Linn County, IA Biographies


A broad-minded, generous-spirited man, capable and enterprising in business and yet never so engrossed in commercial and financial affairs as to exclude the other interests of life which come from a recognition of man's duty to his fellow man, to his community and his country, Hon. Stephen L. Dows ranked with the foremost men of Iowa and in Cedar Rapids, where he made his home, and indeed wherever he was known his memory is cherished and revered by those with whom he came in contact.

Mr. Dows was born in New York city, October 9,1832, a son of Adam and Maria (Lundy) Dows. The ancestral line is traced back to one of the old families of New England and the name was originally spelled Dowse. Laurence Dows was born in Boughton county, Hants, England, in 1613 and in 1642 established his home in Boston, Massachusetts, whence in 1649 he removed to Charlestown, Massachusetts, where his death occurred March 14, 1692. The ancestral record continues: His son, Jonathan Dows, was born in Charlestown in 1661 and became a man of importance and high repute. He served as one of His Majesty's council and enjoyed the title of "Honorable." On the 27th of June, 1718, be was appointed justice of the court of common pleas and by reappointment continued to fill that position until 1741. His son, Eleazer Dows was born March 2, 1728, in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and was one of the patriots who on the 24th of November, 1773, signed the petition against the importation of tea. In 1775 during the battle of Bunker Hill and the burning of Charlestown his property was totally destroyed and the family fled to Sherborn, Massachusetts. His son, James Dows, and the grandfather of Stephen L. Dows, was born in Charlestown, April 28, 1769, and in January, 1813, enlisted under Captain Crooker and Colonel Larned of the Ninth United States Infantry for service in the War of 1812. On the 14th of April, 1814, he reenlisted and at the battle of Chippewa, Canada, he was wounded, after which be was carried to the military hospital, where he died August 10, 1814.

In early colonial history Thomas Dows, the second son of Eleazer Dows, was well known as the literary leather dresser of Cambridge. A man of most remarkable character, he was born at Charlestown in the midst of the Revolutionary excitement and from that place the family were forced to flee for their lives when the town was burned June 17, 1775. They went to Hilliston and later to Sherborn, where his father resumed the business of leather dressing. Thomas Dows was an intimate friend and contemporary of Edward Everett. He was taught the leather dresser's trade by his father and throughout his life followed that business. His leisure hours, however, were devoted to reading and study and much of his earnings went to the purchase of books. He became an authority upon English literature and collected one of the finest private libraries in Massachusetts. Near the end of his life he donated his entire collection to the Massachusetts Historical Society to be forever kept by them in a separate room in a fire-proof building and to be used there and never removed. Thomas Dows, was, moreover, a man of marked philanthropic spirit, his life being characterized by many kindly and charitable deeds. The Dows high school and the city hall at Sherborn stand as monuments to his memory and to his public spirit. He was the first in America to erect a monument to the immortal Benjamin Franklin. Mr. Dows met the expense of this from his private fortune and placed the monument in Mount Auburn. The Dows Institute at Cambridge also benefited greatly by his bequests, the income which he left thereto being used for a course of lectures, concerts and readings.

Adam Dows, a son of James Dows, and the father of Stephen L. Dows, was born in Sherborn, Massachusetts, November 9, 1792, and in early manhood went to New York city, where he engaged in business. There he wedded Maria Lundy, a daughter of Captain Lundy, who died in China during the period of the War of 1812. In 1836 Adam Dows removed to Troy, New York, where he departed this life December 10, 1868. His mother was a Leland and belonged to a family as distinguished as the Dows. The ancestor of the American branch of the family was John Leland who was born in London, England, in 1512, and was an accomplished scholar who flourished during the reign of Henry VII. Among his descendants were the Rev. Drs. John and Thomas Leland, famous authors and scholars of the eighteenth century. Henry Leland, progenitor of the American branch of the family, came to America and settled in Sherborn, Massachusetts, in 1652. His children., Experience, Hopestill, Ebenezer and Eleazer, became the ancestors of a numerous progeny and the family his contributed much to New England's History, furnishing hundreds of scholars and men eminent in the professions and in business life in all parts of the United States. John Leland was a distinguished Baptist minister and as early as 1798 at a general conference denounced slavery as a "violent depredation of the rights of nature."

Stephen L. Dows was a little lad of four years when his parents removed to Troy, New York. He attended the public schools there to the age of fourteen years, when he entered upon an apprenticeship to the machinistís trade, mastering his duties with promptness and capability. The west, with its broader opportunities, however, attracted him and with the desire to try his fortune in the rapidly developing Mississippi valley, he made his way to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1848. His cash capital it the time consisted of seventy cents. He was in a way a soldier of fortune, having no definite plans, but he recognized the fact that industry and determination will always win. The first year was spent in the lumber camp at Badenoquett, Michigan, where his salary was but twelve dollars per month. He then crossed the peninsula and Lake Superior, made his way through the untraveled wilderness and arrived in Marquette, Michigan, in 1849, being one of the first white men to spend the winter there. He found employment in the machine shops, ran the first engine and aided in building the first steamer launched on Lake Superior. After two years he returned to Badenoquett, where he was once more connected with the lumber business until 1853, when he secured the position of superintendent of a lumber mill at Muskegon. Two years later, or on the 12th of April, 1855, he arrived in Cedar Rapids and subsequently operated a sawmill and conducted a lumber business in both Linn and Jones counties. Each change that he made marked a forward step in his career. He afterward became superintendent for the Variety Manufacturing Company, but in 1860 he went to Colorado, attracted by the discovery of gold at Pikes Peak. A year convinced him that fortunes were not to be had for the asking there and he returned to Cedar Rapids.

