Lee County Biography


No citizen of Lee county has been more faultless in honor, fearless in conduct and stainless in reputation than Hon. Charles H. Hughes, who at the time of his death on the 12th of May, 1907, was serving as state senator from his district. He won distinction in every relation of his life. He was a successful and progressive farmer, an enterprising and sagacious banker, an astute, clearheaded and public-spirited citizen and political leader, a loyal friend and devoted husband and father. He had a wide acquaintance among the most prominent residents of Illinois and their expressions of regret at his passing showed how deeply he was honored by them and how greatly his worth was appreciated. His life record had its beginning in Columbia county, Pennsylvania, his birth occurring near Berwick on the 13th of April, 1846. He was descended from Welsh and German ancestry, his forefathers having crossed the Atlantic to America at an early period in the development of this country. The family history contains the names of many who contributed to the successes of the Revolutionary war and molded the later history of the republic. His parents were Elwood and Elizabeth (Hill) Hughes, in whose family he was the fourth child. His father was born in Columbia county, Pennsylvania, and made farming his life work. The mother was a native of Lycoming county, Pennsylvania. For many years they resided in the Keystone state but in 1870 came to Illinois, where the father made his home until his death which occurred in 1894. Following her husband's death the mother made her home with her son, Charles H., until his death. She died in the city of Dixon in August, 1909, at the ripe age of ninety- one years. Her living children are E. C. Hughes, now a prominent attorney of Seattle, Washington, and Mrs. James Hill of Los Angeles, California. Her oldest son, John N. Hughes, Captain of Company B, 210th Pennsylvania Volunteers was wounded in the battle of the Wilderness and died a few weeks later. Her fourth son, William E. Hughes, died at the age of four years in 1855. Her second son, B. E. Hughes, a lawyer by profession and at one time a member of the state senate of Pennsylvania and also assistant postmaster of Philadelphia, died at his home in Philadelphia, in October, 1913. Her youngest son, Edward A. Hughes, died in Clinton, Iowa, in 1902 while serving his third term as mayor of that city.

Charles H. Hughes acquired his early education in the public schools of Berwick, Pennsylvania, and afterward had the opportunity of attending the Susquehanna University. He was a young man of twenty-two years when in 1868 he came to Illinois, where he took up the occupation of farming being actively connected with agricultural pursuits in Lee county for twenty-two years. In the management of his fields he displayed keen discernment, thorough understanding of the best methods of tilling the soil and indefatigable industry. These qualities won him success as the years passed on and made him in time the possessor of a handsome competence. At the time of his demise he was still the owner of his farm lands and personally directed their operation. In addition he had business interests in Dixon in which city he took up his residence in 1892. The following year he became connected with the Dixon National Bank as one of its stockholders and at the time of his demise was its cashier. During the later years of his life he devoted his attention largely to the management of the bank, the success and upbuilding of which are largely attributable to his efforts. He was always strictly honorable and straightforward in his dealings and was ever willing to assist the patrons of the bank to any degree that would not imperil the safety of other depositors. He was an excellent judge of human nature and was therefore seldom, if ever, at fault in giving substantial evidence of his confidence in an individual. His entire business career was characterized by progress. He always followed constructive methods so that his path was never strewn with the wreck of other men's failures. He readily recognized and grasped opportunities and the wise use which he made of his time and talents brought him substantial return. It was not long after he came to Lee county that Mr. Hughes was united in marriage to Miss Hannah E. Williams, a daughter of the late Mark Williams of Palmyra, this county. Theirs was an ideal married life, most close companionship existing between them because of their mutual interests and the similarity of their tastes. To their friends they delighted to extend the hospitality of their home which was bereft of the wife in 1903. There is an only living child, Adessa, the wife of E. H. Brewster, a lawyer in Dixon, of whom mention is made elsewhere in this volume. Two other children of the marriage, Mark W. and Vera L., have long since passed away.

