October 19, 2020

Pages 3710-3718
Whole Number 153 THOMAS C. SPARKS, 1815-1909
Pioneer Settler in Boone County, Iowa

In the Quarterly of December 1964, Whole No.48, beginning on page 865, we gave a record of the life of Isaac Sparks of Washington Township, Fayette County, Pennsylvania. He had been born in Deptford Township, Gloucester County, New Jersey, ca. 1760 and was a grandson of 19.1 Simon Sparks who had immigrated from Scotland or Ireland to Salem County, New Jersey, prior to 1739. (For further information on Simon Sparks and his family, see the

the September 1957 issue of the Quarterly, Whole No. 19, pp. 242-44 and
the March 1958, Whole No. 21, pp. 286-87.

The will of Isaac Sparks of Fayette County, Pennsylvania, written on October 31, 1819, appeared in the Quarterly of September 1962, Whole No. 39, pp. 674-76.

Among the children of Isaac Sparks, whose wife was Anna (Lloyd) Sparks, was a son named Ephraim Lloyd Sparks, born January 1, 1790, died March 24, 1871. About 1817, Ephraim, with his brother, John Sparks (born 1788), moved with their families to Warren Township, Tuscarawas County, Ohio. Ephraim Sparks had been married on August 10, 1813, to Sarah Cook, daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth (Cope) Cook, and two children had been born to this union before their move to Ohio, including Thomas C. Sparks, then two years old. He had been born on December 25, 1815, and is the subject of this article.

On page 869 of the December 1964 Issue of the Quarterly, Whole No. 48, we gave a list of nine children of Thomas C. Sparks and his wife, Esther Ann Dunn, which was taken from the 'Cope Collection' of genealogical materials in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, that list of children was Incomplete. There were actually twelve children, not nine. Omitted were two (Laura Belle and Charles Lloyd) who died in Infancy, along with the youngest child, Louis Playford Sparks, who was born December 13, 1871, and lived until March 10, 1936. [Webmaster Note: I brought the list here and added the 2 infants in the gap from 1860 to 1865]. Leroy Sparks, born February 9, 1853. Fremont Sparks, born February 11, 1854. Eugene Victor Sparks, born May 23, 1855, Asenath Sparks, born December 26, 1856. James Dunn Sparks, born 4 February 1858. John C. Sparks, born ca. 1860. Laura Belle Sparks, died in infancy. Charles Lloyd Sparks, died in infancy. Anetta. Sparks, born ca. 1865. Robert Sparks, born ca. 1867. Edward Sparks, born in July, 1869. Louis Playford Sparks, born December 13, 1871

Before her death in 1989, Thelma Sparks Pryor of Maysville, Oklahoma, sent us a photograph of Thomas C. Sparks (1815-1909) which we have reproduced on the cover of this issue of the Quarterly. Mrs. Pryor also sent us the other photographs used with this article as well as several obituaries. She was a great-granddaughter of Thomas C. and Esther Ann (Dunn) Sparks, and a granddaughter of Louis Playford Sparks. (He was known as Playford Sparks.)

At the time of his death in 1909, Thomas C. Sparks was one of the last of the pioneers who had settled in Boone County, Iowa, in the mid-1800s. A quite detailed record of his life appeared as his obituary in a weekly newspaper published in the town of Boone, Iowa, called the News-Republican of August 24, 1909, which we give below. An important detail was omitted in this record, however, that being that Thomas C. Sparks returned to Pennsylvania with his parents in 1837. This explains how he happened to obtain his advanced education in Pennsylvania rather than Ohio.

From the Boone News-Republican, August 24, 1909:

The funeral services for the late Thomas Sparks, were held Sunday afternoon, August 22nd, at 3:00 o'clock from the residence, 621 Tenth Street, and were attended by many of the pioneer friends of the Sparks family. The services were conducted by the Rev. W. G. Hohanshelt, pastor of the First M. E church and the interment was in East Linwood cemetery.

