Matthew Beaton--50 Years of Business

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The history and genealogy of the Beaton family
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A half century of business activity was rounded out by Mr. Matthew Beaton on Monday. The event is one of more than passing moment not only to Mr. Beaton himself, but to all residents of Galena as well, inasmuch as during all this half century, Mr. Beaton has been closely identified with the business interests of the Leadmine city.

Some of the older residents of Galena will doubtless recall the thin and active twelve year old boy who began working at the dry goods store of Porter and Spratt on April 13, 1858. A lad given to superstition given to superstition would scarcely have gone to work on the thirteenth day of the month, but this was hardly given thought by Matt Beaton, who has reached the period in his young life when he had to make his own living, and who cared not what day of the month it might be so long as he got the job. His duties were multitudinous; his recompense was such as boys of this day would hardly consider at all. When he announced his arrival to one of the members of the firm, Matt was given to understand that he was to “sweep out” the first thing in the morning, and from then on during the day was to be ready at all times to deliver bundles, go for the mail, and perform the hundred and one other duties that fall to the lot of a bundle boy. In return, he received his clothes and “keep,” and possibly an extra nickel or dime, the present of some appreciative customer.

The store in which young Beaton was employed at that time was located in the building at present occupied by Guggenheim’s clothing store. Mr. Porter, the great uncle of Charles and Arthur Porter, had come west from Bridgeport, Conn., locating first at St. Louis, and subsequently removing his stock of dry goods to Galena and opening the St. Louis in a site at present either occupied by or adjacent to the Linenfelser building. When the building at the corner of Main and Hill streets was built by Charles Hempstead, its first occupant was the dry goods store of Porter and Spratt. About 1860, the location diagonally across the street in the building at present occupied by William Hurst’s clothing store was available, and the dry goods store was removed to that location. The proposed change did not meet with the approval of Mr. Porter and the partnership was dissolved, Mr. Porter returning with his stock of goods to St. Louis. Mr. Spratt then conducted the store under his own name until about 1872, when Mr. Beaton acquired an interest in it, and the firm na,e was changed to J. M. Spratt & Co. This firm continued until 1896, when the store was purchased by Mr. R. H. Fiddick, Mr. Beaton being retained as manager. Since 1898, Mr. Beaton has been in business for himself, the firm name being Matt Beaton & Co.

The firm of Porter & Spratt was by no means the only dry goods firm in Galena when Mr. Beaton entered upon his business career. Where the store of Sullivan & Caille is now located was the firm of L. S. Felt & Co. The firm of Foster & Stahl was doing a large business in the building at present occupied by the Crooks saddlery store, and Mr. H. H. Chandler was in the same line in a building at the corner of Main and Perry streets, where Hollander’s drug store is now located. Mr. J. G. Schmohl Sr., was in the dry goods and millinery business where Young’s wall paper store is now located, and Mr. Lyman Husted had a dry goods store on the site of the building now occupied by the Flick Sisters on Main street. Another firm that was well established during the latter 40’s was the dry goods business of W. and J. Fiddick who were located on the present site of the Galena Dry Goods Co. store. The New York store which was run by Mr. R. Carson whose name will be recalled by many of the older residents, was being closed out about this time on account of the prevailing hard times, while Thomas Bean was closing out his stock of goods for similar reasons. Another dry goods firm was that of T. and J. Bermngham located in a building opposite the present site of Uehren & Furlong’s store. Besides these A. M. Haines, J. A. Packard and H. P. Corwith were also engaged in the wholesale business and Smith and Holmes in the retail business.

It is a truism to mention the fact that since he secured his first position, fifty years ago, Mr. Beaton has seen many business changes along Main street. Galena in those days was the port of the northwest; steamers coming up the Galena river brought cargoes from St. Louis, St. Paul and other cities along the river. Wholesale houses did a thriving business and dry goods and others stores, were numerous. Of the fifty and more med who were actively engaged in business along Main street in 1848, barely a half dozen are still in business at the present time. At the period named, Messrs. R. Barrett and J. G. Baker were doing a large retail grocery business in a log building at the corner of Main and Perry streets, across from Chandler’s clothing store. J. A. Nack, the shoe dealer had a shop at that time, as did Mr. Frank Kempter, the tinner. Mr. John Hellman was in the wholesale grocery business on Main street, and P. W. Maxeiner was in the clothing business with John Brendel in about the present position of the Gazette office. Over at the Illinois Central depot Tom McDermott was working as a billing clerk. The two boys Tom McDermott and Matt Beaton were good friends, and the first day that the latter went to school he went under the protection of Tom McDermott. It might be remarked, in passing, that this school was kept in the basement of the Catholic church on the East Side which building was afterward converted to a residence property and is now owned and occupied by the Owens family. The church was presided over by Father Dunne, afterwards vicar general of the Chicago diocese and the teacher was a Mr. Prince.

Another man who has been in the same line of work for the past fifty years is Mr. Walter Ford, cashier of the Galena National Bank. In 1858 Mr. Ford was working in the Bank of Galena, owned and controlled by the Corwiths, and located where the Galena National Bank is at present. Above the bank was the office and plant of the Galena Advertiser, afterwards the Galena Gazette, the editor and proprietor of which was H. H. Houghton. Hon. David Sheean was a young attorney in those days; the junior member of the firm of Rawlins & Sheean, while Dr. A. Weirich had but recently returned from studying abroad, and was assisting his father in his medical practice. Several firms which were in business in 1858 are still in existence in the same name and conducted by children of the founders. Among others is the harness shop of W. W. Venable, the general store of J. W. Coatsworth, John Cloran’s grocery store, Henry Stromeyer’s shoe store, and the tin and hardware store of Meusel Brothers.

These few reminiscences of early days in Galena do not necessarily imply that Mr. Beaton has reached that period of his life where he has been relegated to the class of “the oldest inhabitants.” Fifty years in the same business with never a vacation longer than thirty days at one period, would have made some men old, narrow and peevish. Some men, after they had been in business for half a century would have gotten so hopelessly in the rut that by standing on the tips of their toes, it would be impossible for them to peer over the edges. Not so with Mr. Beaton, however. Strict attention to business has not caused other matters of equal importance to be lost sight of. Those who know Mr. Beaton personally would smile at any illusion to his growing older. Only today a man was heard to remark that he had known Matt Beaton as long as he could remember, and that he had never known him to be any different than he is today. With some people advancing years mean bodily or mental infirmaries that from year to year render life less of a pleasure and more of a burden. Mr. Beaton, however, seems to have found that fountain for which Ponce de Leon sought for so many weary years, the fountain of perpetual youth.

It is scarcely necessary to incorporate into this sketch the fact that Mr. Beaton’s friends will congratulate him upon an occasion so memorable. There is scarcely a better known man in this section than Matt Beaton and there is not one of his friends but who will extend his sincerest congratulations at this time.

One-half century of business life has been rounded out successfully. It would doubtless provoke a smile to ask, “Why should there not be another?” If not an even hundred years of business life, then why not seventy-five? Surely this is not too much to anticipate.

The following story appeared in the April 16, 1908 issue of The Galena Weekly Gazette.

Matthew Beaton Identified for Half a Century With Dry Goods Interests in Galena.

Entered Upon Work April 13th, 1858, With Firm of Porter & Spratt and Continues in Same Line at Present.

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This page last modified on Monday, November 26, 2007

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