful and sympathetic in his association with his fellow men. Mr. Furness is a staunch advocate of the principles and policies of the Republican party, and at one time he was made his party's nominee for the office of state senator. His high stand on the temperance question and the regulation of the liquor traffic had marked hearing, in connection with normal political exigencies, in compassing his defeat.

In the year 1890 Mr. Furness was conducting a large and successful dairying business at Furnessville and had built what he believed was the first silo made in Porter county. He had large barns especially adapted for the purpose and other appurtenances, and was planning to keep several hundred cows, when he was urged by a manufacturing company of Chicago to go to Europe for them, at their expense, to make an effort to procure a certain patent right for their use. There was much doubt as to its being obtainable, but Mr. Furness was selected for the venture. He strongly objected to leaving his business affairs, that needed close attention, for his motto has always been, "Business before pleasure." He reluctantly consented to go, and giving a power of attorney to his son Leigh to conduct affairs in his absence, took passage on the steamer "Majestic," of the White Star line, on October 29th, at New York for Liverpool. This too, proved to be a momentous voyage. The mission of the trip was finally safely accomplished, to the satisfaction of the manufacturing company and they cabled their thanks, adding, "Visit all Europe at our expense -- come home at your leisure."

He, however, hurried immediately home, and says he did not spend a cent more while he was gone than if it had come out of his own pocket. He found his son, however, managing affairs so well that he left matters in his hands and has devoted his time mainly since then to study and research, with some occasional travel.

Venerable in years, enjoying the gracious rewards of former endeavors, secure in the love and filial solicitude of his children and children's children, and honored by all who know him, Mr. Furness is passing the gentle twilight of his life in the fine old home which is endeared to him by the hallowed memories and associations of many years, and in the perspective view of his career may be seen the clear definition of good works and kindly deeds.

Source: Lewis Publishing Company. 1912. History of Porter County, Indiana: A Narrative Account of its Historical Progress, its People and its Principal Interests. Chicago, Illinois: Lewis Publishing Company. 881 p.
Page(s) in Source: 743-748

This biography has been transcribed exactly as it was originally published in the source. Please note that we do not provide photocopies or digital scans of biographies appearing on this website.

Biography transcribed by Steven R. Shook


CSS Template by Rambling Soul