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The Guthries

Robert Guthrie (Sr.) came to Bloomington in 1826 with his young family and his wife, Catherine Spawr. He moved his family from one location to another within McLean County every two or three years, rebuilding and selling, sometimes not completing work on one property before selling it. He eventually moved to Knox County and died there. Only three of his many children made their adult homes in Bloomington and are part of the history of McLean County. Sons Robert, Peter and Adam had descendants who continued to contribute to the story of McLean County.       


Robert Guthrie (1819 – 1892) worked throughout his childhood for his father and had very little schooling, but inspite of this, he preached as an itinerant preacher all over Illinois. The preachers were called “exhorters” and they lived very rough lives on the road. He married Lucy Kelsall and had eight children with her. Robert Guthrie would return to his farm and family to recover from the road. Robert finally settled in Wichita, Kansas, where many of his children also settled. During the Civil War, he acted as Chaplain for the 94th Ill Inf, a group that his brothers Adam and Peter also served in. The story goes that when the regiment was in battle, Robert Guthrie forgot his peaceable calling and went into battle, advising the men “Trust in the Lord and shoot low.” 


Robert removed with his family to Wichita, Kansas while the family was young. Their daughter Catherine (1846 - 1930) was the only child to remain in Bloomington. She married Charles Atkinson, who was for many years in the County Clerk’s office. Their son, Charles Roy Atkinson (1877 – 1930) was a very popular organist and vocalist in Illinois. He attended IWU where he was one of the five founding members of Tau Kappa Epsilon. He directed the music of the Consistory’s Passion Play until his untimely death in a car crash in 1930. At the time of his and his mother’s deaths in the car crash, they lived at 508 E Locust Street.


Adam Guthrie (1825 – 1904) learned the plastering trade from his father and followed it until the Civil War started. He married Lucinda L. Butler and they had three children. In 1858 he built a home at 802 N Center Street, and his son Permeno recalled watching from the steps of that house as his father marched off to join the fighting in the Great Rebellion. In 1862 Adam enlisted to fight with the 94th Ill. Inf. He was in the army for eight months but was released due to a medical problem. Upon his return he was accepted into the Bloomington police force and began his life of civil service. He served as town assessor before taking up the trade of cigar selling out of a small frame building at Jefferson and Main. Adam’s Ark was the central gathering point for the old timers of Bloomington and was the locus of many old stories and tall tales. That store was burned out in the great fire of 1900, but Adam rebuilt and continued his business until his death in 1904.


Permeno Guthrie (1852 – 1934), Adam’s son, had a varied career, clerking first at Ashley’s, then at Asahael Gridley’s bank. He learned to be a machinist at the Alton shops, but finally settled in the County Clerk’s office along side his cousin Catharine’s husband, Charles Atkinson. He set a record for working in the clerk’s office for a total of 46 years, only retiring four years before his death. He lived in the home that his father built in 1858 most of his life, and at the time of his death, his son Dudley was working in the clerk’s office, continuing the family tradition of civil service. Dudley Ross Guthrie (1885 – 1941) trained at the Alton shops like his father, and settled in the clerk’s office for his long term employment. He lived at 704 E Front Street when he died in 1941 and was the only Guthrie to be buried in Chenoa. He was also the last of the Guthrie descendants to live in Bloomington.


Peter Guthrie (1829 – 1905) married Caroline E Corsan and lived in Lexington for much of his life. His son William Elton Guthrie (1857 – 1919) received his schooling in Lexington and then became a teacher in order to finance his higher education and become a doctor. He attended IWU and ISNU from 1872 – 1877 and graduated from Rush Medical School in 1881. He practiced medicine with Dr. John L. White after his studies at Rush until 1892. After that, he went into private practice and continued to pursue greater medical knowledge through post graduate studies in London, Berlin and Munich. He was a leader in the McLean County Medical Society as well as the Illinois State Medical Society. He was a fellow of the College of Surgeons. His practice included being a consultant and surgeon for the railroads and the Illinois National Guard.  In keeping with his search for medical excellence and scientific answers, Dr. Guthrie’s body was submitted to an autopsy, which revealed cancer of the pancreas had caused his final illness and death in 1919. His funeral took place at the family home at 1104 N. Main Street.


Although this family significantly affected life in Bloomington for its first hundred years, no trace of this family remains. To read a full biography of Adam Guthrie, follow the link below to the McLean County Museum of History's website.

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