Robert Luckett Burchell (1846-1934)
Margaret (Jones) Burchell (1847-1910)
It would be impossible to tell the story of Erie without including the lives of Robert and Margaret Burchell. From their businesses in Erie to their civic activities, they devoted themselves to the community. Robert Shoecraft wrote this biography of his ancestors. It is reprinted with permission from his website Bob Shoecraft's Genealogy.
Robert Luckett Burchell was born in Columbus City, IA, in 1846. He was educated in Oregon, IL, and nearby Mt. Morris, after his parents left Iowa to settle down in Oregon. After finishing his schooling, he became a store clerk in Oregon, then clerked in Franklin Grove and in Dixon, IL. He was united in marriage to Margeret Victoria Jones in Chicago on November 18th, 1866. She was the daughter of Augustus and Mary Jones and was born on November 18, 1847, in New York State.
In 1868 Robert L. Burchell, with his wife as helper, opened a small dry goods store in Erie, IL, with a small cash capital. The business prospered, and 15 years later, it consisted of three stores connected -- a dry goods department, a grocery department, and a men's clothing department. Burchell's Store lasted for nearly 60 years.
Robert Lucket and Margaret Victoria Burchell had eight children, Edith, Robert C., Mary Jane, George, Ruth, Morris, Marguerite and Kenneth. Edith, Morris and Kenneth died before maturity.
In 1870 Robert L. Burchell became postmaster, a job he held for many years. He was also chairman of the board of supervisors for a number of years. He opened a creamery around 1875 and by 1884 was manufacturing about 100,000 lbs. of butter a year. In 1883 he was village treasurer and school treasurer. He operated a private bank, called the Burchell Bank, which became the First National Bank of Erie in 1903. He was a charter member of the Erie Masonic Lodge AF&AM. The Burchell Produce business prospered so much that chickens, ducks and geese by the thousands were shipped to Chicago for distribution.
The Burchells established a home on Oakenwall Avenue in Chicago as a part-time residence. Marshall Field, a pioneer Chicago merchant, offered to loan Robert L. Burchell the money to build a store in downtown Chiago, but he decided against the venture. He wanted to be with his family more than his business allowd him and he took his wife and children to California, to Florida and to other wonderful vacations.
All his investments prospered. He bought two farms, and took special pride in the first one bought, which had 400 acres of black soil, which he owned for many years. He was a strong Republican, and was a delegate to the Roosevelt Progressive Convention when Theodore Roosevelt bolted the Republican Party. He never ran for office although he was asked to many times.
The Burchell store had the first telephone in Erie and it was quite an attraction and oddity. The Burchell homestead had indoor plumbing long before most other homes in Erie. It had its own water system and its own sewer system with a huge septic tank. The first gas lights and gas stove was installed in the Burchell home with a gas manufacturing plant in the basement. The residence was almost like a small farm with its huge garden, chicken yard, barn, cows and ice house. During the winter months, ice was cut from the Rock River and stored in the big ice house for use in Burchell's grocery store and at the homestead. The family always had fresh eggs, fresh milk and cream and a big ice box, full of ice and excellent food. The Burchell grocery had fine foods, fresh meats, oysters in season and top brands of canned goods.
Margaret Victoria Burchell originated the Erie Woman's Club, which did many things to make Eirie a better place in which to live. She dominated the Club for years and it raised a lot of money for such things as beautification of the Erie Cemetery, creation of some parks, etc.
One of the interesting sidelines of Robert L. Burchell's ventures was Burchell's Hall above the big store building he constructed. This became a theater and dance hall and some well-known actors and actresses performed in his theater and people came from miles around for the shows held there. Dances attracted big crowd, too, with the best orchestras hired.
Robert L. Burchall had thousands of friends, some costing him a lot of money because of his easy credit program in his store. He was a genial happy man, with a great personality and considerable knowledge in many fields. He never smoked and seldom had even one highball. He loved good food, liked blue serge suits, but hated to buy clothes for himself. He loved to spend money on his family and on his home, he liked to travel, and enjoyed good cars, but kept each one for a long time.
Through the years he employed hundreds of people who found him an easy boss, seldom cross. Some worked for him for years and years. He taught his employees a lot and some left him and became quite successful.
An obituary published at the time of Mr. Burchell's death reads as follows:
Beloved Gentleman Had
Been Resident of
Erie 60 Years
The funeral of Robert L. Burchell, father of Mrs. George B. Shaw of Dixon, prominent banker-merchant and beloved gentleman of Erie, Whiteside County, for over 60 years, who died Tuesday noon after a ten day's illness with pneumonia, will be held at his home tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 o'clock with burial in the Erie Cemetery.
Robert L. Burchell was born May 31, 1847, in Columbus City, IA, one of a family of six children, all of whom preceded him in death. His father, Robert C. Burchell, was a native of Virginia and a member of the legal profession. His mother was a native of Indiana. The family went from the east to Columbus City, IA, in the year 1850 and five years later moved to Oregon, where the father had a large legal practice.
After completing his education in the Mt. Morris schools, Mr. Burchell took his initial step in the business world as a clerk for a period of three years. He was united in marriage to Miss Margaret V. Jones on November 18, 1856, in Chicago, and two years afterwards opened a general store in Erie. Until 1928 Mr. Burchell conducted the Erie store, extending over a period of more than 60 years. People from miles around came to trade at Burchell's store, which was a leading business establishment in the county.
Prominent in Community
Mr. Burchell was a charter member of the Erie Masonic Lodge, a charter member of the Sterling Commandery and was a Thirty-Second Degree Mason. Throughout his lifetime spent in Erie he was prominent and active in all affairs pertaining to civic interest and benefit. In 1970 he was appointed postmaster in Erie, which office he held for a number of years. He organized the First National Bank of Erie and was president for 28 years. Mr. Burchell served as supervisor of Erie Township and was chairman of the County Board of Supervisors during two terms. Mrs. Burchell passed away October 7, 1910.
Two sons and three daughters survive their father. They are Robert C. Burchell of LaGrange, George Burchell of Davenport, IA, Mrs. L.M. Shoecraft of Erie, Mrs. George Shaw of Dixon, and Mrs. Fred Warner of Beverly Hills, California.