James W. Robison.During her fifty years of statehood Kansas has offered opportunity to many men to exercise their talents, energy and capital in the development of her great natural resources. In the annals of her growth no one man realized greater personal success, nor was more highly honored than he whose name initiates this review. The State of Illinois, in which he lived and labored for fifty-three years, acclaimed him one of her foremost agriculturists and gave him public office, in which he served with honor and distinction. In 1884 he came to Kansas, where previously he had purchased a large body of land. With ample capital, ripe experience and unimpaired energy, he became one of the most potent influences in the agricultural development of his adopted state, her most extensive farmer, a horse breeder of national reputation, and was honored with important public office. He was chairman of the board of railway commissioners and president of the state board of agriculture, and his incumbency of these offices offered scope for his great initiative, constructive and executive talents. His death in 1909 concluded twenty-five years of unceasing effort in promoting along scientific lines agricultural betterment within the borders of his adopted state.
James W. Robison was a native of Scotland and was born near Banff March 19, 1831, son of James and Isabella (Leslie) Robertson. James Robertson was a railroad contractor and in 1831 brought his family to America, where he engaged in railroad construction. He built the first railway in Michigan and other lines in Pennsylvania and Illinois. In the last named state he was given a considerable body of land in Tazewell county in part payment for services. There he located about 1835 and engaged in farming. The grants to these lands were made out in the name of James Robison and this style of spelling the family name was retained by him. Mr. Robison became one of the wealthy, influential and honored citizens of central Illinois, and his sons and grandsons have been prominently identified with the commercial, political and social life of that section.
James W. Robison secured his early educational discipline in the public schools of Tremont, Ill. He then matriculated in the Illinois College at Jacksonville and completed the prescribed literary course in that excellent institution. He was a lover of nature and his inclinations led to agricultural pursuits. Thirty years of his life were given to farming in Illinois and his ability in this field of endeavor resulted in his becoming known as one of the most progressive and successful farmers of the state. He was one of the first to give close attention to and avail himself of scientific information in the operation of his agricultural interests. His first fruit orchards were his pride and he was familiarly known throughout the state as "Apple Robison."
While on a visit to Kansas in 1879 Mr. Robison purchased a tract of land embracing 3,840 acres along the Whitewater river in Butler county. He brought his family to Eldorado in 1884 and located on his land at Whitewater Falls, four miles north of Towanda, where he erected a fine residence and modern farm buildings. He was the first to grow alfalfa in Kansas and was a persistent advocate of wheat as the staple and most profitable crop for his section of the state, his advocacy of the latter earning for him the title of "Wheat Robison." He added by purchase to his original holdings until he farmed, with the assistance of his sons, 17,000 acres. He gave to his farming interests the close attention to detail, broad progressiveness and untiring energy which mark the successful man, whatever his field of endeavor. His properties represented some of the choicest lands in Kansas; the improvements were the best that money could purchase; stocked with the best bred animals to be secured, and in all respects a farm enterprise which through comprehensive management reached the maximum in production and in quality. In 1884 Mr. Robison initiated his breeding of horses of pedigree, making his first purchase of imported Percheron animals and establishing the Whitewater Falls Stock Farm, now (1911) the largest, best equipped and most important breeding establishment devoted to registered Percheron stock in America. In this enterprise he had as an interested principal his son, James C. Robison, its present owner (see sketch, in which is included a brief history of the growth of this business).
A lifelong Republican, an active and influential member of his party, Mr. Robison was honored by public office both in Illinois and Kansas. He served as a member of the upper house of the Illinois legislature from 1874 to 1879, but was defeated in the election of 1878 through his stand in favor of high license and strict regulation of the liquor traffic. He was elected to the Kansas state senate from Butler county; in 1901 was elected a member of the railway commission of Kansas and served for two years as chairman of the board; was for several years a member of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture, in which he was a director at the time of his death and had served two terms as president. He was one of the most active factors in the organizing of the Kansas State Cattle Shippers' Association and served as president of that body. He was also for some four years a trustee of Washburn College at Topeka. He was a charter member of the Illinois State Horticultural Society, in which he served on the executive committee and one term as president. In his public service he received the commendation of the public at large. His labor was of inestimable value to his adopted state and his course was marked by honesty, courage and fidelity. With the late N. F. Frazier he was one of the founders of the Eldorado State Bank and served on its directorate as well as on the board of the Farmers' National Bank of Pekin, Ill.
On March 28, 1860, Mr. Robison married Miss Sarah A., daughter of Maj. Hugh Woodrow, a native of Pennsylvania and a pioneer of Tazewell county, Illinois, who settled there in 1824. He was commissioned major of the Thirty-eighth Illinois militia and served with his regiment throughout the Black Hawk war. Mr. and Mrs. Robison were the parents of nine children: Leslie W. and James C. of Towanda; Frank L. and Fred G. of Eldorado; Elmer C., who died Sept. 10, 1905, and whose widow, nee Ida Fulton, resides with her two daughters in Eldorado; Edgar D., who died Dec. 24, 1903, and whose widow, nee Donna Fertich, resides in Towanda; and three boys died in early childhood. On July 2, 1909, Mr. Robison died in Eldorado, where he had resided since 1888, and his widow died Jan. 24, 1911, at Daytona, Fla. The year previous to his death Mr. Robison made an equable division of his estate among his children and the extensive interests which for several years had been practically under the management of his sons remained in capable hands. The tributes of respect called forth by the death of Mr. Robison have seldom been equaled in the state, in the passing away of a citizen. What may be termed his life work was finished. It had met the fullness of his ambition. He died rich in the possession of a well earned popularity and in the esteem which comes from honorable living. The following tribute is from his intimate friend, Hon. F. D. Coburn, secretary of the State Board of Agriculture:
"I knew J. W. Robison for a long time and never encountered him without being more and more convinced that he was an unusual and remarkable man. While perhaps not highly educated, technically, he had at command a surprising fund of general knowledge and on any occasion or in any meeting he could talk not only interestingly but informingly upon whatever topic was forward for discussion. I regarded him as a man of the highest integrity and character and as a typical, progressive and successful farmer, stockman and horticulturist. He was a leader and a teacher in whatever he undertook. I am persuaded that within the lines of his endeavor Kansas never had a more useful citizen."
His predominant characteristics were his fatherliness, his great foresight in caring for his own, and his tender sympathy with them was conspicuous in his life. He bought broad acresnot for himself, for he knew his span was short, but that his offspring might be cared for. All through his life his joys and expenditures were not for himself but for his family. He was a lover of nature, of the woods, the fields and the flowers. He was a home builder and believed in the family and the fireside, and in the sacredness of the hearth.Pages 848-850 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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