Vanderburgh County, Indiana
Eccles G. Van Riper|
He was born in the City of New York, on the 4th day of October, 1841, hence is now about 32 years of age. His parents are both of American birth and descent, all of them being of Knickerbocker Stock. His father died when he was six years of age, leaving a large family without a superabundance of this world's goods. He went to school until he was 12 years of age, when he started out in the world, to take care of himself, since which time we are happy to say, "He paddled his own canoe," without costing anybody anything.
He had several experiences until he was 14 years of age, when he entered the business of Messrs. Fatman & Co., of New York, with whom he has always been, and is still connected in business, so he cannot be accused of being a "rolling stone." He remained in the office of the firm in New York, until 1858, when they sent him to the Green River in Kentucky to join Mr. Morris Ranger, of that house, to look after their vast Tobacco interests. He continued living in Kentucky for several years, their business rapidly extending, until at last they covered the entire Tobacco area of Southern Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Tennessee, with headquarters at Evansville. Mr Ranger was chief and our subject second in command, but always in the field. Their business became so vast, that they owned and controlled several steamboats to transport their Tobacco, and in fact they virtually monopolized the Tobacco crop. At the breaking out of the Rebellion, they were doing their largest business.
In 1862, after having spent the winter in purchasing Tobacco, this house conceived the idea of engaging in a Cotton operation, along the line of the contending armies. He was sent to Alabama, and did a splendid business there, until the fall of Memphis, when he removed his headquarters there, and immediately started on a trip through the federal lines in Arkansas. He went about 80 miles in the interior, crossed the St. Francis River, and on the fourth day was captured by the Rebels and charged with being a Spy. After wandering for two weeks in the bushes with them, he was at last taken to Little Rock on foot, and thrown into jail. He remained there three weeks without hearing what was to become of himself, and without having a friend in the State. Gen. Hindman was in command of the confederates. Mr. Van Riper wrote several letters to headquarters asking to be heard or released. At last one Sunday afternoon, he was escorted by a guard of Soldiers to the Anthony House in Little Rock, and went through the farce of a trial before a drumhead court martial, composed of three officers. Of course he had no witness, and they would not take his word for anything. It was enough that they charged him with being a Spy and found him guilty, and sentenced him to be hanged on the Tuesday following at 12 M., not a very agreeable prospect to say the least for a young man. He was apprised of it and became reconciled. On Monday night a new commander for that district arrived, General Holmes, an old U. S. Army officer; had traveled night and day from Richmond, to relieve Hindman, on account of his cruelties. There was a reign of terror in Little Rock, and hanging and shooting were the order of the day. Gen. Holmes reprieved everybody under sentence, and after a re-examination of his case he sentenced him to the penitentiary to remain during the war. This was in July, 1862. He was kept in solitary confinement for a period of five months, spending his twenty-first birthday in prison. He was now released through the intercession of President Lincoln, acting through Gen. Sherman. Messrs. Fatman & Co. had labored hard to this end. He came out a sickly young men, having lost 45 lbs by the wretched treatment which he received.
He returned to New York, recruited his health, and returned during the same winter to Evansville. He resumed his place in business, and continued so until 1865, when he succeeded Mr. Ranger, as chief in all their western business, with an interest in the firm.
He continued to prosecute as large a business as before, and never interfered with polities or public affairs until 1868, when he was called upon to allow the use of his name as a candidate for Councilman from the 3d ward. His opponent was Peter Semonin. It was an exciting contest, but our subject received two majority and the certificate of election. He and one other were the only ones of the Democratic Party who were elected. The remainder of the board were of the opposition. The latter, on the plea of fraud, determined to unseat our subject, and being assured they would do so, he resigned. The next year he was nominated for councilman in the 2d ward, which contained a large majority of his political opponents. He now thought he would see if politics ruled everything. He was elected by twenty-six majority, and the council was now composed of a majority of his political friends. Unfortunately for the new council, Mr. Van Riper and his friends were all new hands in the business, and the Mayor, Hon. Wm. H. Walker, was taken sick at the beginning and remained so until he died.
