Biography of John Sargent

John Sargent was and is an honored name in the State of Kansas. For years he was foremost among the building contractors of Topeka. The power he exerted as a factor in business affairs was only part of the outflowing of a strong and harmonious character. He was a big man in all the relationships of a long lifetime.

Thus death selected a partieularly conspicuous victim when John Sargent died suddenly Sunday morning, March 12, 1916, just before stepping into his automobile to be driven to church. Both before and after his death it was recognized that the city had in him a splendid character, who did his part in building up Topeka and the state, and while successful in busincess, he was also a true friend, a kind neighbor and an intensely loyal American, though of foreign birth. He was always in love with American institutions and as he had wrought his own destiny he became a credit to the land of his adoption. His contemporaries in business and civic affairs at Topeka choose to remember him not only as a very able business associate but also as a gentleman in everything that word implies.

From Angust, 1878, until his death John Sargent had his permanent home in Topeka, a period of nearly thirty-eight years. He was born in the south of England, in a historic and interesting section, at Barnstaple, Devonshire, August 28, 1849. It is a matter of record that some of the Sargent family came to America prior to the Revolution, most of them settling in New England. Senator Sargent of California is a member of this branch.

The parents of John Sargent, John and Jane (Rottenherry) Sargent, spent all their lives in England. John Sargent grew up in old Devon, attended the government schoois, and at the age of sixteen began an apprentieeship at the trade of cut stone mason and general mason construction. This apprenticeship was finished with credit at the end of five years, and he was ready to begin work for himself as a master workman.

Before leaving England, at the old seaport town of Bideford, Devonshire, April 2, 1870, he married Miss Mary L. Grigg. A few weeks later they sarted on their honeymoon for America, landing in New York City, first going to Cincinnati, where Mr. Sargent’s uncle lived. For a time he was employed at his trade under his uncle, and then started in business for himself, his first contract being for the mason work on an Episcopal Church. Next came the panie of 1873, when times were hard in all branches of business all over the country. Through the influence of a Cincinnati congressman, Gen. H. B. Banning, he secured a position with the Government as superintendent of granite cutting at Graniteville, Missouri, for the stone work for the St. Louis and Cincinnati postoffiees and custom houses. He continued in the service of the Government 7 1/2 years, part of the time as superintendent of construction work. He assisted in the constroction of the old Chicago postoffice, and also looked after the mason work on the postoffice building at Little Rock, Arkansas. From that city in 1878 he was called to Topeka to assist in the construction of the west wing of the State Capitol.

In 1880 Mr. Sargent formed a partnership with O. P. Smith of Lawrence, and under the name of Smith & Sargent they embarked in a general contracting business at Topeka. They had the contract for the out stone and carpenter work of the post. office building at Topeka, the first buildings of Haskell Institute at Lawrence, the First Presbyterian Church at Topeka, the flrst Methodist Episcopal Church of Topeka, and a number of other important buildings thronghout the state. In a few years the partuership was terminated by reason of the failing health and removal of Mr. Smith to California. Mr. Sargent then formed a partnership with James Cuthbert under the firm name of Cuthbert & Sargent, to continue in the cut stone and general contracting business. These two men were actively associated in business for about a quarter of a century, and during that time furnished the material for the erection of many of the finest buildings in the state. After the dissolution of this partnership John Sargent & Son built among other pretentious structures in Topeka the high school buildings, and erected the following buildings: Santa Fe office, Grace Cathedral, Bank of Topeka, Gage Park Entrance, Masonic Grand Lodge Building, and many of less importance.

In January, 1910, Mr: Sargent established the Sargent Cut Stone Company. His associate was his son, John R. Sargent. Their flourishing plant was located at 812-832 Adams Street. By his work as a contractor Mr. Sargent gained a comfortable fortune, and also showed excellent judgment in his investments. For a number of years he was a director in the Shawnee Building & Loan Association and in the Prudential Trust Company.

It is recalled that Mr. Sargent took an active and inflnential part in the work of the first commercial club organized in Topeka and was always personally interested in pushing an enterprise worthy of support. The principles upon which he conducted his business in Topeka were consistently adhered to so that his concern became one of the chief industries of the city.

For many years he was an active member of the First Congregational Church of Topeka. Since coming to America he had studied Massonry faithfully and was affiliated with every branch of the order. He was both a thirty-second degree Scottish Rite and a Knight Templar York Rite Mason and a member of the Mystie Shrine. He also belonged to the Rotary Club, and in politics was a republican.

His first wife, Mary (Grigg) Sargent, passed away August 29, 1907. On June 8, 1909, he married Mrs. Luella H. Mason. He is survived by Mrs. Sargent and one son, John R. Sargent. The younger of his two children was William Grigg Sargent, who was born August 12, 1874, and died April 7, 1887.


Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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