In every community there are found a few citizens who are ever the leading spirits in promoting the upbuilding of the vicinity and molding its public policy. They are its real founders, and their enterprise constitutes the moving force in all that is accomplished there. Such a man in Crawford county was Hon. Henry C. Laub. No history of this part of the state would be complete without extended mention of him and his life work, which constitutes so important a factor in the annals of the county.
His birth occurred in Little York, Pennsylvania, April 18, 1824, his parents being William and Catharine (Snyder) Laub. The father was born in Reading. Pennsylvania, and was of sturdy Pennsylvania Dutch stock. For many years he figured as a leading citizen of Gettysburg and held a number of clerical positions in connection with the county offices there, while later he was chosen by popular suffrage to the office of county treasurer. He had a brother Henry who served as a soldier of the war of 1812. The death of William Laub occurred in Gettysburg, when he was sixty-five years of age. His wife, who was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and was of German-Irish origin, came to Iowa after the death of her husband and spent her last days in Denison, her death occurring when she had reached the age of seventy-six. Mr. and Mrs. William Laub were the parents of nine children, as follows: Henry C, Louisa, Catharine, William B., Julia, Mary, John, Charles and George.
Henry C. Laub spent his early youth in Gettysburg and at the age of twelve years began to provide for his own support as a farm hand working in that way for four years and two months. The spirit of adventure, however called him elsewhere, and he ran away to Frederick county, Maryland, where he secured a situation and remained until eighteen years of age. He then returned to Gettysburg and spent a few months in school. This was the only educational training he received and yet he became a well informed man, reading and experience bringing him constantly broadening knowledge, until there were few subjects of importance that could be touched upon that he could not intelligently and entertainingly discuss. He remained throughout life a close student in the school of affairs, and his receptive mind and retentive memory gave him an intellectual grasp that few college students have equaled. While he was still in his teens he began learning the shoemaker’s trade, which he followed for four years, using his leisure hours in reading and study so that at the end of that time he was qualified for teaching and followed the profession for four years.
The west, with its wider opportunities, attracted him, and hoping to make more rapid progress in the business world in this section of the country, he came to Iowa in November, 185 1, making his way to Muscatine, where on the day of his arrival he was engaged to teach school. For two years he was identified with the educational interests of the city, after which he went to Cedar Rapids and turned his attention to merchandising, opening a general store. Subsequently he removed to Scotch Grove, about eight miles from Cedar Rapids and began the cultivation of an eighty acre farm. He afterward spent a year and a half in agricultural pursuits in Benton county and in 1855 arrived at Mason’s Grove, Crawford county, where he resided for two years. It was his intention to continue farming, and he purchased a tract of land near Deloit but he soon recognized the need of mercantile enterprises and opened a little store in that village. About that time J. W. Denison, in the interest of the Provident Western Land Company, was endeavoring to found a town in the Boyer valley in the center of Crawford county. He attempted to establish a store but the men he employed proved incapable or dishonest. Mr. Laub had about decided to build a store at Marshall’s Grove about a mile northeast of Denison but Mr. Denison dissuaded him from that purpose and traded the stock of merchandise which he had for Mr. Laub’s land. Thus Denison secured her pioneer merchant, who for so many years was closely associated, not only with the business development of the county seat, but also with its progress and improvement along many other lines. Locating here in 1857, he erected a store building, twelve by eighteen feet, and goods which he purchased in Chicago were hauled overland by ox teams. Selling his goods on credit, the following spring found him with a greatly depleted stock and very little money, for the country was new and the early settlers had no cash with which to pay for their merchandise. However, he pushed on toward the goal of success and erected a store at West Side and another at Dunlap, admitting others to partnership in the venture. He soon found himself, however, seventy-eight thousand dollars in debt and resolved that thereafter he would manage the business alone. He went to Chicago, borrowed ten thousand dollars as a working capital and bent every energy toward the upbuilding of the business with the result that within three years he had paid off not only the indebtedness of seventy-eight thousand dollars but had also a substantial little capital remaining. He was never discouraged in the face of difficulties but with optimistic spirit continued his labors and won the substantial prosperity that ultimately crowns earnest effort, intelligently directed. For years Mr. Laub was a merchant prince of western Iowa. Denison was his central place of business, but through partnerships he extended his interests in every direction. He erected buildings, purchased stock and became the owner of thirty-two different stores, including those located at Carrollton, West Side, Smithland, Harlan, Dunlap, Butler’s Mill, Correctionville and St. Johns.
