The honored subject of this sketch is now living in retirement in Olney,
Illinois, enjoying the respite due the closing of a long and useful business
career. He has been prominently identified with industrial movements of no
mean scope and importance and the name which he bears has stood for
progressiveness and large enterprise ever since the pioneer days in this
section of the state, while he is a scion of an old family of Switzerland,
being numbered among that dement of foreigners in this country who have
greatly benefited America by their presence. So important have been the
business and industrial undertakings with which he had been connected, and
so high is the confidence and esteem in which he is held in Richland county,
that it is imperative that he be accorded recognition in a publication like
the present volume.
Daniel Gaffner was born in Interlaken, Switzerland, July 7, 1831, the son of Daniel and Elizabeth (Gerber) Gaffner, also natives of Switzerland where they lived and died. The subject's father was a farmer in the mountains of that country and was seventy-eight years old when he died, his wife having died at the age of seventy-five. The family of Gaffner was originally French, one branch passing to Switzerland many years ago. The father of the subject was in the military service of his country for some time. Grandfather Gerber was of Swiss birth and parentage, but took part in a number of battles under Napoleon. A remarkable fact is that the subject remembers the funeral of his grandfather who died in 1833, when the subject was a trifle over two years old. Seven children were born to the parents of the subject, five of whom grew to maturity, Daniel being the fourth in order of birth. Three members of the family came to the United States.
Our subject was reared in his native land on a farm and there developed that sturdy manhood and sterling character that have made for his later success in new environments. He received a common school education. He left home when sixteen years old and was apprenticed to a shoemaker, at which trade he worked in several parts of Switzerland. When twenty-three years old he came to the United States, landing in New York and went direct to La Porte, Indiana, where he arrived without money. His father was reluctant to have him come to America, but after consenting gave him money enough to pay his passage. He at once began work at his trade in LaPorte, but soon afterward went to Highland, Illinois, where he worked for three years, being regarded as a high grade workman by his employers. In 1858 he came to Olney and resumed working at his trade, but at the end of two years he went to Edwards county on account of failing health, having traded property in Olney for a two-hundred-acre farm. Two years later he sold the same for two thousand two hundred and fifty dollars, besides realizing about one thousand dollars from his personal property. Thus we see how our subject prospered from the first in his adopted country. His next move was to Albion, where he worked at his trade for three years, having been in partnership one year in a shoe shop and store. He had bought property in Albion, which he traded for property in Olney, then taking up his permanent residence in the latter town where he has since resided continuously, having carried on business here in a most successful manner for many years. He first opened a shoe store and later was engaged in wholesale and retail hide and leather business, gradually accumulating property. In 1882 he built a three-story brick business block on Main street, twenty by eighty-fire feet with a good basement, in addition to a large warehouse. It is one of the most pretentious blocks in Olney, modern, substantial and convenient. He also owns another brick block two stories in height, twenty by one hundred and eighty-five feet, located on Main street. He also owns a valuable building, thirty by one hundred and eighty feet, on Vaile avenue, together with two stores on Railroad street, besides valuable residence property. He is one of the stockholders of the First National Bank and for some years was one of its directors.
Mr. Gaffner was first married in 1852 to Susanna Schneiter, a native of Switzerland, who came to the United States with her father, her mother having died in Switzerland. To the subject and his first wife six children were born, four of whom are living, as follows: Robert, a druggist in Olney; Tell, Charles and Walter, all reside in Seattle, Washington. They are all young men of much business ability. Their father gave each one ten thousand dollars to start them in life.
Mrs. Gaffner passed to her rest in August, 1898, and the subject subsequently married Mrs. Fannie (Suardet) Emerson, who was born in De Vand, Switzerland, of French-Huguenot descent, who came to the United States with a brother, who soon afterward went to California during the gold excitement and subsequently died there.
Mr. Gaffner is a Republican in politics, but he has never aspired to public office and he is not a partisan, believing in men rather than measures. His first presidential vote was for Stephen A. Douglas. Mr. Gaffner was reared in the German Reformed church. His wife is a member of the Presbyterian church.
This review of Mr. Gaffer's life history is necessarily general in its character. To enter fully into the interesting details of his career would require a much larger space than possible in this volume. Sufficient, however, has been stated to show that he is entitled to a place in the front ranks of successful men who have engaged in industries in Richland county. He, by his pluck, energy and enterprise, controlled by correct principles and founded upon unswerving honor, has attained to a position meriting the respect and admiration of his fellow citizens, which they gladly give.
Extracted 26 Apr 2017 by Norma Hass from 1909 Biographical and Reminiscent History of Richland, Clay and Marion Counties, Illinois, pages 199-201.