GEORGE H. WHITE. - There are many points of definite interest in the career of this venerable citizen of Kansas City, Kansas, and in the perspective of many years there are many palpable evidences of worthy accomplishment on his part. He went forth as a gallant soldier of the Union in the Civil war; he was one of the pioneers in the exploiting of the oil industry in the southwest, where his enterprise anticipated that of others by many years; he has made and lost and again won fortunes; he has been a potent factor in the development and upbuilding of Kansas City and Wyandotte county; and, over all and above all, his character has been the positive expression of a strong, noble and honorable nature, so that he has not been denied the most generous measure of popular approbation and esteem during the long years of his earnest endeavors as one of the world's workers. Though now an octogenarian Mr. White, in vitality and mental activities, puts involuntary denial to the passage of the years, and still is found concerned with business affairs, the while he keeps in closest touch with the questions and issues of the hour. Such are the men who seem to have enduring claim on much that is usually represented in youth, and he is honored alike for his sterling worth and for the good he has accomplished in a practical way.
George H. White was born in the city of Syracuse, New York, on the 6th of January, 1828, and is the son of Elisha E. and Sallie (Hinman) White, the former a native of Vermont and the latter of Connecticut and both representatives of families of English lineage, that were founded in New England in the Colonial epoch of our national history. The parents continued to reside in the state of New York until their death, and the vocation of the father during the major part of his active career was that of a shoemaker and tanner. He was a man of strong mentality and sterling character and was influential as a citizen; both he and his wife were zealous members of the Methodist Episcopal church. They became the parents of six sons and two daughters, and of the number three are now living: Charles M., who is a lawyer by profession and who now resides at Pocatello, Idaho; George H., who is the immediate subject of this sketch; and Louise, who is the widow of Warren Mitchell and who resides in Des Moines, Iowa.
George H. White gained his early educational discipline in the schools of his native city and he continued his residence in the old Empire state until he had attained to his legal majority, when, in 1851, he turned his face to the west and established his home in Coldwater, the judicial center of Branch county, Michigan. There he was engaged in the mercantile business until 1862, as one of the early merchants and influential citizens of the town, but when the dark cloud of the Civil war cast its pall over the national horizon he soon subordinated all other interests to go forth in defense of the Union. In the year 1862, he raised a full company of volunteers in a period of fourteen days and made the notable record of securing the enlistment of forty-seven men in a single day. In July of that year he himself enlisted in Company H, Nineteenth Michigan Volunteer Infantry, with which he was mustered into the United States service at Dowagiac, Michigan. He proceeded with his command to the front and joined General Rosecrans' forces at Louisville, Kentucky. He continued with his gallant regiment in active service for about two years, but was finally incapacitated by ill health. He returned to Coldwater, Michigan, where he passed one year in the recuperation of his health, and he then, in February, 1864, set forth on the long and perilous overland trip to Nevada. There he remained five or six months, within which time he took up a claim. He had previously been identified with the oil industry in Virginia, and in Nevada he discerned opportunities in this line as well as in mining. He returned to Michigan and New York and effected the organization of a stock company with a capital of one hundred thousand dollars, all paid in. He then vigorously superintended the work of preparing for his company's active operations in Nevada and finally the company set forth with a train of twenty-three wagons, an equipment of mining machinery and several hundred head of oxen. When they arrived at Fort Bridger they encountered a severe blizzard in which they lost as many as three hundred and twelve head of cattle. What few of the animals were left were later stolen by the Indians and frontier soldiers, together with many of their other possessions, and with all these misfortunes the projected enterprise appeared most discouraging, as the men in the party were unable to proceed to their destination and to take up their work. Mr. White's faith and confidence, however, remained unshaken, and later he added thirty-three hundred dollars to his investment to carry forward the enterprise and this exhausted his financial resources. Later his interest in the mining business was sold to E. Kelly, though at a loss.
His previous success in connection with oil operations finally led Mr. White to operate in Wirt county, West Virginia, where he held three thousand acres of land, in partnership with two other men, Prentiss and Clarke. The land was equally divided as to value among the three and on his portion Mr. White sunk three oil wells, as he had discovered traces of oil in the bed of a creek in the sand rock-collars. His previous experience encouraged him and he continued to sink wells on his property until he had a total of thirteen. He found his financial resources taxed severely in these preliminary operations, as he had to pay six dollars a thousand feet for cutting the necessary lumber and also to pay the wages of a large corps of men, who were provided for in a large camp established by him. His work caused much derision and he was laughed at as having lost his mind, but the laugh was eventually "on the other fellow," as he finally sold a three-fourths interest in merely one of his wells for seventy-five thousand dollars.