The pastor used for his text the sixth verse of the fourth chapter of Second Timothy, 'For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.' The musical numbers were given by a quartet with Miss Helen Bonnard, organist, and those who sang were Miss Lillian Sterrett, Miss Dorothy Phillips. Messrs. Milo Slade and Emil Nelson. The songs were 'Abide With Me,' 'My Jesus as Thou Wilt,' and 'Sweet bye and bye.' The interment was in East Linwood, where six grandsons, Messrs. Brownie, James, Ralph, John, Lewis, and Harry Sparks bore the remains, followed by the sorrowing relatives and many pioneer friends. The flowers were very beautiful, being sent by friends and lodges.

Sketch of His Life

Thomas Sparks was born in Fayette County, Pa., December 23, 1815, and died at his home in Boone, Iowa, August 20, 1909, having attained the age of 93 years, 7 months and 27 days. His death was due to the general decline in old age, the gradual giving away of the tissues of life, together with an ailment brought on by the excessive heat of the past summer.

When two years of age his parents moved from Pennsylvania to Tuscarawas County, Ohio, where he grew to manhood upon a farm. He attended the academy at Carmichael, Pa., afterwards teaching several terms of school in Pennsylvania and Iowa. In the year 1846, he came west locating in Boone County, Iowa, being among the earliest of the settlers in this part of the state. Mr. Sparks partook of his first meal in this county in the residence of James Hull, near this city. Mr. Sparks soon took up a claim here, which is now a portion of the M. J. Reilly farm just west of Linwood cemetery. He finally removed from his claim to Worth Township. In 1851 he returned to Pennsylvania where on the 15th of March, 1852, he was united in marriage to Esther Ann Dunn of Fayette County.

To this union were born twelve children, two dying in infancy; one son, Frank, dying in the hospital in Manila, Philippine Islands, where he was serving his country in the army, and nine surviving, they being as follows: Leroy of Boone; Fremont of Boone; Eugene of Armel, Col.; Asenath D. Fisher of Evanston, IL.; the Rev. James of Armel, Col.; John of Boone; Mrs. Nettie Hitsman of Armel, Col.; Robert of Trinidad, Col.; and Playford of Boone. The aged widow also survives with these children, to mourn the loss of a kind and loving husband and father. There are eighteen grand-children and one great-grandson among those who mourn.

Return to Iowa

The same spring that Mr. and Mrs. Sparks were united in marriage, they came to Iowa and settled upon their claim, in Worth Township, where they resided continuously for fifty-two years. In the autumn of 1904, they retired from the farm and resided in Boone ever since.

During all of these years, Mr. Sparks saw the remarkable growth of Boone and the county. He was ever interested in the welfare of those about him, and his interest in affairs of public moment, in educational matters, in war topics, was in deed keen. Mr. Sparks, it is currently reported, taught the first school in this county, and one and all conceded for him one of the best educations that pioneer days afforded. He was a student of the classics, and in his old age, his failing eyesight alone preventing, he read Greek and Latin, and kept up his mathematical studies.

Many years ago, when one of the county treasurer 5 books got tangled up, so that it was almost impossible to do anything with them, the supervisors appointed a committee headed by Mr. Sparks to straighten out these affairs. Mr. Sparks did this work to the entire satisfaction of the officials who had appointed him.

In politics Mr. Sparks in early life was a Democrat, but later changed and joined the ranks of the Republicans. He never courted politics, but studied the questions of the day with evident interest. In Worth Township, he held school offices, and was also the first surveyor of the county. For some time, he was chairman of the Board of Supervisors of this county, this during the building of the present courthouse.

When the Civil War broke out, Mr. Sparks, who was a believer in the Greeley doctrines, held that the south should be given opportunity to walk alone, and if those states failed, then for the north to take them back. Just at the close of the war, he was nominated by the Democrats for county treasurer, but was beaten by a big majority, undoubtedly due to his position on the war.

