A Narrative History
The People of Iowa
SPECIAL TREATMENT OF THEIR CHIEF ENTERPRISES IN
EDUCATION, RELIGION, VALOR, INDUSTRY,
EDGAR RUBEY HARLAN, LL. B., A. M.
Curator of the
Historical, Memorial and Art Department of Iowa
THE AMERICAN HISTORICAL SOCIETY, Inc.
Chicago and New York
HON. JOHN N. IRWIN was one of Keokuk's foremost business men and citizens.
However, the honors given his name were not confined to this section of Iowa.
Two far western states include his name and record as governor during their
territorial periods, and later he was chosen as an ambassador from this
country to a European nation.
Governor Irwin was born in Butler County, Ohio, December 25, 1843, and his
parents moved to Keokuk, Iowa, in 1856, when he was thirteen years of age. He
attended public schools in Iowa, was graduated from Dartmouth College in
1867, and had active service as a soldier during the Civil war, first with the
Ohio "Squirrel Hunters" and then in the Forty-fifth Iowa Infantry. For a time
he studied law at Keokuk, in the firm of Rankin & Miller, and was also a law
student at Cincinnati with a distinguished Ohio attorney, Stanley Matthews.
After being admitted to the bar he was associated with James Hagerman, but
eventually gave up the law to devote his entire time and energies to commercial
interests. he entered the wholesale dry goods business at Keokuk with his
father, and had an interest in the business at the time of his death. He was
also organizer of the Keokuk Loan & Building Association, and was the first
president of the Keokuk Opera House Company. At the time of his death he was
president of the Irwin-Phillips Company, president of the Mississippi River
Power Company, director of the Keokuk Savings Bank and director of the Iowa
State Insurance Company.
Mr. Irwin served five terms as mayor of Keokuk, and was also a member of the
State Legislature. He was a Knight Templar Mason and belonged to the Delta
Kappa Epsilon college fraternity.
In 1883 President Arthur appointed him governor of Idaho Territory, and in
1890 President Harrison again called him form his business and professional
duties at Keokuk to become governor of Arizona Territory. A still more signal
honor was conferred upon him in 1899, when President McKinley appointed him
American minister to Portugal, located at Lisbon. Governor Irwin resigned
from each of these offices, after having rendered service in keeping with his
exalted personal character and his business ability.
John N. Irwin died December 22, 1905, at the comparatively early age of
sixty-two. He married Miss Mary Love Rankin, of Keokuk. They were the parents
of four children: John Rankin Irwin; Mrs. Rolla M. Kendrick, of Saint Louis;
Elizabeth Stephainie Irwin, who lives with her mother in Keokuk; and Stephen,
who died at an early age.
Debbie Clough Gerischer
Iowa History Site