Pages 534-537, transcribed by Carolyn Ward from History of Allen and Woodson Counties, Kansas: embellished with portraits of well known people of these counties, with biographies of our representative citizens, cuts of public buildings and a map of each county / Edited and Compiled by L. Wallace Duncan and Chas. F. Scott. Iola Registers, Printers and Binders, Iola, Kan.: 1901; 894 p., [36] leaves of plates: ill., ports.; includes index.




ALFRED W. BECK.—Among all the men of affairs who have resided in Allen county the one most widely known is A. W. Beck. The nature and character of his business has brought him into personal relations with more people contiguous to Iola than that of any other, and scarcely a citizen, beyond the confines of Humboldt township, from 1870 to 1895, and within the boundaries of Allen county, but that has had some transaction with the subject of this review.

It is interesting to listen to the relating of the experiences of the founders of a community, wherein you get a glimpse of the important events which have ruled their conduct, a bird's-eye view of their lives, as they were being lived, revealing adversity, trials, failures and then success, prosperity and independence. The adage, that "one-half the people do not know how the other half live," will remain true till the end of time and many worthy persons who have been distressed by reverses have suffered in silence and have spoken freely of their past only when fortune has guaranteed their financial independence. The history of our subject is not one of absolute penury and want, during all his early years in Iola, but his share of those commodities were visited upon him in a modified form and with such force as to remind him that hardships are occasionally a reality.

The Becks are of German origin. Leonard Beck, our subject's father,


settled in Crawford county, Ohio, about 1820. He was born in Pennsylvania in 1813, learned shoemaking there, but became a fairly successful farmer during his residence in Ohio. He died in 1852 in the vigor of manhood. His father, a Pennsylvania German, was one of the pioneers to central western Ohio and died in Crawford county just before the civil war. The members of his family were Dan, Isaac, Adam, John and Leonard Beck. They reared families on the clay hills of Crawford county and were among the representative citizens. They were, in the main, Republicans and were divided in their church fealties among the Methodist, United Brethren and Lutheran churches.

Leonard Beck married Margaret Beltz, a daughter of Christopher Beltz who migrated to Ohio from Pennsylvania. Margaret Beck died in Iola in 1879. Alfred W. Beck is her only child. He was born November 10, 1845, and was orphaned by the death of his father when not yet eight years of age. He aided in sustaining his mother from a youthful age and his early school training was that of the country district. At sixteen years of age he entered a store at Little Sandusky and got his first mercantile experience at a salary of ten dollars a month. He drew this liberal sum (for that day) two years and with a part of the funds he attended the Ohio Wesleyan University, at Delaware, Ohio, one term, and took a course in book-keeping in a business college at Columbus. He then went into a mill in his home county as general helper and, some time later, into a foundry and machine shop in Upper Sandusky as fireman. His last service, prior to his departure for the vest, was with his first employer and at a salary of thirty-five dollars a month. In 1868 he made a trip into the west and in 1870 he came out to Ottawa and in June of the same year he cast his lot with Iola. In casting about for an opening he purchased the grocery stock of Wm. H. Richards and erected the frame building which once stood on the square. He took in a partner and the firm did a general mercantile business till reverses overtook it. It seems that sobriety was not one of the chief characteristics of Mr. Beck's partner and the failure of the firm was due to his peculations and unwise manipulations. The debts of the firm were considerable but their creditors permitted our subject to still manage its affairs and thereby all of the obligations were met. When Mr. Beck was finally freed from the entanglements of the store his condition was such that the starting of a business requiring capital was out of the question and he and his wife decided to open a boarding house. A degree of prosperity accompanied this venture and with a few surplus dollars thus gathered in Mr. Beck bought a car of coal and became again a business man. He conducted this business in a small way and sold fruit trees and by this means managed to sustain himself. With sixty dollars saved from his wife's business he bought an old house and moved it onto a tract of land which he had made a payment on some time before. Another sum of money saved from the table was paid to James Drake for cattle and with these, and four dozen chickens, the family moved to their railroad claim. The team Mr. Beck went to the farm with cost $37.50 and it was chained to a $5.00 wagon. He wanted to hire Sam Baker to run


the farm, but Sam declined to work for a man who drove with rope lines, so he hired a boy instead. The family was supported by the butter and egg crop, largely, the first few years on the farm, while the head of the household was footing it to and from Iola, daily, trading and scheming and handling anything there was a profit in.

Morg. Hartman and Jake Casmire sold Mr. Beck a small stock of implements, on time, as he was too poor to think of paying for anything like that, and was told by Mr. Hartman that he could get all the goods he wanted. This stock of implements he took charge of, did all the work himself, waited on the trade, kept the books and cleaned the store—and his advice to men entering business is to follow a similar plan and thus more certainly make a success of their business.

For three years did A. W. Beck make his daily pilgrimages to Iola on foot and the happiest day of all that era was when he became the owner of a little crop-eared pony. As he rode this to business he felt the pride of an aristocrat and the "twenty dollar pony" was chief in the affections of our now prospering farmer. He bought every heifer calf that his finances would reach and within three years after his becoming a farmer he sold seven hundred dollars worth of stock and in five years eight hundred dollars more.

The nature of his business was such that Mr. Beck could engage in the grain and seed business and this he did, reaping a good return for his labor. The coal business was taken up and this alone would have sustained a modest family. The growth of his various interests demanded a larger room and in 1882 he erected the Beck business house, the largest in Iola at that time. In 1897 he joined in the erection of another business block, adjoining his own, and in this substantial way contributed no little toward the development of his town.

In 1900 Mr. Beck went out of the implement business and took up the furniture business, instead. The grain and seed business he also dropped and the coal business was sniffed out by the discovery of natural gas.

While our subject has been chiefly occupied with winning fortune for himself for a quarter of a century it is but fair to say that the welfare of his community has not been the least of his thoughts. With the development of the gas field came opportunities for municipal growth and expansion and he aided in setting in motion plans for the location of industries to employ labor and to utilize our wonderful resources. He was on the committee to visit the W. and J. Lanyons at Pittsburg for the purpose of laying Iola's inducements before them in the hope of their locating here. He experimented with our shale product, by building a miniature brick kiln in the end of the city hall and discovered that it would make fine brick. He succeeded in organizing a company of Iola citizens to push the matter and the Iola Brick Company, and its immense output, is the result. The expansion of Iola has felt the touch of his hand. The popular additions of Brooklyn Park and Highland Place and Bunnell's Addition have been improved and placed upon the market largely through his suggestion and advice.

Mr. Beck was married in Allen county July 2, 1875, to Elizabeth


Pickell, a daughter of Moses Pickell. Their surviving children are: Grace, Maud, Bessie and Harold Beck. The daughters are talented musicians and Grace possesses exceptional gifts and rare accomplishments as a pianist. Her final training was in the Boston Musical Institute and Iola enjoys a musical treat when she gives a public performance.

A. W. Beck is no ordinary man. He is possessed of rare clerical and executive business qualities, and his trained judgment and fine sense of business properties render him a tower of strength in the business world of Iola.

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