Clay County

Biography - William H. Hudelson

The history, biographical record or memoir of Clay county or of Southern Illinois, would be singularly incomplete without mention of William H. Hudelson, deceased. Therefore the following article has been compiled from facts available and quotations from the utterances and writings of those who knew him intimately throughout his long career as a citizen of Clay county.

In every community there is to be found a man, or a few men, whose names are preeminently and unmistakably identified with the community's material growth and development, and who are always to be found associated with every movement that seems to promise an addition to that community's wealth, resources and enterprise, and to enhance the importance of its location and surroundings. Such men are seldom obtrusive, though always on the alert, and always to be found when called upon. The masses feel their presence, though it is not thrust upon them, and almost insensibly, but no less surely, do they leave their impress upon the character, institutions and developments of that community. Such a man was William H. Hudelson.

He was born on a farm three miles south of Princeton, Gibson county, a son of Samuel Hudelson, a pioneer of that community. He was not exactly a child of the wilderness, but wilderness features surrounded the rude cradle in which he was rocked. The trail of the wolf was yet to be seen in the snow and the alarm of the rattlesnake at the base of the hill. It was the period of the legendary cabin and fireplace, the old family Bible and alphabet, and the schoolhouse with its floors of puncheon, its unhewn logs and roof of boards. It was the day of the hasty primitive education, when the subjects taught were reading and writing, spelling and arithmetic, when grammar was catalogued with the natural sciences, and geography among the classics. It was the time of day of the pious mother, who had her pleasant legends and fairy tales, with which she suppressed the rising sighs and kept open the leaden eyelids of the little ones, as she plied her spinning wheel and waited for the return of her husband from his labors, when perchance, driving snowstorm delayed him far into the hours of thickest night.

Amid such scenes our subject spent his boyhood and the revolving years on to his manhood, until, in April of 1852, he located in Louisville, Clay county, Illinois. With a limited financial capital, he established in the grocery and "general store" business with John McGriffin as a partner. This was some years before the advent of Railroads, and their stock of goods was brought by wagon from Evansville, Indiana. By industry and fair dealing the firm was successful and endured for a period of five years, when in 1857, Mr. Hudelson exchanged his interest for the farm of Harrison Rayburn. Here from dawn far into the night he labored and toiled. His tremendous industry, his splendid physical strength and endurance made him known throughout the countryside and many are the tales related of his wonderful powers. In 1866 he sold his then titled farm and he again became a resident of Louisville village. At about this time the building of the courthouse was agitated, and bonds providing for same were issued by the county. Clay county was even then much in the "back woods" and the financial men of the East to whom the then young West looked for its cast supply, did not take kindly to the courthouse bond issue. In consequence they were not greatly sought and were offered at a most liberal discount. With a farseeing wisdom and an abiding faith in the community and its citizens, Mr. Hudelson invested his capital and savings in these bonds and the subsequent years fully warranted his faith and trust in the county's future. His first venture in the whirlpool of finance proving successful, he for some years, devoted himself to investments and private banking. In about 1870, with Henry Watson as a partner, a savings bank was established, known as the Bank of Louisville, and this he conducted until in about 1879, the business was closed, after which he continued as a private banker and an investor in lands and real estate. At one time his land holdings were estimated at between thirty-five hundred and four thousand acres, and his wealth, a portion of which he inherited from deceased relatives, was said to have been about two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

He was one of the organizers of the Farmers and Merchants' Bank of Louisville, in 1892, and served as its president for a number of years. Some years previous to his death he launched a series of philanthropical movements, which it was his aim should result in advancing the cause of Christianity, education and the betterment of mankind. He gave lavishly of his wealth to Ewing College of Ewing, Illinois, and erected a handsome building and grounds in Clay county, known as Hudelson Academy, which flourished during his life largely through his contributions for its maintenance.

He was a Democrat in his political faith though in no respect a politician. He held the office of Justice of the Peace for some time and in 1868, he was a candidate against Hon. L. S. Hopkins for County Judge, which contest resulted in a vote whereupon Mr. Hudelson magnanimously relinquished his claim and Mr. Hopkins was seated. He was of deeply religious temperament, and joined the Baptist church at Louisville in 1868, continuing his membership there for many years, though a few years before his death he withdrew from that congregation and became a member of the Wabash Baptist church. He contributed much to the church and was largely responsible for the erection of the church edifice at Louisville, a building which would do credit to a much larger city.

Mr. Hudelson was twice married, his first wife being Frances C. McCawley, of near Clay City. They were married October 26, 1854, and her death occurred August 12, 1856. One child, Cornelius, who died in infancy, was born to them. On October 12, 1858, he married Mrs. Pennina Bentley (nee Bundy), who died May 13, 1903. Mr. Hudelson died March 9, 1905.

"Uncle Bill" and "Aunt Piney" Hudelson will live long in the memories of the citizens of Clay and adjoining counties where one or both of them were known almost universally. "Aunt Piney" was an affectionately comforting and devoted woman, deeply attached to her husband and wholly consecrated to his well being. His circle of home was cheerful, tranquil, and in that charmed spot he ever seemed as happy as a child, and when after forty-five years she was taken from him, he felt an irreparable loss, for his devotion to her was the echo of hers for him.

"Uncle Bill" and "Aunt Piney" found great pleasure in the association of friends and deeply enjoyed their society. To those in whom the former had confidence and with whom he became most intimate; to those who merited and won his friendship, he was indeed a friend, tried, trusted and true. In his dealings with his fellow men he was honorable, fair, punctual, his word as good as his bond. If he was your debtor he would repay to the last farthing and he exacted the same treatment, the same sterling integrity from those who were in his debt. He possessed a genius for execution and management and of that quality of personality which accompanied by deed determination is bound to rise no matter what the environment or circumstances.

Extracted 27 Apr 2017 by Norma Hass from 1909 Biographical and Reminiscent History of Richland, Clay & Marion Counties, Illinois, pages 369-372


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