August 25 , 2014
Howard K. Knowles, Capitalist
Carl Sandburg's first job was as a paper boy. He delivered newspapers the length of North Prairie Street. Some of the most expensive and elegant houses in Galesburg were located on this thoroughfare.
He knew the names of the residents because he was an avid reader of the newspapers. The “Locals” column reported when the Prairie Street residents left town on business, to visit friends, or spend the summer in Michigan. The day after they returned home, they could read about their return to Galesburg in the newspaper.
Howard K. Knowles lived at 573 North Prairie and was President of the Galesburg Gas and Electric Light Company. He had been born in Oquawka March 24, 1847. His parents were Alfred and Catherine Smally Knowles. The family moved to Galesburg in 1858. A few years later Alfred Knowles became mayor of Galesburg. He also served as an alderman, on the Board of Supervisors and on the Board of Education. He was also a trustee of Lombard University for more than fifty years.
Howard Knowles attended Lombard, but interrupted his studies to enlist in the 139th Illinois Infantry on June 1, 1864. The enlistment was for 100 days. He was seventeen years old. The regiment was on garrison duty in Cairo, Illinois, for several months and made raids into Kentucky. After returning to Peoria in late September, President Lincoln asked the regiment to volunteer for service in Missouri against General Sterling Price's invasion. On October 23, 1864, the Battle of Westport forced Price to retreat southward. The 139th returned to Peoria and was mustered out two days later. The unit received a letter of thanks from the President. There were no battle casualties in the regiment, but sixteen men died of various diseases.
Howard completed his studies at Lombard in 1869. In 1871 he moved to Peoria to assist the district collector of internal revenue for the federal government. He became the collector in 1874. By 1890 he had returned to Galesburg and became president of the Galesburg Gas and Electric Light Company. He was also director and vice president of the First National Bank. He served as a trustee of Lombard College for many years. He had been president of the Peoria Water Works for a period of time.
Knowles was married twice. First, to Ida Whiting in 1876, who died in 1889. Next, he married a widow, Ella Chase Conger in 1896. There were no children of either marriage.
While vice president of the First National Bank, Knowles became ill and was cared for in the Galesburg Cottage Hospital for the last two years of his life. He died on March 29, 1926. Funeral services were conducted by Dr. Lewis T. Fisher of Chicago, a former Lombard College president. Burial was in Hope Cemetery.
Howard Knowles was a firm believer in the Universalist faith, but never joined the congregation. Both of his wives and his mother were active workers in the church.
In the Galesburg City Directory and the Federal Census of 1900, Howard Knowles' occupation is listed as capitalist. Young Carl Sandburg thought Knowles might have wanted that title on his grave stone after listing his name and the years of his life.