No history of Greene county would be complete without the life record of George W. Harper. He has passed the seventieth milestone on life's journey and has witnessed much of the remarkable advance which this country made through the nineteenth century. He has lived to witness the dawning of a new century of prosperity and progress, and yet takes a deep interest in all that pertains to the national welfare and to local improvement. He was a friend of Abraham Lincoln in early life and has known many other prominent men of this and other states. He has been a very important factor in the business development of this section of Ohio, and as the years have passed he has prospered in his undertakings until now he is numbered among the men of affluence in his community. Honored and respected by all, there is no man in Cedarville or Greene county who occupies a higher place in public regard, not only by reason of this splendid success, but also because of the honorable, straightforward business policy he has ever followed.
George W. Harper was bom in Ross township, this county, on the 30th of May, 1825, and comes of a family of English origin. His paternal grandfather, John Harper, was born in Virginia, near Harper's Ferry, and it was in honor of this family that Harper's Ferry was named. During the early days the ferry was owned by Thomas Harper, a brother of John, who operated a boat at that point for many years. John Harper was a loyal defender of the cause of liberty at the time of the Revolutionary war, and carried his musket over many a field where the battle waged, contributing his share to the brilliant victory wliich crowned the American amis. Leaving the Atlantic coast he made his way inland to Ohio, and became one of the honored pioneer settlers of Greene county, his last days being passed upon the old home farm in Ross township. He purchased there a large tract of land which was afterward divided among his children. He died at an advanced age and was laid to rest in a cemetery of Ross township.
Thomas Harper, the father of our subject, was born at Harper's Ferry, a large part of the property there being then owned by his uncle Thomas, for whom he was named. He came to Ohio about 1812 and located in Ross township. where he engaged in farming and stock-raising. The land which he purchased was a raw tract, but he improved it, transforming it into a farm of rich fertility. By judicious investment of his capital he became the owner of fifteen hundred acres, and in addition to its cultivation he successfully engaged in the raising of hogs and cattle on an extensive scale, He married Mary Sirlotte, a native of Maryland, and a daughter of George and Elizabeth Sirlotte, who were probably natives of Maryland. and trace their ancestry back to France. Thomas Harper lived to the age of eighty-one years, passing away in 1882. In his religious faith he was a Methodist and in his political views was a Democrat. His wife died upon the home farm in Ross township, in 1872, at the age of seventy-one years. She, too, was a member of the Methodist church during the greater part of her life, and her earnest Christian character left its impress upon the lives of her children, The remains of Mr. and Mrs. Harper were interred in Blackson's cemetery in Clark county. In their family were five children, George W. Harper being the eldest of the three surviving members.
Until twentyone years of age Mr. Harper, of this review, remained upon the old homestead. He attended the common schools of the township, also select schools in Xenia. and later becaine a student at Greene Plains. After attaining his majority, he turned his attention to the cattle business, buying cattle in both Illinois and Indiana, and driving them through to Lancaster, Ohio, and Philadelphia, where he sold them in the market. This was before the era of railroads in the west and the long journey was accomplishcd on foot, He also crossed the Alleghany Mountains several times before a railroad had been built across that chain. He finally extended his operations as far west as Springfield, Illinois, driving cattle through from that point to Philadelphia. While in the former city he boarded in the same house with Abraham Lincoln, whose acquaintance he formed and with whom he formed ties of friendship. Mr. Harper now recalls many entertaining reminiscences connected with their acquaintance. He continued in the cattle business for five or six years, after which he purchased some farm lands in Greene and Clark counties. He there bought and bred cattle and shipped them to the markets after fattening them. He still owns his original homestead, which lies largely in Ross township. Greene county, consisting of about one thousand acres. He continued to successfully deal in cattle until his removal to Cedarville in 1865. Here he engaged in the banking business for ten or twelve vears and was the chief mover in the establishment of the bank, which opened its doors for business in 1888 and soon was placed on a safe financial basis which brought to it many patrons, Mr. Harper continued as its president until about three years ago, when he withdrew in order to lead a retired life. He is not engaged in any active business pursuits at the present time, save the supervision of his property interests. Since removing to Cedarville he has always managed his large farming property from this point. He has at present seventeen hundred acres of valuable land, while his wife has seven hundred and seventy-five acres. He also owns about two thousand acres in Missouri, most of which is grazing land. Mr. Harper has carefully controlled his business affairs and his sound judgment, business foresigbt and enterprise have been the strong features in his remarkably successful career. He has erected a number of fine buildings in Cedarville, including his own residence, a handsome brick structure, and has thus contributed to the improvement of the town.
