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Chamberlin, John B.
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Chamberlin, John B.
Contributed by Barbara
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Source: Past and Present of Pike County, Page 340-342


There are no rules for building character; there is no rule for achieving success. The man who can rise from the ranks to a position of prominence is he who can see and utilize the opportunities that surround his path. The essential conditions to human life are ever the same, the surroundings of influence differ but slightly and if one man passes another on the highway, reaching the goal of prosperity before those who perhaps started out ahead of him, it is because he has the power to use the advantages which probably encompass the whole human race. Today among the most prominent business men of Barry stands Mr. Chamberlin and his name brings to mind an important commercial industry of the city, for he has long been engaged in the conduct of a men's furnishing goods store in Barry, where he has made an unassailable reputation for business integrity, for progressive methods and for successful accomplishment.

Mr. Chamberlin was born in Butler county, Ohio, May 11, 1832, and is descended from one of the old colonial families of New Jersey. His paternal grandfather, Aaron Chamberlin, was one of the heroes of the Revolutionary war and participated in the battle of Monmouth. Following the close of hostilities he owned a farm near that battle-field, upon which he spent his remaining days, reaching the very advanced age of ninety-four years.

Aaron Chamberlin, Jr., father of our subject, was born in Monmouth county, New Jersey, in 1787, and in early manhood went to Ohio, locating at Darr township, Butler county. He was married in Ohio to Miss Rachel Bryant, a native of Butler county, where her father had located in pioneer times. Mr. Chamberlin followed the wagonmaker's trade in Darr township until 1835, when he removed to Illinois accompanied by his wife and five children, making the journey by way of the Ohio, Mississippi and Illinois rivers to Phillip's ferry and thence to Derry township, Pike county, Illinois. Upon a previous visit to the county he had purchased a tract of land, of which twelve or fifteen acres had been cleared, while the remainder was wild prairie and timber. The family took up their abode in the little log cabin, which had already been erected, and Mr. Chamberlin continued to engage in farming there until his death in 1850. His wife long survived him, passing away in 1888, at the age of eighty-three years. In their family were four children: Alfred and James W., both deceased; John B., of this review; and Lydia A., the wife of Hutson Martin, a resident of Rockport. By a former marriage the father had one son, William Chamberlin.

John D. Chamberlin of this review has been a resident of Pike county from the age of three years. When a young lad he attended the daily school in Derry township which was conducted upon the subscription plan. Primitive conditions existed on all sides and the most far-sighted could scarcely have dreamed of the changes which were to occur and bring about such a radical transformation in the appearance of the county which at that time contained many tracts of wild prairie land and stretches of unbroken forest. Mr. Chamberlin passed many a pleasant hour in hunting and killed many deer and much lesser game in this county. His youth was passed upon the old homestead farm and he assisted in its care and cultivation until 1848, when thinking that he would find other pursuits more congenial he secured a clerkship in a general store in Rockport, where he remained for three years. In 1850, however, he went with his father upon a visit to the latter's old home in New Jersey, the journey to the east being made by way of the Illinois, Mississippi and Ohio rivers to Cincinnati and thence by rail to Sandusky City, Ohio, where they arrived Saturday evening. They found they could secure a boat that night but a friend, Mrs. Bradley, who was traveling with them, was very tired and desired to wait until Monday and then take the regular packet. Mr. Chamberlin and his father decided to wait with her and found that they were very fortunate in doing so, for the other boat on which they might have sailed was lost with all on board. They proceeded by packet to Buffalo and by rail to New York city and thence on to their destination. On the return trip they traveled by way of the lake from Buffalo to Detroit, by rail across the state of Michigan and from New Buffalo across Lake Michigan to Chicago, thence by canal to La Salle and on down the Illinois river to their home. Such was the slow and tedious method of travel in those days before Illinois had become the greatest railroad state in the Union.

After his return to Pike county Mr. Chamberlin engaged in clerking in a store at Winchester for about six months and in 1851 came to Barry, where he entered the employ of the firm of Shields & Lillis. Many nights he slept upon the counter in the store and he used every opportunity that would enable him to promote his financial interests. He continued with the above mentioned firm until they retired from business, when he formed a partnership and became a member of the firm of Hammond & Chamberlin. After a year, however, Mr. Chamberlin sold his interest to Dr. D. W. Greene. On the 8th of April, 1858, Mr. Chamberlin purchased his first bill of clothing and embarked in the line of business in which he has since continued, occupying at first a rented building, in which he placed his small stock of ready-made clothing. This was the nucleus of his present large establishment. In 1861 he purchased the building in which he was conducting business and his further success is indicated by the fact that in 1863 he built a frame building thirty by sixty feet. His trade continued to grow and in 1869 justified the erection of a brick building on the corner - a two story structure thirty by one hundred and twenty feet. There he continued with growing success until the big fire of 1894, when his store with its contents was destroyed. However, it rose phoenix-like from the ashes, for with an unfaltering courage and determination he at once began the erection of a second brick structure, two stories in height with enlarged dimensions, it being seventy-five by one hundred feet. He now rents one store, while the remainder of the building is occupied with the clothing stock of the firm, for since 1875 Mr. Chamberlin has been associated with his son, Albert J. Chamberlin, whom he in that year admitted to a partnership. They still continue in business having a large and fine stock of goods and a very extensive patronage which makes the volume of business transacted over their counters each year of much importance. Theirs has become one of the leading commercial enterprises of the town.

On the 21st of August, 1854, Mr. Chamberlin was united in marriage to Miss Martha E. Rush, who was born in Pickaway county, Ohio, April 1, 1829, a daughter of Josiah and Mary (Cook) Rush. Her father was born in Virginia and her mother in Ohio. At an early day they came to Pike county and continued residents of Barry up to the time of their death. In their family were four children: Caroline, Catherine, Martha and Mary Ann. The last named was the wife of William F. White and all are now deceased. Mrs. Chamberlin died at her beautiful home in Barry, March 11, 1901. In her childhood she had come with her parents to this city, where she continued to live until called to her final rest. In early life she became a believer in the Christian religion and her faith was always exemplified in her daily conduct. Her nature was refined and sensitive to an unusual degree and she possessed the kindly spirit and tact which placed at ease all who came within her presence. In her family she was a most devoted and loving wife and mother and her relations to those outside of her own home were always just, kind and magnanimous. She seemed to live to make others happy and her death came as a crushing blow to her many friends and to the members of her own household. Her memory is yet enshrined in the hearts of all who knew her and her influence remains as a blessed benediction to those with whom she came in contact. Unto Mr. and Mrs. Chamberlin were born three children: Eugenie R., who is living at home; Freddie, who died at the age of five years; Albert J., who married Anna Scott and has one daughter, Zoe, the wife of De M. Doran, by whom she has one child. Mr. Chamberlin has a beautiful home, where he now resides. It stands in the midst of six acres of land and is surrounded by fine shade trees. He also owns the old homestead property adjoining his present residence and now he has made many improvements. He likewise has very valuable realty in Barry, having made judicious investment of his capital. He has never cared for public office but is a stanch republican, having supported the party since casting his vote for Abraham Lincoln. For almost a half century he has been numbered among the merchants of this town and he has made a reputation that any man might be proud to possess. He has been prompt in meeting obligations and in keeping engagements and his name has become an honored one on commercial paper. His career has ever been such as to warrant the trust and confidence of the business world, for he has ever conducted all business transactions on the strictest principles of honor and integrity. His devotion to the public good is unquestioned and arises from a sincere interest in his fellowmen.

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Submitted: 04/19/09

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