One of the owners of extensive farming interests in Richland county is
the gentleman whose name initiates this sketch, who resides in Preston
township. His valuable property has been acquired through his own efforts -
his persistency of purpose and his determination, and the prosperity which
is the legitimate reward of all earnest effort is today his.
William Van Alman was born in Switzerland, July 5, 1828, the son of Christian and Anna (Milliman) Van Alman, also natives of Switzerland, where they lived and died. The father of the subject was a farmer and died when the latter was ten years old, and he was only three years old, when his mother died. They were the parents of seven children, four girls and three boys, William being the youngest. He was reared in his native land and received a common school education. When nineteen years old he went through the regular drill required of all able bodied young men. He had left home when sixteen, having secured the required passport to leave his native section of Switzerland. He worked on farms and at dairy work for several years. In the latter part of 1849 in company with two older brothers and a cousin, he came to the United States in an old-fashioned sailing vessel, being fifty-four days making the ocean voyage, landing at New Orleans, where he says he saw his first "nigger." He came up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to Louisville, Kentucky, where he arrived January 1, 1850. He soon went to Ripley county, Indiana, where his cousin lived, and in the following March went to Mount Vernon, Illinois. That same spring he came to Richland county, and went to work on a farm for seven dollars per month. He saved his money which he added to what he had when he came to the United States. In 1852 he entered one hundred and sixty acres of land in Preston township, eighty acres of prairie and eighty acres of bottom land. He at once built a log cabin and began improving his place, having bought a yoke of cattle and began breaking the prairie land, and being a hard worker, he was not long in making many changes on his farm. He bought more oxen and continued breaking land for his neighbors for ten years - over one thousand acres in all. He operated a threshing machine for thirty years, wearing out six machines during that time, and doing a large and prosperous business in this line. He became prosperous and at one time owned three hundred acres. He is at this writing the owner of two hundred and fifty acres.
Olney was a hamlet of only a few houses - mean wooden structures - when Mr. Van Alman came here. William Van Alman was united in marriage October 7, 1862, to Elizabeth Mattingly, who was born in Jasper county, Illinois, the daughter of George and Elizabeth Mattingly. The subject and wife are the parents of thirteen children, six of whom grew to maturity. They are, Matilda, Stephen, died when thirty-two years old; Charles, Emma is the wife of William Lamkin, who lives in Louisville, Kentucky; Fred W. is a farmer in Preston township; Louise is the wife of Ed. Williams, living on the old homestead.
Politically Mr. Van Alman is a Democrat, having always supported the principals of that party. He and his wife are members of the German Reformed church in Preston township.
Mr. Van Alman was the first person to break the banks of the Ambrose river to cross with a wagon in this section. He was the first person to subscribe fifty dollars for the construction of a bridge across this stream, where a ferry used to be maintained. He built the first ferry across the Ambrose river in the pioneer days; in fact, he built four ferries before a bridge was constructed. His name is associated with progress in the county of his adoption and among those in whose midst he has so long lived and labored, he is held in the highest esteem by reason of an upright life of fidelity to principles.
Extracted 26 Apr 2017 by Norma Hass from 1909 Biographical and Reminiscent History of Richland, Clay and Marion Counties, Illinois, pages 335-336.