Biography of James Sperry

James Sperry, a well known contractor and builder at Ogden, is a native of Champaign County, and has spent his active career to good purpose early as a farmer and later in the business which has brought him such generous success.

Mr. Sperry was born north of St. Joseph, November 27, 1859, a son of Elias and Serena (Helton) Sperry. His father was born in Ohio and his mother in Virginia. Serena Helton was a daughter of Simeon and Sally Helton, who moved from Virginia to Kentucky and when Serena was twelve years of age settled in Indiana. Serena Helton was educated in the public schools of Indiana. She was a member of a family of nine children, three sons and six daughters. The Heltons afterwards settled in Champaign County north of St. Joseph. Serena Helton and Elias Sperry were married near Greencastle, Indiana, and then went to farming in this county. They had five children: Mary Ellen, now Mrs. Church Rush; Sarah Josephine, deceased; James, Elmer and Arthur C.

James Sperry attained his education in the public school known as the Old Blackberry Schoolhouse. When the Sperry family came to Champaign County the country was a virgin prairie, deer roamed about over the country, and wild fowls were in such abundance as at times to darken the skies in their flight. The Sperrys experienced many of the hardships connected with establishing homes in this new country.

On May 4, 1864, Elias Sperry enlisted in Company A of the One Hundred and Thirty-fifth Illinois Infantry. His service was brief, since he contracted measles and had not yet recovered from that disease when he was placed on guard duty, and again fell ill. He received his honorable discharge July 17, 1864, at Pilot Knob, Missouri. He did not long survive the ordeal of warfare.

James Sperry was only a boy when his father died and he had to assume the serious responsibilities of life at an early age. He began farming on rented land and lived in bachelor’s quarters for a time. On September 28, 1879, at the age of twenty, he married Martha Jane Hayes.

Mrs. Sperry was born in Oakwood Township of Vermilion County, Illinois, daughter of John and Martha J. (Gray) Hayes. Martha Hayes was seven years of age when her father died and she was reared in the home of her mother and attended public school at Ogden. Her mother, Martha J. Gray, was a daughter of William Gray, a native of Ireland. William Gray married Rosanna Hansel. The ancestry of the Hayes family goes back to Revolutionary days. David Gray, who was born in Ireland, served in the War of the Revolution, enlisting from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, August 1, 1776, and again in May, 1777. He fought in the battles of Staten Island, Brandywine, Germantown, and was in Washington’s army. He served under Captains John Jamison, John Thomas, John Cope and William Ramsey.

After their marriage Mr. and Mrs. Sperry engaged in farming in Vermilion County, Illinois, for three years, and they then removed to Ogden, where he has since successfully followed the business of contracting and building. Mrs. Sperry’s father’s family consisted of four children, three daughters and one son, and also two half sisters. The brother died at the age of eleven years, his name being William Hayes. The sisters were Harriet and Elizabeth and the two half sisters Effie B. and Maryetta.

Mr. and Mrs. Sperry are the parents of one daughter, Delia Sperry, born August 28, 1880. She was graduated with honors from the local high school May 10, 1899, and married Cyrus W. McPherren, July 13, 1905. Mrs. McPherren, through her mother’s Revolutionary ancestry, is eligible to membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution and is a member of the Illinois Alliance, Chapter No. 642, of that order in Champaign. Mrs. McPherren has a bright and attractive daughter, Beula, now nine years of age and a student in the public schools of Ogden. She is still very much interested in her dolls, of which she has a generous supply. Her special favorite enjoys the distinctive name of Euodoria. Mrs. McPherren is a very capable business woman and is general manager of the Ogden Courier and for seven years was assistant postmaster there.

Mr. and Mrs. Sperry are active members of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In politics he is a Democrat, is a man of broad views, and in local affairs supports the man rather than the party. He served eight years as police magistrate and for twelve years as justice of the peace and was a member of the town board. While giving generously of his time and means to every community enterprise Mr. Sperry has been a very successful business man. Many fine country homes around and in the town of Ogden stand as monuments to his industry. It is often said that a tradesman’s family are the last to get the benefit of his industry. Thus a carpenter’s house leaks and a shoemaker’s wife goes barefoot. Mr. Sperry has reversed that rule. Some years ago on Leney Street, in the north end of Ogden, he erected a fine, commodious residence, with every modern improvement, including acetylene light. This home is enjoyed by his good family, consisting of himself, his wife, daughter and grand-daughter, and last but by no means least his dear mother who so faithfully looked after him during his youth and now in the setting sun of her life he is repaying some measure of her tender solicitude and care. Mr. Sperry is one of the charter members of the Woodmen’s lodge of Ogden, organized in 1887.



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

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