Should a search be made throughout the length and breadth of Union county no fairer example of the self-made man could be found than William F. Ferrell, manufacturer, farmer and landowner of Jonesboro. Brought by merest chance, in early manhood, in touch with the making of beer keg staves, he seized upon this accidental chance as upon an opportunity, mastered the rudiments with a thoroughness that has characterized his every action in life, and upon this practical knowledge builded his exceptional business career. One by one he saw the possibilities as they opened before him, each possibility becoming a probability and then a certainty, until eventually the poor youth who had begun his business career with absolutely no education and a capital in cash of one hundred dollars in borrowed money has become one of the wealthiest men of his section.

William F. Ferrell was born on May 30, 1869, at Jonesboro, Illinois, and is the son of William and Mary (Tinsley) Ferrell. His father was born in Tennessee and came to Union county in 1864, and his mother was born in Jonesboro, being the daughter of Isaac Tinsley, who came to Union county in 1818 and settled on a farm four miles from Jonesboro, on Dutch Creek, his farm comprising land which he entered from the Government. He was one of the earliest pioneers of Union county and passed an active and useful life in that section. He was born in South Carolina in 1798, and passed away on his farm near Jonesboro at the venerable age of eighty-two years. He had acquired a farm of three hundred and ninety acres, which is now the property of his grandson, William Ferrell.

The son of William and Mary Ferrell was given but scant opportunity to secure an education of any sort, in his boyhood attending the district schools for only a brief period, and he was not more than a mere boy when he secured a chance to go to work for C. F. Myers, of Mound City, who was then engaged in making beer keg staves. After ten years of service at small wages, only adequate to provide a meagre living for himself, the boy left Mr. Myers and, seeing a chance for him to accomplish something for himself, he borrowed one hundred dollars and bought a car load of staves, thus becoming established in business. Four months later his former employer saw fit to buy his youthful competitor out, which he proceeded to do, Mr. Ferrell clearing four hundred and fifty dollars on the transaction. In 1902 he started buying timber for hickory spokes, and this business has grown to such an extent that he now ships from fifty-five to sixty cars of spokes each year, his dealings in the hickory spoke business alone aggregating twelve thousand dollars in 1910. As a side line Mr. Farrell is the buyer for the Mutual Wheel Company of Moline, Illinois. In his capacity as buyer for this firm he is called upon to exercise his best ability as a judge of timber, timber lands and the values of both, and his long experience in kindred matters has given him a prestige in timber circles that is of very material value to him.

In addition to his operations in timber and manufacturing, Mr. Ferrell runs a truck farm upon his grandfather's old homestead farm of three hundred and ninety acres, as previously mentioned, and he has a garden and trucking plot of twenty seven and a half acres of valuable land in Jonesboro, a two hundred and sixty acre tract on the river, three hundred and twenty acres in section 14, township 12, the latter being in timber, as well as being the owner of one hundred and twenty acres of land heavily timbered in part and the remainder rich in pottery clay, the latter of which he ships to some extent. Mr. Ferrell is intensely interested in White Leghorn chickens, being the possessor of a handsome flock of these birds, and it is his expectation to soon enter this business extensively with a view to producing eggs for breeding purposes.

During his business career in Jonesboro Mr. Ferrell has gained an enviable reputation as a man of the highest integrity and business ability, as well as a man of extraordinary foresight in placing investments, and a good and public-spirited citizen of Jonesboro. His operations have ever' been along strictly legitimate lines, and whatever enterprises his good name has been connected with have had the fullest confidence of the business men of his community.

Mr. Ferrell is of the opinion that the popular belief or idea that a man is irrevocably handicapped in business life unless he has had the advantages of a generous education, or at least an education of some sort, is vastly over-estimated. He cites his own case as an example of the contrary view of the matter, and admits that he began business life without the ability to even read and write. While he admits that his lack of educational training has been a hindrance, and made some of his successes come harder than might have been the case had he been better equipped along educational lines, still he regards his accomplishments as being far removed from failure, and justly. He believes that if a man takes firm hold upon the old belief "Where there's a will there's a way," he will come very close to realizing the success he might have made with the greatest possible educational equipment, and starting life as he did, with only his indomitable will to win and his splendid inherent ability to back him in the struggle, Mr. Ferrell has certainly demonstrated his proposition in a most thorough manner.

In 1900 Mr. Ferrell was married to Miss Lela Lewis, a daughter of James A. and Anna (McNeely) Lewis, a native of Union county. Four children have been born to them, all of whom are under the shelter of the parental roof. They are Mabel, Selma, Carl and Lela.

Extracted 13 Nov 2018 by Norma Hass from 1912 A History of Southern Illinois, volume 3, pages 1183-1185.

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