Lee County Biography


Conrad Durkes, Vice-President, Manager and principal stockholder of the Franklin Grove Bank, is one of the best known and ablest business men and most astute financiers of this part of the county. He was a pioneer merchant of Franklin Grove, where he has made his home since the early days of its settlement, and during the thirty-six years that he has lived within its precinct has been the chief promoter of all enterprises that have tended to hasten its growth and strengthen its material prosperity.

A native of the Grand Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany, our subject was born June 19, 1829, in the village of Blodesheim, within a short distance of the famous city of Worms. He is a son of Philip and Appolonie (Stelzer) Durkes. The family came to the United States in 1842, landing at New Orleans and from there proceeding to St. Louis, where the father found work at his trade as a carpenter. In 1845 he removed with his wife and children to Chicago, and there he died in 1858, at the age of 64 years. His wife passed away at the age of seventy, in 1866. They reared four children, all of whom were born in Germany. Their son John died in St. Louis in 1843, leaving no family; their daughter Magdalena married George Blum and died at Dayton Ohio in 1860, leaving family; Anna M. married George Peterman and resides in Chicago.

Our subject is the youngest of the family. He entered upon his business career early in life as a clerk in a store in Chicago, and served in that capacity until 1852, and in the meantime gained a good insight into the details of trade. He was then advanced to the responsibility of taking charge of a store at Oregon, Ill., and the following year purchased the same. He continued to conduct business at that point until 1855, when he took advantage of the fine opening afforded by the building of the railway to the newly founded town of Franklin Grove to establish the first store here on the present business site of the village. He did a general mercantile business until 1870, and then sold out, but again engaged in business in 1873, carrying it on until he disposed of his establishment and stock in trade in 1886. He had for several years been engaged in other financial transactions, although he made his start as a merchant, selling more goods when in that line than any other firm in Franklin Grove, and when he gave that up he turned his attention to a private banking business which finally led to the organization of the Franklin Grove Bank in 1889, with a capital stock of $25,000. This is one of the solid monetary institutions of the county, and richly deserves its reputation for stability and safety, as its management is prudent and conservative, and at the same time is by no means lacking in a proper spirit of enterprise that has made the bank a useful factor in developing the interests of this section of the State.

Mr. Durkes' career is illustrative of the fact that he is an excellent financier, as when he began life as a clerk all the money that he could call his own was his monthly salary of $10, and he is now comparatively wealthy. He is possessed of a large amount of real estate in Iowa and has, besides his commodious residence with its pleasant and well-ordered surroundings, and other valuable property in Franklin Grove, a good farm of two hundred acres near the town. He is a judicious investor, a cool and close calculator, and his liberal use of his money where it will do the most good is sufficient proof that he does not hoard it for the furtherance of private and selfish ends. He has been administrator for various estates, having the care of one large estate for fifteen years, and so well did he handle the money, loaning it in sums ranging from $50 to $5,000, and nearly all on personal security, that he never lost a cent belonging to this estate.

Mr. Durkes was married in 1854 to Miss Eliza J. Fleming, a native of Pennsylvania. She died in 1855, leaving one child, who died in infancy. Our subject was married a second time in 1858 taking as his wife Miss Mary E. Jones, a native of Canada and a daughter of Augustus and Mary Jones. They have had five children; Ida E. wife of Dr. H.M. Hewitt; Augustus P., a merchant of Erie, Whiteside County; Warren C., cashier of the Franklin Grove Bank; Stelzer A., and Kittie, who died in childhood.

One can say but little about the village of Franklin Grove without connecting the name of our subject therewith as its leading citizen, who has done as much or more than any other man to advance its interests in every direction and make it an attractive and desirable place of residence. He has taken an active part in local government as President of the Village Board and in other official capacities. He drafted the first chart and laws of the village, and its effective drainage system is due to his energetic influence while a member of the Council. He is pleasant and kindly in his manners, and his personal habits are above reproach. He has always been a stanch temperance man, and is an earnest of advocate of whatever will elevate the social life of the community. He is a man of religious convictions and still leans toward the faith of the German Reformed Church in which he was reared. His family, however, are members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and he contributes generously for its support. He is identified with the Masonic fraternity as a charter member of the Franklin Grove Lodge. In politics he began as a Republican, but in 1872 he saw cause for changing his views and since then has been a loyal Democrat, his fidelity to his party being rewarded during Cleveland's administration by the Postmastership at Franklin Grove.

Portraits and Biographical Lee County IL 1892

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