A Standard History
Kansas and Kansans

William E. Connelley

Volume III
Lewis Publishing Company

    GEORGE W. PENNELL.  It is given to few men to win the prizes of life, and George W. Pennell, of the Atchison, belongs to that much favored class.  In the building of the great West Mr. Pennell has played a major part.  As a young man he had the instinct and the vision uncommon in the average man, which led him away from a comfortable home in a settled community out in to the Mississippi Valley, the wonder land of the world.  From an inconspicuous youth of vigorous Revolutionary stock, raised on a New York farm, he has become one of the great lumber merchants of the West.

    Mr. Pennell’s great-grandfather fought as a soldier in the Revolutionary war and his progenitors were substantial New Englanders.  His grandfather, John Pennell, was born in Massachusetts in 1774.  John Pennell as a young man settled with his family in Ontario County, New York, and as one of the pioneers cleared the wilderness in that section, where he lived until his death in Honeoye, that county, in 1859.  The father of George W. Pennell was John Pennell, Jr., who was born in Massachusetts in 1798.  He married Sally Green, who was born in Vermont in 1817 and died at Honeoye, New York, in 1902, at the ripe old age of eight-five.  Like his father, John Pennell followed the plow.  He was a staunch Presbyterian, a whig and later a republican and as such held the office of justice of the peace in his county for many years.  He died at his home in Honeoye in 1884.  John Pennell and his wife, Sally Green, were the parents of seven children, of whom George W. Pennell was the seventh child.  The eldest brother was Frank G. Pennell, a farmer, who died at the age of eight-four.  Wesley Pennell, the second child, was also a farmer and death did not claim him until he was eight-two, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Harriet, a daughter, married Myron Blackmar, a farmer, and both are now deceased.  Almira married Thomas Reed, a farmer, and their home was always at Honeoye, by Mrs. Reed died in the State of Nevada.  Three other children died in infancy.

    George W. Pennell attended the rural schools of Ontario County, and was also a student in Alfred University in Allegany (sic) County, New York.  He completed his education at nineteen years of age and returning to his father’s farm, he remained there until 1866, when he turned his steps towards the West to seek his fame and fortune.  His first stop was at Hannibal, Missouri, where he remained six years in the lumber business.  Having acquired a practical working knowledge of that business in all its many details he was offered a position of large responsibilities by G. C. Hixon and he came to Atchison in 1872 as manager of the Hixon Lumber Company, with which he was actively identified for many years.  Having subsequently acquired the entire business, he made of it the largest institution of its kind in Northeastern Kansas.  It is not only the largest but it is also the oldest lumber business in Atchison.

    But Mr. Pennell was not content to confine his efforts and large abilities to the retail lumber business exclusively.  In connection with William G. Carlisle,1 he became part owner of one of the largest wholesale lumber manufacturing concerns in the entire West.  The Carlisle-Pennell Lumber Company has operated on an extensive scale in the states of Arkansas, Texas and Washington, but in recent years this company has confined its operations to the State of Washington, where it has thousands of acres of valuable timber land and two of the largest mills in the Northwest, located at Carlisle and Onalaska, Washington.

    While Mr. Pennell is a man of wealth and of striking appearance, he is devoid of pretensions and hates all forms of ostentation and display.  He has retired from active work and is identified with no other business institution except the Commerce Trust Company of Atchison, in which he is a director.  He makes his home in Atchison and with his wife, who was Miss Helen Sheldon, of Holly, New York, to whom he was married in 18 5, he occupies a commodious and handsome residence.  Mrs. Pennell is his devoted companion and helpmate and is a woman of culture and refinement and a very prominent member of the Christian Science Church, to which Mr. Pennell also belongs.

    In politics Mr. Pennell is a democrat of a decidedly liberal turn of mind, and he is also affiliated with Washington Lodge No. 5, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, Washington Chapter No. 1, Royal Arch Masons, Washington Commandery No. 2, Knights Templar, Abdullah Temple of the Mystic Shrine at Leavenworth, Kansas, and Atchison Lodge No. 647, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.

