top of page

The Bakers

            Dr. Isaac Baker (1783 - 1872) and his wife Susanna Dodge came to Illinois with their thirteen children and his brother, Major Seth Baker in 1827 from Ohio. In addition to being a doctor, a profession he apparently did not practice, Isaac Baker was skilled in land surveying. It was Isaac Baker, along with James Allin, who platted out the city of Bloomington in 1831.

           

            His sons, Solomon and Hiram caught gold fever in 1849 and set out for California with a large contingent of Bloomington men. Solomon wrote back eloquent letters, first expressing great hopes for California and then warning against the lure of easy money. “ We are now at the hard licks and making from sixteen to 20 dollars per day, making cradles. . .   . I have given up all hopes of becoming a millionaire, but expect to enumerate a competency.” He missed his home and family: “I often visit you in my nightly wanderings, and hold a joyous tete a tete with my beloved father, sisters and brothers; and oh, how disappointed when I awake and find it all a dream.” His advice to hopeful travellers: “My advice to my friends would be to beware of such (exaggerated) reports and if they are in easy circumstances at home let them remain there.” Solomon and Hiram stayed in the West and never returned to live in Illinois.

 

            Isaac’s son Sidney (1820 – 1906) stayed in McLean County for most of his adult life. He had grocery stores in Leroy and Bloomington that provided much needed services. His grocery with Esek Greenman in Bloomington was on Center Street.  Sidney moved to Kansas in his later years and died in Council Grove, KS. In 1899 Sidney was interviewed by Madame Annette, the lady journalist to whom we owe many thanks for so much of our recorded history of McLean County. Sidney recalled travelling to Illinois from Ohio in 1828: “It was before the country was bridged, and the mud that spring was something almost indescribable to the young people of this generation, accustomed to macadamized and brick pavements. And the corduroy roads through Indiana were worse even than the mud, and we had great difficulty in getting through them. We camped out at night and were sometimes careless as to our fire. Frequently some of us would have to return to the camp vacated in the morning and get some fire, for that was before the day of matches for us, and our only means of striking fire were the flint . . . but as we made not over two miles a day, with all our paraphernalia, it was not much of a trick for one of us to return the two miles for a fire, and then it was necessary and necessity you know is the mother of invention.” He also reported that it was his father who created the first flour mill, which was made up of “niggerheads” or stones from the prairie. Isaac Baker also started the first sawmill, which was driven by five oxen, and located just south of My Store (Front and Madison). Baker and Greenman brought their stock from St. Louis by river and then hauled it from Pekin over land. Sidney remembered attending school at the first courthouse, a 16 foot by 20 foot wooden building.  

 

            Isaac’s son Seth Baker was a carpenter by training and manufactured the first fanning mills in McLean County. A fanning mill was used to separate grain and chaff. The fanning mill was an improvement over the older practice of winnowing the chaff from the wheat. Seth Baker did not stay in Bloomington, but moved on to Wapello, Iowa where he continued his carpentry manufacturing.

 

            Margaret Baker (1830 – 1924), a daughter of Isaac’s son Seth remembered their home on Kentucky Alley, built in 1833. Margaret married Frank Packard (1833 – 1911) and had two children, Edith and Charles. Only Edith remained in Bloomington. She married Edward Fielder, a fireman, and had two children, Edwin and Eva. Eva married J.L. Murray, and it was her daughter, Frances Murray, who was the last of the Seth Bakers to die in Bloomington on December 22, 1999. Frances was very interesting in her own right because in 1943 she was the Chief Air Raid Warden in Bloomington, much like her fireman grandfather Fielder. She was also a realtor, like her great grandfather Packard. Unlike either of those, she also was a ballet dancer. Frances never married.

 

             Another daughter of Isaac’s son Seth was Betty Baker, who married Alonzo Sargent. They had two daughters, Mary and Clara.  Mary Sargent died in 1889 of puerperal (childbed) fever, leaving an infant daughter. Her widower, Charles Tappe, gave the child, Ella, to Clara Sargent and Ambrose Kirkpatrick, who raised her. Ella was educated solely in Illinois and received her degree from ISNU. She taught at the Irving school and Pawnee. Ella married Thomas Leonard and moved to Texas, where her husband died of malaria.

 

             Death by disease was not uncommon. According to her brother, Mary Ann Baker (a daughter of Isaac Baker) was the only person willing to nurse T. T. Sampson, a local businessman, through the cholera. Mary Ann and her husband Martin Rowan died in 1855 of the Asiatic Flu or cholera. Their only son, Albert Rowan died of the measles while serving during the Civil War, thus ending that part of the Baker line.

