Few men in Marion county occupy as prominent position in public and
political affairs as the well known and deservedly popular gentleman whose
name introduces this article. His has indeed been a busy and successful life
and the record is eminently worthy of perusal by the student who would learn
the intrinsic essence of individuality and its influence in moulding opinion
and giving character and stability to a community.
James B. Lewis, editor and publisher of The Marion County Democrat, and one of the leading journalists of southern Illinois, is a native of Nicholas county, Kentucky, where his birth occurred on the 14th day of November, 1852. His father, O. M. Lewis, who was born and reared to manhood in the state of New York, migrated about 1835 to Ohio where he spent the ensuing ten years, and at the expiration of that time removed to Kentucky where he made his home until his death in the year 1862. O. M. Lewis was a man of fine mind and superior intellectual attainments, having enjoyed excellent educational advantages in his native state, graduating when a young man from Alfred Center College. After finishing his education he engaged in teaching, which profession he followed with marked success in Carlisle and Maysville, Kentucky, until the breaking out of the war with Mexico, when he resigned his position and entering the army served throughout that struggle while still in his minority. Later when the national sky became overcast with the ominous clouds of approaching Civil war he was among the first men of Nicholas county to tender his services to the national government, enlisting in 1861 in Company H, Eighteenth Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, in which he soon rose to the position of captain, and as such served with a brilliant record until August, 1862, when he was killed while bravely leading his men in the battle of Richmond, Kentucky. This was one of the bloodiest of the war, the Eighteenth Kentucky, a veteran regiment, losing two-thirds of its men, while the losses of several other regiments were almost if not quite as great. Mr. Lewis is said to have been the most popular man in his regiment, and was almost idolized by his own company, during his entire period of service. The Grand Army Post at Carlisle, Kentucky, where he enlisted, is called the O. M. Lewis Post in his honor. Although a man of scholarly tastes and habits, and for many years devoted to his books and studies he inherited the martial instinct also being descended from fighting stock on the maternal side, his mother having been a Lawton, a relative of the late General Lawton, one of America's most distinguished heroes, who lost his life in the Philippines. O. M. Lewis was born on August 30, 1824, married in 1850 to Elizabeth Mann, of Nicholas county, Kentucky, and became the father of eight children, only three now survive, namely: Mrs. Louisa L. Davidson, of Patoka, Illinois, James B., of this review and Mrs. Anna J. Burns who lives in Fresno, California. In September following her husband's death, 1863, Mrs. Lewis, with her three children, moved to Marion county, Illinois, and located about two miles east of Patoka, on a farm of one hundred and sixty acres which had been purchased by Mr. Lewis some years previously. In 1865 she became the wife of George Binnion, of Marion county, who was also a soldier during the war of the Rebellion and the son of Francis Binnion, the second marriage resulting in the birth of two sons; Daniel H., and Frank. At the time of his death, which occurred in the month of July, 1907, at the remarkable age of one hundred and seven years, Francis Binnion was the oldest man in Marion county, if not in the state.
James B. Lewis spent his childhood in the state of his birth, and when eleven years old was brought by his mother to Marion county, Illinois, with the subsequent history and progress of which his life has been very closely interwoven. At the proper age he entered the public schools of Patoka, where he pursued his studies until completing the common and high school branches, the training thus received was in Milton, Wisconsin, where he earned an honorable record as a close and painstaking student. On quitting college he turned his attention to teaching, but after devoting several years to this field of work and finding it not altogether to his liking he discontinued it and took up the study of medicine. After a course of reading under the direction of competent local talent he entered the Eclectic Medical Institute at Cincinnati, where he continued his studies and researches until receiving his degree in the year 1878, following which he opened an office in Patoka and in due time built up an extensive practice which proved as successful financially as professionally, and which earned for him an honorable reputation among the leading physicians and surgeons of Marion and neighboring counties.
