Eugene C. Bates, Princeton, was born in Cummington, Mass., November 9, 1840, his parents also being natives of the same Green Mountain nook. Jacob Bates, son of Alvin Bates, and father of Eugene C., was born in 1805, was bred a farmer, and served for a time as Captain of Massachusetts militia. He married in 1831 Miss Mary Mason, daughter of Elisha Mason, a lady five years his junior, of great personal beauty and unusual intelligence, with whom he lived happily until her death in Princeton, in 1878. The fruits of this union were a large family of energetic sons and daughters, faithful in filial affection, and, like their parents, ” diligent in business, serving the Lord,” in a manner excellent, if not evangelical. These parents, Jacob and Mary M. Bates, were active of mind and body, liberal and outspoken in religion, earnest in the cause of temperance, and stood with the faithful few, unflinching in devotion to liberty, in the days when it cost something to be an Abolitionist.
It was in this healthy atmosphere that E. C. Bates passed his boyhood, and learned to believe in honest industry and liberty as the right and left hands of human progress. His early years were divided between the schoolhouse and the farm, the latter getting the larger share. At the age of eighteen he took his place behind the counter of a store in his native town, where he served four years, afterward adding a shorter term as salesman in the city of New York. Meantime the war for the Union being in progress, he enlisted, but on account of his slender physique could not be accepted. A second attempt was no more successful, though he did succeed in getting as far as Key West on a man-of-war. On this trip a severe sickness came very near terminating his voyage of life.
In 1864 Mr. Bates married Miss Lora S. Ward, of Worthington, Mass., and in 1865, rich in wife’s companionship, but quite otherwise in the matter of funds, he came to Peoria County, Illinois. After a few months’ work as salesman in Elmwood, he removed to Princeton, where, in partnership with his brother, J. R. Bates, he opened the dry goods store which afterward became so widely and favorably known. J. R. retired in 1869, and removed to Stuart, Iowa, and Mr. Bates continued the business alone till 1878, when another brother, Charles E. Bates, and C. M. Durley became members of the firm, C. E. Bates retiring in 1882. In November of the same year the firm sold the business to Messrs. Palmer Bros., since which time Mr. Bates has conducted a real estate and loan business with marked success, being himself an extensive land owner in Bureau County and in the West. He was also for fourteen years a partner in the firm of Robinson and Bates, in the boot and shoe trade, withdrawing in 1884. He is also a Director and stockholder in the First National Bank of Princeton.
Successful business men are not rare in Bureau County, but the success of E. C. Bates has been so unusual in degree and of so broad a character as to demand special mention. Business is not alone a means of making money, but, properly conducted, it is also a civilizing force, a means of maintaining social order and friendship and for the development of character. The business conducted by Mr. Bates is a forcible illustration of this fact. His clerks and salesman as well as most of his customers, became his firm friends. From small beginnings the trade grew, until for ten years the pay roll of employees averaged $17,000 per annum, an amount larger than that of any manufacturing concern in the town. In seventeen years over $2,100,000 worth of goods were sold over the counters. Over $1,000,000 of that amount went on to the books of the house as credit sales. Of this amount, strange to say, the loss by bad debts was less than one-fourth of one per cent. Facts like this are not only honorable to the people of Bureau County, but prove Mr. Bates’ accurate judgment of men and his admirable methods of doing business. These close collections were not the result of harsh measures, for, in the entire seventeen years, only four or five law-suits were brought against customers. Mr. Bates has been doubly fortunate in being able to keep his head cool and his heart warm, and it is not too much to say that his example as a trader will be felt for good in this region for many years to come.
Mr. Bates has recently built and furnished and now occupies a capacious and elegant residence in the city, which, with its wide and generous sweep of lawn, is a credit to Princeton, and a source of well-earned satisfaction of its occupants.
Mrs. Lora S. (Ward) Bates, wife of our subject, was born in 1840, in Worthington, Mass., where her father, Daniel Ward, was also born, and where he died in 1881. The Ward family was of English extraction, with many silent traits of character. This was true of Daniel Ward, the father, and especially so of Col. William Ward, grandfather of Mrs. Bates. he was for a long time a prominent figure in western Massachusetts, a gentleman of the old school, and in real life. Mrs. Lucretia Ward, an amiable and well-preserved lady, mother of Mrs. Bates, resides with her daughter. This sketch of the social and business career of E. C. Bates would be sadly incomplete if we failed to state that during all those busy years Mrs. Bates has been a most efficient co-worker, both in the store and the home. Her rare and well-known taste and skill in the dry goods business were only equaled by her easy grace in society, thus furnishing a living testimony to the fact that business tact and capacity are not necessarily incompatible with true delicacy and gentle womanhood.
Source: History of Bureau County, Illinois, H. C. Bradsby, Editor. World Publishing Company Chicago 1885