His Religion

Mr. Sparks, when a young man, was converted and united with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Several years ago he changed and united with the Methodist Church, joining the Luther [Iowa] Church. For many years, he held membership there, but about five years ago he transferred to Boone, uniting with the First M. E. Church. He was consistent in his beliefs and lived the life taught in the Bible. To the end, his memory was remarkably clear and his mind unusually bright. In his death he leaves to those who mourn the priceless heritage of a well spent life, lived uprightly and honestly.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

[Thelma Sparks Pryor also provided us with a copy of the obituary of Esther A. (Dunn) Sparks, doubtless published also in the Boone News-Republican, although we have only the clipping itself. This reads as follows:]

At the late home, 116 Benton Street, on Sunday afternoon at 2 o'clock, funeral services for the late Mrs. E. A. Sparks were held. The services were held at the First Methodist Church at 2:30 o'clock, conducted by the Rev. F. F. Travis. He took as his text Amos 4:12, 'Prepare to meet thy God.'

The music was furnished by a quartette composed of Mrs. E. S. Foster, Mrs. Fred Abel, Emil Nelson, and Robert Menzies, who sang, 'Come Unto Me,' 'Rock of Ages,' and 'I am Going Home.' The pallbearers were Brown Sparks, Ralph Sparks, Harry Sparks, Louis Sparks, James Sparks, and Lester Hitsman. Interment was In Lin wood Park Cemetery.

Esther A. Dunn was born in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, November 9th, 1828 and died in Boone, I6wa, May 13, 1920, being 91 years, 6 months, and 4 days old. She was raised In Pennsylvania and received a common school education. March 15, 1852, she married Thomas Sparks and with. her husband came to Boone County the same year. They settled on a farm and spent more than fifty years there--the rest of her life she lived In Boone. Twelve Children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Sparks. Two of them have died, Eugene, born in 1855, Died May 1st, 1912, and Frank, born 1868, Died In 1902 while a soldier at Manila, Philippine Islands. Two others died In Infancy.

The living children are Leroy D., Fremont C., John C., of Boone; Mrs. A.D. Fisher of Oakland, California.; James D. of Sierra Madre, California.; Mrs. Nettie Hitsman of Luther; Robert of Wichita, Kansas and Playford of Marshalltown. Her husband died in August, 1909.

Being one of the first settlers, she experienced all the hardships of pioneer life. She was a good mother and set the best example to her children. She joined the Methodist Church when 15 years old, being a devout and enthusiastic member for some seventy years.

The twelve children of Thomas C. and Esther Ann (Dunn) Sparks were: Leroy Darlington Sparks, born February 9, 1853, Died August 20, 1909. He married Luella I. Stevens, daughter of Jacob and Lucretia (Brown) Stevens, in Boone County, Iowa, on September 30, 1876. She was born November 9, 1858, and died on May 13, 1920. Fremont Curtis ('Mont'] Sparks, born February 11, 1854, Died April 20, 1929; he married Anne Margaret Likely who died in 1900. Eugene Victor Sparks, born May 23, 1855, Died May 2, 1913. He married Grace Glover (1859-1925). Their photograph appears on page 3714. Asenath Dunn ['Seena'] Sparks, born December 26, 1856, Died April 12, 1929. She married Louis Fisher (1859-1904). James Dunn Sparks, born February 4, 1858, Died July 28, 1938. He married (first) Mary Inez Alsworth (1866-1912), and (second) to Maude Alice Pearson (1914-1957). John Cook Sparks, born March 15, 1860, Died November 4, 1943. He married Mary Dougherty (1863-1937). Laura Belle Sparks, born December 16, 1861, Died July 16, 1862. Charles Lloyd Sparks, born June 15, 1863, Died in January 1864. Annette Jane Sparks, born December 3, 1864, Died October 9, 1961. She was married on May 1, 1895, to Joseph Hitsman (1853-1923). Robert Pearson Sparks was born December 28, 1866. No further data. Edward Franklin ('Frank'] Sparks was born in July 1869; he died June 23, 1901, in Manila, Philippine Islands, while serving in the Army. Louis Playford Sparks (called by his middle name, Playford), born December 13, 1871, Died March 10, 1936, in Marshalltown, Iowa. He was married at Luther, Iowa, on January 1, 1891, to Rosa Belle ['Della'] Hoffman, who was born September 8, 1869, and died on February 18, 1906.