In 1860 Mr. Harper was united in marriage to Miss Vinna M. Murray, a daughter of George Murray, of South Charleston. Ohio, an extensive and prominent farmer who died about twenty years ago. In his political views Mr. Harper was formerly a Democrat, but is now a Populist. He served as a member of the city council of Cedarville for a number of years, and was the Democratic candidate for state senator on one occasion, but he never sought office, preferring tn devote his care and attention to his business affairs. He belongs to the Methodist church and is and has been for many years one of its trustees. For more than forty years he and his wife have traveled life's journey together, and throughout the long period their home has ever been hospitably open for the reception of their many friends. Mr. Harper is a man of strong purpose, of unfaltering determination in the execution of business projects, and his success is attributable to his own efforts. He has a very wide acquaintance throughout this portion of the atate and is held in the highest regard by all with whom he has come in contact.
From History of Greene County, Ohio, by George F. Robinson (S. J. Clarke Publishing Co, 1902)
GEORGE W. HARPER, President of the Bank of Cedarville, Greene County, was the chief mover in the establishment of this institution which was started in 1888, and which is already doing an extensive business. It is the only bank in the village and deals in exchange, loans and discounts, also making collections throughout the United States and having correspondence with New York and Cincinnati. Mr. HARPER is one of the prominent men of this county and by his enterprise and liberality has largely aided its growth and prosperity. There are many interesting events connected with his life and antecedents which are well worth preserving to the family.
The subject of this notice was born May 30, 1825, on Massey’s Creek, near Selma, this county, and has spent his entire life in the place of his birth. He took up his abode in Cedarville in 1865, and is now the owner of a number of fine farms in this vicinity, all of which property he has gathered together by his own exertions. He was the third in a family of five children, the offspring of Thomas and Mary (SURLAT) HARPER, who were natives respectively of Virginia and Maryland. The paternal grandfather was John HARPER after whom Harper’s Ferry, Va., was named. The ferry during the early days was owned by his brother Thomas, who operated a boat at that point many years prior to his death.
Grandfather HARPER was a stern old patriot and carried a musket in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He came to this county in the pioneer days and spent the closing years of his life in Ross Township, Greene County, Ohio. On his mother’s side the grandparents of our subject were George and Elizabeth SURLAT, whom it is probable were natives of Maryland and who traced their ancestry to France. The HARPERS are of Welsh extraction.
George W. remained under the parental roof until a youth of eighteen years and had, even at that early age, evinced more than ordinary business capacity. He now proceeded to Indiana on an enterprise of his own and purchasing a lot of cattle, drove them to Lancaster, Pa., where he sold them at a good profit. He repeated the experiment with like success and finally extended his operations as far as Springfield, Ill., driving cattle through from that point to Philadelphia, Pa. In the meantime when in Springfield, he boarded in the same house with Abraham Lincoln, whose acquaintance he formed and with whom he became upon terms of friendship. Mr. HARPER recalls many incidents connected with that acquaintance, remembering the martyred President as a man of most kindly impulses and one whose genuine goodness of heart was recognized by all.
Young HARPER continued in the cattle trade for about eight years and then commenced buying land in this county. He had in the meantime purchased land warrants for eighteen hundred acres in Illinois and sold this at a good profit. He is now the owner of twelve hundred acres in this State the greater part of which is in Greene County, and he has twenty-five hundred acres in Missouri which is well improved. He has always been warmly interested in the development of his town and county and has put up a number of fine buildings in Cedarville, including his residence—a handsome modern structure, set in the midst of ample grounds and which forms one of the attractive features of that town. This is a brick structure, 40x60 feet in dimensions, two stories in height and finely finished within and without. It was completed in the fall of 1880.
Mr. HARPER was married September 18, 1860, in South Charleston, Ohio, to Miss Vinna M. MURRAY. Mrs. HARPER was born in 1834, in South Charleston, and is a daughter of George and Lovina MURRAY, who were natives of New York and Kentucky, and both are deceased, having died in South Charleston. She is a lady of fine appearance and strong character and in all respects the suitable partner of such a man as her husband; they have no children. Both Mr. and Mrs. HARPER are members in good standing of the Methodist Church, to which they contribute a generous support. Mr. HARPER cast his first Presidential vote for Gen. Taylor and since becoming a voting citizen has steadfastly maintained his adherence to the Democratic party. He has been quite prominent in local affairs and was at one time the nominee of his party for State Treasurer, besides other minor offices. The party being in the minority, he suffered defeat as he expected.
Portrait and Biographical Album of Clark and Greene Counties, Chapman Bros., Chicago, published 1890