Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, copyright 1918
JAMES FREDERICK O'CONNOR. The stern competition and exacting conditions of twentieth century business progression have resulted in specialization in every line of industrial and constructive activity. Men of marked ability have proved beyond question of doubt, through consecutive action and comprehensive investigation, that the best and most productive results are secured by a consistent devotion to some particular line of effort. The reason for this is that, with so many competitors it is practically impossible for a single individual to become an expert in all lines. When he entered upon his career, James Frederick O'Connor recognized the fact that the man who dissipates his energies in all directions attains no definite goal, and during his life he has, therefore, practically confined himself to one line of business. His start was given him when he secured the privilege of using an old icehouse, deserted by its former owner, his father. That was a quarter of a century ago. Today, the O'Connor-Hamlin Ice and Cold Storage Company is one of Fort Scott's foremost industries, alike a credit to the city in which it is located and a monument to the consistent fidelity of one who realized the benefit of specialization, through which he has worked out a splendid success.
James Frederick O'Connor was born at Fort Scott, Kansas, November 3, 1868, a son of John and Adelia (Karleskind) O'Connor. His mother was born at Constableville, a little town near Rome, New York, the daughter of Frederick Karleskind, who brought his family from New York to Kansas in 1860, and settled on a farm in Bourbon County, where for many years he was a successful farmer and upright citizen. In his later years he retired to Fort Scott, and there his death occurred. John O'Connor was born in Ireland in June, 1838, and was a lad of sixteen years when he emigrated to the United States. After a short stay at New Orleans, he made his way to St. Louis, Missouri, and there learned the baker's trade, and when he had completed his apprenticeship went to Keokuk, Iowa. In that city he followed the trade of journeyman baker and confectioner, and in 1861 came to Fort Scott, Kansas, where, with a small capital saved from his meager wages, he engaged in business as the proprietor of a small grocery and confectionery. Mr. O'Connor soon recognized the opportunity for the extension of his business and in the winter of 1863 built an icehouse, which he filled with ice during the winter months and distributed this natural article during the summer in connection with his grocery business. In the winter of 1873 there was not enough cold weather to produce an ice crop, and as he was not in good health, and was suffering from an old wound caused by a fractured leg, he sold out his store and moved to a farm that he had purchased some years before, located some three miles from the city. This was in a neglected and run-down condition and needed building up, and during the sixteen years that he operated this property Mr. O'Connor proved a good and practical agriculturist, accumulating a satisfying competence and developing an excellent farm. In his later years he retired from active affairs, and lived comfortably retired in his attractive home at Fort Scott, on North Crawford Street, where he passed away December 26, 1916. Mr. O'Connor has always been a reliable and public-spirited citizen, who has done his share in the upbuilding of the city and county and whose integrity, industry and general worth have brought him many friends and attracted to him the esteem and respect of the people of his community. During the Civil war he enlisted in the Home Guards, his injury preventing him from going to the front. He is a consistent member of the Roman Catholic Church, as is also Mrs. O'Connor, who, like her husband, is greatly respected and esteemed. They have been the parents of eight children, as follows: Francis, who died at the age of four years; James Frederick, of this notice; Elizabeth, who is the wife of Charles P. Hamlin, secretary and manager of the O'Connor & Hamlin Ice and Cold Storage Company; George, who learned the trade of machinist at Fort Scott, in the Fort Scott Foundry and Machine Works, and now a successful manufacturer of machinery at Vancouver, British Columbia; Charles, who is engineer at the ice and cold storage plant; Joseph, who is a clerk with the Fort Scott Wholesale Grocery Company; Anna, who is the wife of J. J. Cummings, assistant superintendent of the Frisco Railroad at Fort Scott; and William, who is engaged in mercantile pursuits at Wichita, Kansas.
