Farwell, John Villiers

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John Villiers Farwell, (1825–1908) was born at Painted Post, New York in Steuben County, New York, on July 29, 1825. He was the third of five children born to Henry and Nancy (Jackson) Farwell, who made their living by farming and shipping lumber. In 1838, when John was 13, the family moved to Ogle County, Illinois, and settled in the Rock River Valley near the town of Oregon, Illinois. There John spent the remainder of his youth; he and his brothers helped build the family home, which often served as a local meeting house on Sundays.

John Villiers Farwell was the brother of Charles Benjamin Farwell.

In 1845, after graduating from Mount Morris College (was: Mount Morris Seminary), John went to Chicago, where his older brother had moved the year before. After working briefly for the city, he became a bookkeeper for the Hamilton and Day a dry goods firm, with which he remained for four years.

On April 16, 1849, he married Abigail Gates Taylor. She died on May 9, 1851, a month after giving birth to their daughter. In the meantime, Farwell had joined the firm of Wadsworth and Phelps (later Cooley, Wadsworth, & Company), of which he was made general manager.

In 1854 he married Emeret Cooley, a sister of a business associate; they had three sons and a daughter. In 1862 the firm became known as Cooley, Farwell, and Company, then in 1865, after he took it over, John V. Farwell and Company. Marshall Field, Potter Palmer, Levi Z. Leiter, and S.N. Kellogg were numbered among Farwell's partners at one time or another, and the Farwell Company was for many years Chicago's leading dry goods store.

Unlike his brother and partner Charles Benjamin Farwell, who helped form the Republican Party and later served in both houses of Congress, John Farwell rarely participated in politics; however, he was an elector for Abraham Lincoln in 1860. In 1869 he was appointed a Commissioner for Indian Affairs by President Ulysses S. Grant. He was a devout Methodist who headed the Chicago branch of the United States Christian Commission during the Civil War and was a leading friend and supporter of Dwight L. Moody's ministry. Farwell helped build the First Methodist Church (Chicago) and was also a zealous supporter of the Young Men's Christian Association; he donated land in downtown Chicago for the first YMCA building.

Farwell entered the Texas cattle-ranching scene in 1882, when, as a leading member of the Capitol Syndicate, he helped finance the building of the new Capitol in Austin, Texas. Both he and Charles were directors of the Capitol Freehold Land and Investment Company, organized in London, Texas in 1885 to handle the land that became the XIT Ranch. In addition, he was for a time managing director of the XIT. In that position, Farwell spent some time at the ranch, where he occasionally held church services for the employees; his nephew Walter Farwell erected a summer residence near Channing, Texas that served as the new XIT headquarters.

Farwell died on August 20, 1908, and was interred in Chicago. Even after ceasing cattle operations in 1912, the Farwell estate continued ownership of XIT properties in the form of a trust known as the Capitol Reservation Lands, organized in 1915. This trust remained in existence until the last of the Texas Panhandle properties was sold. The family also maintained the dry goods business in Chicago until 1926, when it was sold to Carson, Pirie and Company. Two towns in Texas were named for Farwell.

Encyclopedia of Illinois, Volume 1, page 162

John Villiers Farwell, merchant, was born at Campbell, Steuben County, N.Y., Friday, July 29, 1825, the son of a farmer ; received a common school education and, in 1838, removed with his father's family to Ogle County, Illinois. Here he attended Mount Morris Seminary for a time, but, in 1845, came to Chicago without capital and secured employment in the City Clerk's office, then became a bookkeeper in the dry-goods establishment of Hamilton & White, and, still later, with Hamilton & Day. Having thus received his bent towards a mercantile career, he soon after entered the concern of Wadsworth & Phelps as a clerk, at a salary of $600 a year, but was admitted to a partnership in 1850, the title of the firm becoming Cooley, Farwell & Company, in 1860. About this time Marshall Field and Levi Ziegler Leiter became associated with the concern and received their mercantile training under the supervision of Mr. Farwell. In 1865 the title of the firm became J.V. Farwell & Company, but, in 1891, the firm was incorporated under the name of The J.V. Farwell Company, his brother, Charles Benjamin Farwell, being a member. The subject of this sketch has long been a prominent factor in religious circles, a leading spirit of the Young Men's Christian Association, and served as President of the Chicago Branch of the United States Christian Commission during the Civil War. Politically he was a Republican, serving as Presidential Elector at the time of President Lincoln's second election in 1864; also served by appointment of President Grant, in 1869, on the Board of Indian Commissioners. He was a member of the Capitol Syndicate which erected the Texas State Capitol, at Austin, in that State; was also, for a number of years, Vice-President and Treasurer of J.V. Farwell and Company, and President of the Colorado Consolidated Land and Water Company. He was also prominent in the organization of the Chicago Public Library, and a member of the Union League, the Chicago Historical Society and the Chicago Art Institute. Died Thursday, August 20, 1908.