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Champaign County, Illinois

Biography - Matthias L. Dunlap

SOURCE: "History of Champaign County, Illinois with Illustrations," 1878


MATTHIAS L. DUNLAP - The subject of this sketch was born in Cherry Valley, New York, September 14th, 1814. His youth was spent on a farm and was uneventful. His father's family moved about on he then frontier, and finally located near Pulaski, Oswego county, where they remained for several years. The summers were spent in working on a farm, and a few weeks in winter were devoted to attending school. At an early age he developed a strong liking for the sciences, and finally decided to study medicine. This determination was never carried out, for the family moving west, in 1835, he followed them and settled at a place now called Troy Grove, in LaSalle county, about ten miles from Ottawa. He remained only one winter at this place, which was devoted to teaching a school. The next spring he secured a clerkship in a store in Chicago, then a village of a couple of thousand inhabitants, where he formed the acquaintance of many young men who have seen become leading citizens and millionaires. From Chicago he went as book-keeper for a firm of contractors, on the Illinois and Michigan canal, at Lemont, where he remained two years. Before this time he married Emeline PIERCE, at Chicago. Having amassed a fortune of a few hundred dollars, he determined to devote himself to agriculture and entered a piece of government land in what is now Leyden, Cook county, about twelve miles west of the city limits. For many years he followed farming and surveying. About 1845 he first turned his attention to horticulture, and, in the course of a few years, built up one of the largest nurseries in the west. He held the office of township supervisor for a number of years, and was elected a member of the legislature from Cook county in 1854, when it had but four members. He presided over the caucus of Free-soilers, which, by a small majority, nominated Lyman Trumbull to the United States senate, and delegated Lincoln to private life, until four years later, when the nation called him to the highest office in its gift. In politics, Mr. Dunlap had been a democrat, casting his last Presidential vote for Frank Pierce. He was always a "free-soiler," and during the Kansas war warmly espoused the side of freedom in the territories. His house was one of the depots on the underground railroad, and no refugee from slavery ever knocked at his door in vain. In 1855, becoming impressed with the idea of extending his business and securing more land, he purchased the half-section three miles south of Champaign, now known as "Rural Home." Two years later, he removed his entire family to the place and resided there until his death, February 14, 1875. After his removal to this county he became deeply interested in its prosperity, and furthered its settlement by every means in his power. He was a man of indefatigable energy, and when defeated at one place he lost no time in repining, but at once projected something new. During the struggle for the location of the Industrial University he aided materially by his widespread acquaintance among the public men of the state, in securing its location in the county. Mr. Dunlap was a contributor to the press of the west, almost from the first day of his arrival. When the Democratic Press, a republican newspaper, and the leading free-soil newspaper of the west was established in 1853, he was engaged as its chief agricultural writer, and his weekly letters, "The Farm and Garden," attained a wide popularity. His nom de plume of "Rural" was well known all over the west. He continued as agricultural correspondent of the Press after its consolidation with the Chicago Tribune until the day of his death, a period of 22 years. It is unnecessary in this brief notice to speak of the success of Mr. Dunlap as a farmer and fruit-grower. His monument stands in the orchards planted under his direction and which testify to his faith in the prairies as a fruit region. His family, consisting of a wife, seven sons, and two daughters, still survive him. They are carrying out, as far as possible, the plan laid down by him for making "Rural Home" one of the attractive spots of earth. Its hospitable doors are always open, and the public is welcome to share in such knowledge of agriculture and horticulture as may be developed there.

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