In August, 1862, prompted by a spirit of patriotism which at that time dominated every other interest of his life, Mr. Dows offered his services to the government, enlisting as a member of Company I, Twentieth Iowa Infantry, in which he was made first lieutenant. Subsequently he was appointed acting brigade quartermaster of the First Brigade, Second Division, Army of the Frontier, but exposure and overwork at length forced him to leave the service, his health having been undermined. Following his return from the war he began railroad building under contract and was not long in reaping the results of his former labor and experience. His efforts in that direction were of material benefit to the state, as well as the source of gratifying income for himself. Contract followed contract and he employed a large force of workmen and conducted a most extensive and profitable business, becoming one of the leaders in his line in the west. As his financial resources increased he made large investments in realty and many tracts which he owned were converted into town sites in Iowa, Minnesota and Dakota. His investments were wisely placed and his capable control of his business dealings gained for him the high regard and honor of all with whom he came in contact. Mr. Dows made extensive investment in Cedar Rapids real estate and in 1874 erected the Dows block, one of the finest office and business structures in the west at that time. A contemporary biographer has written: "Self-made in the strictest sense of the term, he educated himself, became a skillful machinist and later developed into one of the most farsighted business men Cedar Rapids has known. He was also largely interested in Cedar Rapids banks and served for many years as a director of various local financial institutions."

Mr. Dows was married October 31, 1855, to Miss Henrietta W. Safely, a daughter of Thomas Safely, of Waterford, New York. She was born in Scotland, November 12, 1834, and when tow years of age was brought by her parents to the new world, the family home being established at Waterford, where they remained until 1851, when removal was made to Sugar Grove, Linn county, Iowa. Mr. and Mrs. Dows began their domestic life in Mount Vernon, but after a year went to Cedar Rapids, where Mrs. Dows became a recognized leader in the social, religious and charitable circles of the city. She held membership in the First Methodist church, took a prominent part in all of its activities and gave most generously toward its benevolence. The poor and needy ever found in her a friend and in all of her good work she was guided by tact, kindliness and ready sympathy. She passed away August 7, 1893, at the age of fifty-eight years, and no where was her loss so keenly felt as in her own home, for she was a devoted wife and mother, counting no personal sacrifice or effort too great if it would promoted the happiness and welfare of the members of the household. Mr. and Mrs. Dows were the parents of six children: Minnie Marie, who died at the age of fifteen years: Elma, the wife of Benjamin Thane, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Elizabeth, the wife of Thompson McClintock, also of Pittsburgh; Henrietta, the wife of James E. Blake, of Chicago; Stephen Leland, who died July 5, 1899; and William G., of Cedar Rapids. Following the death of his wife Mr. Dows gave to St. Luke's Hospital as a memorial to her its splendid operating room with its equipment, said to be one of the finest in the United States.

Mr. Dows gave unfaltering allegiance to the republican party from the time that age conferred upon him the right of franchise. In 1875 he was elected to represent his district in the state legislature and served in the sixteenth and seventeenth general assemblies. He was made a member of a number of important committees, including that of railroads, manufacture, appropriations and penitentiaries. He was connected with much constructive legislation and ever placed the public good before partisanship and the general welfare before personal aggrandizement. A contemporary writer has paid a fitting tribute to his memory: "Like his wife, Mr. Dows was ever deeply interested in that which worked for the betterment and advancement of the community. He was naturally an enthusiast in the cause of education, serving for many years as a trustee of Coe College of this city and of Cornell College, at Mount Vernon. Fraternally be was a Knight Templar Mason and an Odd Fellow. He began with nothing, not once but several times, for he made and lost several fortunes before he gathered the last and largest one. He had worked and worked hard at anything that came to his hands, from primitive railroad building to digging gold. He traveled Illinois and Iowa on foot because he bad nothing with which to pay for conveyance; later he built railroads in every direction and did it at a time when the financing of such a project was a difficult problem. He frequently took what seemed like desperate chances, but his unusual business sagacity enabled him to be on the winning side. He served in the Civil war with distinction, for he was not too busy with private affairs to forget the duty which be owed to his country and to humanity. His life was typical of the great, growing west, to which growth be contributed so largely. He was a man of action rather than of theory and with determined purpose carried forward to successful completion whatever he under-took, and in his death Cedar Rapids lost one of the most rugged, honest, capable and honorable men that the city has ever known."
Iowa, Its History and Foremost Citizens, Volume III, Illustrated
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, Chicago, 1915, pp 1293-1296.


Biography submitted by James M.Richmond on October 28th, 1997.
Copyright © 1998 by James M.Richmond, All Rights Reserved.

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