Thomas Gowenlock, the leading optometrist and druggist of Clay Center, a man of wide and varied experience in the business world, has demonstrated what a man may accomplish whose only capital is a good head and a pair of capable, industrious hands, for he is a self-made man and has won fortune and an envious position in the world unaided. He is an Englishman, born in Dalston, Cumberland county, England, Feb. 3, 1847, first son of James and Sarah (Russell) Gowenlock. His father was born at Carlisle, England, and learned the trade of machinist, which he followed in his native country until 1851, when he immigrated to the United States and entered the employ of the Hudson River Railway Company as foreman of the New York shops, a position he held eleven years. In 1861 he removed to Litchfield, Ill., to become master mechanic in the shops of the Indianapolis & St. Louis railway, serving in that capacity ten years, and then resigned to organize the Litchfield Car Manufacturing Company, in which he held considerable stock and was a director. After this concern was well started Mr. Gowenlock went to Mount Vernon, Ill., as foreman of the shops of the Louisville & Nashville railway and remained with that corporation until 1880, when he retired from active life, having by frugality, economy, and hard work accumulated a comfortable fortune. He died in 1900, after a long and useful life. Sarah Russell was born in England in 1828, was married there in 1843 and reared a family of six children: Thomas is the first, in order of birth; James E., born in 1863, is a machinist at Danville, Ill.; John, born in 1866, became a locomotive engineer on the Louisville & Nashville railway and was killed in a railroad accident in 1890; David, born in 1872, became a banker at Mount Carroll, Ill., and died at the age of twenty-four; Catharine, born in 1874, is the widow of Abner Warren, of Mount Vernon, Ill.; and Mary F., born in 1876, is the widow of Abner Goodrich, of Mount Vernon, Ill., who died in 1906.
Thomas Gowenlock attended the public schools in New York City until thirteen years of age, when he entered the law offices of Bowdoin, La Rocque & Barlow as messenger boy, working for $2.50 a week. After a year he entered a grocery store and then a drug store, but two years later left to enter a brass foundry, where he remained a year learning that trade; but he determined to become a machinist, like his father, and with this end in view entered the shops of the New York Central railway, where he spent three years learning the trade. All this time he was attending night school at Cooper Institute, as he realized that the best weapons for the battle of life were a good education and a trade. He specialized in mathematics and mechanical drawing, in order to perfect himself as a mechanical draftsman. In 1861 he moved to Litchfield, Ill., to accept a position as draftsman-in-chief in the shops of the Indianapolis & St. Louis railroad, where he remained until 1872. Being offered a better position as chief draftsman with the Louisville & Nashville railroad he moved to Mount Vernon, Ill., and remained with the road until he gave up being a draftsman and started for Topeka, Kan., to become superintendent of motive power of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad. On the way to accept this position he stopped in Lawrence, Kan., to visit friends, and was induced to join ex-Governor Glick and others in mining operations in Colorado. He went to that state and erected a large plant for the reduction of silver and gold ore, but as the venture proved unprofitable he severed his connection with the company after two years, and for the next two years superintended the erection of mining and ore reduction plants in the San Juan country, Colorado. Mr. Gowenlock was at Leadville during the great mining boom of 1878 and 1879 and was superintendent there for one year of the Amie mine, in which the late Senators Plumb and Elkins were interested. While in this district he made the phenomenal record of taking $111,000 worth of silver out of the Robert E. Lee mine in twenty-four hours, being the largest production of silver in that space of time in the history of the world. Leaving Leadville, he went to Kokomo, Colo., being engaged as superintendent of various mines in that locality, the most important positions being superintendent of the Forrest Consolidated Mining Company, the Wheel of Fortune Mining Company, the Sultan Consolidated Mining Company, and the Champion Mining Company, general manager of the Silver Blossom mine and consulting engineer of the Michigan mine. During this time he had the honor of being elected mayor of Kokomo, the highest incorporated town in the world, it being located at an altitude of 11,000 feet above sea level. For two years Mr. Gowenlock also served as commissioner of mines of Colorado, as he was regarded as an authority upon mining and mine conditions. Leaving the "Ten Mile Country" in 1883, he returned to Leadville to take charge of the late Senator Tabor's mining interests at Aspen and was in that part of Colorado for a year before he quit mining and engaged in the drug business in Colorado Springs. Two years later he left the mountain country and, in 1866, located at Clay Center, where he opened a drug store and has since been in business. Mr. Gowenlock has acquired large property interests and is regarded as one of the most substantial citizens of Clay county. In 1890, realizing the necessity in Clay Center of a competent optician, he went to Chicago and enrolled at the Ophthalmic College and Hospital of that city, where he worked and studied under the famous Professor Martin. He graduated the same year, and upon returning to Clay Center equipped his office with the most modern scientific instruments and has continued to practice to the present time, and, he has aided hundreds of people afflicted with imperfect vision. In 1900 he was elected vice-president of the Kansas Association of Opticians and in 1901 was chosen president and was reëlected in 1902. In 1904 he was elected vice-president of the American National Association of Optometrists and in 1905 was urged to the presidency, being assured of the vote of the convention by acclamation, but refused, saying that his private interests would have to suffer by the amount of time required to do justice to the position. During nearly a quarter of a century he has been a leading factor in building up the profession and has been called for consultation to Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Colorado. In 1909 the legislature created a State board of examiners in optometry, to examine all persons engaged in fitting glasses. Governor Stubbs appointed Mr. Gowenlock a member of the board of which he was chosen president. He was reappointed in 1911 and reëlected president of the board. Mr. Gowenlock has attained the Knights Templar degree in Masonry and is affiliated with Isis Temple Shrine at Salina. He is a past commander of Coronado Commandery of Clay Center. He has various business interests, aside from those previously mentioned, and is treasurer of the Acme Manufacturing Company of Clay Center.
On Jan. 17, 1876, Mr. Gowenlock married Emma Mabel Allen at Mount Vernon, Ill. She is a daughter of the late John and Elizabeth Allen, of Jefferson county, Illinois. Mrs. Gowenlock was born at Mount Vernon, April 6, 1857, on the farm where she was married. Her father was a native of Kentucky and her mother of Tennessee. Mr. Allen was a lineal descendant of Ethan Allen, of Green Mountain fame, who played such a conspicuous part in the Revolutionary war, while Mrs. Allen was a relative of President Pierce. Mr. Allen passed away in the late sixties and was survived by his wife until 1881, when she, too, was laid to rest. Two children have been born to Thomas and Emma Gowenlock: Mabel Allen, born in Kokomo, Colo., Oct. 6, 1882, is an expert stenographer of Kansas City, Mo., and Thomas Russell, born at Clay Center, Kan., Feb. 14, 1888, is a graduate of the Clay Center High School and the law department of the University of Kansas, with the class of 1908. He was admitted to the bar but has never practiced, and is with the Gundlach Advertising Company of Chicago.Pages 941-942 from volume III, part 2 of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed December 2002 by Carolyn Ward. This volume is identified at the Kansas State Historical Society as microfilm LM195. It is a two-part volume 3.
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