Also see [Railway Officials in America 1906]
The grandfather of the subject of this biography, Gilbert N. Watkins, when the war of the Revolution opened,
was living in Massachusetts. He took up arms -to defend the patriot cause, received a commission as Captain signed
by John Hancock and was assigned to report to Gen. Gates. He served through the whole war, a period of seven years
and six months, and was one of those who signed a receipt for the full amount of pay without receiving it. He was
afterward offered a land warrant but refused it, and before his death made a codicil to his will enjoining his
heirs from receiving any bounty or pension from the Goverment, on pain of being deprived of other benefits of the
will. After the close of the war, Gilbert N. Watkins and his wife, Sarah, settled in Tompkins County, N. Y. There
the former died in 1827. His wife survived, and emigrated to Michgan. Esther, the fourth child of this couple,
was married in 1814 to Titus R. Read, a native of Peru, Mass. He was a soldier, and worthy of the daughter of so
gallant and patriotic a man of arms as Gilbert N. Watkins. Mr. Read served in the war of 1812 as a First Lieutenant,
being wounded at the battle of Queenstown. He was one of the two thirds of the force present who volunteered to
go over the line and, the Captain being killed, led the company.
Sylvador T. Read was born in Tompkins County, N. Y., January 12, 1822, and was the third child and first son of
Titus R. and Esther (Watkins) Read. The family removed to Erie County, Penn., and from thence, in 1831, to Michigan.
While they were passing through Ashtabula County. Ohio, Mrs. Read was taken sick and died. The bereaved husband
journeyed on to Michigan and located in Leonidas, St. Joseph County. He subsequently removed to Volinia, Cass County,
and put out a nursery on Little Prairie Ronde, grafting improved stock upon the roots of crab apple trees. He was
doubtless the first man in the county who undertook this method of fruit propagation. He was a resident of Cass
County until his death, which occurred January 6, 1863, when he was in his seventy third year.
But to return to the immediate subject of our sketch. Sylvador T. Read, upon the death of his mother, returned
to New York, and for a short period lived in Ontario County. In 1832, he came to Michigan with his grandmother
and uncle, Nathan G. Watkins. Subsequently he went to school for three years in Erie County, Penn., and there became
acquainted with the lady who was to be his wife- Rhoda A. Hayden. They were married in 1843, and the same year
settled in Calvin Township, where Mr. Read, who had several times passed through the county, had bought land. Farming
was for a number of years Mr. Read's chief occupation, but he also followed "breaking" as a regular business,
and guided the great plow, weighing 500 pounds, through many acres of Cass County grubs. He dealt largely in horses
and cattle and other live stock. In 1848, he took a large drove of cattle to Chicago, and in the following year
drove a fine lot of horses to Oswego, N. Y. These were the first horses raised in Cass County which went to an
outside market. In 1854, he drove a herd of cattle, consisting of over a hundred head, to California, and disposed
of them to good advantage. In 1855, he returned, located in Cassopolis and immediately went into business. His
first stand was in the building latterly known as the Davis restaurant. He rented this of Maj. Joseph Smith, bought
the store fixtures, put in a new stock of goods. Four years later, he moved to the store now occupied by Mr. French
as a wareroom, and there remained until January, 1870, when he sold out to Orson Rudd and W. W. McIlvain. In August,
1871, he opened his present store in company with John Yost. In addition to his other business, Mr. Read carried
on extensively for about fifteen years, subsequent to 1857, the shipping of cattle, sheep and hogs to New York,
and he built for that purpose a shipping yard at Dowagiac.
Large as Mr. Read's private business has been, it has not claimed all of his attention or activity. To him Cassopolis
and Cass County are indebted beyond any doubt for the Grand Trunk Railroad, a brief history of which is given in
a chapter of this work. It was he who first suggested to the President of the Canadian Railway, which had its terminus
at Port Huron, the scheme of crossing the Michigan Peninsula and reaching Chicago, and it was due almost entirely
to Mr. Read that, when that project was decided upon, the line was run through this county. He gave liberally both
of his time and money to effect that end.
The subject of our sketch has been an earnest and energetic worker in every measure or project in which he has
engaged, and the people, recognizing that quality in his nature, combined with shrewd common sense, have frequently
placed him in positions where his energies might be of value to the public. He has served upon the Cassopolis School
Board for twelve years and as a member of the Council for eight years. Before he took up his residence in the county
seat, he held various offices in the gift of the people of Calvin Township. While taking a deep interest in political
affairs, he has never been an aspirant for political office. The office of Sheriff might easily have been his at
one time had he not refused the nomination, and various other positions of honor and trust would have been given
to him had he cared to accept them. His political affiliations have been with the Abolitionist and Republican parties.
Mr. Read has been associated with the Presbyterian Church for forty-two years, and is a member of the organization
of that denomination in Cassopolis.
We have already mentioned the fact that Mr. Read was married in 1843 to Rhoda A. Hayden. Their children are Helen
Jane (Mrs. W. W. McIlvain), Ophelia A. (Mrs. Orlando Phelps), Martha (deceased), Sarah I. (Mrs. H. D. Smith), Frank
(deceased), and Nettie N.
History of Cass Couny, Michigan
With Illistrations and Biographical Sketches
of some of it's Prominent Men and Pioneers.
Waterman, Watkins & Co., Chicago 1882.