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History of Adair
County, Iowa, 1915.

Biographical.  Volume 2.

  
 

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Sylvester Bennett.

Mr. and Mrs. Sylvester Bennett

Sylvester Bennett lived to celebrate his golden wedding and later passed away, leaving her with whom he had so long traveled life's journey, to mourn his loss.  Through all those years theirs had been a most happy companionship, as they shared the joys and sorrows, the adversity and prosperity which checker the careers of all.  Mr. Bennett was born in Herkimer county, New York, December 17, 1835, a son of Josiah and Mercy (Pullman) Bennett, the latter a relative of the well known George M. Pullman, the builder of the Pullman palace cars.  Both parents were natives of New York and became residents of Adair county, where their remaining days were passed.  They had a family of thirteen children but only two are now living.

Sylvester Bennett spent the days of his boyhood and youth in his native state, where he acquired a public-school education.  The family removed to Herkimer, Lewis county, New York, and as the parents were not in very fortunate financial circumstances Sylvester Bennett began to provide for his own support at an early age.  On the 18th of March, 1854, he secured employment in a sawmill and by an unfortunate accident had three fingers cut from his left hand by a circular saw, which rendered him in later life unfit for military service when he would have enlisted in the Union army during the Civil war.  At that period James C. Gibbs was a resident of Lewis county, New York and in family lived Gorton N. Bennett, an older brother of Sylvester Bennett, who in 1855 accompanied the Gibbs family to the middle west, the Gibbs home being established in Summerset, Iowa.  It was this that led Sylvester Bennett to come to Iowa.  He journeyed by rail to Iowa City, which was then the terminus of the line, and by stage proceeded to Summerset, where he arrived on the 8th of April, 1857.  At that period the town contained only eight buildings, some of which were frame houses, while others were built of logs.  In the fall of that year Mr. Bennett purchased of the county several town lots, including one on which the old family residence now stands and for which he paid twenty-five dollars.  Both he and his brother continued in the employ of Gibbs for a number of years, the latter being engaged in farming, hotel keeping and later in merchandising, at which period everything was hauled by wagon from Des Moines, it requiring five days to make the trip.

It was while in the employ of Mr. Gibbs that Mr. Bennett formed the acquaintance of Miss Diadama Lee, who had been employed by Mrs. Gibbs to care for her small children.  On the 28th of November, 1858, they were married at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs, the ceremony being performed at two o'clock on Sunday afternoon by Frank M. Core, county judge, at the Gibbs Hotel, where the young couple remained until the following spring, when they began housekeeping west of town.  Mrs. Bennett traces her ancestry back to one of the old American families, being a great-granddaughter of Colonel Jonathan Lee, of Revolutionary war fame, who joined the army as a member of a New Hampshire regiment, and afterward served in a Connecticut regiment in the struggle for independence.  In 1786 he left New England and with his family of five sons removed to New York state near Naples, where the Lee family was represented for several generations, and in fact some branches of the family still reside there.  William Dunton Lee, father of Mrs. Bennett, was born in Yates county, New York, in 1809, and after reaching adult age wedded Eliza Shepherd, a native of Seneca county, New York, born in 1812, and of Scotch-Irish descent, her ancestors having settled in New Jersey in the early part of the eighteenth century.  Mr. and Mrs. Lee continued their residence in Livingston county, New York, until 1855, when they came to Iowa.  Mrs. Bennett, who was the third in a family of eight children, was then but fourteen years of age.  Traveling by rail they reached Burlington after seven days and then drove to Winterset, which required seven days more, they reaching their destination at sunset on the 30th of April.  Mr. Lee preempted land a mile and a half west of Macksburg, for which he paid one dollar and a quarter per acre.  On this he erected a log cabin, to which he removed in the fall.  Following their marriage Mr. and Mrs. Bennett purchased their household furnishings in Winterset and they had no trouble in making selection of their dishes, as there was only one set to be obtained in the town.  It was a tea set of thin china, having a grape design in lavender and gold, that has always been much admired by friends.  A few pieces of this set are still in the possession of the family.  The house in which Mr. and Mrs. Bennett began their domestic life was a log cabin four miles west of Fontanelle, having one room, with a loft above, which was reached by a ladder.  At the time of the gold excitement in Colorado in 1860, Mr. Bennett and a friend, John Moore, fitted up a wagon and joined a company whose destination was Pike's Peak.  They started on the 23d of April, and after crossing the Missouri river on ferry boats at Plattsmouth, followed the course of the Platte river all the way to Denver, reaching their destination after a journey of seven or eight weeks.  During Mr. Bennett's absence his wife taught a term of school in Washington township.  In the succeeding fall Mr. and Mrs. Bennett went to Madison county, Iowa, to live on the Lee farm, where they remained for about two years, afterward occupying the Craven farm two miles south of Macksburg for a similar period.  In 1864 they returned to Fontanelle and lived for a time in the jail, the large building accommodating several families beside the prisoners.  In the fall of that year Mr. Bennett began the erection of a house on the log which he had purchased a few years before.  The structure was built from native lumber, hauled from the mill in Madison county, and was fourteen by twenty feet.  The siding was of walnut, the beams of oak and the floor of ash, while the roof was covered with walnut shingles made by Mr. Bennett.  The following year additions were made and for forty-three years the Bennett family occupied that residence.

