William Leet, who formerly owned what is now the Exchange Bank of Bradford and also had other important business interests, was recognized as a leading factor in the development of Star county and one of its most prominent citizens. A native of Connecticut, his birth occurred in Chester on the 20th of October, 1827, and his parents were Samuel W. and Anna Leet, both natives of that state. The ancestry has been traced back to one William Leete, who removed from England to America in 1639, settling in the New Hven colony, of which he subsequently became governor. Following the union of that colony with the colony of Connecticut he was again chosen governor and was filling that high office at the time of his death in 1683. Charles Leet, a brother of our subject was the first inventor of the first succesful cartridge, his factory being in Connecticut.
As the family was in very limited circumstances, William Leet of this review went to live with a Mr. Jones, of Chester, Connecticut, working for his board and lodging. In 1841 he accompanied his employer to Illinois and remained with him upon a farm near Elmwood, Trivoli township, Peoria county, for four or five years, but at the end of that time, not being treated kindly, he left and began working for others. As soon as he had saved enough money he returned to the east, but found himself dissatisfied with New England and in a comparatively short tijme again came to Illinois. For some time he worked for a farmer in Bureau county for a wage of ten dollars per month. He lived very economically and at length was able to purchase his first land, an eighty acre tract in Milo township, that county. Subsequently he sold that property and bought three hundred and twenty acres on section 33, on which he took up his residence. He was very successful in his farming operations and soon extended his activities to other lines and at the time of his marriage in 1854 was worth about twenty thousand dollars and was considered wealthy. He saw still greater opportunities before him, however, and continued in the development of his various interests. He possessed a great deal of mental and physical energy and was a very hard worker. He recognized, however, that inefficient effort was effort wasted and therefore planned all of his work carefully so as to secure the greatest possible results. He was quick to recognize a business opportunity and prompt in carrying out his plans. A number of years before the Civil war he erected an elevator in Henry, Marshall county, and for a considerable period bought and shipped grain. His farm was twenty miles distant, but in order to give personal attention to the elevator business he drove back and forth each day. Following the close of the war he transferred his grain interested to Bradford and in 1873 he took up his residence in the town, where he continued to live until his demise. For a considerable period he not only controlled the grain market at Bradford but also at Castleton, Duncan and Lombardville, all on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. He was endowed with unusual keenness of insight and sagacity; possessed an unusually retentive memory and was able to hold in mind the details of every one of his almost countless business transactions.
In 1872 Mr. Leet became a factor in local banking circles, purchasing what is not the Bradford Exchange Bank, which was then conducted by A. B. Miner. Mr. Leet proved as successful in the management of that insitutuion as he had in the conduct of hi other business affairs and its patronage grew steadily. He gave his first care to safeguarding the interests of depositors but was willing to extend credit when satisfied that the security offered was good. In time his interests were extended to other states, especially to Iowa, and he established a bank at Audubon, which also proved a profitable venture. He secured his start in business from his farming operations and never ceased to believe in the value of real estate as an investment and at one time owned nearly five thousand acres of land in Stark county besides valuable holdijngs elsewhere. He bought and sold land throughout his business career and was recognized as an authority on real estate values. In his dealings with others he was not only upright and above board, but he was even liberal, never being known to foreclose a mortgage if he could avoid doing so and being at all times willing to give time to his debtors as long as he believed that they were trying to pay. There are many in the county who owe much to him and a wealthy man in Osceola townshilp recently remarked that all that he had was due to William Leet, as he came to this county a poor man and could not have purchased his first farm if Mr. Leet had not loaned him money.
At quite an early stage in his career Mr. Leet began to operate on the Chicago Board of Trade and in 1888 removed to Chicago, where he lived for two years. He then took up his residence in Aurora but continued a member of the Board of Trade, going to Chicago each day. He passed away in Aurora on the 5th of September, 1896.
On the 29th of August, 1854, Mr. Leet was united in marriage to Miss Helen Spear, who was a native of England but was brought to the United States in infancy by her parents. Her mother dying a few months after the arrival of the family in the United States, she was adopted by a Mr. and Mrs. Wilcox, who reared her to womanhood and who removed to Stark County in the spring of 1854, taking up their residence upon rented land belonging to Mr. Leet. To this union were born eight children, of whom three died in infancy. Mary J. gave her hand in marriage to Rev. J. C. Stoughton and is now living in Bradford. her husband, who is deceased, was a prominent minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church and was instrumental in the establishment of the State University at Champaign and also of the Jennings Seminary of Aurora. Frank M. is deceased. Rose, the wife of Robert Thompson, of Bradford, is the president of the Bradford Exchange Bank. Further mention of her husbnad is made elsewhere in this work. Anna L. becvame the wife of Asmus Boyson but is now deceased. George Keller is residing in Aurora, Illinois.
Mr. Leet was a republican but was never active in politics, his business interests requiring his undivided attion. He was in sympathy with the Methodist Episcopal church, although not a member, and his influence was given on the side of right and justice. Although it may not have been generally recognized, he did much to maintain a high standard of business honor in the communities in which he was active and in all of his dealings he was scrupulously honest. Fraternally he belonged to the Masonic order for a number of years but at length demitted. He had practially no e4ducational opportunities, but his native intellingence was so keen, his judgment of human nature so sound, and his force of character so great that in spite of obstacles he became one of the dominant factors in business circles in this part of the state. He left a considerable fortune, which, in accordance wiht his wish, remained intact until after his widow's death, when it was divided among the several heirs. His position in a matter was never an equivocal one, as he was positive in his opinions and also in his personal ikes and dislikes. He held friendship inviolable and was willing to do much in behalf of a friend, but to an enemy he gave only the severest justice. Those to whom he gave his friendship knew him as a man of warm heart and deep loyalty, and all who came in contact with him held him in the highest respect.
Stark County, Illinois and its People: A record of settlement, organization, progress and achievement, published 1916, p. 90-93
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