In the long history of Monmouth, few have served the city for so short a time and yet become so universally admired and beloved as mayor William B. Wolf. During his short term in office and even after, Wolf would be regarded as one of Monmouth’s finest citizens. He lived a long life, taking him across half of the country and through the nation’s most bloody conflict fought on her soil. He was a war hero, a successful businessman, a lifelong Presbyterian and remembered fondly as a politician who stood for tradition and for religion.
William B. Wolf was born May 23, 1839, in Pennsylvania to George S. and Mary (Amweg) Wolf.1 Wolf was raised in Pennsylvania. The 1860 census places Wolf’s place of residence as South Middleton, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. George Wolf was a farmer, whose estate was valued at $4,250 at that time. It lists the 21-year-old William as a teacher of a Cumberland school. He was the oldest of seven children: John, Adam, Hannah, Jacob, Isaiah and Edward. Isaiah would later follow his older brother into the Midwest.2 From this, it is discernable that the young Wolf had achieved a measure of education and success. It seems that whatever enterprise Wolf was involved in he succeeded in. In his later life, as he came to Monmouth. And when the Civil War broke out, he enlisted in the army. In April of 1861 he enlisted in Company I, First Regiment, Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corp. The Corp. was incorporated in the Army of the Potomac and Wolf would serve a spectacular tour of duty, fighting for the Union.
He would be wounded twice during his tour of duty in the war. The first time was in 1862 outside of Richmond and the second time in the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864. During the Wilderness campaign he was 1st Lieutenant of Company I, but after the battle, for his merited actions, he was made captain. After he had recovered from his second wound, Wolf helped organize his own company at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He was made captain of the company and it was incorporated into the 101st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. He served with his company until the end of the war in 1865.3
After the end of the war, Wolf headed west, coming all the way to Mercer County by the end of 1865. He lived three years in Mercer County; long enough for him meet Rose S. Sheriff, the daughter of Abram Sheriff, a merchant of Keithsburg and his wife, Anna Sheriff. Rose was one of seven siblings: Frances, Courtland, Florence, Alice, May and Anna. The family estate was worth $10,000 in 1860.4
Rose was eighteen at the time that Wolf began to court her in Keithsburg. The courtship lasted three years and on October 29, 1868, they were married in Mercer County. Though the marriage was life long, the couple never had any children. That same year, they relocated south to Warren County and to the town of Monmouth. In Monmouth, Wolf and his wife lived at 312 S. 1st St.5 It appears that Wolf’s younger brother, Isaiah, appears to have also come to live in Monmouth with his own wife at this time. He lived there until his death.6
In Monmouth, Wolf became a very active citizen of the city. He worked first for the hardware store of E. F. Wallace before he became bookkeeper for Pattee Plow Company, where he worked under the management of Monmouth’s future mayor, Ithamar Pillsbury. He was later elevated to the position of treasurer of the company, which he held until his death.7
From his first moments in Monmouth, Wolf was an active member in city politics. He served on the city council most of his time in Monmouth. He worked under the then mayor Pillsbury, before he himself was elected to the same post in April of 18938 as a Republican. Wolf’s brief tenure as mayor would be characterized by an amazing amount of legislation. He was also noted for his adherence to the Presbyterian faith and for being a social conservative. His ordinances would prove that. However, he was not always fiscally conservative. He entered office the same year the “Panic of 1893” struck the nation.9 Much of Wolfs term would be spent on how to keep the city from going under financially. When he entered office in April of 1893, the city’s budget stood at $46,990.00. The budget for the city consisted thus:
- Salary fund – $4,300.00
- Police fund – 2,000.00
- Fire fun – 2,000.00
- Gas and electric light fund – 5,000.00
- Server fund – 1,000.00
- Street fund – 1,000.00
- Sidewalk fund – 4,810.00
- Board of health fund – 250.00
- General expense fund – 1,000.00
- Special paving fund – 1,000.00
- Public building and ground fund – 350.00
- Water works operation fund – 17,660.00
- Sinking fund to pay bonded indebtedness – 2,000.00
- Interest fund, to bay interest on bonds – 2,330.00
- Total – 46,990.0010
However, by 1894, the budget for the city had dropped to $37,007.01.11 These financial problems became the major problem that Wolf had to deal with. Specifically how to keep the water works running (it took the largest chunk out of the budget). With the water works also came the public sewers and a host of other general upkeep for the city. During the Wolf administration, the city being deep in the depression, issued thousands of dollars worth of municipal bonds as a way to keep basic services running.12 In addition to this practice, Wolf seems to have had to levy a series of special taxes, expressly for the purpose of building sidewalks (he built twelve in all) as well as one simply dubbed: “for public improvement.”13 He taxed certain aspects of city transportation. In June of 1893 he passed legislation requiring that all people operating vehicles for the purpose cab services and public transportation be required to attain a license and pay a small amount per year.14 In June of 1894 he also instated a fee on those who wanted water services extended to their property of a $13 deposit.15
