Sandburg's Hometown

April 22, 2013

Steam Locomotive, late 1800s 

Robert Colville, Master Mechanic

By Barbara Schock

The Sandburgs were not a widely known family in Galesburg during the 1880s and 1890s. There were a number of others whose names were familiar to everyone in town because of a civic position they held, their wealth or the frequent appearance of their names in the daily newspapers.

Robert Colville was born in Glasgow, Scotland, March 31, 1839, to Robert and Anne Maxwell Colville. The family emigrated to Chicago in 1851 and then to Galesburg in 1856. The elder Colville was a printer and bookbinder. He set up a business in a building formerly located on Main Street where Park Plaza exists today.

The younger Robert Colville was one of the first to enlist when President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers at the beginning of the Civil War. He and seventeen other men from Knox County were mustered into the 17th Illinois Volunteer Regiment at Peoria on May 24, 1861. A year later he was discharged because of disability and returned to Galesburg.

During that year in the army, Colville had the experience of chasing rebels in Missouri, participating in the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson and the Battle of Shiloh, all in Tennessee.

Afterward Colville began working for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad as a fireman. He became foreman of the roundhouse in Aurora several years later. By 1878 he had been promoted to the position of Master Mechanic of the division located in Galesburg. There were 2000 men under his supervision. He was known to expect good work from his men and in return he respected them.

Mrs. Edith Cole Colville was also prominent in Galesburg society. She was born in Westport, New York, and her family came to Galesburg in the same year as the Colvilles. She attended Knox Academy and studied music privately. She was active in the establishment of the YMCA and served as president of the Free Kindergarten.

Mrs. Colville had fourteen ancestors who served in the Revolutionary War and others who had arrived on the Mayflower. She was very interested in the related lineage societies. She became an expert genealogist. Mrs. Colville organized the Rebecca Parke Chapter of the National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution in Galesburg in 1901. The Chapter still exists.

The Colvilles had three childre: Alma (Mrs. Victor E. Bender), Robert R. who died of uremia in 1929 and Nita (Mrs. Nevin C. Lesher).

The Colville daughters were in school at the same time as Carl Sandburg. He wrote in his autobiography, Always The Young Strangers, that he enjoyed looking at the Colville sisters. One had carrot-colored hair, brown eyes and freckles. The other was dark-haired with dark eyes and a lovely white skin. Carl had to do his observing on the sly and quickly bring his eyes back to his geography book while in the classroom. The girls also had nice ankles for a young boy to look at and admire from a distance.

Robert Colville died December 28, 1909, in the C.B.&Q. Yard when a passenger engine, backing away from the clinker pit toward the round house, crushed him. The people of Galesburg were shocked and saddened that the Master Mechanic had been killed in the place with which he had been so familiar, by one of the machines he made sure was properly maintained.

Sandburg's Hometown
Date Title
April 22, 2013 Robert Colville, Master Mechanic
April 15, 2013 The Galesburg Opera House
April 8, 2013 Grocery Stores and Sample Rooms
April 1, 2013  A Hearty  Breakfast 
March 25, 2013  The Lost Wallpaper Legend 
March 18, 2013 Martin G. Sandburg
March 4, 2013 The Edison Talking Machine
February 25, 2013 Joe Elser, Civil War Veteran
February 18, 2013 Remember the Maine...
February 11, 2013 Lincoln's Birthday
February 4, 2013 Curiosity