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  • Dale C. Maley

Dr. Lewis delivered many babies




Dr. George C. Lewis was a Fairbury physician from 1883 until 1911, and he delivered 1,000 new babies during his 28 years of practice.


The story of the Dr. George C. Lewis family began with the birth of Henry Lewis (1640-1688) in Narberth, Wales, in 1640. Henry Lewis married Margaret Protherah in Wales. Henry and Margaret Lewis were Quakers.


Members of the Quaker faith were persecuted for their religious beliefs in Great Britain in that era. William Penn, who the state of Pennsylvania is named after, was a Quaker spiritual leader. Mr. Penn came to America to establish a colony where people could enjoy religious freedom. The settlement became a haven for minority religious sects from Germany, Holland, Scandinavia, and Great Britain.


When William Penn sailed to America in 1862, Henry and Margaret Lewis sailed with him on the same ship. Henry and Margaret Lewis settled in what is now the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, area. Henry Lewis was the foreman of the first grand jury in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Henry and Margaret Lewis were the fourth great-grandparents of Dr. George Lewis.


The Lewis family remained in the Philadelphia area for several generations. Family members fought in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Joseph Lewis (1769-1853), grandparent of Dr. George Lewis, emigrated from Philadelphia to Bethel, Ohio. Joseph Lewis married Rachel Canby (1768-1852), and they both lived and died in Ohio. Bethel is a village about 30 miles southeast of Cincinnati.


One of the sons of Joseph and Rachel Lewis was William Lewis. He was born in 1806 in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and emigrated to Bethel, Ohio, with his parents. William married Nancy Crawford (1809-1891). Nancy was also born in Pennsylvania. They had a large family.


One of the children of William and Mary Lewis was George Canby Lewis, born in 1856 in Holms County, Ohio. George's middle name was his paternal grandmother's maiden name. George attended local schools, then went to OhioWesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in the Class of 1880. George was 24 when he finished college.


After finishing his undergraduate degree, George started to attend medical lectures at Columbus Medical College. He then enrolled at the BellevueHospital MedicalCollege in New York City. The Bellevue Hospital MedicalCollege was founded in 1861 and was the first medical college in New York with connections to a hospital. George graduated with the Class of 1883. Dr. George C. Lewis then moved to Fairbury and started his 28-year medical practice.


On May 16, 1883, Dr. George C. Lewis married Ella Beach in Fairbury. Dr. Lewis was 26, and Ella was 21 when they married. Ella Beach was the daughter of Thomas A. Beach. Thomas A. Beach was a businessman and banker in Fairbury. In 1872, Thomas A. Beach had his home at 402 E. Hickory built. The house is an example of Italianate architecture and is often called the "Lion House" because of the two concrete lions in the front yard. Jack Tollensdorf refurbished the home and was responsible for adding the house to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The Thomas A. Beach family also had their mausoleum built in GracelandCemetery. Thomas A. Beach was Fairbury's wealthiest citizen, and his net worth when he died in 1911 exceeded $50 million.


Dr. George Lewis and his wife Ella had three children. Thomas Beach Lewis was born in 1884. Daughter Amelia Beach "Mamie" Lewis was born in 1886. Daughter Alma Eloise Lewis was born in 1899.


Thomas Beach Lewis graduated with the Class of 1902 at Fairbury TownshipHigh School. Thomas B. Lewis then attended NorthwesternUniversity for two years. Thomas B. Lewis decided to become a lawyer and graduated in 1909 from the University of Illinois law school. He became a lawyer for the Peoria law firm of King and Boggess. In 1910, Thomas B. Lewis married Miss Jeanette Schmoldt of Beardstown. Thomas B. Lewis and Jeanette Schmoldt were both 25 years of age when they married. They lived in Peoria.