Mr. Hughes was recognized as one of the political leaders of Lee county and in all of his political activity was actuated by an unfaltering devotion to the public welfare. He was first elected to office in Palmyra township, being chosen township assessor in 1876. He was reelected for three terms and in 1879 was elected supervisor from his township, which position he filled for one year. In 1886 he was elected treasurer of Lee county for a term of four years and added further laurels to his good name as a public official. In March, 1895, he was chosen mayor of Dixon ; was re- elected in 1896 and again in 1900. It is said that he was the best mayor the city ever had. He worked toward high ideals but at the same time used practical methods. He was active in the development of the city, in the paving of the streets and in the establishment of other public improvements. He became an active factor in state politics in 1900, when he was elected to the lower house of the Illinois legislature. At the close of his two years' term he was nominated and elected state senator in the thirty-fifth district and his course during the succeeding four years was indorsed by a reelection. At the time of his death he was in the first year of his second term. He was a recognized power in the senate, one who wielded a wide influence because of his businesslike methods, his capability and his recognized devotion to the general good. He won and retained the respect and confidence of the leading legislators and statesmen of Illinois.

Mr. Hughes was also prominent in fraternal circles. In November, 1884, he was initiated into Friendship Lodge, No. 7, A. F. & A. M., of Dixon and was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason on the 5th of March, 1885. He served as worshipful master of his lodge and he was a member of Nachusa Chapter, No. 56, R. A. M. and filled nearly all of the offices in the chapter, including that of high priest. He was created an Knight Templar in Dixon Commandry and at all times he was loyal to the teachings and to the beneficent spirit of the craft. He was likewise a member of Dixon Lodge, No. 779, B. P. O. E.

Mr. Hughes had been in poor health for some time but the immediate cause of his death was an injury received when his saddle horse fell. He went to Excelsior Springs, Missouri, for treatment and there passed away on May 12, 1907. The remains were brought back to Lee county and interred in the Palmyra cemetery on which occasion many of his colleagues in the state senate, and other prominent men throughout the state, as well as his relatives and old-time friends were in attendance. Perhaps no better summary of the life and of the character of Hon. Charles H. Hughes can be given than by quoting from the Dixon Daily Sun of May 18, 1907. Among other things that paper said : " Charles H. Hughes was one of the leaders of the public life of this community. Though he has silently gone from the ranks and the gap may appear to fill with unseemly haste the good that he did will survive him and will even perhaps survive the memory of his name with the busy majority of the community where he lived and loved and labored. His influence will pass into the minds and hearts of his fellows and there will live and unconsciously manifest itself in the actions of their days yet to come. " About ten years ago Charles H. Hughes was elected mayor of Dixon. At that time there were few of the modern and permanent improvements within the limits of the city. The civic pride of the city had not kept pace with its commercial spirit. " As mayor of Dixon, Mr. Hughes decided to pave the streets, at least in the business center, and replace the plank sidewalks with safe and durable walks of cement. Knowing that this would be seriously opposed, he quietly laid his plans, but he laid them well and with an indomitable will he carried them into speedy realization. The feeling of many of the business men of Dixon ran high against this improvement and the action of the mayor was condemned in the harshest terms. But he pursued his course with words of reason for a time and then in silence. Over the opposition he triumphed. To do this it took great will and sterling courage. It is much harder to contend for what you believe to be right in a small community where the long association of the people has ripened into friendship than it is upon the broader field of the world's activities. Time proved that the mayor was right in his contention and the improvements once started were continued until now Dixon is one of the most finely improved cities in the state. Besides the convenience of these improvements there is one value that is not generally considered. This is the fact that gracious and well kept streets and sightly public improvements have an effect in developing the higher and more artistic taste of any community. This is one of the features of Dixon which Mr. Hughes initiated and helped develop and in the years to come, if it is not now, this will be remembered as one of the most beneficent achievements of his busy life.

Mr. Hughes held other offices which are supposed to carry higher honor with them, but in none of them did he accomplish a greater work. In municipal government it must be remembered that 'It is the lack of civic consciousness, of a sense of responsibility for the whole municipality at least that makes private comfort more commanding than public duty ; makes a man more solicitous for the condition of the lawn which is his own luxury than for the street and alley which is everybody's necessity.' In at least partially arousing this consciousness in Dixon Mr. Hughes did a work which will be more warmly be commended with the passing of the years. " In politics Mr. Hughes was an ardent republican. He accepted all the teachings of the party and venerated its customs. He was content to be a worker in the ranks; a plain, persevering laborer with great confidence in his own efforts and ever seeking results rather than reward. He served two terms in the legislature and as a member of that body he framed and secured the passage of the law which made it possible for Lee and Ogle counties to build the Grand Detour bridge. At his death he was serving his second term as state senator. As senator he assisted in the passage of many important measures, one of the latest and of most importance to the citizens of Dixon is the measure which made it possible for Dixon to accept Lowell park as a gift for the use and pleasure of the people. His executive ability and steadfastness of purpose made him a power politically. It was these qualities which made him one of the leaders of the Cullom forces in the latter 's contest for his seat in the United States senate eight years ago. It was also these qualities that made him manager of Congressman Frank 0. Lowden's candidacy for the republican nomination for governor of Illinois. In these contests no policies of grave importance were involved but the questions were those of personal preference among the members of the republican party. They were purely questions of leadership in that party. "

