ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


John Bonney


John Bonney (or Boney), carpenter and joiner; born April 15, 1823, in Cornwall, England; was educated and learned his profession there; came to America in 1849, landed in Quebec, and stayed in Canada till May 10, 1850, when he came to Watertown and worked for himself as carpenter and house joiner, till 1863, when he went to Little Rock, Ark., in Government employ, and stayed there till within ten days of the close of the war.


In 1865 he entered the employ of the C. M. & St. Paul Railroad; in 1873 (source gives 1874), he left them and helped build St. Bernard’s Catholic Church on the west side of the river.  In June, 1878, returned to work for the railroad company. 


Married Miss Sarah Jane Nettleton, of Watertown, in March, 1858; she died Jan. 25, 1878, leaving   three children:  Delia, Zina and George.


Members of the Episcopal Church; Republican.


The History of Jefferson County, Wisconsin, Chicago: Western Historical Company. 1879.



Mr. John Bonney, who for many years was employed in the carpenter shops of the Milwaukee & St. Paul Ry. Company in this city, has been appointed to the superintendency of the carpenter and wood work on the new St. Bernard's Catholic Church. Mr. Bonney is a workman of fine skill, and excellent judgment, and the St. Bernard's Society are to be congratulated on obtaining his services.


Watertown Republican, 07 30 1873



[ N.B. Hired as supervisor for carpentry, but later served as the overall construction superintendent ]


Wallman, Charles J., Built on Irish Faith, Impressions, 1994, p 125



Reprinted in Watertown Gazette, 1929




The following was the tribute paid to the late G. L. BONNEY by George W. Frankberg at the Elks Memorial services Sunday:


The comfort of having a friend may be taken away, but not that of having had one.  And so with our friend and brother, George L. Bonney – though we are gathered here to do honor to his memory – time nor death can take from us the ready smile, the kindly heart, the quick sympathy, the faithful and loyal friendliness, which made George Bonney loved by all who knew him.


George, as we all  knew him and like to remember him, was born in 1860 and was 60 years of age at the time of his death this last fall. Sixty years young – I might better say – for no man ever lived who kept the heart, the manner and the strength of his youth, more than he.


He left home at the age of 18, and at 21 was the first conductor on the Breckenridge division of the Great Northern – the youngest man honored with that position on the road at that time.  For a number of years he held the position as conductor – visiting Fergus Falls often and acquiring a host of friends.  How many of us remember when the word was passed around:  “George Bonney is in town” and the effort his friends made to meet him – to grasp his friendly hand – to see his cheery smile.


For some time he was gradually given more responsible charges by the Great Northern, and finally by his wide popularity and natural ability and faithfulness, he became the head of the dining and sleeping car service of the road – one of the highest positions with that company – a position carrying both honor and large responsibility with it.


Later he lived in St. Louis for seven years, where he held a similar position with the Missouri Pacific.


About 1910, he bought the Grand Hotel and came to Fergus Falls to manage it and to make his home here among his old friends.  He came here to live because he liked our people – and lived here and in Pelican Rapids until his death.


George Bonney did not choose his friends for wealth or position.  He numbered many high officials and men ranking high in this country among his acquaintances – yet every newsy on the road knew his ready smile and called him friend.  James J. Hill was very fond of George, and very often made special request that he take charge of his special train. 


Personally, few men have been closer to me than he.  For twenty years I have known him as a brother; for so he seemed, though many years my senior.  Someone has said that a friend is a bank of credit on which we can draw supplies of confidence, counsel, sympathy, help and love.  That he was to me – and in all those years he never failed me once.


I think that if it can be said of a man that the world is better off because he has lived in it, that this is the biggest and best monument that a person can leave.  This can be truthfully said of Mr. Bonney.  The world is better off because he lived in it.  He was an example of a successful man – successful in having been able to have lived well, accumulated sufficient, to have taken excellent care of his family and loved beyond measure by all of them, to have borne malice towards none, to have numbered as his friends all the people who knew him, and to have lived a life a cheerfulness and good nature such as we seldom see or experience.  In him were truly exemplified all of the cardinal virtues of this order – Charity – Justice – Brotherly Love – Fidelity.  His death was a big – an unmeasurable loss – to his family to his friends and to this order.


Such a man was my friend and your friend – George L. Bonney.  Please let it be so recorded in this Lodge of Sorrow this afternoon, and let us remember, as Mr. Bonney always did:


                              “How little it costs, if we give it a thought,

To make happy some heart each day,

                              Just one kind word or tender smile,

As we go on our daily way.

                              Perchance a look will suffice to clear,

The cloud from a neighbor’s face.

And the press of a hand in sympathy,

A sorrowful tear efface.

                              It costs so little I wonder why,

We give so little thought?

                              A smile, kind words, a glance, a touch,

What magic with them is wrought?


The above from the Fergus Falls, Minn., Journal of Monday, Dec. 6, 1920, will be read with a great deal of pleasure by the many readers of The Gazette who knew our friend and boyhood schoolmate in Watertown, all of whom we are sure endorse every word of this splendid eulogy.