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The Blue Book of Iowa Women A History of Contemporary Women

Compiled by Winona Evans Reeves, 1914.


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Mrs. George Erskin Kilbourne

August Wells Kilbourne, was born in Newberg, N. Y., in 1835, the daughter of Albert Wells and Emma Louisa Hassert.  Her father was head of a classical school in Westchester county.  He was a graduate of Rutger's College.  Her mother was a lineal descendant of Minna von Voorhies, who came from Holland and was the first settler of New Brunswick, N. J.  Mrs. Kilbourne was educated by private teachers, at Kingston-on-the-Hudson and at the Pittsfield Young Ladies' Seminary.  In 1854 she was married to George Erskine Kilbourne, of English descent, the son of David Wells Kilbourne, a New York commission merchant.  In 1836 David Kilbourne was sent west by a New York company to locate land, and came to Keokuk, which was then only a straggling village of log houses.  He bought large tracts of land.  He and his brother, Edward Kilbourne, owned two hundred acres of land near Davenport, which they stocked with blooded sheep imported by them from the Island of Jersey, near the southeastern coast of England.  It was before the days of pedigree cattle, but they appreciated the value of fine stock and gave many of these sheep away to the earl Iowa settlers.  In 1867 Mr. and Mrs. Geo. W. Kilbourne moved into the house on Third and High street in Keokuk, which is still the family home.  Mr. Kilbourne was associated with his father in the railroad business, his father being president of the Des Moines Railroad, one of the first in the state.  Four children were born to them;  Harriett Erskine Kilbourne was educated at Pelham Priory, N. Y., married Hiram Barney, a New York lawyer, collector of ports at New York , by appointment of Abraham Lincoln, who was a personal friend.  She is now the wife of Thomas Francis Brady.  Augustus Wells Kilbourne, of Cleveland, Ohio, is a graduate of Williams College, and married Eleanor Hoyt, daughter of Geo. Hoyt, editor of The Plaindealer;  Emma Louise Hassert Kilbourne, was educated at St. Gabriels, in New York, and married Robert Erskine Wright, an Episcopal clergyman of an old and prominent Philadelphia family;  Georgia Wells Kilbourne, educated at Miss Reed's school in New York, married Gen. John McAllister Schofield, commanding general of the army in the United States.  They resided in Washington until Gen. Schofield's death.  She is now the wife of John H. Hewson, of New York.  The education of all of Mrs. Kilbourn's children was supplemented by travel in Europe.  Four generations of the family have belonged to St. John's Episcopal Church.  Before the erection of the church the congregation met in Edward Kilbourn's parlor.  David Kilbourne gave a town lot to every church in Keokuk in the days of the first establishment of the churches.  In connection with the development in Iowa in 1913 of the greatest power plant in the world, it is an interesting bit of history to know that in 1848 the "Navigation & Hydraulic Co. of the Mississippi Rapids" was incorporated by the legislature of Iowa with a capital of $1,000,0000, having for its object "the improvement of the rapids at Keokuk and the formation of a waterpower by means of an artificial channel with locks and dams."  The incorporation papers were signed by Genl. Samuel R. Curtis, David W. Kilbourne, Edward Kilbourne, and Hugh W. Sample.  A small bit of paper, about the size of an ordinary bank check, was all they thought needed to record one of the greatest enterprises in the history of country.  In 1850, a board of directors having been chosen, they appointed David W. Kilbourne to go to Washington to get the necessary permission to enable them to go to work.  In company with the Hon. Hiram Barney, of New York, they spent several weeks in Washington, working to get the franchise and looking for men willing to take the contract to do the work.  Finally they secured the franchise and made a contract with the Barnes Co. of New York, who agreed to build the dam to $960,000.  They arranged for the labor, common laborers to work from 7 a. m. to 6 p. m. for seventy-five cents a day, skilled laborers to receive $2.50 a day.  They returned to Keokuk expecting the work to begin at once.  In their absence, however, enemies to the enterprise had been at work, and convinced some of the influential men that the enterprise was visionary and too great an undertaking.  Local support having thus been withdrawn, the enterprise was abandoned and only taken up again after a lapse of sixty years.  Mrs. Kilbourne is a most interesting woman, having an inexhaustive fund of pioneer history, stories and anecdotes, which she tells delightfully, with quaint touches of humor, peculiarly her own.  She is a brilliant woman, socially, and quite outshines the women of this generation, at social functions.  Her home is filled with antique furniture and treasures of other days, and a visit with Mrs. Kilbourne in that old home is a memory long to be treasured.



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