William Eck

HISTORY OF ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, MICHIGAN, WITH ILLUSTRATIONS, Published by L.H. Everts, Philadelphia, 1877, 




Not only have many of the citizens of St. Joseph county left honorable names to descend upon those who follow them, but many of them also can trace back their lineage to honorable names left by their ancestors for their inheritance. Such an individual is the subject of our article,–William Rittenhouse Eck, who, though he can as yet trace no descendants from himself, can and does go back in the line of his maternal ancestors to the first paper-makers of America,–the Rittenhouses of Philadelphia,–in the “good old colony times when we lived under the King.”

Mr. Eck is the oldest son of Joseph and Mary (Rittenhouse) Eck, and was born in the township of Briar Creek, Columbia county, Pennsylvania, August 31, 1809, where he resided with his father, and obtained such an education as was imparted in the public-schools of that day. He assisted his father on the farm and in the clover and oil-mill until April 13, 1833, when he came west and located at what was then called the village of North Bend, but is now known as the second ward of Three Rivers. When he arrived at Buck’s hotel he had only a French five-franc piece left in his pocket. He worked for Philip H. Hoffman and Christian B. Bowman two weeks, then for George Tuck for six weeks, after which he husked corn on Prairie Ronde, and put in the balance of the fall shaking with the ague. In the winter he split rails for Mr. Hoffman, and helped to raise the first frame-house in Three Rivers,–the store-house that stood near the site of the present bridge over the St. Joseph river. In the spring of 1834 he began to learn the carpenter trade, and worked at it till May 31, when his master left the country, and the apprentice took his “kit” and knowledge (both very limited) and went into the service of John H. Bowman at farming, carpenter-work and milling, indifferently, and never left him until 1845. That year (on October 20) he came to Colon and bought an interest in the Colon mill,–the first stones of which he dressed,–and ground the first grist therein, in 1839. He operated the mill in company with John H. Bowman until 1848, and then with W. F. Bowman for three years longer, when he disposed of his interest to Joseph B. Millard, and in the summer of 1851, together with L. C. Mathews and S. S. Riley, built the saw-mill house known as the Riley mill, and operated in two years, when he retired from the firm, and has not been engaged in any active business since.

He owns property at Three Rivers, and also the seminary building in Colon, and is quietly enjoying a well-earned competency. He has held the office of supervisor of Colon for six years, and represented the county two years in the legislature. Mr. Eck was a Whig in the days of that party, and has been a member of the Republican parts since its organization to the present. He is not a member of any church, but from his good old Quaker mother imbibed principles of justice and mercy, which have actuated him in his dealings with his fellow-men through life.

For reasons satisfactory, doubtless to himself he has never married, but he has not, therefore, ignored the just demands of society, but in all things that would serve to improve its standing has ever been a generous and hearty contributor. No subscription was ever circulated in the township for any charitable object or business enterprise that has not had his name thereon, with a liberal sum affixed thereto. He aided liberally in the building of the seminary, and also in securing the railroad, although at the time owning no real estate in the town. Mr. Eck is highly esteemed by his neighbors, and is passing through life’s later stage with the serenity that a consciousness of a life of rectitude necessarily gives.