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The Brokaws

            Abram Brokaw was a young bachelor when he arrived in Bloomington in 1836. It was the custom then for young men to either live at home, or board with a family. Managing a home required too much work for a single man to handle without a wife.  Abram Brokaw lived with Lewis Bunn the first seven years he lived in Bloomington. He had trained as a wheelwright in New Jersey and completed his apprenticeship in Springfield after following his first employer to Illinois. His first wagon shop was at Front and Madison Street. He entered into a partnership with Oliver Ellsworth eventually, upon finding that plows could be more profitable than wagons. In 1847, Abram married Oliver’s sister, Eunice, who had lived in Bloomington since 1838.


            Brokaw invested in land throughout his life. One of the first properties he bought was from James Miller who he paid $70 cash and $55.00 labor. It was not uncommon for debts to be paid in barter or labor in those days. Cash money was difficult to obtain and business in the early years was done by barter regularly. Brokaw managed to amass a fortune in real estate. In his later years he endowed the Deaconess Hospital with $10,000 when remodeling was desperately needed. The Deaconess Hospital was not run for profit, but was run entirely as a charity by the women of the Deaconness religious order. None of the nurses in the hospital received any kind of pay, but devoted their lives to the care of others. The doctors who performed surgeries issued their own bills to patients, but the hospital care was free. After his great endowment, the hospital name was changed to the Brokaw Hospital and retained that name until the hospital combined with the Mennonite Hospital in 2001. He made further endowments after selling his plow factory as well.


            Brokaw was known for his love of music. He played the clarinet in local bands. The importance of bands at that time is not to be overlooked. The bands had fierce competitions and travelled great distances to play for the public. Abram had a wonderful singing voice and with his friend Lewis Bunn, he sang in churches and at other social events. Eunice and Abram never had any children, but left a great legacy in the Brokaw Hospital and the contributions he made to the development of agriculture in Illinois. His home was at 213 E Washington.


            Abram Brokaw’s brother Charles settled in Fulton County in 1846 and two of his sons settled in McLean County in the 1800s. His son William (1847 – 1925) married Mary Voorhees. Another son Charles (1863 – 1924) married first Lillian K Wasson and after her death married Etta Walker. They were farmers in McLean County and had families here. The sons and grandsons of Charles Abram Brokaw continued to farm in McLean County throughout the twentieth century.  John A Brokaw (1897 – 1968) was in the Air Corp during WWI and his sons, John Abram (Marines) and Charles Edward (Army) served during WWII. John Abram Brokaw was an artist as well as a farmer and enjoyed painting wildlife. He wrote a “outdoor” column for the Pantagraph for many years. The descendants of Charles Abram’s children still live in McLean County.


            The name Brokaw has endured and if you are related to these men, you are well aware of it!

             To read a complete biography of Abram Brokaw click on the link below. 

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