This lovely picture was taken by historian Rex Cherrington of Galesburg, Illinois. For the past few weeks I have been researching Avery history for one of my columns in Farm World and Mr. Cherrington has offered insight into this amazing family that changed the face of both Galesburg and Peoria, Illinois. If you, like me, love the agricultural stories of places you visit you too would enjoy a gander at this lovely building that was built in 1903 as the home of Cyrus Avery and now serves as the home of the President of Galesburg’s Knox College.
Robert Avery was a Union solider that was captured and sent to the horrific Confederate prision Andersonville. 13,000 Union prisoners died in this place from starvation, disease and exposure. My husband Keith and I visited Andersonville a couple of years ago, (in fact you can search through the archives and read about the prison) and we were amazed that anyone could survive this small piece of ground enclosed by a fence where men were shoved with little but what they had with them when they were caught to survive.
To keep his mental state while in prison Avery developed a cultivator that would launch the Avery Manufacturing story on down the line. The Knox County Illinois Genealogy site states, “It was while confined there, however, that Mr. Avery from sheer lack of mental occupation, first directed his thought to those improvements in the implements of farm work, the perfecting of which have made his name famous.”
After the war, Robert joined up with his brother Cyrus and together they developed the cultivator and later a spiral stalk chopper that Robert developed. While these machines would start and stop the company as they tried to make a name for themselves and survive the financial panic of 1883 it was the corn planter they developed that set them on the agricultural map. The original planter is at the Edison Institute Museum at Ford’s Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan.
The Avery Company manufactured equipment from 1872-1882 in Galesburg Mr. Cherrington said was through the partial purchase of the already established Frost Manufacturing Co a foundry owned by Joseph Frost. The original buildings are gone today, but Mr. Cherrington said, “A few buildings in the south end of Galesburg are the former site of Frost but they are of a later period.”
As the company grew, during the summer of 1882 they made the move from Galesburg to where they produced corn planters, check rowers, stalk cutters, cultivators and hand tools and the company was renamed the Avery Planter Company. At one time they were the largest employer in Peoria. Robert Avery died in 1891 while touring the Western US with his family in California of a heart attack. Cyrus Avery then took over as President of the Company and retired in 1902 building the lovely home shown above in 1903. Forty-five year’s later it would become the home of the President of Knox College.
Cyrus Avery died in 1905, but the company still thrived well into the 1920’s then suffered setbacks during the Depression and finally closed when World War II. Watch for my two columns in Farm World which delve deeply into the history of this fascinating family and agricultural history. When driving past Knox College think about the Avery connection.