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Biosketch of Capt. W.J. Allen, Once Among the Wealthiest of Monroe County

Blog post by Randi Richardson



This picture of Capt. W. J. Allen appeared with his obituary in the Bloomington Evening World on May 16, 1915.

William John Allen was born September 8, 1836 in Putnam County, Indiana, and came to Monroe County with his parents, John W. and Fanny (Clark) Allen, when he was only three months old.

After completing his education in the common schools of the county he took a college preparatory course.  In 1854 he went to California with 14 others from Lawrence and Monroe counties including  Capt. Lunderman, Paris McPhetridge, William Allen and Henry Knight from Bloomington.  He remained there several years working as a common laborer, miner and farmer.

Upon his return to Monroe County, he again took up farming.  In 1860, at the age of 24, he was living with his wife and two children in Perry Township where he owned real estate valued at $5,300 and personal property valued at $100.  At the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in the Indiana Volunteer Infantry as a first lieutenant and was discharged on June 28, 1865, with the rank of captain.

At the conclusion of the war, J. W. engaged in the hardware business in Bloomington.  For 40 years was prominent as one of the leading merchants of the city.  His business was located on the south side of the square.  He also invested heavily in real estate and farm land and owned several store buildings on the square as well as the Bloomington National Bank building.  He was eligible for a military pension of $30/month, but he never received a dollar from this source because he never applied for the pension.

J.W. married twice. In 1857 he married Harriet L. Swearengen with whom he had three children: Fannie who married Wallace Palmer of Michigan; Joseph of Bloomington and John, deceased.  After the death of his first wife he married Eliza J. Allen, the daughter of Robert N. and Elizabeth (Talbott) Allen.  With her he had six more children all of whom died before their father.

On May 26, 1915, J. W. died at his home at 402 N. North College Avenue following an illness of two weeks.  The cause of his death was an enlarged prostate and uremic poisoning.  At the time of his death he was 78 years old and a widow.  In addition to his two children, he was survived by a number of grandchildren including Harry H. Allen, a founder of the Allen Funeral Home of today.

A few days after his death, the Bloomington Evening World reported that Capt. W. J. Allen was the “heaviest individual taxpayer in Monroe County paying in $3,500 each year to the county treasurer.  Unfortunately, however, because he died without a will, his estate went into probate and was not settled until fourteen years later in 1929.  The half million dollar estate at that time went to four heirs—two children, Fannie and Joseph, and two grandchildren, Cecil Ball and Rebecca Jane Allen of Chicago and San Diego, respectively.