Dr. Lewis brought to his chosen calling a mind well disciplined by intellectual and professional training, and it was not long until his practice took a very wide range, embracing not only the town and a large area of adjacent country, but not infrequently were his services sought at other and remote points for treatment of difficult and critical cases in which a high degree of efficiency and skill were required. He continued his professional business with encouraging success until the fall of 1884 when he was elected Clerk of the Marion Circuit Court, and the better to attend to his official functions here moved within a short time to Salem where he has since resided. Doctor Lewis discharged the duties of the clerkship with credit to himself and to the satisfaction of the people, and during his incumbency of four years won the esteem and confidence of all who had business to transact in his office, proving a most capable, judicious and obliging public servant. In February, 1889, shortly after the expiration of his official term he established "The Marion County Democrat," which he has since conducted, and which under his able business and editorial management is now one of the best and most influential local papers in the southern part of the state, in many respects comparing favorably with the more pretentious sheets of the larger metropolitan centers. The political creed of The Democrat is indicated by its title, and as a party organ it has had much to do in moulding opinion, formulating policies and directing public affairs, the doctor being an elegant and forceful writer, a courteous but fearless antagonist and in discussing the leading questions and issues of the day he wields a trenchant pen and makes his influence felt not only on these but on all other matters which the enterprising journalist is supposed to bring to the attention of the public.
The Democrat office is well equipped with the latest modern machinery and appliances for first class work in the art preservative, and in its mechanical make up the paper is fully abreast of the times, all that constitutes a first class newspaper being systematically arranged and a model of neatness and typographical art. Aside from its political phase it is designed to vibrate with the public pulse and in addition to the news of the day, its columns teem with much of the best current literature and it has also became the medium through which the productions of a number of rising local writers are given publicity.
In brief The Democrat is a clean and dignified and interesting family paper as well as a popular and influential political organ, and its steady growth in public favor bespeaks for it a future of still greater promise and usefulness. Not only as an editorial moulder of opinion does Mr. Lewis make his influence felt in directing the affairs of his town and county, but as an enterprising public spirited citizen, with the welfare of the community at heart, he has ever been interested in whatever makes for the benefit of his fellow men, encouraging to the extent of his ability all worthy measures and takes the lead in movements having for their object the social, intellectual and moral advancement of those with whom he mingles.
On the 12th day of September, 1877, Mr. Lewis was united in the bonds of wedlock with Mona I. Quoyle, daughter of Capt. T. H. and Rebecca Quoyle, of Salem, the marriage being blessed with six children, four of whom are living, the other two dying in infancy. Anna L., the oldest of the family, is the wife of E. H. Barenfauger, a contractor of Salem. Orin M., the second in order of birth is associated with his father in The Democrat office and has achieved honorable repute as an enterprising and capable newspaper man. Before entering the field of journalism he served four years in the United States navy, having visited nearly every country of the old and new world, and completely encircled the globe while with the squadron under the command of Robley D. Evans or "Fighting Bob,” one of the most distinguished admirals of his time. Thomas O., the second son, is a locomotive fireman at the Chicago & Eastern Illinois yards in Salem, while Owen W., the youngest of the number is also connected with the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railway, holding the position of store keeper at Salem. In his fraternal relations Mr. Lewis is a Mason and an Odd Fellow, belonging to the lodges of those organizations in Salem and manifesting a lively interest in their deliberations. While not actively engaged in the practice of his profession he is fully abreast of the times on all matters relating to medical science, being a close and diligent student and an untiring investigator, and by keeping in touch with the trend of modern thought maintains not only his interest in the healing art, but the honorable position to which he attained while devoting his entire time and attention to the ills of suffering humanity.
During the entire period of his residence in Salem as a physician, public official, editor, as the center of his family circle and as a citizen he has made good his title to the honored name inherited from his ancestors, besides adding to its luster by a strict adherence to duty in every relation to which he has been called.
Extracted 10 Jul 2017 by Norma Hass from 1909 Biographical and Reminiscent History of Richland, Clay and Marion Counties, Illinois, pages 56-60.