Pictorial and Genealogical Record
of Greene County, Missouri

Together with Bibliographies of Prominent Men of Other Portions of the State, Both Living and Dead


JONATHAN FAIRBANKS. Perhaps there is no man better known in the city of Springfield to all classes of people than the efficient and energetic superintendent of the city schools, and to no other man is more credit due for tbe building up and prosperity of the schools than to Jonathan Fairbanks, who has now been identified with their progress and growth for many years. He has been largely instrumental in establishing the excellent school system which has resulted in giving to Springfield one of the best equipped organizations for the education of the young in this or any other State. In him are strikingly exemplified those characteristics and principles which conduce to the occupation of positions demanding the display of great mental abilities. In tracing the genealogy of the Fairbanks family it is found that the first members of the family tree to take root in American soil came with a company of English Puritans in 1640. They made a permanent settlement in Massachusetts, and there, years afterward, the grandfather of our subject, Jonathan Fairbanks, was born. He grew to mature years in his native State, followed agricultural pursuits near Sudbury, and fought bravely for independence in the Revolutionary War. He married a Miss Parmenter, and twelve children were the fruit of this union, as follows: Col. Drury, Joseph V., George, Elbridge G., Jonathan, Eddy, Dexter, Zana, Mary and Elizabeth, are the ones remembered. Jonathan Fairbanks lived to be ninety years of age, and became a prominent and wealthy farmer. His entire life was passed in the State of his nativity, where he was honored and respected. His son, Joseph Varnum Fairbanks, father of our subject, was born in Sudbury, Mass., but left the old homestead when twenty-years of age, and went to Andover, Mass., where he found work in a woolen mill. He was married there to Miss Margaret Hadden, whose parents came from Scotland. She had one sister, Augusta. Shortly after marriage Mr. Fairbanks moved to Ballston, N. Y., and became superintendent of a woolen mill. There he prospered, and later engaged in merchandising and manufacturing, becoming the principal business man of the town. His death occurred when he was but twenty-eight years of age. He was an energetic, active man, possessed of excellent business acumen, and as a citizen and neighbor no one was more universally esteemed. He and wife held membership in the Congregational Church. To Mr. and Mrs. Fairbanks were born three children, one of whom died in infancy. The others were Jonathan and James Dexter. Mrs. Fairbanks lived to be sixty-five years of age, and was a lady of high character and unusual intelligence. The original of this notice was born in Andover, Mass., January 7, 1828, and at the age of five years he was left fatherless. He went to live with his aunt Zana who had married James Quinn. The latter was a farmer at Sudbury, Mass., and on his farm young Fairbanks remained until nineteen years of age. At an early age be became familiar with the arduous duties of the farm, working in the good old way, with hoe and shovel, and thus gained habits of industry and thoroughness which have remained with him through life. The district schools furnished him with his primary education, and later he attended the academy at New Ipswich, N. H., for two years. When twenty-one years of age he began teaching school, and was thus engaged one winter at Ashby, Mass. From the first he made a success of this calling, his school ranking number one, and his reputation as a teacher established. A citizen of the town receiving a call from an efficient educator from Wilmington, Del., recommended young Fairbanks as a live and successful teacher, and the latter accepting the position tendered him near that city, remained there four years, making many friends and firmly establishing his reputation as a successful instructor. In the early fifties he went to St. Mary's, Ohio, and there taught school for eight years, many of his pupils afterward becoming prominent men. In 1886 they hold a reunion at St. Mary's, returning from many States, and embracing all the professions of life. The greatest pleasure was evinced in reviewing the memories of their school days, and in grasping their old preceptor's hand. Prof. Fairbanks' school life at St. Mary's was interrupted by one year's teaching at Piqua, Ohio, and after the completion of his labors at St. Mary's was for nearly five years superintendent of the schools at Piqua, resigning to engage in business in Springfield, Mo. September 3, 1854, while teaching at St. Mary's, Prof. Fairbanks married Miss Angie Bowker, daughter of Samuel N. and Mary (Earl) Bowker. The Bowker family is of Scotch-Welsh origin, some of its members were among the early Puritan settlers of the Old Bay State. Capt. Daniel Bowker, the great-grandfather of Mrs. Fairbanks, was a farmer of Sudbury, and was a member of one of the oldest families of that town. He reached the unusual age of nearly one hundred years. The descendants of this family still live on the old farm. Daniel Bowker, son of the above, and grandfather of Mrs. Fairbanks, lived to be eighty-two years of age, and passed by is entire life on the old farm, as did his son, Samuel Bowker, Mrs. Fairbanks' father. The latter was the father of seven children, as follows: Mary, Eliza, Henrietta, Angie, Lucy M., Harriet M. and Frank M. Mr. Bowker was a man of fair education, and his children were all well educated for those days. The daughters received their scholastic training in the best Now England schools, Mrs. Fairbanks attending the New Ipswich Academy as well as a select school at Boston. In religious belief the Bowkers were Baptists. After marriage Prof. and Mrs. Fairbanks lived six years at St. Mary's, Ohio, and then went to Piqua, where they resided for