However, Wolf also found time to pass social legislation. In August of 1893 he brought back legislation prohibiting sale of alcohol on Sundays:
“Section 1: That hereafter it shall be unlawful for the owner or proprietor of any saloon in said city, to suffer, permit, or allow any person or persons to enter, be or remain in any saloon of which he is the owner or the proprietor on the first day of the week, commonly called Sunday, or after the hours fixed by law for closing the same, or before the hour fixed by law for the opening of the same.”16
Wolf also banned the use of air rifles and sling-shots within the borders of the city of Monmouth in February of 1894.17 Along the same lines, Wolf also made it illegal to deface public buildings, fences or hallways on May 4th or 1894.18
The financial problems of the city were what came to dominate the Wolf administration in its last two years. In July of 1894, Wolf raised taxes across the board for the purpose of paying off bonded indebtedness, which had been created by the city’s need to keep the water works working. The city required a total of $5,636.25 in order to make the payment and Wolf passed the necessary ordinance.19
Wolf continuously issued more municipal bonds, especially in November of 1894, when the city had to embark on a massive sewer building campaign20 as well as a widening of south 3rd Street that same month.21 From November of 1894 to March of 1895, there is a large gap in Wolf’s activity for reasons unexplained. That ended when the city was finally forced to borrow money in an ordinance signed by Wolf that month:
“An ordinance to borrow money on the credit of the corporation and issue bonds therefore to the amount of three thousand and dollars to provide means for the purpose of making extension to the water works system.
Where it is estimated that the cost of such extensions as are necessary to be made at this time will not be less than $300 and there is no fund in the city treasury which can be drawn for such an amount and purpose:
Be it ordained by the city council of the city of Monmouth, Illinois:
This extreme measure was one of the lowest points of the Wolf administration, but it was countered somewhat, buy what was perhaps its greatest triumph. In the final month of his tenure as mayor, Wolf brought the Merchant Telephone Company to the city and greatly expanded the city’s existing telephone network. In his last ordinance passed on April 30th, 1895 it was declared:
The massive ordinance was the perhaps the crowning achievement in Wolf’s career. The Merchant telephone company responded by personal letter:
Wolf left office that April and appears to have retired from public life. Even though out of office, he seems to have enjoyed a good reputation and standing among his fellow citizens, if his obituaries are to be believed. He lived until 1912 when he finally lost his battle with Bright’s Disease (a form of kidney disease) on July 21 at the age of 72. He was buried in Monmouth cemetery and survived by his wife for another ten years. Rose Wolf passed away on February 1, 1922.25
The picture that emerges of Wolf is one of a driven and intelligent man. He seemed to rise to the top of any organization he was part of. He took a firm hand and guided his city through a very difficult period in its existence. Though he had to take drastic measures to keep the city running, he also brought consistent public services and even impressive expansion to the city’s infrastructure. He saw what needed to be done and did it. He was efficient, industrious and by and large, quick to take care of situations that arose during his term. It is easy to believe the County Histories assessment that Wolf was one of the city’s finest mayors.
Currently a resident of Burke, Virginia - I'm originally from the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I have been a student of the Pennsylvania Reserves since 1997 and thoroughly enjoy telling their story. By trade I'm a former IT Professional but presently working as a Letter Carrier for the United States Postal Service.
- Hugh Moffet and Thomas Rogers, ed, History of Warren County (Chicago: Munsell, 1903), p. 558.
- 1860 United States Federal Census Record, South Middleton, Cumberland, Pennsylvania.
- History of Warren County, p. 559.
- 1860 United States Federal Census Record, Keithsburg, Mercer, Illinois.
- Funeral Home Records, Turnbull 1884 – 1923, Vol. 1 – Vol. 6.
- History of Warren County, p. 558.
- Ibid., p. 559.
- City Ordinances from May 4th 1891 to December 7th 1896.
- The psychology of Panics, New York Times; June 19, 1893; ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2002) p. 4.
- City Ordinances, p. 195.
- City Ordinances, p. 253.
- City Ordinances, p. 245.
- City Ordinances, p. 205 – 212.
- City Ordinances, p. 201.
- City ordinances, p. 249.
- City Ordinances, p. 216.
- City Ordinances, p. 238.
- City Ordinances, p. 244.
- City Ordinances, p. 257.
- City Ordinances, p. 295.
- City Ordinances, p. 302.
- City Ordinances, p. 307.
- City Ordinances, p. 312.
- City Ordinances, p.314.
- Obituary: Warren County Geneological Soc. Obits – Monmouth Early newspapers, 2 Jan 1912 to 31 December 1912, Vol. 14, p. 92; the census of 1910 shows William and Rose in Monmouth, with one servant.