Mathews, John L.

John L. Mathews

John L. Mathews was a member of the Newton Public Library board of trustees from the time of its organization in 1896 to 1905.[1] According to his obituary, he “[h]ad very limited advantage of the schools during boyhood, but [was] always a great reader and lover of books, especially those along the lines of history, biography and travel.” [2] As such, “He was interested in the formation of the Public Library, and on its organization was elected one o[f] its trustees, and was continued in that position until compelled to resign by reason of failing health.”[3]

John Lowrie Mathews was born in Clarke County, Indiana on February 28, 1835.[4] He came with his father’s family from Indianapolis, Indiana, to Iowa, locating in Newton in October, 1854.[5] When the Civil War broke out he enlisted in Company B, 13th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, September 30, 1861, as Third Sergeant. He served with that regiment until June 5, 1863, when he was discharged for promotion as First Lieutenant in 8th Louisiana Colored Infantry. [6] He served with this regiment until war’s end, the last engagement being the capture of Mobile, Alabama, April 9, 1865. [7] He was mustered out with his regiment in January, 1866, as Regimental Adjutant.[8] On his return to Newton he entered into partnership with Joseph “Joe” Bowker in the painting business under the firm name of Bowker & Mathews. This partnership lasted until 1887.[9] On February 2, 1871, Mathews was united in marriage with Miss Ellen “Nellie” Spence (1837-1892), of Knoxville, Iowa. [10] They were the parents of three children: Louis James “Louie” Mathews (b. & d. 1872), Wm. Spence “Willie” Mathews (1874-1880); and Mary Edith (Mrs. Ross R.) Mowry (1878-1949).[11] In 1889, Mathews was appointed Deputy Clerk of the District Court, serving under N. Townsend.[12] In 1892, he was a Republican candidate for Clerk to succeed Col. Townsend.[13] He was elected County Clerk in 1892[14]; he was re-elected two years later.[15] Mathews was made a Mason in Newton Lodge No. 59, Ancient, Free & Accepted Masons, in 1866, and subsequently took the Chapter and Commandery Degrees.[16] He was a member of Garrett Post No. 16, Grand Army of the Republic, from its organization on August 20, 1879.[17] He had been a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church since 1848.[18] Mathews died at his residence in Newton, February 4, 1909.[19] His fellow library trustee, O. N. Wagley, conducted Masonic services at the Methodist Church on February 7.[20] Mathews is buried with his wife and sons in Newton Union Cemetery.[21]

-Larry Ray Hurto


[1] 1896-1957 Library Trustees, Newton Public Library History.{d88251a6d044bb92acfc6562c844669d257905d2c83f008be98127c59e94a890}20trustees/field/subjec/mode/exact/conn/and/order/title/ad/asc.

[2] The Newton Journal, February 10, 1909.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Roster and Record of Iowa Soldiers in the War of the Rebellion, Vol. II (Des Moines: Emory H. English, State Printer, 1908), p. 652.

[7] The Newton Journal, February 10, 1909.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] The Marion County, Iowa Genealogical Society, Marriage Records of Marion County, Iowa, 1845-1915 (Marceline, MO: Walsworth Publishing Company, 1980), p. 82; The Newton Journal, January 27, 1892.

[11] The Newton Journal, January 27, 1892 and February 10, 1909. Mathews’ son-in-law, Ross Mowry, served as a library trustee from 1912 to 1924. 1896-1957 Library Trustees, Newton Public Library History.

[12] The Newton Journal, February 10, 1909.

[13] Ibid., June 22, 1892.

[14] Ibid., November 16, 1892.

[15] Ibid., November 7, 1894.

[16] Ibid., February 10, 1909. Mathews served as Senior Deacon in Newton Lodge in 1868, 1869, 1876, and 1881. He served as Junior Warden in 1882 and Senior Warden in 1883. 150th Anniversary, Newton Lodge #59 A. F. & A. M., Newton, Iowa [2005], opposite p. i.

[17] He was A. Q. M. G. for the Department of Iowa for the year 1885. The Newton Journal, February 10, 1909. In 1891, he was appointed aide-de-camp by Gen. W. G. Veazy, commander-in-chief, of the Grand Army of the Republic. The Newton Journal, June 24, 1891.

[18] Ibid., February 10, 1909.

[19] Dr. E. F. Besser certified the cause of death as uremia. Funeral Register, Iowa Mercantile Co., Newton, Iowa, Book I-A, 1904-1914, p. 230. Jasper County Genealogical Society, Newton, Iowa. The Newton Journal reported that for much of the year 1886 Mathews experienced “the pains and penalties of a severe attack of rheumatism” which caused him to take a fall in the Courthouse in May of that year. The paper suggested he was “more infirm and decrepid” as a result of his war experiences. Mathews’ obituary in The Newton Journal says he experienced “intense suffering and pain” for a period of years.

[20] The Newton Journal, February 10, 1909, says the ritual of the Masonic fraternity was conducted by “W. O. Wagley acting as Worshipful Master;” Wade E. Sheeler, Secretary of Newton Lodge, confirms it was O. N. Wagley.

[21] Jasper County Genealogical Society, comp., Jasper County, Iowa, Cemeteries: Newton Union Cemetery, Blocks 1, 2, and 3; Veterans Block 1 and 2 (Des Moines: Iowa Genealogical Society, 1994), p. 353.