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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Naperville’s first mayor


James Joseph Heister Hunt was born Aug. 19, 1821, in Evansburgh, Crawford County, Pennsylvania, the son of Nelson James Hunt and Sarah Jewell.

James J. Hunt

He married Nancy Converse on Sept. 28, 1843, in Waterford, Erie County, Pennsylvania, and they were the parents of George Nelson, Frank William, Charles Clark, James Everett, Sarah Maria, Julia Emma, Julius Converse, Eva Ellsworth and one infant.

Nancy died August 12, 1872, in Colorado where she had gone for her health. James then married Lucia Anna Davis on Sept. 3, 1874, from which union there were no children.

James first learned the blacksmith trade in Pennsylvania. Then after moving to Naperville in 1844, he worked for a plow shop.

From 1846 to 1861, he operated his own blacksmith shop at the northwest corner of Washington Street and Van Buren Avenue. James then converted the shop into a hardware store which he operated with his sons, Frank and Charles, until his retirement in 1893.

The Masonic Lodge met on the second floor of the hardware store from 1865 until 1868. Afterward, the Naperville Clarion located there.

He served as a Major in the Pennsylvania Militia while a resident of that state. When news that the rebel forces had taken Cairo, Illinois, James recruited a full company of men, serving as Captain of Company K of the 13th Illinois Infantry which he then turned over to Walter Blanchard to command.

James Hunt served Naperville as a Village Trustee in 1862, as Village President in 1877 and 1878, and as the first Mayor of Naperville in 1890.

He also served as Sheriff, Justice of the Peace and as Police Magistrate for 30 years.

James was one of the earliest members of Euclid Lodge No. 65 and went on to serve as Master of the Lodge for a record eight times spanning 47 years. He was instrumental in keeping the Lodge alive during the Civil War years of 1863 and 1864 when no officers were elected and only five meetings were held because so many of the members were serving in the war.

James also was one of the earliest members Euclid Chapter No. 13 and served as High Priest a record 15 times from 1858 to 1884.

James J. H. Hunt grave marker in Naperville Cemetery. (Photo courtesy Tim Ory)

He was one of the most prominent and respected residents of Naperville when he died February 7, 1905, in Naperville.

Members of the Lodge served as his pall bearers performing the simple Masonic Funeral ritual.

James was buried in the Naperville Cemetery.

Editor’s Update / After PN reader inquiries, Tim Ory provided information that James J. H. Hunt is buried in Section 1, Lot 80 of the Naperville Cemetery.  The grave marker is very close to Washington street at the south side of the cemetery. Ory also provided a photo of the monument.

There is no “Masonic” section in Naperville Cemetery like in some other cemeteries around the country, Ory said. Members of the Fraternity are located in every section, with approximately 500 at last count.

Ory added that The Temple Association is in the process of having Joe Naper’s grave marker corrected. The date of death listed for Naperville’s namesake is incorrect. It shows as August 17, 1862.

“We are hoping that the work will be complete by August 23, 2022, the 160th anniversary of his death,” Ory said.

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Tim Ory
Tim Ory
Tim Ory is a fifth-generation Naperville native, descended from Francois Sebastien Ory, who immigrated to America from Alsace Lorraine, France, in 1844. Signing off as "Tim Ory, Historian, Euclid Lodge No. 65 Ancient Free & Accepted Masons," Tim adds that he continues to research the History of the Masonic Lodge and Naperville every day. Contact him at tjory@sbcglobal.net.

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