The specific and distinctive office of biography is not to give voice to a man’s modest estimate of himself and his accomplishments but rather to leave the perpetual record establishing his character by the concensus of opinion on the part of his fellowmen. Throughout Ford county Hon. John A. Montelius is spoken of in terms of admiration and respect. His life has been so varied in its activity, so honorable in its purposes, so far-reaching and beneficial in its effects that it has become an integral part of Piper City and has also left an impress upon the annals of the state. While in one sense he cannot be called a public man, albeit he has held some political offices, he has nevertheless exerted an immeasureable influence on the city of his residence; in business life as a financier and promoter of extensive commercial and industrial enterprises; in social circles by reason of a charming personality and unfeigned cordiality; in politics by reason of his public spirit and devotion to the general good as well as to his comprehensive understanding of any questions affecting state and national welfare; and in those departments of activity which work for the betterment of mankind through his benevolence and his liberality.
Mr. Montelius was born in Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania, May 29, 1844, and is a descendant of Frederick Marcus Montelius, who started across the Atlantic in the winter of 1773, landing in Philadelphia, on the 25th of August. He carried on merchandising there for some time and afterward removed to Reamstown, Pennsylvania, where his death occurred. John Montelius, his son, and the grandfather of John A. Montelius, took up his abode in Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania, about 1800, and followed the trade of a tanner as a means of livelihood. He became one of the prominent and influential residents of his locality, which he represented in the state legislature, also serving as associate judge of the county.
His family numbered six sons and six daughters, including Charles Montelius, who was born in Mifflinburg in 1811. In early manhood he learned the tanner's trade but afterward engaged in merchandising. ln 1837 he wedded Rebecca Howard Piper, who died in 1866 and the following year Mr. Montelius came to Piper City and resided with his son, John A. They were in business together through the succeeding six years, after which Charles Montelius retired. At his death in 1882 his remains were taken back to Pennsylvania and laid by the side of his wife. His early political allegiance was given to the whig party and upon its dissolution he became a republican. A prominent member of the Presbyterian church, he served as one of its elders for many years, and his life was ever upright and honorable. Of his family two children died in infancy. One son, William Piper, completed his literary education in Lafayette College and spent two years in Western Theological Seminary at Allegheny. He then became connected with the Christian Commission and in the fall of 1864 was stationed at Huntsville, Alabama. He died June 15, 1865, at Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania, from disease contracted in this service. Harry G. Montelius, the youngest brother of our subject, was born in Mifflinburg, September 2, 1859, and died in California, February 18, 1899.
At the usual age John A. Montelius began his education as a pupil in the public schools of his native city and when he put aside his text-books in 1859 he entered upon his business career as a salesman in a store in Milton, Pennsylvania. He also spent one year in Lewisburg and in 1861 he enlisted at the first call for volunteers, going to Camp Curtain, at Harrisburg, but was rejected. He then reenlisted on the 17th of June, 1863, for one hundred days' service, becoming a member of Company D, Thirty-first Pennsylvania Infantry, which time he spent at Cumberland, Maryland. He was discharged at Harrisburg, August 8, 1863, and on the 12th of July, 1864, again joined the Union army, as a member of the First Battalion of Pennsylvania Infantry, with which he continued until honorably discharged on the 11th of November following. Thus before he attained the age of twenty years he had three times enlisted for defense of the Union.
In the fall of 1865 Mr. Montelius further qualified for the business world as a student in Quaker City Business College of Philadelphia, and in the summer of 1866 he held a position in the Corn Exchange National Bank of Philadelphia. Thinking to find better business opportunities in the middle west he arrived in Piper City on the 14th of November, 1866, and has since been a resident of Ford county, where he has figured most prominently in business affairs. On the 6th of December he joined his uncle, Dr. Piper, in whose honor Piper City was named, in the conduct of a general mercantile enterprise. Changes in the partnership from time to time induced the adoption of the firm style of Piper, Montelius & Company, C. Montelius & Son and J. A. Montelius, for in later years Mr. Montelius became sole proprietor. He has figured prominently in the financial circles of the city since 1867. He was originally connected with his father in banking and sold out to Campbell & Thompson, with the intention of devoting his time to his extensive landed interests. He organized the First National Bank of Piper City and from the beginning, April 14, 1900, has been its president. Previous to this he conducted the Piper City Bank, a private bank, which he bought of Durham Brothers in 1896. The National Bank is capitalized for fifty thousand dollars, and his son, Joseph K., is associated with him in this enterprise. The bank has become recognized as one of the strongest financial concerns of Ford county and this part of the state, having been established on a safe, conservative basis, while the policy maintained has always been such as to merit the unqualified confidence and trust of the public.
