Matthew Laflin
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Matthew Laflin
Matthew Laflin
Born (1803-12-16)December 16, 1803
Southwick Hampden County, Massachusetts
Died May 21, 1897(1897-05-21) (aged 93)
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois
Occupation Businessmen, Philanthropist, and a pioneer of Chicago, Illinois
Henrietta Armenia Hinman
Catherine King
Children George Hinman Laflin
Georgina Laflin
Lycurgis Laflin

Matthew Laflin (December 16, 1803 – May 21, 1897) was an American manufacturer of gunpowder, businessman, philanthropist, and an early pioneer of Chicago, Illinois.


Early life and ancestors

He was born on December 16, 1803,[1] an American of Ulster Scots and early New England ancestry, at the Laflin-Phelps Homestead in Southwick, Hampden County, Massachusetts; and died at Chicago, Cook County, Illinois on May 21, 1897.[2] He was the son of Matthew Laflin,[1][3] a gunpowder manufacturer and Lydia Rising,[4] the daughter of Amos Rising. He was the grandson of Matthew Laflin and Lucy Loomis and his great grandfather, Charles Laflin, came to this country in 1740 from Ulster, Ireland settling at Oxford Worcester County, Massachusetts.[5] Charles Laflin and his family were living at Oxford, Massachusetts, when he purchased land in 1749 in the Southern (South-) village (-wick) part the town of Westfield, Massachusetts.[1] After manufacturing saltpeter for the Massachusetts militia during the American Revolutionary War, he built a powder mill in Southwick, Massachusetts, and the family successfully entered the explosives business.

Marriage and family

He married in 1827 at Canton, Hartford County, Connecticut, Henrietta Armenia Hinman, the daughter of Ransom Hinman and Mary Battele.[1][6] She was born in Lee, Berkshire County, Massachusetts on June 20, 1805[7] and died on February 12, 1834 in Canton, Hartford County, Connecticut. Matthew and Henrietta were the parents of three children. He married secondly, before 1837, Catherine King of Westfield, Massachusetts. She died in Chicago, Illinois in 1891.[8]

Their son, George H. Laflin,[9] was born on July 19, 1828 at Canton, Connecticut. He died on July 24, 1904 at Pittsfield, Berkshire, Massachusetts.[10][11] He married on September 3, 1851 at Pittsfield, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, Mary Minerva Brewster,[9][12][13][14][15] who born at Lenox, Massachusetts on January 24, 1832, and died at Chicago, Illinois on January 10, 1902.[16][17] She was the daughter of Dr. John Milton Brewster[18][19][20][21][22][23][24] and Philena Higley.[25][26]

Their daughter Georgina, a twin of George H., died as an infant. Their youngest son was Lycurgus Laflin. He was born June 2, 1832 in Canton, Connecticut. He died on February 25, 1900 in Old Pt Comfort, Elizabeth Cty County, Virginia.[27]


His father, also named Matthew Laflin, was a manufacturer of gunpowder and learned the trade from him. He was attracted to Chicago because of the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal and hoped to sell gunpowder to the construction company. He quickly found a market for his product. The opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canal in 1848 allowed shipping from the Great Lakes through Chicago to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. He relocated his family to Chicago in 1837 and his first home in Chicago was at Fort Dearborn, because no other shelter could be found in the young city.[28][29]

With the money he made in the gunpowder business, he began to purchase large tracts of real estate and once owned 140 acres (0.57 km2) of land within the city limits. He bought the land for $300 and lived to see it worth millions.[28][29] In 1849, he purchased 100 acres (0.40 km2) of land on the west side, extending eastward from Madison Street and Ogden Avenue. Here he built the Bull's Head Hotel, resort for men in the cattle business.[28][29] The hotel was constructed complete with barns, sheds and cattle pens and so established Chicago's first stock yards. After its heyday, the hotel was used as an asylum for alcoholics before being torn down.

In 1867, he refinanced the Elgin Watch Company[30] when it was on the verge of failure[], and became one of the largest stockholders in the company. The Laflin family sat on Elgin's board of directors for more than 70 years. It was his capital and enterprise that laid the foundation for Waukesha as a famous Wisconsin watering resort and he was the proprietor of the grand resort, the Fountain Spring House. Waukesha was once known for its extremely clean and good-tasting spring water and was called a "spa town." This earned the city the nicknames, "Spring City," and "Saratoga of the West."[31][32] In the summer of 1905 the Fountain Spring House was sold by the heirs of Matthew Laflin to the Metropolitan Church Association of Chicago.

He built one of the first plank roads, known in those days as the Blue Island toll road. He operated the first omnibus line to carry his hotel patrons to his stock yards and the State Street markets. He also established the first water works system in Chicago by building a pine-log reservoir at Lake Street and the lake shore. Water funneled into the reservoir was distributed through wooden pipes to the city.[28][29] During the Civil War, he was a Union Democrat. Laflin was also a founding member of the Chicago Board of Trade.

Honors and legacy

Matthew Laflin Memorial Building in Chicago

In 1892, Laflin made a lasting contribution to Chicago by donating $75,000[33][34][35][36] toward the building of a structure to house the Chicago Academy of Sciences, a scholarly society formed to promote the scientific investigation of natural history. As a result of Laflin's gift, the Academy of Sciences was granted a plot of land in Lincoln Park; the Lincoln Park Board of Commissioners then donated $25,000 in public funds to assure adequate financing for the project.