Amelia Beach died in 1910 at the age of 81. Thomas A. Beach died in 1911 at the age of 82. They were both interred in the Beach family mausoleum at Graceland Cemetery. After the deaths of Thomas A. Beach and Amelia Beach, the Dr. George C. Lewis family moved into the Beach Lion House on Hickory Street. Dr. Lewis was a scholarly gentleman, and he possessed an extensive library. Mrs. George Lewis developed the gardens adjoining her home into one of the showplaces of the community.


Dr. George C. Lewis retired in 1911 after practicing medicine in Fairbury for 28 years. When he retired, Dr. Lewis noted that he had delivered about 1,000 babies in Fairbury during his career.


Also, in 1911, Mamie Lewis, daughter of George and Ella Lewis, married Walter C. Ficklin. Walter was 25, and Mamie was 24 when they married. Walter and Mamie Ficklin had four children.


In 1913, Fairbury only had two school buildings. These two buildings were the North and South Side schools. The School Board decided a new high school building was needed. Dr. George Lewis and his wife, Ella, donated land for the Fairbury Township High School and an athletic field. In honor of their donation, the athletic field was named Lewis Field.


In 1914, construction started on the new brick FairburyTownship High School on North Seventh Street. The school was completed in time for the 1914-1915 school year.


Unfortunately, Thomas B. Lewis died in 1915 at the age of 30. In the summer of 1914, he began to experience severe problems with heart disease. After being ill for two months at his Peoria home, he was brought to his parent's home in Fairbury so Dr. Lewis and his wife could care for him. Unfortunately, after eight months of illness, he died at the age of 30 at his parent's home and was interred in the Beach family mausoleum.


After the new high school was placed into service, the other two brick schools were named the North and South Side Schools. Apparently, citizens thought fancier names were needed for these two grade schools. A city-wide naming contest was held in May of 1918. The naming contest winners were Isaac Walton for the North Side School and Edison for the South Side School.


In 1924, Alma Eloise Lewis married Percy C. James. He was 22, and she was 24 when they married. They had five children. Alma Lewis James became a Fairbury historian and wrote several books. Her most famous book about Fairbury history was Stuffed Clubs & Antimacassars, first published in 1967 and revised in 1977.


Dr. George C. Lewis and his wife, Ella Lewis, were involved with several forms of philanthropy. Besides donating land for the new Fairbury TownshipHigh School, they supported medical missionaries in China, Africa, and India. They also contributed money to the IllinoisWesleyan University in Bloomington.


Dr. George C. Lewis died in 1932 at the age of 75. Six boys that Dr. Lewis had delivered as babies were his pallbearers at his funeral. These included Lester Freed, Walter Henning, Louis Brown, John Wessels, Fred Wessels, and Loren Haner. Dr. Lewis was interred in the Beach Family Mausoleum.


According to the 1932 Illinois Wesleyan University Bulletin, during the lifetime of the late Dr. George C. Lewis of Fairbury, Illinois, he and his wife, Mrs. Ella Beach Lewis, long-time friends of the University, gave to the institution lands and securities with a total valuation of $100,000. This gift is ultimately to provide for the endowment of the chair of Biology and the creation of several additional scholarships. Note that $100,000 in 1932 would equal $2,205,165 in today's dollars.


In 1939, Ella Beach Lewis died at the age of 77. The legacy of Dr. George C. Lewis and his wife, Ella Lewis, includes many family descendants spread around the United States. Another form of their legacy is Lewis Field at Prairie CentralHigh School. Dr. Lewis and his wife also helped to preserve the Lion House on East Hickory Street. Because of their generosity, many students at IllinoisWesleyan University benefited from their scholarship fund. Alma Lewis James, daughter of Dr. Lewis and his wife, Ella Lewis, became a Fairbury historian and wrote the Stuffed Clubs & Antimaccassars book, which documents Fairbury's history from its founding in 1857 until 1900.


(Dale Maley's weekly history article on Fairbury News is brought to you by Dr. Charlene & Doug Aaron and can be viewed each Monday here on the website)


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