Remembering L.J. Farwell

Until I read the April 16, 2014, issue of my hometown newspaper, I don’t think I had ever heard of Leonard James Farwell. I knew there was a Farwell Street in my hometown of Grant City (Missouri): that is the street on which June’s and my good friend Carmetta Jackson lives.

Through the years I have known of others who lived on that street, which I assume was named for Farwell, one of the most prominent men ever to live (and die) in Grant City. (The picture below is the picture I took of a Farwell street sign in Grant City.)

Farwell St..jpg

L.J. Farwell was born in New York in 1819 and moved to Milwaukee in 1840 just prior to Wisconsin becoming a state. Later, he became a wealthy man in Madison, and in 1852 he was elected the second governor of the state.

Several years after serving as governor, he moved to Washington, D.C., taking a job offered by the Lincoln Administration at the U.S. Patent Office.

And so it happened that Farwell was in Ford’s Theater in view of Abraham Lincoln on that fateful night of April 14, 1865, when the President was shot by John Wilkes Booth.

Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s Vice-President, was a personal friend of Farwell. So the former governor rushed to the nearby Kirkwood House, which was Johnson’s residence and where he took the oath of office after Lincoln died.

The press declared Farwell a hero, crediting him with saving the life of the Vice-President by alerting him to the possibility of an assassination attempt on his life also. Such an attempt certainly seems to have been feasible, as on that same day George Atzerodt, a cohort of Booth, took a room almost directly above the ground-floor suite occupied by the Vice-President in the Kirkwood House, which was a four-story hotel.

(It has been reported that Atzerodt decided to get drunk rather than carry out the planned assassination of the Vice-President.)

Turning down a position offered him by the new President, Farwell left Washington in 1870 and started his own private patent office in Chicago. But the October 1871 Great Chicago Fire destroyed his business—and led (for reasons I have been unable to discover) to his moving to Grant City in March of the following year.

(Mrs. Catherine O’Leary became famous when it was alleged, probably incorrectly, that her cow kicked over a lantern, starting that 1871 Chicago fire that destroyed some 17,500 buildings and left about 100,000 people homeless.)

Having moved to Grant City, Farwell and Henry Benson Munn went into the real estate business, operating under the name Munn & Farwell. Thus, it seems quite certain that Farwell Street was named for the former governor.

Munn (1826-1910) had been a teacher, lawyer, and politician in the East and in Wisconsin. After several years in Grant City, he married Farwell’s daughter Cornelia (1861-1942) before moving back to Washington, D.C., to practice law.

The History of Gentry and Worth Counties, Missouri, published in 1882, includes a two-page write-up about “Hon. Leonard J. Farwell.” The article concludes,

The Governor is still [at age 63] an active, enterprising man, and has assiduously devoted his time, talents and money to the building up of Worth County, and through his exertions much has been done to advertise Northwest Missouri and to bring the emigrate to this section of the state (p. 730).

And so it was that a former governor and personal friend of President Andrew Johnson died in Grant City on April 10, 1889, and is buried in Grant City Cemetery.

Here is the link to a 9/10/2012 article about Farwell.

About Leroy Seat

* Born in Grant City, MO, on 8/15/1938 * Graduated from Southwest Baptist College (Bolivar, MO) in 1957 (A.A.) * Graduated from William Jewell College (Liberty, MO) in 1959 (A.B.) * Graduated from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY) in 1962 (B.D., equivalent of M.Div.) * Received the Doctor of Philosophy degree in theology from SBTS. * Baptist missionary to Japan from 1966 to 2004. * Full-time faculty member at Seinan Gakuin University (Fukuoka, Japan) from 1968 to 2004. * Adjunct professor at Rockhurst University from 2006 to 2014.
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