top shadow

Biography - THOMAS DEAN CATLIN

It has been practically within the latter part of the nineteenth century that the northern portion of Illinois has been opened to the advance of civilization, and the cities of this division are the product of the latter-day enterprise and progress. Ottawa, belonging to this class, is mentioned in the Gazetteer as "the seat of varied and useful activities;" and among the prominent men who have helped to make it such stands the gentleman whose name heads this review. He has been identified with this region for more than forty-one years, and is to-day the representative of some of its leading industries.

Thomas Dean Catlin is a native of Clinton, Oneida county, New York, born March 12, 1838. His parents were Marcus and Philena (Dean) Catlin. His father was a professor of mathematics in Hamilton College, at Clinton. He was of English descent, and his death occurred in 1849. On the maternal side Mr. Catlin descends from an old historic family of the Empire state. His mother comes of a family that founded Deansville, New York. In 1795, on the site of that town, lived the Brotherton Indians, and in that year John Dean, a Quaker, went to the place as a missionary to labor with and for the red men. For a year he lived in a log house, and then erected what is now the wing of the residence owned by Charles Hovey. There he faithfully continued his work until life's labors were ended, and he passed peacefully away in 1820, at the advanced age of eighty-eight years. He had a son, Thomas Dean, who likewise was devoted to missionary work among the Indians. He had been his father's assistant, and when the latter died he continued to labor toward civilizing the red men. He was a man of herculean proportions and of great ability and sound judgment. He was not only the Indian agent but was also a counselor, spiritual guide and general law-giver, and was largely instrumental in transferring the Brotherton Indians to a reservation at Green Bay, Wisconsin. He secured the appropriation of sixty-four thousand acres from the government, and also secured the passage of a law through the New York legislature which enabled the Indians to sell their lands at full value. From 1830 to 1840 his time was entirely taken up with locating his dusky friends in their new home and in adjusting business matters for them, and. wearied by his great toil, death came to end his arduous service, in June, 1842, when he had reached the age of sixty-three years. He was scrupulously honest, and his career, both public and private, was above reproach in every particular. He had the love and reverence of the Indians, and the confidence and highest regard of all with whom he came in contact. At the time when a petition was circulated for the establishment of a post-office at another place in the vicinity, he went to Washington and secured the office for Deansville instead. He became its first postmaster, and the office and the village were named in his honor. He had five children, and among this number was Mrs. Philena Catlin.

Her son, Thomas Dean Catlin, acquired his education in Hamilton College, at Clinton, New York, being graduated at that institution in the class of 1857, at the early age of nineteen years. He still belongs to the college society known as Sigma Phi. Upon the broad fields of the west, with its unlimited opportunities, he entered upon his business career. In 1858 he came to Ottawa, Illinois, to meet by appointment his uncle, A. H. Redfield, of Detroit, who was acting as an Indian agent and was stationed at the head-waters of the Missouri river. It was his intention to go to that region; but, his uncle having been detained for a time, he meanwhile sought and obtained a position in the employ of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad Company, first as a freight clerk, receiving a salary of only four hundred dollars a year; but he soon afterward won promotion, and for five years served as agent, finally receiving sixty dollars a month - the highest salary he ever received from that corporation.

His connection with the establishment of telegraphic communication in the west certainly makes him worthy of a place in this history. It is said that rapid transit and rapid communication are the most important factors in civilization. Mr. Catlin is a pioneer in this enterprise. In 1863 he became the secretary of the Illinois & Mississippi Telegraph Company, which had been established in 1849, one of the first in the west. This company owned telegraph patents for several of the western states, controlling the business in this section of the country. It built various lines throughout the west, and in 1867 leased its lines to the Western Union Telegraph Company, thus forming the connecting link between the Atlantic and Pacific.

Many and varied have been the business interests with which he has been connected. He is a man of broad capabilities and resources, and his keen discrimination, sound judgment and business sagacity enable him to carry forward to successful completion whatever he undertakes. He is an able financier, his ambition being tempered with a safe conservatism, and he is now at the head of one of the leading financial institutions of the state. In April, 1884, he was elected vice-president of the National City Bank, of Ottawa, and in June, 1890, after the death of E. C. Allen, its president, he was elected to the superior office, and has ever since acceptably and creditably filled that position. This bank is capitalized for one hundred thousand dollars, and it now has a surplus of one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars, and undivided profits of fifty thousand dollars, making a working capital of about three hundred thousand dollars. He is also president of the State Bank of Seneca, Illinois.

In 1867 Mr. Catlin organized the Ottawa Glass Company and they established one of the pioneer industries of its kind west of Pittsburg, of which he was the secretary and treasurer. Business was carried on under that name until 1880, when the company sold its plant to the United Glass Company, of New York, a corporation capitalized for one million two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and owning factories in various places. Of this company Mr. Catlin was the president and treasurer for six years after its organization.

In 1866 Mr. Catlin was married to Miss Helen C. Plant, a resident of Utica, New York, and a member of one of the old and honored families of the Empire state and connected with the Daughters of the Revolution. Their only child is James Plant Catlin.

Mr. Catlin is connected with many of the public interests of Ottawa which are calculated to promote the moral, educational and material welfare of the community. He is a member of the First Congregational church, and is serving as one of its deacons. He was a member of the first board of trustees of the public library at Ottawa; is the president of the board of trustees of the Ryburn Memorial Hospital, and is also a member of the board of trustees of Hamilton College, at Clinton, New York. Charitable and benevolent, he gives freely of his means to those in need of assistance, but gives always in a quiet, unostentatious way, seeking not the laudations of men. In his political views he is a stalwart supporter of the Republican party, and has served his city as alderman and a member of the board of education.

The record of Mr. Catlin is that of a man who by his own unaided efforts has worked his way upward to a position of affluence. His life has been one of industry and perseverance, and the systematic and honorable business methods which he has followed have won him the support and confidence of many. Without the aid of influence or wealth, he has risen to a position among the most prominent men of the state, and his native genius and acquired ability are the stepping-stones on which he mounted.

Extracted by Norma Hass from Biographical and Genealogical Record of LaSalle County, Illinois published in 1900, volume 1, pages 14-16.

Templates in Time