some time. On November 10, 1866, Prof. Fairbanks came to Springfield, and engaged in the real estate and lumber business in which he continued for ten years. During this time he was a member of the city council and mayor of Springfield one year, also a member of the school board three years, during which time he was president two years. In the spring of 1875 Prof. Fairbanks was elected superintendent of the city schools. Now in regard to the public schools of Springfield: In 1866, when Prof Fairbanks first came to Springfield, there were no public schools in the city. Before the war there were excellent private schools, but no public schools. In 1867 the first attempt was made to organize the present public school system. During this year a school board was elected and organized April 24, 1867, with the following members: James Baker, president; W. C. Hornbeck, secretary; Charles Sheppard, treasurer, and Dr. E. T. Robertson, J. M. Kelley and W. R. Gordon. The schools were opened September 9, 1869 in the Matthias Building with an enrollment of sixty-eight pupils, the primary school in the Phelps' Building with 204 pupils, and the colored school in the colored Methodist Episcopal Church with forty-eight pupils. The school was seven months and a half, which was afterward increased to nine months. In the fall of 1875 Mr. Fairbanks was elected superintendent. The Central Building was then the only school building, and there were en- rolled during the year 1,000 pupils, the average attendance being 800, and twelve teachers. The colored school was still held in the colored Methodist Episcopal Church, and had an average attendance of seventy-five pupils' and two white teachers. There were no ward schools. The high school was organized in 1870, while Prof. Fairbanks was a member of the school board, and as assisted largely by his efforts. He arranged the course of study which was not, of course, nearly as complete as at present, and under this course two pupils were graduated in 1872. On assuming charge of the schools as superintendent, Prof. Fairbanks at once turned his attention to firmly establishing the high school, and improving its curriculum, and for a number of years not only attended to his duties as superintendent, but heard many classes in the high school, really acting as teacher of the senior class. His duties were very arduous, and his time fully occupied for many hours daily. The colored people were given the first ward school, called the Lincoln school, a building being erected in 1872, which was exchanged with Drury College for the present building. In 1882 the first school building in the sixth ward was erected on Center Street, and, was called the Bailey school. This was the first ward school building for white pupils. In 1884 a school building was erected on the corner of Grant and Mt. Vernon Streets, and called the Campbell school. In 1886 the Phelps school building was erected. Two years later the North and South towns of Springfield consolidated, and thus four more school wards were added to the cares of the superintendent. In 1891 an addition was built to the Rogers school on Boonville Street, costing $10,000. The following year a new colored school building was erected at a cost of $4,000. This is a fine brick building, and one of the handsomest structures in Spring- field. In 1892 and '93 the foundations for the new high school building at the corner of Center and Jefferson Streets were laid. This structure will cost when completed $65,000. It will be three stories high, built of stone and brick in the highest order of school architecture and will contain twenty-six rooms. Thus from small beginnings the schools of Springfield have grown within a few years until now there are eleven fine school structures. The high school has an attendance of 350 pupils, and the pupils in all the schools number 5,000. The high school is one of the most advanced in the State, and includes four courses of study-English, Scientific, Classic and Business. The schools are in an excellent condition, the standard of scholarship is high, and the attendance prompt and regular. The discipline is of a superior, order, and an able corps of teachers is employed. Prof. Fairbanks has been superintendent of the schools for eighteen years, and has devoted the best part of his days to the building up of the city schools. The schools are managed by the best modern methods, corporal punishment is nearly done away with, being discouraged by the board and the superintendent, and is seldom resorted to. The Professor exhibits the characteristics which have rendered him distinguished throughout his career, and which have made his life a succession of honors. Professor and Mrs. Fairbanks are the parents of five living children: Alban B., Annie, George B., John W. and James O. These young people are all graduates of the Springfield high school, and are engaged to business in the city as proprietors of a first-class book store, in which they have been successful. Socially Prof. Fairbanks is a member of the Knights of Honor and Scotch Clan, and politically he is a staunch Republican. He has the esteem and respect of the people of the county, and has held the office of county commissioner for twelve consecutive years, and has recently been elected for two years more. The Professor is entirely a self-made man, and all his success is the result of his own exertions. He is a man of great executive ability, broad and liberal views, a logical reasoner, and expressive talker, and his methods regarding educational work are unique, orderly and systematic. The able manner in which he has labored to develop the public schools of Springfield has gained him the respect of every thinking citizen, and it is universally admitted that much of the present excellent condition of the schools is due to his earnest efforts through the long period of nearly two decades.

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