Biography of Ara David Sprague
Houston County, MN Biographies

Ara David Sprague, pioneer merchant of Caledonia, was for many years one of the most influential men in the whole county, and his life ana work are an inseparable part of the business, financial, agriculutral, religious, educational, and social life of the community. The Sprague family in America was founded by three brothers, Ralph, Richard and William, of Scotch-Irish blood, who came to America in 1828. Descended from one of these brothers was Asa Sprague. David Sprague, the son of Asa Sprague, moved as a young man from Massachusetts to New York, and there married Anna Cunningham. Of this union was born on January 29, 1824, at Richfield, Otsego county, Ara David Sprague, the subject of this sketch. When eleven years of age, he was taken to Exter, in the same county, and there he was reared to agricultural pursuits. He passed through the district school and was given the advantage of three terms in a select school. At the age of twenty he set out from the parental home with $25 which he had earned during his boyhood, resolved to carve his fortunes. Investing his money in patent medicines, he commenced life as an itinerant vender in western New York, Pennsylvania and several states to the westward. He continued in this business three years, meeting with considerable success. In 1850, he enlarged his business, added a wholesale line of notions, and provided himself with a large wagon and four horses. However, just as his business was being put on a substantial basis, he was taken with severe attacks of inflammatory rheumatism which rendered him, practically helpless for two years, during which he expended his entire savings and some $600 in addition. Facing these distressing circumstances, he went to Chicago as soon as he was well, and again equipped himself as an itinerant merchant. In 1854, however, he determined to secure a permanent location. Accordingly he came to Minnesota, and secured four lots and a house at Caledonia, and started trading in a log cabin. In 1857 he built a frame store, enlarged his stock, and prepared for the rapidly increasing development of the county. With the years, his business continued to grow. In 1875 he disposed of his mercantile stock to his nephews, and turned his attention to the hardware business. That same year, with J. C. Easton, of Chatfield, he opened the first bank in the county. This institution is now known as the Sprague State Bank. A thorough believer in the future of this region, he was one of the organizers and enthusiastic supporters of the old narrow gage Chicago, Milwaukee & Western Railroad Company, now the Reno-Preston branch of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul. From the very beginning, he began to acquire land in this neighborhood, and he became in time the largest real estate owner in the county, as well as the owner of considerable tracts elsewhere. In this land he took a personal interest, and it was a familiar sight to see him in the fields laboring with the farm hands. Failing .health caused him to gradually relinquish the management of his affairs to his sons, Robert D. and Ellsworth A. In establishing his own fortunes, Mr. Sprague was not unmindful of the needs of the community, and the greatest good for the village and county were ever in his mind, so that now some of the county's most substantial improvements stand as monuments to his memory. The Methodist Episcopal church of Caledonia, was one of the recipients of his bounty, and the erection of the present sightly church and parsonage were made possible by his generosity. He also gave substantial aid to other churches. After a long useful life, Mr. Sprague died Jan. 11, 1909, after an illness born with unfailing courage and cheerfulness through many years. Mr. Spague was married June 7, 1857, to Ella Williams, and to this union were born four children: Anna C., wife of Chas. W. Latham; Arthur Dewitt, Ellisworth Ara and Robert David. Arthur D. lives at Devils Lake, North Dakota, the others are in Caledonia. Mrs. Ella Williams Sprague proved the able helpmeet of her husband in all his endeavors, a loving wife and an understanding mother. She was born near Quincy, Illinois, March 26, 1838, came to Caledonia in 1855 or 1856 and continued to make her home here until her death, October 4, 1918. Mrs. Sprague was a modest, unassuming and Christian woman, greatly beloved by all who knew her, and her passing was a distinct loss to the community.

The History of Houston County, Minnesota
Edited by: Franklyn Curtis-Wedge.
H. C. Cooper, Jr. & Co.
Winona, Minn. 1919


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