|Walter S Baker|
|Sixty years have been added to the past since Walter S. Baker, a youth of twenty years, arrived in the hamlet of Brookville. Poor, with little in the way of capital save a sound constitution, a brave heart and sturdy determination to achieve success, he began at the bottom rounds of the ladder, and gradually and persistently worked his way upward, and is truly a self-made man.
The Baker family to which our subject belongs originated in Ludwigsburg, Baden, Germany, his paternal grandfather, Jacob Baker, having been born there. When a child he accompanied his parents to this country, settling in Berks county, Pennsylvania, where he resided near Olean for many years. Removing to Sunbury, Northumberland county, in the same state, prior to the opening year of this century, he spent his last days there, dying in 1828, at the advanced age of one hundred and seven years. Both he and his brother Caspar were heroes of the Revolutionary war, the latter being killed at the battle of Long Island. Jacob Baker was an earnest member of the Lutheran church, and politically was an enthusiastic Whig. He chose for his first wife a lady born in Paris, France, and six children were born to them.
Of these, our subjectís father, John Baker, was born in Berks county, Pennsylvania, November 3, 1773, and removed to Sunbury, Northumberland county, and later to Selinís grove, dying in Northumberland, when visiting his daughter, March 14, 1834. By trade he was a carpenter and builder, taking and executing contracts of considerable importance for that day, among others, erecting the mansion of the late Governor Simon Snyder, at Selinís Grove, and a paper-mill for the same gentleman. For years he was a trustee and a leading member of the Lutheran church. At one time a Democrat, he turned to the Whig party, which better expressed his views on many of the issues of the day. His wife, Sarah, was a daughter of John Sutor, a native of Northampton county, Pennsylvania, whence he went to Franklin county, in the same state, his death occurring there when he had passed the ninetieth anniversary of his birth. He was a soldier in the Revolutionary war, and after the dreadful Wyoming massacre he went with General Sullivanís expedition through the Susquehanna valley and into New York state, in pursuit of the Indians who had committed the terrible deeds. In after years, when offered a soldierís pension, he indignantly refused it, feeling that it was an insult to his patriotism, and saying, "I was not a Hessian soldier."
Walter S. Baker, a son of John and Sarah (Sutor) Baker, was born in Selinís Grove, Union (now Snyder) county, Pennsylvania, June 1, 1819. In his youth he worked with his father, and after his fatherís death, at the age of seventeen, he commenced a regular apprenticeship to a carpenter, completing the trade at the end of three years. In 1839 he started for Brookville, Indiana, waking the entire distance with his gun on his shoulder, and accompanying his brothers-in-law, John B. Thurston and John Wise, and their families. The trip consumed twenty-eight days, the party reaching here November 3. For two years Mr. Baker worked at his trade and then branched out into the wider field of contracting, which line of enterprise he was actively engaged in from 1841 to 1862, in this locality, building many of the best houses and business blocks here, among others, the Brookville College, now used as a high school. Then for seven years he was interested in a milling business, owning a one-half interest in the Exchange Mills and from 1863 to 1882 he was a United States internal-revenue gauger for the fourth district of Indiana. For the past few years he has been practically retired from business, though he attends to his investments. From 1850 to 1869 he entered thousands of acres of government land, for himself and others, in Illinois, Iowa and Kansas, and made frequent trips to Texas for the purpose of buying lands for himself and others. In addition to this, he has made investments in Chicago for himself and other parties, and has met with unusual success in the management of all of his property.
At no time have his own private interests, however extensive, kept Mr. Baker from the performance of his public duties, and it would be exceeding difficult to find a more patriotic citizen. Undoubtedly the example to his ancestors found an echo in him, and in this connection a remarkable fact should be pointed out. As already mentioned, his paternal and maternal grandfathers were valiant soldiers in the war of the Revolution, and also a brother of the former. Moreover, Daniel Baker, an uncle of our subject, served in the war of 1812, with the rank of captain, while three of his maternal uncles, George, Henry and Daniel Sutor, were active participants in the same second war with England. During his entire life Walter S. Baker has been a stanch, fearless Whig or Republican. His first presidential vote was cast for Harrison, and when the Republican party was being organized he worked zealously in the cause. A strong anti-slavery man, his life was threatened while the war of the Rebellion was in progress, but he did not disguise his hatred for the system nor for the political demagogues who more or less covertly defended and protected it, nourishing treason to the government in the meantime.
The marriage of W.S. Baker and Catherine A. Thurston took place November 14, 1841. She was born at Mount Pleasant, Hamilton county, Ohio, June 30, 1824. Of their eight children, three are deceased: Sarah, who died in infancy; Martha, who died at the age of eighteen years; and Emily, at the age of three years. Winfield Scott, born February 20, 1858, graduated in the naval academy in 1870, and, after serving for a few years in the government navy, resigned, and is living at Brookville; John W. is foreman of the wood-working department in the Brookville planing mill; Edward S., a printer by trade, is now engaged in gold-mining on the Yukon river, in Alaska; Myron C., of Chicago, is engaged in the manufacture of bicycles; and Emma, the youngest of the family, is the wife of Professor Alley, superintendent of the Dayton (Kentucky) public schools.
Since 1840 Mr. Baker has been an influential member of the Methodist Episcopal church, in which he has served as steward, and is now a trustee. Though eighty years of age, he is well preserved in mind and body, retaining accurately the memory of the countyís early history and its growth and progress. In conclusion it may be appropriately noted that at this time Mr. Baker figures, in the matter of continuous residence, as the oldest male pioneer in Brookville, having lived here for sixty years. There are now living but seven ladies who were residents of Brookville when he came to the place, in 1839, at which time two of them were young ladies, two young misses, and the other three were little ďtotsĒ from two to three years of age.
Source: Biographical and Genealogical History of Wayne, Fayette, Union and Franklin Counties, Indiana. Chicago. The Lewis Publishing Company. 1899.