My 4th great grandfather, John Cox Atlee (B: March 22, 1816 in Maryland D: September 15, 1899 in Fort Madison, Iowa) pictured above with his great grandchildren, came to Fort Madison (Lee County) Iowa in 1837 when he was only a carpenter. On April 19, 1838 John Atlee (22 at the time) and his wife Emeline Stone Brooks (23 years old) got married in Fort Madison. In 1844, Emeline and John relocated to a farm in Cedar Township, and in 1852, John started making plans for the Lumber Company with his older brother Isaac R. Atlee (1813-1891). The brothers remained in business together until 1854 when Isaac decided to retire. So John Cox Atlee continued on with the business forging a partnership with Nathaniel Bennett and built a mill on the site where the business was. When John’s eldest son Samuel John Atlee came of age, he succeeded Mr. Bennett and the firm became what it is still known as: S & JC Atlee Lumber Company, it was at one point one of the most extensive lumber producing firms along the Mississippi River. Their mills consist of a saw-mill, which is supplied with machinery of the most modern pattern, a brick planing-mill, 75×75 feet, two stories high, which is a model of neatness and order. Everything in this mill is arranged with a view of economy. The machinery is all new and of the very best kind known to the business. Near by is their dryhouse, of large capacity. Then comes their shinglemill, that has a capacity for making and packing 120,000 shingles per day. The mills, stables, yards, etc., cover an area of about thirty-five acres, and give employment to 150 men and boys, to whom they pay $2,500 monthly. The firm buy their logs up the river, and run them down in great rafts, and consume about 10,000,000 feet annually. Their lumber is sold to all parts of Southern Iowa, to Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska. J. C. Atlee, the founder of this immense business, is a man of wonderful genus and enterprise. He commenced the world with nothing, and has fought hurricanes, fires, floods, ice-gorges and boiler-explosions, and conquered every time. The more opposition and disaster crowded, the more determined he seemed to become. In November, 1858, the mill-boiler exploded, killing four men, Andrew Fulcher (the engineer), the fireman (a colored man), Jacob Minder and Albert Tracy, and two boys, Willie Kirk and George Tracy, and blowing the mill to atoms. Atlee helped bury the dead, and then commenced rebuilding and repairing, and soon had everything in operation again. On May 3, 1866, that mill was destroyed by fire. In just seven weeks, it was rebuilt, on a large scale. The first mill had a capacity of 15,000 feet per day, and the second oneof 40,000 feet. It proved too slow to suit Atlee’s notions, and he tore it down in a few years and built the present mill, which has a capacity for cutting 65,000 feet per day.
On the 3rd of July in 1875, a furious hurricane came along and unroofed Atlee’s residence and otherwise injured it. He was absent at the time, and when he came in sight of his ruined home and found his family all safe, he swung his old hat and shouted “All right; we’ll try it again.” He went to work the same day, completed his plans and rebuilt on a grander scale than before. The same storm played all sorts of tricks at the mill-yard. It blew down the great piles of lumber, filled up the alleys and carried thousand0 of feet into the river, where it was lost; it blew their steamer, Jennie D., loose from her moorings and clear across the river, where it sunk in fifteen feet of water. The damage to the mill-yard was about $5,000. But none of these little things discouraged the old man, they only whetted his appetite, brightened his business ideas, strengthened his enterprise and stiffened his backbone. To quote the words of his excellent wife, they never “cried over any of their mishaps and misfortunes.” Nothing short of an earthquake or volcano will ever discourage J. C. Atlee.