Biography of Columbus Clinton McElwee

Columbus Clinton McElwee is one of Champaign County’s successful farmers and cattle feeders, and has come up from the bottom round of the ladder to a most successful position. The best type of success is that which depends upon personal energy and initiative in acquiring those things which a worthy ambition craves, and in this respect Mr. McElwee is one of the truly successful men of Champaign County.

He was born at Wallace, Indiana, June 4, 1873, a son of David and Melissa Jane (Harlow) McElwee. His father was a native of Pennsylvania and his mother of Indiana. His father enlisted in the Sixty-third Indiana Volunteer Infantry, and served throughout the war, being wounded three times. He died in Indiana, October 8, 1882, while his wife passed away August 6, 1881. They had a family of five children: Charles and James, both deceased; Everett of Dear Station in St. Joseph Township, Champaign County; Columbus C.; and Rachel, wife of Charles Rush of St. Joseph Township.

Columbus C. McElwee was nine years old when the death of his father and mother left him an orphan. He had little chance to gain an education by regular attendance at school, and has made the most profit possible from circumstances and his opportunities of observation and contact with men and affairs. In 1884, the year that Cleveland was first nominated for the presidency and when Mr. McElwee was eleven years of age, he borrowed 35 cents to get from Indiana to St. Joseph, Illinois. He earned that money by cording wood. For four years he worked on a farm for board and clothes, and after that was paid steadily increasing wages as a farm hand. With growing experience and proficiency, he rented land and farmed it for two and a half years, and about that time he established a home of his own by his marriage. He took charge of his father-in-law’s place and at the present time is engaged in farming 350 acres. He has acquired under his individual ownership 160 acres in Sidney Township and has been thoroughly progressive in all his methods.

Mr. McElwee built the first silo in Sidney Township. He now has four silos on his farm, and these he considers invaluable adjuncts to the cattle feeder.

Mr. McElwee married Ressie Olive Johnston. She is a daughter of James M. and Lucinda (Corry) Johnston, the former a native of Kentucky and the latter of Somers Township of Champaign County. Her father is still living, and for years has made a specialty of raising fine draft horses. Mrs. McElwee was eight years of age when her mother died. There were four children, Mrs. McElwee and her sister Daisy Ann being twins. The latter is the wife of James Rudisell of St. Joseph Township. The other two children, sisters of Mrs. McElwee, are Laura, wife of Jesse Purst of Grover Hill, Ohio, and Nellie, wife of Charles H. Greenwood of Chicago. Mrs. McElwee’s father married for his second wife Millie Stewart, and by that union there are three children: Owen of Indiana; Fannie, wife of Lloyd Patch of Chicago; and Vern I., who is now in the United States navy.

To the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. McElwee were born seven children. The first, a son, died in infancy; Guy C., still at home; Maude Esther, at home; Ermel James; Norma F.; Claude Martin; and Laverne Roy.

In 1901 Mr. McElwee organized the local telephone exchange in Sidney Township, getting a few neighbors to cooperate with him and installing a switchboard. Later he took over the interests of the other parties and incorporated the Sidney Home Telephone Company. Mr. McElwee is president of the Sidney Grain Company, is a Republican, a thirty-second degree Scottish Rite Mason, a Knight of Pythias and active in the Christian Church. He has served as school director, as supervisor, as deputy sheriff, and was on the building committee when the Knights of Pythias Hall and the town hall were erected in Sidney Township.



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

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