Sylvester Allen Ballou was born October 19, 1828, in Galway, Saratoga County, New York. Sylvester’s father was Isaac Albee Ballou, a descendant of Maturin Ballou, one of the founders of Rhode Island. His mother was Hannah Allen, a descendant of Ethan Allen.
The Ballou family moved to Brecksville, Ohio, in 1832 where Sylvester became a journeyman shoemaker at the age of 14, working in his father’s cobbler shop and tannery until the age of 20.
Although he had little formal education, he read assiduously and taught school from in 1848 and 1849 in Newburg, Ohio. Here he may have met his cousin, James A. Garfield.
Sylvester then traveled with his brother Volney to California in 1850 to seek his fortune, enduring a seven-month voyage around Cape Horn. He settled first in Cold Springs, Eldorado County, where he mined for about a year. Sylvester quickly became one of the leading citizens and served as foreman of the grand jury and clerk of the Democratic Central Committee.
Sylvester founded a Lyceum and the first public library in California in 1853 and was active in the Sons of Temperance. He was elected as a representative to the California State Assembly in 1853 from El Dorado County and was appointed as Chairman to the committee that recommended that Sacramento be the state capital.
Sylvester traveled to his father’s new home in Naperville in 1854, but returned to California in 1855 with his brother, Orlando. They began prospecting and packing supplies to the miner’s camps along the Feather River near Quincy. In 1857, he became the first teacher in Plumas County in the Pioneer school there.
In 1858, Sylvester was elected for a second time as a Representative to the California Assembly and was considered an effective orator and the best parliamentarian. In 1859, he was elected to the California Senate and served for one year. He was the author of many articles published in the newspapers.
He returned to Illinois in 1861 and joined the Union Army, serving as a Captain in Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee in the Department of Subsistence, a forerunner of the Quartermaster Corps. At the end of the war, he was appointed as Chief Commissary of the Army for California.
Sylvester returned to Naperville and married Julia Hills Barnard (daughter of Algernon Sidney Barnard) May 17, 1865, and immediately returned to California with his new bride.
Sylvester again returned to Naperville in 1866. He and Julia became the parents of one son, Raymond Barnard, in 1867. Julia died of pneumonia on September 17, 1869.
Sylvester went to work for the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway Company in 1871, spending much of his time in Kansas and the Indian Territory. He returned to Naperville and married Elizabeth A. Norton January 12, 1875, and they were the parents of four children, Alice Rae (wife of Wilson Lemuel Hobgood), Edith J. (wife of Colin Martin Higgins), Ralph Norton and Mary Eloise (wife of Bernard Christian Beckman).
In 1879, Sylvester followed several other Naperville residents to Leadville, Colorado, to try his hand again as a miner. Unsuccessful, he returned to the Naperville farm located along the DuPage River, south of 75th Street. He served as Naperville’s Postmaster from 1889 to 1893 and again from 1897 to 1899.
He was a member of Euclid Lodge No. 65, A.F. & A.M., Euclid Chapter No. 13, R.A.M. and Walter Blanchard Post 386, G.A.R.
Sylvester Allan Ballou died April 8, 1899, in Naperville, DuPage County, Illinois, and was buried in the Naperville Cemetery with Rev. Harvey V. Tull of the Congregational Church performing the religious funeral services and the members of the Grand Army of the Republic and the Masonic Lodge, each performing their unique and simple funeral rites.
Originally published in the December 2022 print edition of PN.