Portrait from the Pioneer History of Milwaukee, Volume IV, 1886.
Today's write-up centers on the life of the oddly named Eschines Pierson Matthews, a native Ohioan who sought his business and political fortunes in the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Eschines ( "E.P", as most sources refer to him) and his brother Alonzo were the founders of the famed Matthews Bros. Furniture Company, one of the most prominent furniture manufacturing houses in the United States during the 19th century. While this fact alone makes Eschines Matthews a notable figure in Wisconsin history, it is his service as a Wisconsin state representative in the 1880s that earns him a place here!
Considering that Matthews was a fairly prominent man in Milwaukee throughout the latter period of the 19th century, you'd figure that there would be at least one substantial biographical resource on him. Sadly this is not the case! Although there are a few brief mentions of him in various works chronicling Wisconsin history, the only one that can be considered "significant" is the 4th volume of the Pioneer History of Milwaukee, published in 1886. The portrait of Matthews shown above was discovered in this book, as was a good majority of the information that constitutes his profile here!
Born and raised in Ohio, Eschines Pierson Matthews birth took place in Painesville on September 11, 1832, the son of Anson and Betsy Durand Matthews. Eschines and his younger brother Alonzo (1835-1901) received their education in schools local to the Chagrin Falls area and later attended the Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio. When both brothers reached manhood they relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in June 1857 and soon set about establishing the Matthews name in local business circles.
Within a few years of their resettlement, the Matthews brothers had built a prosperous furniture store on East Water Street in Milwaukee as well as a manufacturing facility on River Street. Eschines and Alonzo were joined in the business by a third brother, John Quincy Adams Matthews in 1867 and he soon became a full partner.
The Matthews Bros. Furniture Company continued to grow throughout the 1870s and throughout that decade moved to larger quarters on more than one occasion. After two enlargements in 1879 and 1882, the company could boast of a payroll with over 200 men on it, and an incorporated capital of over $100,000 dollars. The Pioneer History of Milwaukee also gives note that the company showrooms were "filled with the most costly and elegant furniture to be found in the West, nearly all of which is the product of their own factory."A photograph of the Matthews Brothers building is shown below, as looked around the turn of the century.
With his name now firmly established in the Milwaukee business community, Eschines P. Matthews began to involve himself in city political affairs, and in 1878 was elected to a two-year term on the Milwaukee Board of Aldermen. This was his first attempt at public office, and James Smith Buck, author of the Pioneer History of Milwaukee makes note of Matthews's disdain for political life, stating that "Indeed, such was the disgust engendered in his breast for anything remotely smelling of politics, by his short service in that body.......would tempt him to enter the arena of politics again".
The above observation proved to be somewhat premature, as Matthews did indeed venture into the field of politics once again! In 1880 he ran for and was elected to a seat in the Wisconsin State Assembly as a Republican. The 1881 Blue Book of the State of Wisconsin lists Matthews as defeating his Democratic challenger (George P. Harrington) by a vote of 1492 to 941. During his one term, he represented the 4th ward of Milwaukee County and served on the house committee on Charitable and Penal Institutions and chaired the committee on Cities. A roster from the 1881 session (with Eschines P. Matthews's name highlighted in yellow) has been provided below.
Eschines Matthews continued active involvement with his furniture company after his legislative term, and at the beginning of the 20th century, the company began the manufacture and sale of furniture pieces designed by eminent American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Eschines himself died at age 81 on July 30, 1913, and the company experienced a dip in business in the years following his demise. The company eventually closed its doors in 1937 after eighty years of business. The obituary of Matthews shown below appeared in the Fond du Lac Daily Commonwealth on the day following his death. Curiously, it makes no mention of him having served a term in the Wisconsin legislature.