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Note: this is a brother of Charles and Joseph Henry Sweney of Company K.

Birth: May 7, 1850
Death: April 13, 1923

J. I. Sweney, Pioneer Business Man, Is Dead

Passed away Friday morning after three months illness from pneumonia.

James Irvine Sweney, for half a century a prominent figure in Mitchell County business affairs, passed away Friday morning, April 13, at 8:30 o'clock, at the home of his daughter, Mrs. H. C. Hill, after an illness of three months duration which grew out of pleura-pneumonia contracted early in January.

Funeral services were held Monday afternoon at the Baptist Church, conducted by Rev. A. S. Cross, his pastor, assisted by C.J. Pope, of Lincoln, Nebraska, a former pastor and a longtime personal friend of the deceased.

Burial was made in the Osage Cemetery beside his wife, who preceded him on September 27, 1912.

The passing of James Irvine closes the record of the Mitchell County members of the Sweney family, who came to Iowa in 1855 from Warren County, Pennsylvania, though there are still living a brother and a sister -- Dr. C. F. Sweney of St. Paul, and Mrs. K. Eno, Northwood, both of whom left the County in their youth and established themselves in the affairs of those places.

Coming with the earliest settlers and breaking the virgin soil which was later to produce the comfortable homes and the high standard of living that we know today, there is much of historical interest in the biography of this man who watched at so close range, and became so highly instrumental in, the development of the country.

He was born May 7, 1850, so was five years old when the family, consisting of the father and mother and seven children, broke home ties, loaded all their earthly possessions on a lumber raft and floated down the Allegheny river to Pittsburgh on the first lap of the long trek that was to take them far westward, beyond the pale of civilization as it was considered in the east.

It takes but a moment's mental comparison of that embarkation with that of a modern trip to give us something of an appreciation of the high courage which must have been that father's and that mother's for them to undertake such a move in the face of the difficulties that confronted them.

At Pittsburgh a transfer to a small Ohio riverboat was made, and at Cairo there was another transfer to a still larger boat, which completed the trip to McGregor, Iowa, for them. It should be borne in mind that the slow river trip consumed many weeks, and it was necessary for the family to live all that time in the cramped and seemingly impossible conditions the crude raft and bare freight boats afforded. What livestock they had must be tended, the small children must be cared for -- and, during the trip, the seventh child died, and was buried at a landing on the Missouri shore.

Arriving at McGregor, they loaded their possessions into a wagon, and, driving their few head of livestock before them, traveled overland the last 100 mi. of their journey, and settled on a part of what is now the Morrissey farm in Burr Oak township, 6 mi. east and 2 1/2 miles north of Osage.

The family then consisted of the father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Sweney, and six children -- Charles, Margaret (later Mrs. Dailey), Mary (later Mrs. Frank Scammon), Henry, Kate (now Mrs. Eno), and James. Frank, the youngest child, was born in Mitchell County. All have now passed on except Kate and Frank.

A small cabin was built, divided into two tiny rooms and a loft, and this cabin housed the family, also an uncle, Tom Phyllis, and his wife, the first year. Later, more commodious quarters were built. The mode of living was, of course, primitive, paralleling that of all pioneer families. There was no market nearer than McGregor, 100 mi. distant, so practically all of the necessities of life, and such comforts as they had, were such as they could produce through their own efforts.

The maple trees along the Little Cedar River provided sugar, plentiful game augmented the family larder. Some cloth was homespun, though most of it came from the distant McGregor.

Thus it was in the simplest surroundings, in which life itself was dependent upon hard work and constant forethought, that the subject of this sketch grew to manhood. Here were formed the habits of life and thought which molded the character that in later life marked and distinguished him among his fellows.

His early education was obtained in the nearby country schoolhouse. School facilities were, like everything, of the simplest, and school wasn't always regular. He early acquired the habit of reading, and, in the long candle-lit evenings, absorbed what literature the neighborhood boasted. When about 16 years of age his father gave him the privilege of cutting and selling wood from the timber on the place to get money for further schooling, and by this means he attended Cedar Valley Seminary for a time. The fact that he obtained recognition as a man of considerable educational attainment, in spite of the comparatively limited schooling proves something of the great possibilities of self culture, and testifies to the resolute purpose and undaunted ambition of this man.

His first business connection was in the office of the county treasurer, where he was deputy under his brother, Charles, who, on his return from service in the Union Army, had been elected to that office. This was in 1870, and James served in that capacity for two years.

In 1872 he went to the territory of South Dakota, where he spent some time. He assisted in the platting of the present city of Dell Rapids, and served for a time as County Attorney. He had never been admitted to any bar, and all his knowledge of law had been obtained through private reading; so the fact of his election to public office, in a new neighborhood where his preferment could not possibly have come through wide acquaintance, tells something of his abilities as a young man. He was then 22 years of age. Returning to Osage, he opened an abstract office, which he conducted until 1880, when he bought the interest of his brother Henry, in the Sweney Brothers Bank, which Charles and Henry had established six years prior.

It was in 1874, on the 28th of January, that he married Miss Sophia A. Tucker, daughter of Rev. C. T. Tucker, who was at that time a Baptist pastor in Mason City. Sophia had attended school at the Seminary and it was there the acquaintance was formed.

In 1906 the Sweney Brothers incorporated under the name of the Mitchell County Savings Bank, and took out a state charter. James was made cashier and maintained that position until 1915, when, on Charles' retirement from the presidency, he was elected to that office. Three years later he relinquished his duties as head of the institution but remained a member of the Board of Directors.

Through his half-century of business activity in Mitchell County, Mr. Sweney has been identified with so many enterprises and affairs that go into the development of the business, industrial and social life of the community, that an attempted enumeration of these connections must appear like the record itself, of the community's growth. For more than 30 years he was one of the mainstays of the Cedar Valley Seminary; many years he served the Mitchell County Agricultural Society; his service to the Baptist church as deacon and treasurer, covers a third of the century; he has served on the school board and on the city Council; helped in the establishment of creameries and farmers' elevators; assisted in the founding of three banks in the county other than the Mitchell County Savings Bank; was instrumental in the establishing of the Osage Cement Products company; serve the local camp of Modern Woodmen as banker for 40 years; contributed generously to various charities and social betterment causes.

Gifted with prudence and good judgment, his counsel was much sought. His works have left a mark on the history of Mitchell County that will never be erased.

Besides the brother and sister mentioned before, he leaves four children to revere the memory of a good father: Guy, of Peoria, Ill.; Bruce, of San Francisco, California; Paul and Mrs. Faith Hill, of Osage.

Copyright 2004, Joe Hanlon