JOHN J. NESBIT is an old time resident of Larned. He came to the city in March, 1887, as an employe of R. L. Walker & Company, who installed the Larned water plant. For a number of years Mr. Nesbit had been engaged in waterworks construction and in the management and operation of public utilities, and became an expert at the business. While supervising the construction of Larned's first waterworks he became additionally interested in the community by the fact that he met and married his wife, and in order to have a permanent home he determined to remain rather than follow his profession in other cities. So he continued to operate the waterworks at Larned until it was sold and came under municipal ownership.
Mr. Nesbit has come against some of the rough edges of the world as he has passed along, and has propelled himself to success by an ambitious and energetic nature. He was born in the City of Rockford, Illinois, July 27, 1853, a son of James and Anna (Orr) Nesbit. His parents were married in County Tyrone, Ireland, and soon after that event they set sail for America. After three months' voyage they landed from the sailing vessel at New York, spent a very brief time in that city, and then went to Rockford, Illinois. James Nesbit was a mason and plasterer by trade and followed the occupation for a number of years. Toward the close of the Civil war he moved out to Waterloo, Iowa, and lived in that vicinity until his death. While in Iowa he abandoned his trade in favor of farming. When he went to Iowa he found the prairie so wide and the settlers so few that when a local banker offered to deed him eighty acres of land in payment for three weeks' work he declined such method of settlement. He declared that the prairie never would he settled up, but he lived to renounce that error, and some years later he himself paid $20 an acre farther from town than the eighty acres which had been offered him. As a farmer he showed sufficient enterprise to make a success of the business and became one of the substantial men of the community. He was highly esteemed for his many excellencies of character. He was positive, possessed the hard, shrewd common sense of the typical Scotch-Irish, and in religion was one of the strongest Covenanters, and outside of his home and family paid more attention to his church than anything else. After getting papers as an American citizen he voted and acted with the republican party, and held a number of local offices. His death occurred in 1886, at the age of seventy-four, while his wife passed away at fifty-four. Their children were: Thomas, now a resident of Volga, South Dakota; John J.; Anna, wife of R. J. McCormick, of Chicago; William, of Waterloo, Iowa; Mary, who married F. C. Glasgow and died at Belle Center, Ohio; Robert, a farmer near Waterloo; Dr. George, who was a physician at Waterloo, where he died; and Edward, a farmer at Waterloo.
John J. Nesbit was about eleven years of age when his parents moved to Iowa. After that his youth was spent on a farm and he finished his education in the schools of Waterloo or the country districts. Farm work in those days meant little more than physical drudgery. His tastes were not agricultural. He early evinced a special fondness for mechanics and machinery. There was practically no opportunity to gratify such a taste on an Iowa farm forty or fifty years ago. In order to get into the work for which he believed his talents specially after some wandering about the country arrived at fitted him he left home at the age of sixteen and Elgin, Illinois, where he secured his first job and got his first lessons in the practical operation of machinery. These few years he spent in a cheese and butter factory in that great butter center.
From Illinois Mr. Nesbit went west to Denver, Colorado, and learned the trade of machinist in some of the machine shops of that city. He left Denver, and as an employe of Ben Lewis & Company of St. Louis, worked on waterworks construction at Gunnison, Colorado. That was his first experience in equipping and installing waterworks plants. From Gunnison he removed to Belton, Texas, and was pump engineer for a time. From Texas he removed to Lexington, Missouri, where he assisted in constructing the water plant for the firm of Abendroth & Root of New York. Here an incident occurred which illustrated Mr. Nesbit's positiveness and his willingness to assume responsibilities in the face of orders to the contrary. The waterworks plant at Lexington was completed, but had not yet been put in operation because the plant had not been accepted and approved by the City Council. While that was the situation a big fire broke out in the town. Mr. Nesbit had been strictly ordered by his superiors not to put the plant in commission except by express invitation from the council. Thus there was a crisis and emergency, and no time could be lost. He broke the red tape of his instructions, started time engines, filled the mains with water, and soon had a pressure which enabled the volunteer fire department to cope with the dangerous enemy of fire. The next day the people of Lexington held a mass meeting and voted the courageous waterworks engineer a gold medal for his kindness, and furthermore brought such pressure to bear upon the City Council that it accepted the water plant without delay.
From Lexington, Missouri, Mr. Nesbit removed to Kansas, and constructed the water plant at Caldwell and rebuilt the plant at Eldorado before he came to Larned.
In the early days of Pawnee County Mr. Nesbit experimented with farming. Lands were then cheap and he succeeded in raising enough grain on the different tracts for which he contracted to more than pay for the land in advance of the contract time. Thus he became an extensive farmer and land owner and he has since been well pleased with his foresight, since he now owns a full section of valuable land in this locality. Besides his own home on Kansas Street he has contributed to the general improvement of the city, the business house occupied by the Wells Fargo & Company's Express and the Postal Telegraph Company.
In Larned Mr. Nesbit catered heartily into the spirit of municipal affairs. His first official service was as a member of the Council in the early '90s. He was in the Council three successive terms and two terms as mayor. While mayor the first move was made toward the building of cement walks. After his term as mayor expired he returned to the Council, but was soon appointed the first county assessor of Pawnee County. He filled that position two years and retired with the abolishment of the office. In 1917 Mr. Nesbit again came back into the Council and along with Mayor Frizell has actively supported the efficient and business like administration of town affairs.
Mr. Nesbit is a democrat, and cast his first presidential ballot for Samuel J. Tilden in 1876. He has attended various democratic conventions as a delegate and helped nominate Governors Lewelling and Leedy. Mr. Nesbit is an active Presbyterian, is an elder in the Larned church, and has been identified with its progress for thirty years. His influence has been notable in the congregation in behalf of church building, in the securing of a pipe organ, and in other matters where the welfare of the church is vitally concerned. For thirty-five years Mr. Nesbit has been affiliated with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, served as recording secretary of the lodge, and is also a member of the Modern Woodmen of America.
He was first married at Lexington, Missouri, in 1884, to Miss Mary Weber, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Weber, who were German people. Mrs. Nesbit died April 8, 1914. She is survived by two children: John C., connected with the garage at Larned, and Eveline, member of the class of 1918 in the Larned High School. In January, 1916, Mr. Nesbit married Miss Lizzie Colton, who was born in England.
Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. [Revised ed.] Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919, c1918. 5 v. (xlviii, 2530 p.,  leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.
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