After remaining for a time in Coldwater, Michigan, Mr. White went to the city of Chicago in the spring of 1871 and entered into a contract with the firm of Snell & Taylor, who were at that time constructing the line of the present Lake Erie & Western Railroad. By this firm Mr. White was given charge of laying out the streets of the new town of Hoopeston in the northern part of Vermilion county, Illinois, on the line of the new road. He laid out the streets due north and south, eighty-five feet in width, and planted on the same shade trees, twenty-five feet apart, ten feet in height, besides which he had charge of the erection of a depot and a substantial block of business buildings and a hotel. This place is now a thriving little city of several thousand population, and many of the trees planted by Mr. White are still in existence, of large size and greatly ornamental after the lapse of years. In connection with his work at Hoopeston, Mr. White, as a stanch Prohibitionist, takes great pride in the fact that through his efforts he kept the liquor traffic out of the town, which with the exception of one year has never had a saloon within its borders. He bought and sold twenty thousand acres in Green county, Illinois, and brought about great benefits by instituting the first drainage and levee system.
Mr. White continued his residence at Hoopeston until 1885, when he came to Kansas City, Kansas, or Wyandotte, as the original city was known. He was looking for profitable investments and business opportunities and upon his arrival in Wyandotte he found that the larger portion of the real estate in the present Kansas City was held under tax titles. He began to make judicious investments in lots and to straighten out titles to the property and he eventually effected the organization of the Land Claim & Investment Company, which exercised most beneficent functions in the establishing of titles and the improving of properties. He cleared the titles to the larger number of the properties held by the old Wyandotte City Company, and through his personal efforts, as well as his work in connection with the corporation organized by him, he has done more than can be claimed for many other citizens in bringing about the development and upbuilding of the fine metropolis of Wyandotte county. He has established proper street grades, both by excavation and filling in, as demanded, and in manifold other ways, has shown his progressiveness and public spirit. He is proud of being the father of the park and boulevard movement of Kansas City, Kansas, his own home being in the center of the city and of this system, on Waterway Park, midway between Washington and Grand View boulevards. Mr. White was one of the organizers of the Kansas City Board of Trade and he has continued to be one of its valued members for some years until that organization was succeeded by the State Grain Inspection Law. To the earnest and unselfish efforts of Mr. White and Rev. B. Q. Denman is due the establishing of the Good Will Home, one of the noble and beneficent institutions of Kansas City and Wyandotte county. Dr. Bell helped by allowing the use of his building at a low rate of payment and Mr. White personally contributed the greater part of the money required for the erection and equipment of the home, for which they paid out fully twenty-eight hundred dollars. The home had one hundred beds, the first of which was put in by Rev. Father Anthony R. Kuhls, a venerated member of the priesthood of the Catholic church, although the institution itself was undenominational. Finally the Home was turned over to the Salvation Army people. In politics Mr. White gave his allegiance to the Republican party until his earliest convictions led him to espouse the cause of the Prohibition party and to exercise his franchise in support of the same. He has thus been found aligned as a stanch and practical Prohibitionist from the time Governor St. John appeared as its gubernatorial candidate in Kansas. Mr. White has attended county, state and national conventions of the party. He attends and helps all the churches. Generous and tolerant in his association with his fellow men, kindly and benevolent and with high appreciation of his personal stewardship, Mr. White's influence has ever been for good, the while he has gained and held as his wont the stanchest of friends in all classes. His retrospect of a long and useful career must thus bring many gracious memories and the golden evening of his day finds him in the enjoyment of the quiet peace and pleasant associations that should ever attend old age.
On the 4th of July, 1848, was solemnized the marriage of Mr. White and Miss Nancy E. Towner, in Syracuse, New York, in which state she was born on the 6th of January, 1828. The two children of this union died in infancy, and the venerable couple find their greatest solace in their mutual love and sympathy, which has attended them on their journey through life. Mrs. White is now in somewhat impaired health, but she bears her afflictions with characteristic equanimity and patience and her gentle and kindly nature has gained to her the affectionate regard of all who have come within the sphere of her immediate influence. The many friends of Mr. White in this and other states of the Union, cannot but find satisfaction that there is perpetuated even so brief a review of his career as is given within the pages of this work, whose consistency and dignity are heightened by his thus finding representation among other honored citizens, of Wyandotte county, Kansas.
Mr. and Mrs. White celebrated their silver wedding in Taylor's Hall, Hoopeston, Illinois, July 4, 1873; their golden wedding in their present home, July 4, 1898; and their sixty-third anniversary July 4, 1911.
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