    Mr. Pennell’s first wife was Miss Amelia McGinnis, to whom he was married in 1872 at Gardner, Illinois.  To them were born five children, two having died in infancy.  Bessie, the eldest, who was great beloved by all who knew her, was a graduate of Lasell Seminary, near Boston.  She died in Atchison at the age of twenty-five.  Katherine, or Kate, as she is more familiarly known, also a graduate of Lasell, is the attractive and popular wife of Dr. R. L. Hull, a physician and surgeon of Oklahoma City, where they live in a beautiful home, the gift of Mr. Pennell.  Mrs. Hull has one child, a boy, who bears the name of his grandfather Pennell.  Sarah, a graduate of St. Mary’s at Knoxville, Illinois, is the wife of Truman E. Snowden, who is now the manager of the Hixon Lumber Company.  Mrs. Snowden has many charms and is a general favorite.  They have three lovely children, Robert, Helen and Sally.
    At the age of seventy-three Mr. Pennell is in good health and occupies his time in conserving what he has made, travels when he feels so inclined and enjoys the companionship and esteem of this friends and neighbors.
Source:  Kansas State Historical Society, 6425 S. W. 6th Avenue, Topeka, Kansas, 66615.

1  This is the only instance known of the use of a middle name or initial for William Carlisle.


Atchison Millionaire Passed
Away This Morning.


Materially Helped Many Valuable
Institutions—Was a Self
Made Man.


    February 25, 1920 (The Atchison Daily Globe)—George W. Pennell, 79 years old, one of Atchison’s wealthiest citizens, died at his home, 519 North Fifth street, at 4 o’clock this morning.  He had been in poor health several months, but had been up and around much of the time.  Yesterday morning he went to sleep, and the end came quietly 18 hours later.

    If Mr. Pennell had lived until April 19, he would have been 80 years old.  He had lived in Atchison since 1872, coming here as a manager of the Hixon Lumber company from Hannibal, Mo., and during his residence in Atchison he helped many Atchison institutions and contributed more to the growth of the town than any other individual.  In addition, Mr. Pennell assisted many in purchasing their own homes, permitting them to pay for them like rent.

    Mr. Pennell was the second largest stockholder in the Carlisle-Pennell Lumber company, and also was a stockholder in the Mount-Mize Drug company, the Bailor Plow Manufacturing company, the Railway Specialty company, the City National bank, the Commerce Trust company, the Atchison Mills Corporation, and many other Atchison concerns, and had financed several of the largest and most important buildings here.

    George W. Pennell was the seventh child of Mr. and Mrs. John Pennell, jr., and was born on a farm near Honeoye, N. Y., April 19, 1840.  He came from old New England stock; his great grandfather fought in the Revolutionary war.  He attend the rural schools of Ontaria county, N. Y., and was a student in Alfred university, Allegheny county, N. Y., leave school at the age of 19 to go back to his father’s farm, where he remained until 1866.

    That year he decided to try his fortune in the west, and his first stop was Hannibal, Mo., where he obtained his first experience in the lumber business in the employ of G. C. Hixon, now deceased.  He often made trips to Onalaska, Wis., where the Hixon company had lumber interests, and some of his work consisted of floating down a river on logs, measuring them as they floated, and preventing jams.

    Mr. Pennell was married in 1882 to Miss Sally Sheldon, at Holly, N.Y., who survives.  His first marriage occurred in Gardner, Ill., in 1872, to Miss Amelia McGinnis and to this union five children were born, two of whom died in infancy.  In addition his widow, Mr. Pennell is survived by two daughters, Mrs. Truman E. Snowden, and Mrs. Katherine Hull, both of whom are in Atchison.  Mrs. Hull, who is the widow of the late Dr. R. L. Hull, who died in San Francisco last year, was to Atchison some time ago by the illness of Mr. Pennell. Another daughter, Miss Bessie, died in Atchison at the age of 25 years.  Four grandchildren, Pennell Price, son of Mrs. Hull, and Robert, Helen and Sally, children of Mr. and Mrs. Snowden also survive.