After the town of Casey was established in 1869 on the newly built Rock Island Railroad, Mr. Bennett carried the mail between Fontanelle and that place three times a week for a year, and beginning on the 18th of July, 1870, took the mail to Whitneyville once a week for four years.  He was also engaged in the livery business at that time and he conducted a stage line between Fontanelle and Stuart.  At first the trip was made three times a week but afterward daily trips were made.  Mr. Bennett had two hacks, which were built to accommodate five passengers and baggage and also carried mail and express.  This line was discontinued in June, 1879, at the time the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad was built to Fontanelle.  Mr. Bennett was then appointed express agent and so continued until 1896.  He was also senior partner in the agricultural implement firm of Bennett & Shannon for several years and later turned his attention to the coal and seed business.  At all times he proved a worthy resident of his community and one whose efforts contributed to the public welfare.

Mr. Bennett always gave his political allegiance to the republican party, believing firmly in its principles and at various times his fellow townsmen, recognizing his worth and ability, called him to public office.  For twelve years he was a member of the school board, serving as its president during the greater part of that time and at the end of that period he resigned.  He filled the office of justice of the peace for sixteen years and was a member of the city council for a number of years.

To Mr. and Mrs. Bennett were born seven children.  Eliza, known always as Lizzie, became the wife of D. A. Shannon, and in 1887 they removed to South Sioux City, Nebraska, where she died in 1892.  Rena Jenette, born October 19, 1862, died at the age of two years.  Ernest B., born April 21, 1865, died October 16, 1866.  Arthur Wesley, born September 23, 1867, was married in 1889 to Miss Mamie Slocum, and died at Massena, Iowa, August 30, 1894, while his wife passed away in December, 1907.  Freddie, born July 18, 1873, died August 3, 1877.  Diadama is at home with her mother.  Effie is the wife of J. F. Haagensen, of this county.  Mr. Bennett passed away February 25, 1910, when in the seventy-fifth year of his age, leaving a widow and two daughters to mourn his loss, and was laid to rest in Fontanelle cemetery.

Mrs. Bennett still owns the home property in Fontanelle.  She is a member of the Congregational church, in the work of which she has taken an active and helpful part.  She has been a devoted wife and mother and one whose influence in life has always been on the side of that which is good, true and beautiful.  Both Mr. and Mrs. Bennett were among the pioneer settlers of the county and as the years passed he took a most active and helpful interest in the work of progress and improvement.  In his later years he loved to recall incidents and events of the early days, which he would relate in a most interesting and entertaining manner, so that one through his words gained a clear picture of the conditions which existed in this county a half century or more ago.  There were many friends of a lifetime who mourned his death and many who were his acquaintances of later years, who felt the deepest sorrow over his passing, but most of all the blow came to his family, who had known him as a devoted husband and father.

 

 

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