Richland County

Biography - Richard Lewis

Energy, sound judgment and persistency of effort, properly applied, will always win the goal sought in the sphere of human endeavor, no matter what the environment may be or what obstacles are met with, for they who are endowed with such characteristics, make stepping-stones of their adversities to higher things. These reflections are suggested by the career of Mr. Lewis, who has forged his way to the front ranks, and stands today among the representative men of Richland county.

Richard Lewis, the well-known proprietor of the Metropole Hotel in Olney, Illinois, was born in Breckenridge county, Kentucky, August 17, 1844, the son of Thomas and Sarah (Mattingly) Lewis, the former having been born near Harper's Ferry, Virginia, and the latter in Kentucky. The father was reared in his native state and came to Kentucky with his parents when young, where he married and became a farmer. James Mattingly, grandfather of the subject, was a planter and a slave owner in Kentucky where he lived and died. Thomas Lewis removed to Illinois with his family in 1846 and settled at Pond Grove, near St. Marie, Jasper county. Soon afterward he changed his place of residence to another part of Jasper county. He was one of the pioneers of that section and improved a good farm, consisting of one hundred and twenty acres six miles south of Newton, which in late years he gave to his youngest son. He died at the home of the subject in Olney in 1883, at the age of seventy-three years. His wife had previously died at the age of sixty-three years. Their family consisted of six children, three boys and three girls, two of the youngest daughters being deceased. The subject is the fifth in order of birth. He was two years old when the family located in Jasper county. His parents being poor, his early education was very limited on account of his having to work hard to help support the family, working on the farm early and late. There were only a few schools in the county which was new at that time, so he was enabled to attend school only about six months; later he did a great deal of home reading and by practical experience became generally educated and is today a well-informed man.

During his youth the family was so poor, according to our subject, that it took all their money at one time to buy one hoe, which was turned over to an older brother, William, for use. He, however, was not satisfied to do all the work and made a wooden hoe, which he insisted on our subject using to help. Dick says he accordingly put in many days of hard work with a wooden hoe, which has probably been the experience of but few people now living in Illinois. The family lived in a log house for a number of years without windows, but the father finally sawed out a small place for one window, in which they lived until the house was destroyed by fire. The nearest neighbor was three miles away. Wild game of all kinds was plentiful, including deer, bear, wild turkey, and wolves were numerous and sometimes troublesome. The father was compelled to get up at night many times for the purpose of driving them out of the dooryard and away from the sheep and hogs. The father was a shoemaker and made all the shoes and boots for the family. Richard was allowed one pair of shoes per year, being compelled to go barefoot from early spring until snow fell in the late fall.

Mr. Lewis was one of the supporters of the national government during the trouble in the sixties, having enlisted in 1861, but not being old enough and being opposed by his family, he did not go to the front. He then took charge of the home place and for a few years was very successful. He sold hogs at Olney during the war for twelve dollars per one hundred pounds. In 1865 he enlisted in Company B, One Hundred and Fifty-fifth Illinois Volunteer Infantry, and immediately went into the field. He was first sent to Louisville and then to Nashville, also to Tullahoma, Tennessee, returning to Murfreesboro, where he remained until he was mustered out. After the war he came back home and located on a farm of forty acres, which he had bought with two wagonloads of hogs prior to enlisting. In the meantime his father bought forty acres more with the money the subject had sent him, making him eighty acres in all, with which to start life. In 1866 and 1867 he raised crops of wheat and sold wheat the latter year for two dollars per bushel. On one occasion he took thirty bushels to Olney for which he received sixty dollars. Meeting an old comrade, Jim Clark, son of "Old Sam Clark," after the war, the young men repaired to a place for social refreshment and being looked upon by the proprietor of the place as young and unsophisticated, were induced to try their luck at a game. It was the subject's lucky day and he made fifteen dollars very easily. It became a puzzle to his father how the son could come home with so much money for thirty bushels of wheat. During those days Mr. Lewis was on his way to the polls at St. Marie to vote and passed a place where a young lady was breaking flax with a flail and casually made the remark, "That is the girl for me." He did not know her, but afterward met her quite unexpectedly and it is a coincidence worth recording here that she is his wife today.

After the marriage of Mr. Lewis he continued on the farm and was prosperous for several years, buying more land until he had a splendid place, consisting of one hundred and twenty acres. He was ambitious to get ahead and bought a threshing machine outfit, going in debt on his credit, which was unquestioned. The panic of 1873 came on and it was impossible to get money, so he lost all. After he had turned over all his property except a homestead interest, which he traded for two houses and lots in Olney, he found judgment still hanging over him. He paid one judgment of six hundred dollars by disposing of one house and lot and went to work at whatever he could find to do for several years.

In September 1897, he bought a hotel business opposite the Illinois Central depot in Olney, which he conducted for about a year. He then conducted a similar business on West Main street for two years, after which he took charge of the old Commercial House, which he christened the New Olney House, and conducted the same for three years. He then sold out and leased the Metropole hotel, which he soon after sold. After a trip to St. Louis he returned to Olney and again engaged in the hotel business on West Main street for about a year. Selling out, he again took charge of the Metropole hotel, which he has since conducted successfully. It is the leading hotel in this part of the country and would be a credit to larger cities, being carefully conducted and managed in such a manner as to constantly gain prestige with the traveling public. It is a three-story brick structure, modern in every detail, with thirty-six rooms, electric lights, steam heat, hot and cold water, and all other equipment that can be found in an up-to-date hotel. Its cuisine is excellent and courteous treatment is always accorded guests, so that the place is popular with the traveling public. Its genial and pleasant proprietor is familiarly known as "Old Dick Lewis."

Mr. Lewis was married December 26, 1867, to Sarah Anderson, a native of near Madison, Indiana, the daughter of Felix and Martha (Underwood) Anderson, both of whom died in Jasper county, Illinois. Mr. and Mrs. Lewis are the parents of eight children, two of whom are living. Anna is the wife of Victor Bolmar, who resides in Mattoon, Illinois; May is the other daughter.

In politics Mr. Lewis was formerly a Democrat, but in later years he has voted the Republican ticket. He is a member of the Eli Boyer Post, No. 92, Grand Army of the Republic. He has held many positions in the same, being at present quartermaster. He is also a member of Olney Lodge, No. 926, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. He and his family are members of the Catholic church.

Extracted 26 Apr 2017 by Norma Hass from 1909 Biographical and Reminiscent History of Richland, Clay and Marion Counties, Illinois, pages 178-180.

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