Rev. Robert McCracken, a pioneer of Paxton, devoted many years of his life to the active work of the ministry and, moreover, was a most successful business man, his life record standing in emphatic contradiction of the statement made by many that business success and honesty are incompatible. He became one of the largest landowners of Ford county and yet throughout his entire business career he was regarded as the soul of commercial honor and integrity. His memory is indeed sacredly cherished in the hearts of those who knew him and remains as a blessed benediction to his family and his many friends who survive him.
Rev. Robert McCracken was born in Castlewellyn, County Down, Ireland, in the year 1815. Early in life his parents dedicated him to the ministry and much of his boyhood was spent away from home in attending school. In 1844 he was graduated from the Royal College of Belfast, Ireland, and after preaching one of his trial sermons before a presbytery in his native land with his parents as interested and appreciative listeners he left home for America, arriving in this country in the spring of 1845 to devote his life to ministerial labor in the new world. His first pastorate was at Austintown, Ohio, where he accepted a call from the Reformed Presbyterian church, commonly called New School Covenanter. He was there installed May 29, 1848, and continued his pastoral labors at Austintown until 1851, when he accepted a call from the Reformed Presbyterian church at Wurtemburg, Pennsylvania, where he labored for the upbuilding of the congregation until 1857.
That year witnessed the arrival of Rev. McCracken in Illinois. He became pastor of the Walnut Hill congregation near Centralia and in 1860 came to this part of the state, filling various pulpits prior to accepting the call of the United Presbyterian congregation at Paxton. He removed with his family to this city early in 1861. The congregation at that time numbered only seventeen but at the first communion seventeen new members were received. Rev. McCracken continued as pastor of the congregation until April, 1865, when he was succeeded by Rev. J. E. Truesdale. In the meantime the membership of the church had largely increased, seventy-five new members being added at the last two communions at which Rev. McCracken presided. This was his last pastoral charge and yet his interest in the church never waned. He was throughout life an active factor in all those movements for reform, progress and improvement and for the amelioration of hard conditions of life for the unfortunate.
Soon after coming to Paxton, at the earnest solicitation of friends, Rev. McCracken consented to become a candidate for the office of county superintendent of schools and was elected, serving for two years, during which time he did important service in establishing the public-school system of Ford county upon an excellent basis. The cause of public instruction ever found in him a stalwart champion and for several years he did effective work in behalf of Paxton's schools as a member of the board of education. He was also one of the promoters of the Rice Collegiate Institute and gave to it his earnest support until failing health in large measure compelled him to retire from activity in public affairs. In antebellum days he was a stanch advocate of abolition and took an active interest in politics at that time when every true American citizen was aroused to express his views concerning the great issues that dominated public attention prior to the Civil war. He joined the republican party on its organization and remained one of its stalwart champions throughout the residue of his days. He was also greatly interested in the cause of temperance and threw the energies of his mind and soul against the licensing of saloons, contributing largely through his influence toward the creation of the temperance sentiment in Paxton in earlier days. For four years he was a resident of Hoopeston but returned to Paxton and continued to reside here until his death. He remained a member of the United Presbyterian church until after his return to Paxton, when he and his family became members of the Congregational church.
On the 29th day of May, 1849, Rev. Robert McCracken was married to Miss Elizabeth C. Hogg, of Canfield, Ohio, who was ever a true helpmate, a wise counselor and a comforting companion to him. They became the parents of ten children, four of whom died in childhood, three of the number passing away within three weeks. The others are: David P., Robert A. and Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson, who are residents of Paxton; Mrs. T. M. Kell, of Los Angeles, California; G. Ewing, of Bloomfield, Indiana; and Mrs. Frances W. Best, of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. He was devoted to his family and at his own fireside was ever a loving husband and fond father, interested in all that interested his children and putting forth every effort possible for their welfare and happiness.
In his business life Rev. McCracken won a gratifying measure of success. During his residence in Hoopeston he was engaged in merchandising but his time and attention were largely given to his investments in realty and his farming interests. He became one of the most extensive landowners of central Illinois, purchasing farm after farm of the rich prairie land until his possessions aggregated more than four thousand acres. In all of his business transactions he was thoroughly reliable, never being known to take advantage of the necessities of another in a business transaction. His success came to him because of his sound judgment, his keen sagacity, his unflagging enterprise and unabating diligence. During the last two years of his life he was in ill health but his mental faculties remained unimpaired and but a few days prior to his death he transacted some business with one of his tenants.
On the 4th of November, 1904, he passed away, having lived to complete nearly nine decades. He ever stood in support of what he deemed to be right in man's relations with his fellowmen, giving his aid and influence in support of the great movements affecting the welfare and progress of state and nation and at the same time neglecting not those quieter duties of the everyday relations of life — the little kindly ministries to family and friends, the word of encouragement and wise counsel and the substantial aid — when such was needed. It was these things which causes the memory of Rev. Robert McCracken to be cherished by all who knew him.

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 424-426.

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