Jacob J. Frey, for a number of years numbered among the prominent and progressive citizens of Hillsboro, may well be termed one of the founders of the city, for he has been the promoter of many leading business enterprises, and the growth and development of a city depend upon its commercial and industrial activity. His connection with any undertaking insures a. prosperous outcome of the same, for it is in his nature to carry forward to successful completion whatever he is associated with. He has earned for himself an enviable reputation as a careful man of business and in his dealings is known for his prompt and honorable methods, which have won him the deserved confidence of his fellow men.
A native of Ohio. Mr. Frey was born in the city of Cincinnati. February 16, 1866. His father, George A. Frey, also born in that city, died at the age of thirty-eight years. He conducted a cigar manufactory and was also a trunk manufacturer. In 1860 he removed from Ohio to St. Louis, Missouri, and the following year he enlisted in the Fourth Missouri Cavalry as a member of Company 1. thus serving until the close of the war. He joined the army as a private; but was promoted through successive ranks until he attained that of major. He participated in the battle of Missionary Ridge and other important engagements and was mustered out at the close of the war at St. Louis. In one battle be received a gunshot wound, which caused him to lose part of his hand. In 1864 he was captured by the rebel troops, spent eleven months in Andersonville prison and came out almost a physical wreck, but by careful nursing and attention he finally recovered his health. When the war was ended and he was mustered out of the service he turned his attention to the manufacture of cigars in St. Louis, where he remained until 1866, when he removed to Cincinnati. Ohio, spending about a year there. He then returned to St. Louis, and in 1870 he came to Hillsboro, where he established a cigar factory which he conducted with good success up to the time of his death, which occurred in 1876. In his fraternal relations he was an odd fellow and politically was a Republican. He married Miss Clara Benkler, a daughter of John Benkler, a native of Germany in which country he served as a judge. Both he and his wife died in the fatherland. Mrs. Frey was born near Bremen. Germany, in 1839, and is now living in Hillsboro with a daughter. She was a most devoted wife and mother and made many sacrifices for her children after her husband's death. She holds membership with the Lutheran church and her entire life has been in consistent harmony with her profession. Unto Mr. and Mrs. George A. Frey were born four children: Jacob, of this review; Katie, the wife of John O. Miller; George, who was a member of Company E, Fifth Illinois Infantry, and served in the Spanish-American war, after which he returned home and re-enlisted for service in the Philippines, where his death occurred in August, 1902, when he was twenty-four years of age, his remains, however, being interred in the cemetery at Hillsboro; and Ida F., who is the wife of George Dunn, who is in the office with Mr. Frey of this review.
Jacob J. Frey was brought to Hillsboro by his parents in 1870 and his early education was acquired in the public schools here. He was only about ten years of age at the time of his father's death. His mother afterward met with financial reverses and found it very difficult to provide for her children, of whom Jacob is the eldest. She then found it necessary to do laundry work in order to keep the larder supplied. She received able and willing assistance, however, from her son Jacob, who did chores for Mr. Stewart in order to help pay the rent, and he also did any other honest work that he could secure that would help his mother. At one time the school board passed a rule that children having no books should be prohibited from attending school. A kind friend, knowing that Mr. Frey had to leave school because of the measure passed, told him to get what books he needed, and if ever able to pay him back he could do so. The years passed and Mr. Frey because of his unflagging industry and perseverance, prospered and long since he has discharged the indebtedness to his benefactor and also assisted him at a time when business difficulties pressed him hard. This instance is another proof of the old saying that "bread cast upon the waters will return after many days." Mr. Frey was very desirous of obtaining an education, realizing its value as a preparation for life's practical and responsible duties and after leaving public schools he and three other young men employed a teacher who instructed them for two years. In the meantime he clerked for C. B. Rhoades in a dry goods store and on leaving that employ he accepted a position as salesman in the hardware store of Stewart & Linxwiler, continuing there for about a year, but the work proved too severe a strain upon his health and he returned to the employ of Mr. Rhoades, remaining there until 1885. He then concluded that he would learn the real estate business and obtained a leave of absence from the store for a year with the privilege of returning at the end of that time if he desired to do so. He then went to Topeka, Kansas, where he spent a year and was employed as a clerk in a real estate office of that city. On the expiration of that period he returned to Hillsboro, where he opened an office. He had been quite successful in Kansas, but sickness compelled him to use most of his good money. He had but little capital upon his return to Hillsboro, but the determination and enterprise which have been noticeable among his strongest characteristics from his early boyhood were again manifest and his labors as a real estate agent have met with marked success. In fact, he is now doing the largest business of his kind in the county and his business activity has been an important factor in the upbuilding, progress and improvement of this portion of the state. He has taken an active part in laying out Prairie Heights and his efforts have been very effective in promoting the substantial improvement of Hillsboro. During his business career he has made no foreclosure of a mortgage that has not been what is known as a "friendly foreclosure."
To many other lines of business activity Mr. Frey has extended his energy with good result. He was one of the incorporators of the Hillsboro Brick & Tile Company and in connection with C. A. Ramsey he incorporated the Montgomery County Telephone Company. In connection with W. A. Howett he secured the franchise for an electric light plant in Hillsboro, costing thirty thousand dollars and in the present year, 1904, he secured a franchise for an electric light plant for Raymond and rebuilt the plant there, which is now in operation. He has just received a franchise from Montgomery County for the use of the roads and streets for stringing wires with the intention of furnishing light and power for the county from one central station. In connection with others he laid out lots in the vicinity of the new radiator plant at Litchfield and was one of the incorporators of the new organization of the electric light company at Litchfield. Mr. Frey is one of the incorporators of the Hillsboro Hotel and was one of the promoters and developers of the Kortkamp Coal Company and helped lay out the village of Kortkamp.
Taken From: Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois Vol II - Montgomery County (1918)
Mr. Frey was married June 27, 1891, to Miss Minnie B. Witherspoon, a daughter of William and Sarah J. Witherspoon, who was born in Hillsboro in 1866. Her father was a merchant of this place and died during the Civil war. Unto Mr. and Mrs. Frey has been born one child, Aldine. The parents are members of the Lutheran church, take a very active part in church work and Mr. Frey is serving as deacon and treasurer. He was also a member of and treasurer of the building committee at the time of the erection of the new house of worship. Socially he is connected with the Knights of Pythias fraternity and in politics he is a Republican. His success in all his undertakings has been so marked that his methods are of interest to the commercial world. He has based his business principles and actions upon strict adherence to the rules which govern industry, economy and strict unswerving integrity. His enterprise and progressive spirit have made him a typical American in every sense of the word and lie well deserves mention in history. What he is today he has made himself, for he began in the world with nothing but his own energy and willing hands to aid him. By constant exertion, associated with good judgment, he has raised himself to the prominent position which he now holds, having the friendship of many and the respect of all who know him..