A man who possessed the determination and sturdy will of Mr. Hughes often aroused spirited opposition among his co- workers and this he often did among his political associates. But through these same qualities he overcame opposition. His political honors were seldom thrust upon him but were nearly always the result of victorious contests. The last contest against him for his seat in the state senate did not even reach the floor of the convention hall where the republican candidates were nominated.

This was not because the opposition to him was not determined in certain quarters but simply because those who opposed him grew fearful of defeat and abandoned the fight rather than suffer the consequences. " In properly studying the life work of any man the conditions of the time which form the background for the picture must also be considered. The political life of Charles H. Hughes ran through a time of the ugly wounds of the Civil war and into a time of wondrous prosperity in his own country. Commercialism was all pervasive. It permeated all the varying lines of man's activity. The politicians of all parties were enamored of expediency. They contended for temporary victory and personal advancement rather than for the principles that shall make the world better and the people happier in all the years yet to come. Silently and ominously rearing its massive walls at the side of the highway of public activity was a neglected temple. Here unnoted and in most cases unhonored gathered the prophets of a better time. They weighed all questions as world-problems which must finally be settled at world tribunals and 'according to everlasting principles that obtain in all nations, underlie all ages and overreach all righteous courts.' Their theories were considered impractical, yet about that temple was the purer atmosphere that inspires the souls of men. Those who reached it must 'struggle up the steps, they must travel a road that is a lonesome road — a road that is rocky and dusty and that has neither springs nor shade trees beside it. But the road along which are found the footprints of genius and the finger-boards that point to immortality.' Out of this temple are marching the delegates to the international peace conference and a year ago they established an international institute of agriculture having its seat at Rome. Out of this temple will come the forces to purify politics and make the world's work one of universal brotherhood. " Charles H. Hughes saw all of this and the passing and ephemeral work in the field of politics tinged his later and riper years with something of pathos. But what he missed in human nature he found in nature. "

When man disappoints the moon holds. He ever devoted much of his time to his farming interests and in the Blue Book of Illinois officials his occupation is given as that of a farmer. When not at the Dixon National Bank, where for years he held the position of cashier, he gave himself over to the charm of the country. He knew the gospel of the star and the daisy and the peace which seems to brood over field and forest. He found solace in the stability of elm and oak and a lesson in the patience of the pine. The beauty of the wild flower and the clinging vine appealed to him. He watched his growing crops with care and interest and his live stock was his especial pride. The Christ is ever manger-born and the religion of the country gave the deepest solace to his years. He purchased Hazelwood, one of the most historic and beautiful of the wooded bluffs along Bock River. He preserved and refitted the log cabin there and the stretches of grass and trees which surrounded it were given his special attention. There, in that quiet spot, so lavishly garnished by the hand of nature, he found his greatest pleasure in entertaining friends."

In the quaint and beautiful Palmyra cemetery the friends of Charles H. Hughes will gather on Sunday afternoon with flowers and tears to pay the last sad tribute of love and respect to a busy life. The nooks and hills of all this vicinity which he so loved are garlanded by nature in their most peaceful and hopeful moods. The beautiful waters of Rock River which inspired so many hours of his life with lasting pleasure seem to profoundly whisper 'all is well.' The bird caroling from the wayside tree seems sweetly but reverently to swell the universal anthem to the unseen Power which fixed the paths of the planets and 'surveyed the streets of the ant- village.' It is this Power which bids us look about us at the work Charles H. Hughes accomplished and from it gain an inspiration for the tasks of our hands yet to do."

Transcribed by Karen Holt History of Lee County - Frank E. Stevens 1914


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