The building opened as the Matthew Laflin Memorial on Oct. 31, 1894, and housed the academy until it moved in 1995. The building reverted to the Chicago Park District, which rehabbed it into Lincoln Park Zoo administrative offices.

Laflin Street in Chicago runs 1500 West from 356 North to 12258 South, it is named in his honor.



  1. ^ a b c d Cutter, 1186
  2. ^ Otis, p.104
  3. ^ Matthew Laflin, II at Find A Grave
  4. ^ Lydia Rising Laflin at Find A Grave
  5. ^ Currey-5, pp. 209-214
  6. ^ Hinman, 832
  7. ^ Woods, 57
  8. ^ Currey-5, 213
  9. ^ a b Jones, 1037
  10. ^ George Hinman Laflin at Find A Grave
  11. ^ "Will of George H. Laflin" New York Times. August 5, 1904.
  12. ^ Jones, 1038
  13. ^ Jones, 1039
  14. ^ She was a direct lineal descendant of both Love Brewster, a passenger aboard the Mayflower and a founder of the town of Bridgewater, Massachusetts; and of Elder William Brewster, the Pilgrim colonist leader and spiritual elder of the Plymouth Colony, and passenger aboard the Mayflower and one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact; Martha Wadsworth Brewster (1710 - c. 1757) a notable 18th-century American poet and writer, and Governor William Bradford (1590-1657) of the Plymouth Colony and a passenger on the Mayflower.
  15. ^ "Portrait of Mary Minerva Brewster Laflin". American Painting and Sculpture, Smithsonian American Art Museum. 2010. Retrieved . 
  16. ^ Otis, p.122
  17. ^ Mary Minerva Brewster Laflin at Find A Grave
  18. ^ John Milton Brewster at Find A Grave
  19. ^ Jones, 605
  20. ^ Jones, 606
  21. ^ Jones, 607
  22. ^ "Portrait of Dr. John Milton Brewster". American Painting and Sculpture, Smithsonian American Art Museum. 2010. Retrieved . 
  23. ^ Child, 311
  24. ^ Child, 312
  25. ^ Woods, 45
  26. ^ Philena Azubah Higley Brewster at Find A Grave
  27. ^ Obituary: "Lycurgus Laflin" New York Times. February 26, 1900.
  28. ^ a b c d Higley, 51
  29. ^ a b c d Higley, 52
  30. ^ Alft & Briska, 2003
  31. ^ "Waukesha Spa" Milwaukee Journal. August 8, 1969.
  32. ^ Krueger, Lillian (2010). "Waukesha 'The Saratoga of the West'". 24. Wisconsin Historical Society: 394-424. JSTOR 4631410. 
  33. ^ "Gift of Matthew Laflin" New York Times. November 23, 1892.
  34. ^ Currey-3, 160
  35. ^ Currey-3, 161
  36. ^ Currey-3, 162
  37. ^ "Matthew L. Rockwell". Chicago Architects Oral History Project. The Art Institute of Chicago. 2007. Archived from the original on 2011-05-22. Retrieved . 
  38. ^ Reitwiesner, William Addams (2007). "Ancestry of George W. Bush". Retrieved . 


  • Alft, E.C. and William H. Briska. Elgin Time: A History of the Elgin National Watch Company, 1864-1968. Elgin, IL: Elgin Historical Society, 2003.
  • Bike, William S. Streets of the Near West Side. Chicago: ACTA Publications, 1996, p. 58-59.
  • Child, Hamilton. Gazetteer of Berkshire County, Mass., 1725-1885 Pittsfield. Publisher: Printed at the Journal Office, 1885.
  • Currey, Josiah Seymour. Chicago: Its History and Its Builders, a Century of Marvelous Growth, Volume 3 Chicago. Publisher: Clarke Publishing Company, 1912.
  • Currey, Josiah Seymour. Chicago: Its History and Its Builders, a Century of Marvelous Growth, Volume 5 Chicago. Publisher: Clarke Publishing Company, 1912.
  • Cutter, William Richard. New England families, genealogical and memorial: a record of the achievements of her people in the making of commonwealths and the founding of a nation, Volume 3 Publisher: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1913.
  • Higley, William Kerr. Special publication - Chicago Academy of Sciences, Issues 1-2 Chicago. Publisher: Chicago Academy of Sciences, Chicago Academy of Sciences, 1902.
  • Hinman, Royal Ralph. A catalogue of the names of the early Puritan settlers of the colony of Connecticut: with the time of their arrival in the country and colony, their standing in society, place of residence, condition in life, where from, business, &c., as far as is found on record, Issue 1 Chicago. Publisher: Case, Tiffany, 1852.
  • Jones, Emma C. Brewster. The Brewster Genealogy, 1566-1907: a Record of the Descendants of William Brewster of the "Mayflower," ruling elder of the Pilgrim church which founded Plymouth Colony in 1620. New York: Grafton Press. 1908.
  • Otis, Philo Adams. The First Presbyterian church, 1833-1913: a history of the oldest organization in Chicago, with biographical sketches of the ministers and extracts from the choir records Chicago. Publisher: F. H. Revell Co., 1913.
  • Woods, Henry Ernest. Vital records of Becket, Massachusetts: to the year 1850 Boston. Publisher: New England historic genealogical society, at the charge of the Eddy town-record fund, 1903.
  • Woods, Henry Ernest. Vital records of Lee, Massachusetts, to the year 1850 Boston. Publisher: New England historic genealogical society, at the charge of the Eddy town-record fund, 1903.

Further reading

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