For half a century or more William Holly, a prominent citizen of Peru, has resided in the neighborhood of this town, and during his life in LaSalle county he has been a witness of much of its development from the wilderness. He has given his attention to various lines of business since he reached man's estate, and has prospered in nearly all of his undertakings.
The grandfathers of our subject, on both sides of the house, were of German birth. Daniel Holly, the paternal grandfather, spent some years in his native land, was married there and finally emigrated to Butler county, Ohio, where he engaged in farming. The parents of our subject were Daniel and Helen (Bender) Holly, both natives of the Fatherland. They had five sons and two daughters, namely: Mary, wife of Christian Brennemann, of this county; John, of Putnam county; William, the immediate subject of this sketch; Theodore, of Putnam county; Gustav, of Kansas; Eliza, wife of Oscar Brennemann, of Putnam county; and George W., of this county. When he came to the United States Daniel Holly, Jr., was a boy, and the remainder of his youth was spent on a farm in Butler county, Ohio. With his wife and four children he came to Illinois, making the trip by boat from Cincinnati to St. Louis; thence up the Illinois river, over which he crossed and proceeded to Hennepin, Putnam county. They settled on a farm about ten miles distant from that town, and in the course of time the father accumulated considerable property. He retired about five years prior to his death, which occurred in Peru, in 1887, when he was seventy-one years of age. His widow is still living, and is now in her eighty-fourth year. In religious belief they were originally Mennonites, but Mr. Holly became a Free Thinker when he was about fifty-five years of age. For several years he served as a justice of the peace, and also acted in the capacity of road commissioner at Peru.
William Holly, of this sketch, was born in Butler county, Ohio, May 1, 1843. When he was twenty-one years of age his father gave him a team of horses, and he began farming a part of the old homestead on shares, and also ran a threshing machine. At the end of four years he went to Granville, Illinois, and clerked in a general store. Within a year the management failed, and Mr. Holly was chosen to take charge and sell out the stock, which required about a year. Then, going to Chicago, the young man purchased a new, fresh stock of goods, and opened a store of his own in Granville. After spending three years in that enterprise he sold out, at a fair profit, and in the fall of 1875 and joined his brother-in-law, Oscar Brennemann, and started a grocery store in the new building which had just been erected in Peru by the senior Mr. Holly. The firm was known as Holly & Brennemann, and that management was in existence some five years. Mr. Holly then bought out his partner's interest and continued alone in business until 1887, when he finally disposed of his stock. His next enterprise was the Peru Elevator Company, which he organized. Renting the elevator he managed it for three years, from 1890 to 1893, and then sold out.
In 1890 Mr. Holly and five other public-spirited citizens - G. D. Ladd, Theodore Weberling, G. Lassig, H. Bellinghausen and Charles Bruner sunk an artesian well, and at a depth of about seven hundred feet a fine vein of salt water was struck. They went down further, and, reaching a depth of fourteen hundred feet, found fresh water. Pipes were put in and the well was afterward sold to the city, which built new water-works. In 1893 Mr. Holly went to California, and, stopping in Salt Lake City, he took a few plunges in the briny inland sea, and so thoroughly enjoyed the effects that he returned home with a new idea, which he proceeded to put into successful operation. Purposing to use the salt water piped from the abovementioned well, he opened an establishment, - a bath-house for giving hot salt-water baths, - and has since enlarged the capacity of the bath-house, until there are now ten separate rooms, with all approved appliances. The ground floor is devoted to the use of men and the second story to ladies, while the basement contains a fine plunge bath, used chiefly in the summer season. Though the popularity of the bath-house is greatest during the hot weather, it receives a liberal patronage the year round.
Mr. Holly has other business interests. He is a stockholder in the Peru Plow & Wheel Company, and has served on the board of directors for this company, and also as treasurer. He is also a stockholder and director in the Peru Plow & Implement Company, of Council Bluffs, Iowa, and is also interested in the Peru Shoe Company, of which he is general manager.
In politics our subject has been perfectly independent, voting for the nominee or principle in which he believed most thoroughly, and changing from one party to the other as he deemed best under public conditions. He voted for S. J. Tilden in 1876, and had cast his first vote for Lincoln, as nominee for a second term. He supported Cleveland the first time that he ran, but not liking his methods he next used his ballot in favor of Harrison. Then he reverted to Cleveland, and, lastly, he voted for McKinley, and every time the man for whom he desired the place of chief executive (since 1876) has been elected. Personally Mr. Holly has never aspired to public office. He is a member of the Peru Sharp-shooters' Society, but is not connected with any of the lodges.
In 1888 the marriage of Mr. Holly and Miss Emma Miller was solemnized. They have had three children, Arthur, Gertrude and Lillian. The last named, little Lillian, died in 1896, at the age of three years.
Extracted by Norma Hass from Biographical and Genealogical Record of LaSalle County, Illinois published in 1900, volume 1, pages 198-200.