Biography of William H. Reed

William H. Reed. By reason of the extent and quality of his usefulness, his commercial soundness and acumen, his public spirit, his integrity, and his nearness to the fundamental requirements of citizenship, William H. Reed affords in his career an excellent and encouraging example of success gained through the proper use of every day abilities and opportunities. He laboriously climbed every round of the mercantile ladder, and so ably did he make use of his opportunities, that he was able to retire from activities in the evening of life, and is now quietly residing at his comfortable home at Topeka.

Mr. Reed was born at Bedford, Pennsylvania, January 30, 1830, and has been a resident of Kansas since 1869. He was one of three children born to Dr. William and Elizabeth (Reed) Reed, natives of Pennsylvania, and not related before their marriage. Doctor Reed was a physician and surgeon, and followed his profession throughout his life in the Keystone state. After securing his education in the public schools of Bedford, William H. Reed mastered the carpenter’s trade, at which he worked until a severe injury to his hand caused him to seek some other occupation. As a young man he had gone to Warsaw, Illinois, where he was married June 9, 1853, to Miss Elizabeth Davis, who was born at Watertown, New York, daughter of Luther H. and Nancy H. (Bliss) Davis, natives respectively of Pittsfield and Rutland, Vermont, and pioneers of Illinois. Her uncle, a native of Vermont, and an early pioneer in York state, was a soldier in the War of 1812, and he told many interesting stories of early American history still remembered by Mrs. Reed. He settled near Lafargeville on a farm, where he resided until his death, at the age of eighty-four. Another of her uncles, the Rev. E. W. Bliss, was a Baptist minister at Philadelphia and later of Washington, District of Columbia, where he died at the age of ninety-four, after having preached for sixty-three years. Luther Davis took his family from New York state overland by way of wagon as far as Ottawa, Illinois, and there selling the wagons and other paraphernalia, embarked on a boat down the Illinois River and thence up the Mississippi to Warsaw, where for many years Mr. Davis was prominent as a commission merchant, buying goods all over the surrounding country. Mrs. Luther Davis had two sisters: Mrs. Capt. James Comstock, wife of a Civil war veteran; and Mrs. Filley Jenner. Mrs. Reed had three brothers in the Civil war. One, Edwin, was captured during Sherman’s march to the sea and was starved and frozen to death in Libby prison, though shortly before he died he was removed to David’s Island. Her oldest brother, Emmerson Davis, after Lincoln was assassinated, was taken for J. Wilkes Booth on account of a striking resemblance to that notorious assassin, and he barely escaped with his life. He was arrested and closely guarded until he was identified and the real Wilkes Booth had been discovered.

Mr. and Mrs. William H. Reed had four children: B. F. Reed, a prominent wholesale business man at Ellensburg, Washington, is president of the Cascade Irrigation Canal and an extensive land holder in Ellensburg and Seattle; he is also prominent in the Masonic order, and has two children; Emma, who married W. M. Dignon has four children; Nona, who became Mrs. Quinon has one child, Joseph, of Topeka; Etta Gertrude, who died in infancy.

For a number of years after their marriage Mr. and Mrs. Reed resided at Warsaw, Illinois, and were there during the Civil war. In 1869 they sold their grocery store and came to Topeka on the Union Pacific Railway, crossing the river on the old corduroy bridge. They bought property at 912 Kansas Avenue, on which they built the home which they still own. Subsequently Mr. Reed entered the furniture business at 510 Kansas Avenue with B. F. Reed, and the business was built up to large proportions, the partnership continuing for nine years. B. F. Reed then sold his interest to Mr. Tomlinson, who continued with William H. Reed for nine years, following which Mr. Reed carried on the business alone for a like period and then retired. In the meantime he had been investing heavily in real estate and farm lands, and these interests became so important as to demand all his attention, although the furniture business had been a most successful one and had made Mr. Reed one of the leading merchants of Topeka.

Mr. Reed is now living in retirement, having reached his eighty-seventh year. Although he has not been in good health for the last year or two he is still remarkably well preserved and takes a keen interest in all matters affecting his community. He is a republican, but has never been a politician, and his only public office has been that of constable, which he held while residing at Warsaw, Illinois. He has no fraternal connections. In business circles he is looked up to and respected as a man of high principles and absolute integrity. During the active years of his life he gave of his money, his ability and his time in the support of movements for civic and general betterment and deserves an established place among the men who made Topeka the great city that it is today.

Mrs. Reed remembers many interesting stories in regard to the struggles which she and Mr. Reed had in getting a foothold in the early days. For a number of years, to aid her husband, she conducted a boarding house, and as the hostess of such entertained many senators and representatives as well as other prominent men of young Kansas. Perhaps in this way she developed her extraordinary business ability, for she now handles all of her husband’s property interests in a manner that leaves no doubt as to her acumen and good judgment. They have two farms, each of 160 acres, also considerable city property, including two houses, one on Twelfth and Clay streets and the other at 617 West Tenth Street; their own residence and another dwelling at 934 Quincy Street.

Mrs. Reed has been a Methodist all her life and has been active in religious and charitable work. She is a charter member of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic, and was president and vice president of the ladies branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association at Topeka before the Young Women’s Christian Association was formed. She also belongs to the Maccabees, and is a charter member of the Toltec Rites of the Masonic Order.



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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