Biography - D. Gow

D. GOW, fruit and vegetable grower, P. O. Cobden. Among the many men who have done much to develop the resources of this county in its fruit and vegetable industries, none have done more than the subject of this sketch, not only in advancing new theories, but by putting these theories, which originated in his brain, into profitable practice. He was born in the county of Midlothian, Scotland, eleven miles east of Edinburgh, February 15, 1825, to D. and Margaret (Black) Gow. They were both born in the near neighborhood, and died in the same county. She died in 1832 of cholera; he in 1876, at the age of eighty-three years. He was twice married. By the first wife, the mother of our subject, there were three sons and one daughter, and by the second marriage two sons and two daughters. His occupation was always that of a fruit-raiser, and till after his family by first wife was nearly grown he only had ten acres of land to cultivate, but afterward procured nine acres more, and still later twenty-one acres additional, so at the time of his death he was cultivating forty acres. His main crop was that of strawberries, and for years he was the largest producer of strawberries in Scotland. For sixty years previous to his death, he had lived on the same place as a tenant of the Earl of Stair. So our subject was reared in a garden, and received instruction which has not only been useful to himself, but to all who come in contact with him who are interested in the same business. He received his education in the common schools of his native land, and for one year read law in the city of Edinburgh, but not liking the profession he gave it up and returned to the farm. In 1850, he accompanied his brother John to America, but did not expect to stay only for a short time. During: the remainder of the year 1850, he worked at the carpenter's bench, and by that time his business prospects in the old country changed, so he decided to remain in this country. So he and his brother engaged in the fruit culture in New Jersey in 1851. In the winter of 1855-56, he came to this county, but his brother still remained in New Jersey and bought a farm near the one they had been renting, paying $3,000 for it. In a few years, he sold the farm to the railroad company for $40,000; then bought another near Wilmington, Del., and there died. In 1856, our subject embarked in the vegetable business in Anna. He boarded in Jonesboro, but had his hot-beds in Anna, near the present residence of Mr. Lufkin. These hot-beds were, indeed, curiosities, for the like had never been known in Union County, and to see plants growing there when the ground was covered with snow was wonderful. That year Mr. Gow experimented on different products to see which was best adapted, and which could be grown to best advantage. Tomatoes proved to be the most profitable. The first that he shipped, and probably the first ever sent from the county, was June 8, 1856, and sold at $1 per dozen in Chicago. But a difficulty arose, for there were no fruit commission houses then in Chicago to ship to; but to obviate this trouble, Mr. Grow taught his men when and how to gather, pack and ship, and he went to Chicago to attend to the selling himself. Mr. Drake, of the Grand Pacific, was then steward in the Tremont House, and was Mr. G.'s best customer. During his second year as a shipper to Chicago, a discussion arose in some of the papers about his lettuce. One called it Democratic lettuce, thinking that no other kind could be grown in Southern Illinois, but a friend of Mr. Gow contradicted the statement in another paper, so to settle it they wrote to our subject to find out which was right. Of course he sustained the contradiction. During the shipping season of 1857, he had his private express car run from Anna to Chicago by passenger train, for which he paid $90 per car, including free pass for his agent in charge of it. He continued in business at Anna for three seasons, then came to Cobden, and, in the fall of 1858, was appointed express agent. In 1859, out of his own means, he built the present freight house here, on a guarantee that the railroad would make Cobden a regular station instead of a flag station, and that they should pay him back the money expended in building the depot in two years without interest. Mr. Gow was the first station agent at Cobden. He continued for about one year, then bought his present farm in 1861, and has made it his home since. During the war of the rebellion, he was Deputy Provost Marshal in this district. Our subject not only introduced vegetable growing in this county, but was also the first to use fertilizers, and did the first underground draining in the county. In 1856, he presented the first car-load of stable manure ever presented to the Illinois Central Railroad for shipment. This car-load was taken up from the mines at Duquoin, and dumped into a car and brought to Anna. He then procured manure from the stables at Cairo till they began in the vegetable business, and kept it all at home. He then again received it from Duquoin, but soon that failed for like reason, so he had to think of some other plan, and that is this: He has made arrangements with the railroad companies to carry the manure at three-fourths cents per ton per mile, and in this way can procure an inexhaustible supply from St. Louis, and within the past six months has brought to this station about fifty car-loads of splendid stable manure, eighteen of which have been applied on his own farm. An ordinance has been passed by the authorities of St. Louis to permit our subject to build a spur to the railroad track of sufficient length to hold five cars on which he can load the manure. This ability to obtain an abundant supply of stable manure from highly-fed animals at so cheap a rate, costing only about 60 cents per two-horse load at Cobden Station, may be regarded as the crowning effort of his indefatigable energy, and is certainly the source of greater prosperity to fruit and vegetable growers than has yet been devised. Mr. Gow was the originator of the present system of shipping together at car-load rates to Chicago, and the first rates of $50 per car were made to him individually on tomatoes. He was also one of the prime movers in organizing the present system of shipping in refrigerator cars.

Extracted 26 Apr 2020 by Norma Hass from 1883 History of Alexander, Union, and Pulaski Counties, Illinois, Part V, pages 127-129.

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