Mr. Laub’s business career was a notably successful one, and none have more fully deserved the proud and honorable title of a self-made man, for he started out in life on his own account at the age of twelve years and from that time until his death was dependent entirely upon his own resources. He had a remarkable experience and a successful career. He always trusted the people and won the high regard of all with whom’ he came in contact. Merchandising, however, was but one phase of this busy man’s career. He gave substantial evidence of his faith in Denison in replacing his little frame store building by a stone and cement structure on Main street, which was the first substantial business house of the city. This was later succeeded by the Laub block, erected in 1871. He was also the contractor who built the present city hall and he erected the McKim Hall and extended the Laub block on Broadway. He built fully forty residences in the city and at one time was the largest property owner in Denison. As a landlord he was never oppressive, always kept his buildings in good condition and it was seldom that he lost through the failure of a tenant to pay, for all appreciated his consideration and his kindness. He possessed, too, a mechanical genius of superior order and invented a car coupling device. While engaged with many and varied business interests and activities, he never neglected his duties of citizenship and cooperated in every movement for the general good. In pioneer times he served as sheriff of Crawford county, summoned the first jury that ever sat in the county court and in later years found pleasure in relating the fact that he had to walk clear to the south edge of the county to serve some of the summons. He was the first county surveyor and for twelve years filled the office of superintendent of schools. He also built the first schoolhouse in Denison, now used by the Lutheran parochial school, and he took the contract for the erection of the courthouse and the west brick school. He built the first oven and burned the first brick made in Denison, and when the Northwestern Railroad Company was extending its line westward, Mr. Laub contracted to haul the poles and erect the first telegraph line that connected Boone and Council Bluffs. He seemed to understand the great value of any enterprise and whenever he believed that such a project would prove of benefit he gave in its support freely and generously. Later in his life he met with Some financial reverses, but these did not affect him greatly, save as they lessened his power to give. Few men have ever been more generous or responded more cheerfully when aid was needed. “Giving was almost a passion with him; it was always a pleasure and not a task,” said one of the local papers. “No man had to urge him to do his duty; he always did it and a little more.”
On the 7th of February, 1848, in Frederick, Maryland, Mr. Laub was united in marriage to Miss Lydia Baer, a daughter of Jacob and Matilda Baer, who were farming people and were of German descent. Mrs. Laub was born in Frederick county, Maryland, and by her marriage became the mother of eight children. Alice, the eldest, became the wife of James Ainsworth, editor of the Denison Review, and they had one son, Claude. Mary, the second daughter, is the wife of J. B. Romans, and has four children: Dolly, lone, Junia and Harry. William, a liveryman of Denison, married Edna Goodspeed and has three children, William, Hazel and Harold. Catherine is the wife of Thomas Perkins, of Seattle, Washington. Eli, living in Sioux City, Iowa, married Grace Gilmore and has three daughters. Anna Elizabeth became the wife of George Bartholomew, a banker, who died leaving a daughter, Belle, and since his death Mrs. Bartholomew has engaged in the practice of medicine, being now located in Evanston, Illinois. Belle, the seventh member of the Laub family, died at the age of twenty years. Lilly is the wife of Carl F. Kuehnle, vice president of the Bank of Denison, and president of the Bank of Manilla, Iowa, and they have two children, Lydia Belle and Carl F. Kuehnle. Mrs. Lydia Laub died in 1896, at the age of seventy-two years. She was a member of the Methodist church and a most earnest and active worker in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. On the nth of January, 1898, Mr. Laub was again married, his second union being with Miss Mary E. Snouffer, a daughter of Henry and Sarah (Baer) Snouffer. There is one child of this marriage, Henry Qay Laub.
Mr. Laub was a member of the Methodist church, to which his widow also belongs. For seventy-six years he was identified with that denomination, and his entire life was the exposition of his faith in the Christian religion. If he made mistakes — ^and what man does not — they were of the head and not of the heart. It is impossible for a man to successfully conduct so many and varied business enterprises as Mr. Laub did and not awaken enmity and opposition, and a person with such positive, aggressive force as Mr. Laub could not hope to avoid this, and yet he perhaps had a hundred friends to one enemy, and the consensus of public opinion places his name high on the roll of the progressive citizens and honorable and upright men. His word carried weight in political circles and his support was given to the whig party until its dissolution, after which he joined the ranks of the republican party. He was influential in its councils and frequently served as a delegate to the state conventions. That his mind reached out broadly in the world is indicated by the large and elegant library, which is one of the chief features of his beautiful home in Denison.
While every class of citizen mourns the death of Mr. Laub, his demise is perhaps most deeply regretted, outside of the circle of his family and closest friends, by the poor, for to them he was ever a friend, ready to extend a helping hand at all times. One who knew him well wrote: “His acts of charity were manifold. His accomplishments were large. He was effective, dynamic, controlling, powerful. He succeeded in more different fields of activity than any other man western Iowa has known. He was lovable. He made warm friends and held them throughout life. He was kindly and considerate. He was a good judge of human nature and he liked to speak kindly of his fellows. Not long ago it was the writer’s privilege to interview him as to the early history of the county and it was a real pleasure to find how eager he was to give credit to others and to tell of their achievements rather than his own.”
An accident a few years prior to his death, resulting in a broken hip, compelled him to use crutches throughout the remainder of his life but in this as on every other occasion where an incident might have served to discourage or dishearten him, he called all his latent resources to meet the situation, never ceased to be a regular attendant at church and was to the last a familiar figure on the streets of his city. He was a man of commanding presence and has been described as tall, big boned, well built, straight as an Indian, lithe, quick motioned, strong. His features showed lines of strength and character, his eye was keen and piercing, but with quick flashes of humor and of kindliness. He went clean shaven all through his life, and it was partially owing to this fact that so little change was noticed in him from time to time. In fact, he looked what he was, a sturdy, active, virile, capable, kind-hearted man. He might well be termed the Grand Old Man of Crawford county. His record is an exposition of the words of Lincoln, “There is something better than making a living — making a life.” Moreover, it is not from the few conspicuous deeds of life that the blessings chiefly come which make the world better, sweeter, happier; but from the countless, lowly ministries of the everyday s, the little faithfulnesses that fill long years. There were many of these “little ministries” in the life of Mr. Laub, who seemed to neglect no opportunity of doing good to others, of speaking an encouraging word, or extending a helping hand. His life was an inspiration, and his memory will long remain as a benediction to those who knew him.