Biography of Albert C. Burnham

Albert C. Burnham. Even the most casual visitor in Champaign is accustomed to associate the name Burnham with that city, where two of its most prominent institutions bear the name. It is true in a broad sense that the good or evil men do in their days lives after them, but seldom does this continuing influence take a better form of concrete benefit than in the Burnham Athenaeum Library and the Julia F. Burnham Hospital in Champaign. They are memorials with a purpose, and a reaction for good day after day upon the lives of thousands in the community which the late Albert C. Burnham did so much to enrich and improve.

There was little significance attached at the time to the quiet advent of Albert C. Burnham into the law office of J. B. McKinley as a student in the spring of 1862. He was “practically unknown, but a’t the end of thirty-five years of labor as a lawyer, banker and business man his work was firmly entrenched in the esteem and the business fabric of the community.

Albert C. Burnham was born at Deerfield, Michigan, February 20, 1839, and died at Champaign, September 13, 1897. He had the training of a Michigan farm boy. His early education was from the public schools. During the years 1860-61 he taught school during the winter months in Iroquois County, Illinois. He possessed a studious, thoughtful nature, and he began life with a solid foundation of practical knowledge and integrity of character. After completing his studies with Mr. McKinley at Champaign he was admitted to the bar and became junior member of the law firm of McKinley & Burnham. From the first this firm had influential financial connections. Through its instrumentality a large amount of eastern capital was brought west to invest in farm securities in and around Champaign. The Middle West was not then overflowing with wealth as it is today, and the money brought in by this firm was greatly needed and was wisely expended in the improving and upbuilding of many farm properties. Mr. Burnham continued to be actively associated with the law firm until 1876.

From the law he then transferred his energies to the banking house of Burnham, McKinley and Company. In 1876 J. R. Trevett and R. R. Mattis were taken in the firm, Mr. McKinley retiring, and the business continued under the title Burnham, Trevett & Mattis. Mr. Burnham was senior member of this widely known financial house until the time of his death.

It was Mr. Burnham’s fortune and privilege to witness a marvelous development in Champaign County in the course of his active career. That development was primarily based upon the increasing agricultural resources. While not a tiller of the soil himself he wisely employed the forces of capital in agricultural development, and his banking house was always justly considered an integral part of the business and industrial structure of his home community. He was public spirited in every sense and was equally interested in the educational and moral development of his county.

It was his long cherished plan to add something to the cultural elements in his community that led him two years before his death in 1897, to give to the city of Champaign a magnificent lot in the heart of the business district, accompanied by the gift of fifty thousand dollars to be expended for the erection and maintenance of a library building. This gift has taken practical form in the Burnham Athenaeum. It is a library, and one of the real civic centers of the town. It is a monument to the memory of this sturdy banker and noble citizen, and thousands have benefited from the service it affords and will continue to so benefit for years yet to come.

In 1866 Albert C. Burnham married Miss Julia F. Davison, who was born in New York City, April 16, 1839. Mrs. Burnham died in New York City October 25, 1894. She was reared and educated in the public schools at Newark, New Jersey, and lived in the east until she came as the bride of Mr. Burnham to Champaign. Mrs. Burnham, while ever devoted to her home, had many other interests through which she expressed her character and culture. She was devoted to her church, was charitable, and throughout her life was a prominent figure in local society. For years she served as secretary of the State Board of Charities, and held that position at the time of her death. She was one of the first women to serve on the public school board at Champaign and was also a member of the Champaign Art Club. It was a memorial to her good works as well as a testimonial of his own appreciation of her companionship and character that Mr. Burnham after her death erected the Julia F. Burnham Hospital, which was formally opened March 5, 1895. The hospital has been in existence more than twenty years. As a public institution it is one of the most important in Champaign County. While its annual revenues come largely from the pay patients, it is also a practical charity, inasmuch as a large part of its service is rendered free. During the year 1916 nearly fifteen hundred patients were admitted, with a daily average of thirty-four. A number of cases are treated free, especially children’s cases. It is a noble institution, and stands as a memorial to a noble woman.



Stewart, J. R. A Standard History of Champaign County Illinois. The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York. 1918.

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