Washington County Genealogy_PAGenWeb Project_James Neel Biography from BEERS

Washington County PAGenWeb Genealogy Project


James Neel  

Commemorative Biographical Record of Washington County, Pennsylvania
by J. H. Beers & Co.

 Transcribed by Liz DuBois and shared here with permission.

JAMES NEEL (deceased). This gentleman was one of the best-known citizens and prosperous lumbermen of what is now the city of Monongahela. He was a son of Archibald Neel, a very prominent man, a large landowner, who developed coal mines on his land. He resided opposite McKeesport, where his property extended quite a distance, from directly opposite McKeesport down to Lock No.2, on the river. He had a family of six children, of whom two are yet living: Mrs. Oliver and Jordan Neel.

James Neel was born September 25, 1817, in Mifflin township, Allegheny Co., Penn., opposite the town of McKeesport. He attended school during the winter time in an old log building located four miles from the river, and worked on the farm during the summer, having, to quote his own words, "Little of school and lots of plow." At the age of sixteen years he began to learn the carpenter's trade with one William Whigam, and then followed that business for some time in Pittsburgh, Penn. In 1840, in company with his brother John, he embarked in the coal business on the opposite side of the river below McKeesport. He afterward purchased a sawmill at that town, on the present site of Wood's rolling mill, remaining there fifteen years, and afterward, moving to Jefferson county, continued in the same line of business, and also bought thousands of acres of timber lands. He there erected and operated several saw mills, etc., and carefully investing his limited capital, soon amassed a fortune as a lumberman. He then went to the Clarion, and was in partnership with the extensive lumber firm of Blake, Neel & Rodgers, also erecting the planing mill in McKeesport. Prior to 1857 he formed a partnership with John Wampler at McKeesport, but some years later Mr. Wampler withdrew, and in 1870, a partnership was formed by Mr. Neel with William Wampler (a half-brother of his previous partner), which copartnership continued to the end of Mr. Neel's life. In 1870 he also entered into business enterprises at Monongahela City with Maj. Perry A. Foster, and fortune continued to smile on his efforts. After coming to Washington county, however, Mr. Neel lost much money in his investments, through his inability, owing to advanced age, to attend personally to his business affairs. His entire estate is now estimated at about $500,000, accumulated by his untiring energy. For some time he had been afflicted with a cancer in the stomach, and finally submitted to an operation at the St. Francis Hospital, Pittsburgh, which resulted in his death. He passed away July 24, 1892, at the age of seventy-six years, leaving a widow and two children, and was buried in the McKeesport cemetery.

Mr. Neel was thrice married: first to Susan Sampson, of McKeesport, a sister of Kuhn Sampson, who was a resident of Monongahela, and three children were born to them, as follows: Thomas, of Brookville, Jefferson Co., Penn.; Anna, widow of Ross Clark, who was a resident of Coal Centre; and William, deceased, whose widow is now in Brookville, Penn. For his second wife Mr. Neel married Margaret Cochran, of McKeesport, daughter of William Cochran; they had no children. Mr. Neel's' third marriage was on January 29,1857, with Nancy Cochran, who was born December 18, 1833, a daughter of Samuel Cochran, a resident of Indiana county, Penn., the wedding ceremony taking place at Iowa Mills, Penn., Rev. C.L. Cummins officiating. To this union four children were born, as follows: Arabella, who died October 7, 1874, at the age of sixteen years; James H., now a resident of California; Charles C., living in Monongahela, and Nellie, deceased April 26, 1877, at the age of four years.

Of Mr. Neel it may truthfully be said that he was thoroughly self-made, and many a day would he be found, in all weathers, working side by side with his men. Frequently, in order to save his lumber and other property from flood or other danger, he would labor as long as eighteen to twenty hours a day; and on one occasion he remained for hours with his clothing wet and frozen nearly solid. He was at all times an example to his employes of industry and perseverance. He would frequently, with his own hands, raft his logs down the river, riding them over the rapids, an enterprise often accompanied with considerable danger. In those days there was no railroad from Kittanning to Pittsburgh, and many a time Mr. Neel would travel between those places on the old fashioned stage coach, over roads so rough that the travelers would frequently have to alight, and on foot help to hold the old stage coach from tipping over the bluffs. Often, after paying his fare, would Mr. Neel walk, in order to allow some less robust fellow traveler to ride in the vehicle. A man of large and generous heart, he was ever anxious to accommodate others in such and other ways; and not a few now successful business men, who formerly had dealings with him, owe their success largely to the generosity and substantial assistance of Mr. Neel. In the conducting if his affairs he would frequently have to rise at three or four o'clock in the morning and set off down the river in a small skiff, rowing all the way to Pittsburgh; while sometimes he would take passage on one of the larger boats at Red Bank, a place lying between his home and the city. Mr. Neel was of a hearty, jovial disposition, fond of company, but quiet in his enjoyments, at all times speaking in low tones, and he surrounded himself with a multitude of friends. While not a member of any church, he was possessed withal of sterling Christian qualities, believing in deeds rather than in professions. During the later years of his life he was afflicted with partial deafness, which caused him to seek comparative retirement from society. He was of medium height, solidly built, and possessed of great physical strength, his weight while in health being in the neighborhood of 170 pounds. In his political preferences he was a member of the Republican party.

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