Almost from the beginning of his residence here Mr. Montelius has likewise been engaged in the grain trade. He is a man of resourceful ability, recognizing and utilizing opportunities that others pass by heedlessly. He owns two grain elevators in Piper City, the business being now conducted by his son, George D., under the firm name of George D. Montelius & Company. For forty years he has been associated with the grain trade and his operations in that line have brought him a gratifying financial return. From time to time Mr. Montelius has made very extensive investments in realty and is now the owner of over five thousand acres in Ford and Iroquois counties. He and his three sons are conducting their business interests under the same roof and the name of Montelius is one of the strongest in trade and financial circles in this part of the state. The youngest son, John A., is conducting the implement business which was established by the father about three decades ago. At one time Mr. Montelius also conducted a branch agricultural implement store at Kempton but has withdrawn from that field, since turning over this department of his business to his son.
Not only in business lines but also in many other ways Mr. Montelius has been a most active and potent factor in the life of the city. In early manhood he served for a number of terms as supervisor of Brenton township and was chairman of the board. In 1900 he was elected representative of his district in the general assembly and his legislative course was so satisfactory to his constituents that he was reelected in 1902, serving in the forty-second and forty-third sessions of the house. In the latter he had the honor of introducing the local option bill, drawn by the Anti-Saloon League, of which he is a member. He also introduced amendments to the farm drainage law, which were of great benefit to this section of the state. He served on the revenue and banking committees and was chairman of the committee of Soldiers and Sailors Home and the Orphans Home at Normal. He stood with thirty-nine Sherman men who went to defeat together. He lacked but a few votes of election to the speakership of the general assembly at the time when John H. Miller was chosen. He is a warm personal as well as political friend of Shelby M. Cullom, and has a wide acquaintance and friendship among many of the distinguished political leaders of the state. In 1904 he was chosen the presidential elector and cast his ballot for Roosevelt. Mr. Montelius has been a student of the problems which constitute political interest at the present day and of the great issues which divide the two parties with their roots extending down to the bedrock of the foundation of the republic, he has a true statesman's grasp. His ideas and labors concerning politics and those interests which are to be conserved through political labor have been at all times intensely practical.
Mr. Montelius was married on the 8th of October, 1867, in Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania, to Miss Catherine Gast, a native of that city and a daughter of Henry and Mary Gast. They became the parents of six children: Charles Henry, who died in infancy; the three sons mentioned above; and Maggie and Mary Rebecca, the daughters of the family, at home.
Mr. Montelius is a member of the Grand Army post of Piper City, being one of its organizers and the only charter member now living, and he is prominent in the order in Illinois. He is an exemplary Mason, being a charter member of Piper Lodge, No. 608, A. F. & A. M.; Fairbury Chapter, No. 99, R. A. M.; and St. Paul Commandery, No. 34, K. T. at Fairbury. He has also attained the thirty-second degree of the Scottish Rite in the Oriental consistory of Chicago. While his life has been a most busy one, his extensive business interests and political service making constant demands upon his time and attention, he has yet found opportunity to devote to the higher, holier duties of life, which many men neglect in the press and stress of business interests. For many years he has been an elder of the Presbyterian church and superintendent of the Sunday school, and his efforts in behalf of the church have been far-reaching and effective.
His business career seems in a measure phenomenal when one recognizes the fact that while today he is one of the wealthiest men of Ford county he had a capital of only twelve hundred dollars when he arrived in Piper City and this had been saved from his earnings since the time when he started out in business life empty-handed. He has been generous of his means in support of many valuable public measures. Regarded as a citizen and in his social relations he belongs to that public-spirited, useful and helpful type of men whose ambitions and desires are centered and directed in those channels through which flow the greatest and most permanent good to the greatest number.

Extracted 19 Oct 2016 by Norma Hass from History of Ford County, Illinois, From Its Earliest Settlement to 1908, author E. A. Gardner, Volume 1, pages 337-340.

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