Mr. Van Riper was selected as chairman of the Financial Committee, and hence, received the leadership of the Council. The finances of the city were in a terrible state, large obligations falling due, and no money to pay them. City orders were worth eighty-five cents. He had had an extensive experience with money matters in his time, and was determined to restore some order out of this chaos. He did so. He paid all outstanding debts; restored the credit of the city; made orders worth par; and at the close of the term, the finances were in a much better shape than they had been for many years. This Council did a great deal of work, and it is thought, a great deal of good. They first took the Carmi Railroad (now the St. Louis & southeastern) in hand. It had been handled for two or three years, without any result. There was an election of Directors, and Mr. Van Riper was selected as one, receiving the compliment of an unanimous vote, (the only one who did.) The citizens told him that they expected him to get that road under contract. He promised that he would, and he did. He was offered the Presidency, but declined the same, preferring to see an older head there. He accepted the post of Secretary. We will leave it to any one who has had anything to do with that enterprise, to say: "Who is entitled to the credit of completing the road ?" (Go to Gen. Winslow, and he will tell you). Mr. Van Riper continued as Director there, until the machinations of some of the leading citizens caused him to be dropped, just before he left Evansville. In this Council, he devoted all his energies to have the Lake Erie and Straight Line Railroads worked through. He did all that lay in his power to give them a fair start. The former is in process of construction; the latter is as yet, showing no signs of life.
He next turned his attention to the supply of water, and determined that the city should have Water Works. He went through all the details of an examination, everywhere; advised a vote by the people, which resulted in favor of building the works; made a contract, and the city issued $300,000 in bonds, bearing seven and three-tenths per cent. interest to pay for it; succeeded in selling the whole parcel of bonds, through Isaac Keen, Esq., at eighty-seven cents nett, when the previous Council had been selling the same character of bonds at seventy five cents. In sixty days the works were under full headway, with a cheap contract. He left before they were finished; the conactors having met with unexpected obstacles, and a new Council coming in, with an opposition majority, they determined to take unto themselves the credit of this work, and we think injured the work almost fatally.
The Mayor, Mr. Walker, died a few months after this Council came into office, and Mr. Van Riper was elected by the Council as acting-mayor, with all the powers. etc., of the position. He occupied this position three months, devoting his entire time to its various duties. In this time he prepared the tax duplicate, which he refers to as being as well done as any mayor ever did. He reduced the rate of taxation five cents per hundred dollars. At the end of three months, a new election was ordered for mayor. He was offered the nomination by his party, but declined, riot wishing to abandon business for a political position. This Council improved streets, uniformed the police, made important annexations to the city, from the surrounding territory, and in fact, there was one vast system of public improvement inaugurated, which it was impossible for any succeeding Council to resist. Hence we are free to say without contradiction, that the impetus Evansville received from this Council, was the dawning of a new and prosperous era for the city.
However, if there ever was an abused man, it was Mr. Van Riper. He was maligned and traduced. Every act was questioned and generally abused as a great curse by all the opposition. Mr. Van Riper would remark: "I assure you that I got heartily sick of it, and can only say to any man who never gave his services to the public, that if he values his good name and his peace, never accept a public office." Time rolled around, and a new election came for a new Council. He determined to see whether the people were craven enough to believe all that the opposition had said of him, He accepted a re-nomination for the Third Ward, (the wards being changed.) Then began the fiercest contest that Evansville ever saw. The opposition were determined to defeat Mr. Van Riper, and spent money without stint; voting (we are told) one hundred and fifty negroes, when there was not exceeding thirty in the ward. He was elected, however, by seventeen majority, with only one other of his political friends in the new Council. His career of usefulness was gone. The opposition would not adopt any of his measures, but he was a check on all their schemes, and hence there was nothing but turbulence. They tried to tire him out by insult, abuse, etc., but he checked them in every scheme they brought up. At last he received a summons from his house, that his presence was required in Europe. He went to New York, learned the nature of it, returned to Evansville, and resigned his seat in the Council.
On the lst of November, 1871, he sailed from New York for Liverpool. Since that time, he has been traveling all over the Continent of Europe, extending Fatman & Co.'s business of cotton, so that he feels more at home, if possible, in Europe, than America. He writes home, that he has never seen any country that suited him so well as his own. But we are digressing. In 1870, the late John D. Roche and himself conceived the idea that it would be a good thing for Evansville and the poorer class of citizens to have a Savings Bank. So taking advantage of the existing State law, they proceeded to organize the same. They looked around, selected a Board of Trustees of honest men, arid there came into existence the "People's Savings Bank," with Mr. Van Riper as Vice-President and Chairman of the Finance Committee. It has had wonderful success from the day of its organization. His leaving the country, compelled him to resign. This was one of the regrets of his life, as he regarded that as a pet project.
In 1865. Mr. Van Riper took it into his head to marry, and soon found a mate in Alice, daughter of Col. James G. Jones, one of the oldest citizens of Evansville She was the belle of the city. Three children have blessed that union, two of which (twins) are living. They are with their parents in Europe.
Our subject has been very successful in life. He has accumulated enough to make his family safe from want. He enjoys good health and enjoys life. We hope that some day his Evansville friends will not be too proud to say: "that he did something for them."
July 2, 1999