    Mr. Pennell was a 32nd degree Mason, and a member of the Atchison Elks lodge.  He also was a prominent member of the First Church of Christ Scientist, in Atchison, and it was through his generosity that the splendid Scientist church at Fourth and Santa Fe streets was possible.
    Funeral services will be held from the residence tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 o’clock, and will be a Christian Science service.  The Masons will be in charge at the grave.

    In 1872, Henry Denton, who had been manager of the Atchison business for the Hixon Lumber Co., having decided to resign his position to enter into other business, Mr. Pennell was sent here as a manager of the Atchison yard.  For a year after taking charge of the local business, Mr. Pennell maintained his home at Hannibal, and spent every Sunday there with his family, leaving Saturday night and returning Monday morning.   Three years after coming to Atchison, Mr. Pennell purchased the Hixon Lumber yard here, and this yard provided the nucleus of his great fortune, which is estimated at from $3,000,000 to $4,000,000.  In 1886, after he had accumulated a surplus of about $40,000 William Carlisle, then a department manager for the Howell-Jewett Lumber company made a proposition to Mr. Pennell to go into the wholesale lumber business, which was accepted.  Mr. Carlisle spent his time in the north, purchasing lumber, Mr. Pennell handling the office details of the partnership.

    The firm was instantly successful, Mr. Carlisle being a very shrewd lumberman, and a man of great energy and ability.  These qualifications, coupled with Mr. Pennell’s extraordinary financial capacity, contributed much to the wonderful success of the firm.  B. P. Blanchard, who lives now in the East also was interested financially in the venture, and the firm was known as William Carlisle & Company.

    The first really great money made by this firm was in furnishing vast quantities of lumber for the building at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.  This money was invested in Arkansas timber lands near Cotton Belt, about 1895, and a sawmill was erected in the heart of the company’s holdings.  A town developed around the sawmill, and was named Onalaska, in honor of a sawmill town in Wisconsin, where Mr. Pennell had spent some time in the lumber activities of his early manhood.

    In 1903, the firm was taken over by the Carlisle-Pennell Lumber company, and Mr. Pennell became vice president and treasurer, his duties being to handle the finances and look after the details of the business.  He has been ably assisted in this work by S. G. Guerrier for many years.

    Three years after the Carlisle-Pennell company was formed, the corporation secured holdings in Texas, after much of the Arkansas property had been “cut over.”  The Arkansas holdings consisted of 40,000 acres.  The property in Texas was composed of about 50,000 acres.  To permit development, the company constructed a railroad 40 miles long, at a cost of more than a million dollars, to connect the new town of Onalaska, Texas, with which developed around the company’s saw mill, with the I & G. N. at Trinity, Texas, and the Houston East & West Texas road at Livingston, Texas.

    In 1912, the Texas holdings, together with the railroad were sold to the West Lumber company of Houston, Tex., for more than five million dollars.  But the Interstate Commerce Commission ruled the company could not operate both the railroad and the lumber camps, Mr. Carlisle bought back the railroad from the West company and sold it to the M. K. & T.   The railroad deal is included in the five millions received for the property.

    The company is now developing holdings of 55,000 acres of timberland in Washington, operating two large sawmills, much larger than any established on the Arkansas or Texas holdings.  One of these big mills is at Onalaska, Wash., which cost around two million dollars, and the other at Carlisle, Wash.  Both towns grew up around mills established by the company.  The company first acquired its Washington property in 1896, and cut out and sawed several thousand acres in the vicinity of Centralia, Washington.  In 1913, the Carlisle mill was established, followed in 1916 by the Onalaska mill.  Onalaska seems to have been a kind of mascot name for the company, as there has been a town of that name in each big development project of the organization.


Source:  Kansas State Historical Society, 6425 S. W. 6th Avenue, Topeka, Kansas, 66615.

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