ERNST G. GEHLMAN. - This is a utilitarian age where interest centers in business activity, progress being conserved by the enterprise and energy of those who are factors in industrial, commercial and professional life. Mr. Gehlman, through his extensive business affairs contributed to the prosperity and upbuilding of Springfield and was quite widely known throughout this state as a contractor of marked skill and unquestioned reliability. He settled in Springfield in 1849, when the city was still in the days of its villagehood. His birth occurred in Mechlenburg, Germany, on the 28th of April, 1827, and his parents, Ernst and Margaret Gehlman, spent their entire lives in that country, where the father followed the cabinetmaker's trade. The subject of this review was reared by his grandparents and pursued his education in the common schools of the fatherland. He afterward learned the trade of cabinet-making with his father and subsequently traveled as a journeyman for three years, working at his trade in various parts of his native country. Subsequently he returned to Mechlenburg, being at that time twenty-one years of age. Had he remained in his native land he would have been forced to enter the army and in consequence of this his grandparents decided to send him to America. Accordingly he took passage on a sailing vessel and after a long voyage landed at New Orleans, whence he proceeded up the Mississippi river and on to Beardstown, Illinois. He walked from that place to Springfield in February, 1849, and cast in his lot with the early residents of this city. Here he began boarding with Dr. Cristler and he attended night school until he had mastered the English language. He then began working at his trade and was largely engaged in making gates for thirteen years. In 1862 he began business on his own account, doing all kinds of contracting, and although he made Springfield his home he executed important contracts throughout the state, being identified with building interests in many of the larger cities of Illinois. He erected the State University at Champaign, Illinois, which he completed in 1873 at a cost of two hundred thousand dollars. He built the large bank and business block in Champaign; also the largest business blocks in Chenoa, Illinois, and in Springfield he rebuilt the Opera House in 1879, remodeled and rebuilt the St. Nicholas Hotel in 1880 and built the Pasfield Block in 1881. He also erected the residences of Bluford Wilson and many others and built the home of Congressman B. F. Caldwell, of Curran township. It was his custom to rise early in the morning, breakfasting at six o'clock, and he devoted the hours of a long day to his business, carefully superintending the construction work. He lived up the very letter and spirit of the contract and his reliability and honorable dealings stood as unquestioned facts in his career. As the years advanced he built upon an extensive business and became one of the well-to-do citizens of Springfield.
Mr. Gehlman was married twice. In 1850 he wedded Miss Mary C. Sidener, a daughter of Samuel Sidener, of Kentucky. She died in 1865, leaving three children: Samuel Henry, who married Jeanette Lasswell and is engaged in the real estate business in Springfield; George S., who married Ada Gourley and is a carpenter of Waukegan, Illinois; and Charles Ernst, who married Anna Butler and is engaged in the livery business on Seventh street in Springfield. In 1866 Mr. Gehlman married Miss Martha J. Gourley, who was born in Springfield, November 29, 1837, a daughter of James and Lucy Ann (Pogue) Gourley, the latter a native of North Carolina and the former of Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania. Mr. Gourley came to Springfield at a very early day. For many years he was a shoe merchant, but at length retired from active business life. He died at the age of sixty-six years and his wife also passed away in Springfield. Five children were born unto Mr. Gehlman by his second marriage: Frederick, who is an extensive contractor and resides with his mother; Francis Taylor; Ernst G.; Alice Evans; and Louis Walker. The last named married Lillian Wood and he is engaged in carpentering in Springfield.
Mr. Gehlman in his political affiliations was a stanch Republican and fraternally was connected with the Masonic order, having been initiated into the craft in 1853. He took much interest in the lodge and attained the Knight Templar degree in masonry. Both he and his wife held membership in the Second Presbyterian church. His life was an active and honorable one, characterized by all that is commendable in man's dealings with his fellow men. He erected the residence in which Mrs. Gehlman and her children reside, the home being located at No. 231 East Jackson street, in Springfield.