James Frederick O'Connor was educated in the parochial school at Fort Scott and the Central Public School, and then entered the old Kansas Normal School, although he did not complete his course there. At the age of eighteen years he gave up his studies to assist his father on the home farm, but after one year went to Pittsburg, Kansas, where he found employment in a dairy. It was at this time that Mr. O'Connor decided to reopen the old icehouse, and, gaining his father's consent, he began the ice business alone in 1892. During the winter months of that year Mr. O'Connor worked with every ounce of energy that he possessed. He had faith in the business and determined to make it succeed, and this faith and determination often kept him at work for thirty-six hours at a stretch. He had only a limited capital and was unable to hire assistants, but his first year's work brought results, and in 1894 he interested his brother-in-law in the venture, Charles P. Hamlin. Together they continued to labor during the winter months to store up natural ice, and in the summer months to build up a trade, and under their combined efforts the business grew and developed rapidly. By the year 1901 the little venture had grown to astounding proportions, and in that year the present company was incorporated, with the following officers: James F. O'Connor, president; C. B. McDonald, now of Kansas City, Missouri, where he is president of the Peoples State Bank, vice president; and Charles Hamlin, secretary and manager. In that year, 1901, the company planned to manufacture ice, and a 20-ton refrigerating machine was installed in a new modern factory built of brick and insulated with cork board and fitted with concrete floors. In 1904 the business had grown to such an extent that it was necessary to add a 12-ton refrigerating machine, and in 1912 the old machines were replaced by the latest type refrigerating machine of 50-tons daily capacity. In 1916 the company decided that Fort Scott was badly in need of a cold storage plant, and with characteristic energy went about building a modern plant for this purpose, with a capacity of 28,000 cubic feet, the lower floors being used for ice storage and the upper floors being divided into three large storage rooms, leased to the wholesale commission merchants of the city for the storage of fruit, produce, butter, eggs, etc. This innovation was really a boon to the merchants of the city, who hailed its advent with enthusiasm and who have supported it commensurately. The ice business has grown far beyond the limits of Fort Scott and the concern is now supplying towns far distant with ice. Everything about the company's plant and office is modern in every respect. Its deliveries are made with motor trucks and six double-horse wagons, and it has been the pride of the house to make its deliveries expeditiously and to give full value for a fair price. From twenty to twenty-five men are given steady employment, and the business is one that has come to be recognized and appreciated as one of Fort Scott's necessary commercial adjuncts. Thus, from a humble and inauspicious start, within a quarter of a century, has grown a business that has its established place in a city not lacking for important enterprises. Much of its success is due to the fact that Mr. O'Connor is one of those who have supreme faith in themselves, and who does not know what it is to fail in anything that he undertakes. He has centered his energies and ambitions in this enterprise, and has made it his constant aim that all business transactions connected with it be carried on in a manner beyond criticism. Personally, his standing in the business world is of the best, and while such a self-made success often turns the head of its maker, Mr. O'Connor still remains modest and unassuming, retaining his old friendships and making many new ones.
As a citizen, Mr. O'Connor is engaged in a venture that will prove of inestimable value to Fort Scott. In 1915 he conceived the idea of purchasing a tract of eleven acres of land adjoining the company's property, a stretch of ground known as Bridal Veil Park, which has a famous well of excellent mineral water that for twenty-five years has gushed six feet over the surface through a pipe line 960 feet deep. The park and well were in a run-down condition, but after the company had purchased the land, improvements were at once started and a fine swimming pool, built of solid cement foundation, was installed. During the first summer of its existence the pool could not begin to supply the demand made upon it, and was patronized by the best class of citizens of Fort Scott. When improvements now under way are completed the park will be one of the beauty spots of the city. Mr. O'Connor is a democrat in his political views, but has never sought office, having been content to devote himself to his business interests. He is a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, and in religious faith is a Roman Catholic.
On November 16, 1892, Mr. O'Connor was married at Fort Scott, to Miss Caroline Hamlin, a sister of Charles Hamlin, who married Mr. O'Connor's sister. Mrs. O'Connor is a daughter of Casper and Adeline (Radell) Hamlin, and a member of a family of pioneer farmers who came to Kansas during the early '80s. Three children have been born to Mr. and Mrs. O'Connor: one child who died in infancy; Irene, born in 1898, at Fort Scott, a graduate of the Fort Scott High School and of Loretta Academy, of Kansas City, Missouri, and now attending the Kansas State Normal School, where she is taking a special art course; and Elmer, born in 1899, who is attending the Fort Scott High School.
Transcribed from volume 4, pages 2017-2019 of A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, copyright 1918; originally transcribed by students at Baxter Springs Middle School, Baxter Springs, Kansas, March, 1998, modified 2003 by Carolyn Ward.
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