Monday, March 14, 2016

Zealy Moss Holmes (1866-1947)

Portrait from the Bradley Polytechnical Institute's Polyscope yearbook, 1939.

    The "Land of Lincoln" has yielded another oddly named man in one Zealy Moss Holmes, for over five decades one of Peoria County, Illinois' leading agriculturalists. A lifelong resident of that county, Holmes served as president of the Peoria County Farm Bureau and was also a member of the Illinois Agricultural Association's executive committee. He earns a place here on the site due to his 1926 candidacy for a seat in the Illinois State House of Representatives from that state's 18th legislative district.
   Born in Medina Township, Illinois on February 8, 1866, Zealy Moss Holmes was one of ten children born to John C. and Lydia A. (Chambers) Holmes. He received his unusual name courtesy of his maternal grandfather Zealy Moss (1755-1839), a Revolutionary War veteran and Baptist minister. Holmes is recorded as having attended the "country schools" and would also take a "commercial course" at the Dunlap Academy in Dunlap, Illinois. He married on February 15, 1888 to Nellie Maude Fry (1866-1960). The couple was wed for nearly sixty years and their lengthy union produced three sons: Maurice Frye (1888-1988), Charles Wilbur (1892-1963) and John Smith (1894-1957).
  Around the same time as his marriage, Zealy M. Holmes became the owner of a 300-acre farm near Mossville, Illinois. Acknowledged as a "progressive farmer and man of good judgment", Holmes became a leading figure in Illinois agricultural circles, dealing in both grain and livestock. A founder and three-time president of Peoria County Farm Bureau, Holmes also was an original trustee of the Bradley Polytechnic Institute in Peoria. Joining that college upon its charter in 1896, Holmes would serve the school as its "farm manager" for many years afterward and continued service as a trustee for fifty years! Bradley Polytechnic would later acknowledge his service by naming Holmes Hall (an engineering building on campus) in honor of him.

Zealy M. Holmes, from the 1901 Polyscope yearbook.

   Active in the political life of Medina Township, Zealy Holmes served that town as it's supervisor for six years and also held the posts of school treasurer (serving for a decade) as well as township clerk and collector. In 1926 Holmes made his first move into state politics when he became a candidate for a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives from the 18th legislative district. As one of four candidates that year, Holmes polled last on election day, garnering a total of 13, 585 votes, trailing behind winning candidates Robert Scholes, David McClugage and Sherman Eckley. 
   Holmes continued to be prominent in Peoria County following his candidacy for the state house. Having retired from farming in 1918, Holmes maintained memberships in a number of local fraternal groups, including the Modern Woodmen of the World, the Mohammed Temple Shriners and the Alta Masonic Lodge No 748. Zealy Moss Holmes died on March 5, 1947 at the St. Francis Hospital in Peoria. He had celebrated his 81st birthday the previous month and was widely mourned. He was survived by his three sons and wife Nellie, who died in 1960 at age 93. Both were interred at the Mt. Hawley Cemetery in Peoria.

Portrait from the Illinois Agricultural Association Record, 1937.

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