From sidewalks to state highways, E.A. Lord paved the way
MONMOUTH, Ill. — From the day he was born on a farm in Hale Township on the eve of the Civil War, Eugene Addison Lord had ambition. A proud member of the Sons of the American Revolution whose family traced its lineage back to William the Conqueror, he may have sensed that he was destined for success as he steadily progressed from the drudgery of farm chores to becoming president of one of the largest road construction companies in Illinois.
Although his education had been limited to attending district one-room schools, Lord saw education as his ticket to leave the farm. In 1878 at the age of 18, he decided to become a schoolteacher. After two years in that profession, he got his introduction to the business world when he was hired by Monmouth National Bank president William Hanna to be a bookkeeper. Five years later, Hanna, who was also president the Monmouth Mining & Manufacturing Co., tapped Lord to become its treasurer.
In 1886, Lord married Nannie J. Thompson, the granddaughter of an early Monmouth lumber dealer and the daughter of the first female graduate of Monmouth College. Her father was a founder of Second United Presbyterian Church and her sister Martha married Monmouth College’s first president, David A. Wallace.
After attending Monmouth College, Nannie had served for a time as a lady principal at an Ohio academy. A staunch Presbyterian, she insisted that her husband be baptized into the Presbyterian church. The couple had three daughters, one of whom — Margaret — would contract typhoid fever in 1895 while visiting at the home of Lord’s uncle near Chicago. Nannie, who immediately went to nurse her, also came down with typhoid, and while Margaret eventually recovered, Nannie would succumb to the disease, leaving Lord to raise his three children alone.
Lord’s father, William, had partnered with him in the lumber and coal business, establishing the Monmouth firm of Lord & Son in 1888. In 1891, Lord teamed with Peyton Roberts and Charles C. Merredith to create the Columbian Addition to the City of Monmouth, located between Tenth and Eleventh Streets and Fifth and Eighth Avenues. They began building houses and sidewalks in the addition and advertised that a $1,000 house could be had there for $6 per month over eight years.
After the death of his father in 1893, Lord left the Monmouth Mining & Manufacturing position to devote all his time to Lord & Son, which he renamed the Lord Fuel & Ice Co. Located on East Fifth Avenue, the company did a large wholesale and retail trade in coal, wood, ice, lime, cement, sand, brick, stone and contractor materials.
In 1898, Lord became his own contractor, building a comfortable Dutch colonial house at 308 South Third St. The following year, he remarried — to Ida Shoemaker, the daughter of a Monmouth carpenter.
Although he never ran for political office, Lord was active in the Republican party and served two terms on the Warren County board of supervisors. He also served two years as president of the new Monmouth Hospital and was a member of both Rotary and the Elks Club. An avid golfer, he served 10 years as vice president of the Monmouth Country Club, where he established a golfing prize known as the Lord Cup.
While the coal and ice business was highly successful, Lord’s passion was concrete, and he became Monmouth’s leading concrete contractor, building miles of sidewalk in the city, much of which still bears his imprint. In 1911, he disposed of his fuel business to devote all his attention to contracting under the name E. A. Lord Construction Co. One of his first projects was his own business block at the corner of North First Street and East Archer Avenue, which today houses Vickroy’s Furniture. It was not long, however, that he expanded his profitable sidewalk-laying enterprise to the cities of Rock Island, Illinois, and Burlington, Iowa.
Prior to 1913, roads in Illinois had been the responsibility of individual townships. Under the Tice Act of that year, the state legislature created the county superintendent of highways position, which led to the transformation of muddy lanes into hard roads, and E. A. Lord built many of the first hard roads in Warren County.
In 1915, Lord’s business in Rock Island had expanded to such a degree that he incorporated the company and opened up a branch office in that city. Soon he was building highways in Mercer and Henderson counties, as well as Warren County.
When the Tice Act was passed in 1913, the number of motor vehicles in Illinois had been just 94,650. By 1918, that number had jumped to 389,620 and a widespread effort known as the Good Roads Movement caused Gov. Lowden to call for a comprehensive system of improved roads throughout the state. In November 1918, the citizens of the state overwhelmingly passed a referendum to issue $60 million in highway bonds, and E. A. Lord was ready to help.
Winning dozens of contracts from the Illinois Highway Commission, Lord and a partner named John Talbot did hundreds of miles of heavy grading work on new highways throughout the state.
In 1920, Lord and his wife moved to a larger house at 102 South B St. and moved his offices into the then-modern Searles Building on South Main Street. At age 60, he continued to actively seek road contracts and was a charter member in 1921 of the Monmouth Motor Club, devoted to improving the quality of roads in the area.
On the night of March 3, 1927, Lord and his wife were returning home on the highway north of Monmouth when he suddenly suffered a heart attack. He pulled to the side of the road near the old Law School and a doctor was called. Before the doctor arrived, however, Lord had died. He is buried in Monmouth Cemetery with his first wife and second wife, who died in 1936.
Jeff Rankin is an editor and historian for Monmouth College. He has been researching, writing and speaking on western Illinois history for more than 35 years.