Obit: James O'Neill (1847 - 1929)
Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon
Surnames: O'Neill, White, Lowell, Agassiz, Taylor, Curtiss, Kellogg, Eustis, Bachellor, McNaughton, Sheldon, Morley, Andrews, Marsh, Robinson, Calway, Sparrowhawk
----Sources: Clark County Press,
(Neillsville, Wis.) Oldies But Goodies Article, June 30,1999, Page
James O'Neill (3 Sept. 1847 - 10 June 1929)
A splendid life was ended here in Neillsville on June 10. It was the life of Judge James O’Neill, age 81 years, 9 months and 7 days.
James O’Neill was born in Lisbon, St. Lawrence County, New York Sept. 3, 1847. He was the son of Andrew and Mary (Holiston) O’Neill. His grandparents on his father’s side were the first settlers in Lisbon Township and the old farm which they first settled had continued to be owned by his descendants. Judge O’Neill grew up on the family farm and attended the district school. At the age of 15, he began to teach school, later entering Lawrence University at Canton, N.Y. After attending the university for three years, he again taught school. In 1868, before he was 21 years of age, he won a scholarship in a competitive examination, to enter the newly organized Cornell University and enrolled in that institution as a sophomore. There, he distinguished himself as a scholar and debater. He left college in the fall of 1870 to become principal of Ogdensburg High School, meanwhile continuing his studies by himself, so that he graduated with his original class at Cornell in the summer of 1871.
O’Neill was a charter member of Delta Upsilon Fraternity at Cornell, and in all of his future life maintained a great interest in the fraternity. At the university he enjoyed the privilege of instruction under men of the faculty, who were then famous, among them the president, Andrew D. White, James Russell Lowell, Louis Agassiz, Baynard Taylor, George William Curtiss and others. In his graduating class were a number of men who later became prominent in public life, four of them became members of the Supreme Court. His home community seemed favorable for the development of scholars and statesmen, as from St. Lawrence County came such men as Secretary of State Kellogg; Ex-Mayor Eustis, the famous philanthropist of Minneapolis; Irving Bachellor, the noted author and many others.
After graduating from Cornell University, O’Neill entered the office of James McNaughton, a famous lawyer at Ogdensburg and studied for some time. He then entered the Albany Law School, receiving his degree in Law in 1873. His uncle, James O’Neill, Sr., who was the founder of Neillsville, was then a prominent man of affairs in the village and Clark County invited his nephew and namesake to travel west to visit him.
The young lawyer arrived in Neillsville, Sept. 1873, and was persuaded by his uncle to stay, to practice law. From that time on, he became identified with the progress and development of Clark County, in whose resources and future he became a firm believer.
Young O’Neill at once took a leading place in law practice; for a time he practiced alone, then entered into partnership with H. W. Sheldon, who later died. Joseph Morley was a partner for at time until he entered the banking business. For a time, H. E. Andrews of Portage practiced with him. Later he entered into partnership with S. M. Marsh, now District Judge at San Diego, Calif. That partnership lasted until O’Neill was elected Circuit Judge in this circuit in 1897.
Soon after coming to Clark County, O’Neill began to take an active part in politics, being a life-long Republican. He was prominent in county conventions and in 1885 he served in the State Legislature. He was appointed District Attorney in 1887 and elected again in 1888, the same year also being a delegate to the Republican National Convention. He was twice the party’s nominee for Attorney General.
After going on the bench Jan. 1, 1898, O’Neill avoided partisan politics. He took great interest in the schools, serving on the school board; was active in securing the Carnegie library; supported the Clark County Fairs, and lent a helpful hand in many other public enterprises.
O’Neill served as Circuit Judge until Jan. 1, 1922, making a splendid record of fairness and judicial insight in his decisions, and securing a wide circle of friends throughout the state. He brought to this community in the pioneer days some culture he had acquired as a university scholar.
Being brought up in the Episcopal Church, he gave the church his earnest support all his life, while taking an interest in other religious organizations. He helped build the People’s Church and during the years it had services, he helped to support it. In recent years he has been a regular attendant at the Congregational Church.
James O’Neill was married June 6, 1876, to Miss Marian Robinson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. David Robinson, pioneers of Weston Rapids, an early village north of Neillsville, Wis. To them were born two children, Ernest Andrew, who died October 5, 1905, a young man of 28; and Marian, Mrs. F. D. Calway of Neillsville, Wis. Besides his wife and daughter, Judge O’Neill leaves one sister Mrs. Geo. W. Sparrowhawk on the old home farm in St. Lawrence County, New York and one brother, William H. O’Neill, of Lisbon, N.Y.
[Photo Caption - Judge James O’Neill, third from the right, back row, with his wife Marian, circa 1920, enjoyed socializing with family and friends. Arriving in Neillsville in 1873, to practice law, O’Neill became Circuit Judge in 1898, serving that position until Jan. 1, 1912. The O’Neill home was on the southeast corner of State and Fifth Street intersection.]
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