 

            Many Bakers served in the military. Seth’s son, Israel Baker, drowned in South Carolina during his service with the 39th Ill. Infantry in the Civil War. Already mentioned, his cousin, Albert Rowan also served and died during his service. After her husband’s death, Ella Tappe Leonard returned to Bloomington and in the 1940s, her three sons, Charles, Kirk and James all served in WWII. Frances Murray was the Chief Air Raid Warden in Bloomington during WWII.

 

            Isaac’s granddaughter Laura Baker (b. 1839) married Hiram J Noble and gave birth to the only line of Bakers that continues to live in McLean County.  If you are descended from Agnes Noble (Atlanta) or Lucille Baker Wilcox, you are related to Isaac Baker, the man who platted the original town of Bloomington.

 

            Agnes Noble (Atlanta)

            Lucille Baker Wilcox

            Major Seth Baker (1785 – 1838), a brother of Dr. Isaac Baker, moved to Illinois in 1829, a widower with ten children, according to the 1830 census. The names of only 7 of those children come down to us. The Major may have died around 1838, but the location of his death and burial is unclear. He was married in Washington County, Ohio to Phebe Van Valey. Major Seth Baker came to Bloomington in 1829, in company with John Greenman from Ohio and his brother. How he came to have the title “Major” is unknown, for he is not listed as a Major in the War of 1812. He was a tough one. One story told of Major Baker is that when his toe was “sick” he could not find a doctor to cut the offending toe off, so he used a chisel and hammer to take the toe off himself.

 

            A story was told about his son Moses Baker and William Oney, who travelled to Orendorff’s mill, twenty five miles from Bloomington the day before the great snow of 1831. During the storm, William Oney was determined to lay down and rest, but Moses Baker whipped him and abused him until he was ready to get up and fight and wrestle in the dark to keep warm – thus avoiding certain death during that great freeze. When morning came and they could see about them, they were just 300 yards from a house.

 

           Sophronia (1815 – 1903), Seth Baker’s second daughter, married George McElhiney, a carpenter. They had five children, but Sophronia died at the Elgin Hospital for the Insane in 1903 at the age of 88.  J.B. Orendorff recorded the sad story of her illness. Sophronia gradually became insane, choosing small fights with the other housewives around her. She pulled up all the “garden stuff” of her neighbor, Mrs. Simon. Mr. McElhiney visited her regularly at the insane asylum and told Mr. Orendorff of her condition: “He kept me posted as to her condition. At one time after he had been to see her he said all though (sic) she seemed all most dethroned of all reason, she never forgot the love she had for him – a grip of his hand always caused her to weep bitterly – in talking of her to me he was deeply affected. “

 

            George and Sophronia’s son Arthur McElhiney (1842 – 1903) was the manager of the Western Union Telegraph office from 1868 and into the 1890s in Bloomington. He married Alcesta Sill and had four children, only one of whom stayed in McLean County. Edna McElhiney (1877 – 1963) married Ira Spafford and with him lived at the Illinois Soldiers and Sailors Children’s School which they managed from 1921 to 1933. During their time at the School the cottages were built and new ideas about orphan care were tried out. 

 

            Adolphus McElhiney, a son of Sophronia, was a member of Company B of the 145th Ill. Inf. Later in life he was a railroad man and moved away from McLean County.

 

            Mary Baker married Dr. George Espy and had two daughters and two sons.  Dr. Espy was known for his willingness to go out and help at all times and seasons. J.B. Orendorff told of his reliance on Dr. Espy when the doctor travelled through a terrible storm to his mother’s sickbed. Georgie Espy (1876 – 1914) stayed in Bloomington and married Sam Holder of Holder Hardware. Their three sons, George (1905 – 2000), Dan (1907 – 2008) and John all served in WWII and lived in Bloomington. George Holder completed his education at the University of Illinois and worked as a farmer all his life. Dan Holder lived in  McLean County most of his life and continued the family hardware business. As a boy he remembered riding his pony in the Armistice Day parade on his 11th birthday. Holder Hardware was involved in the rebuilding of the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield under his direction. John Holder never married and worked all his life in management for Owens Glass and State Farm. In WWII he was a Lieutenant Commander in the navy and captained a troop landing ship in the Pacific Theater.

 

            The Holder descendants are the only descendants of the Major Seth Baker family.

Solomon Dodge Baker, Nevada City, CA

Mary Frances Murray, IWU, 1929

bottom of page