ISAAC N. MCELROY is official farmer and gardener for the Southern Illinois penitentiary, at Chester. He was born in Johnson county, Illinois, September 13, 1859, and is a son of Stephen B. McElroy, a farmer who settled in Johnson county in 1854 from Crittenden county, Kentucky. His forefathers were of pure Irish stock, the original representative of the name in America having come hither soon after the close of the War of the Revolution. The McElroy estate in Ireland is known as "Manadobia" and is located near Belfast.
Stephen McElroy was born in the state of Kentucky, in 1808, and as a young man he devoted his attention to agricultural pursuits. He came to Johnson county, Illinois, in 1854, and lived here until the time of his death, in 1862. Soon after the close of the Civil war Mr. McElroy's widow married William Clayton, who was one of General Jackson's soldiers in the war of 1812 and whose father was a colonial soldier in the great war for Independence. Mrs. Clayton was the mother of one son, the subject of this review, by her first husband, and she and her second husband became the parents of two children, a daughter, who died in childhood, and one son, Jesse T., who was born June 23, 1867, and who is now a resident of Willard, New Mexico. Jesse T. Clayton has the distinction of being the youngest son of a soldier of the war of 1812 and the youngest grandson of a Revolutionary soldier.
Isaac N. McElroy is the only son of his father and grew up, as it were, an orphan. He received but very meager educational facilities in his youth but in order to acquaint himself with the sciences of physics and botany he managed to pick up a smattering of Latin. At the age of nineteen years he hired out to a stock farmer for the small wage of ten dollars a month and he continued as a hand on the same stock farm for a period of seven years, at the expiration of which he was drawing a salary of twenty-six dollars per month. In 1885 he married and engaged in stock-farming on his own account, the scene of his operations being a small fifty-acre farm near Vienna. Having demonstrated his aptitude for both agriculture and horticulture, he was appointed assistant farmer at the Southern Illinois Hospital for the Insane, at Anna, in the spring of 1890. In this capacity he demonstrated unusual worth and in due time the manager of the institution made him florist and landscape gardener. He continued in the employ of the state for the next six years, but at the end of that time determined to again farm on his own account. In 1904, however, he was appointed farmer and gardener for the Southern Illinois Penitentiary, at Chester, and he has continued as the efficient incumbent of those positions during the long intervening years to the present time, in 1912.
Mr. McElroy has accomplished most phenomenal results for the prison. During the last year of the administration of his predecessor the prison farm yielded a trifle over ninety-five dollars as its income. With the introduction of scientific knowledge, however, the farm produced thirty-one hundred dollars-worth of food stuff in 1904. A gradual course of building-up has been practiced and the yield has increased each year until eight thousand dollars-worth of farm and garden products were gathered for the institution in 1910. Mr. McElroy is now serving his eighth year as prison farmer and gardener and during all that time he has not had a single vacation. This fact is ample illustration of his devotion to his work. He is ever seeking for the ultimatum in the possibilities of the prison farm by experiment in the rotation of crops, by discovering ideal methods of cultivation, by hybridizing and developing better seed and by equipping the farm with spring germinating houses of permanent material and of ideal design.
In addition to his work on the prison farm Mr. McElroy is engaged in the raising of Jersey cattle on his little estate near Vienna. His is the best little “Jersey” stock-farm in Illinois, as the prizes taken by his herd have shown. The head of his herd is "Sassas Essau," registered as No. 81511, who has competed in many shows and own six blue ribbons and a red one and who defeated "Prince Majesty," a son of "Royal Majesty," of the Council herd of Vandalia, and widely known among Jersey breeders in the state. Mr. McElroy is a Republican in his political convictions and while he does not participate actively in public affairs he is ever on the alert to do all in his power to advance progress and improvement in his section of the state.
On October 25, 1885, in Johnson county, was celebrated the marriage of Mr. McElroy to Miss Arista Whitaker, a daughter of Captain Mark Whitaker, who commanded a company in the Federal army in the Twentieth Illinois Volunteer Infantry during the Civil war, and who served for a number of terms as sheriff of Johnson county. Captain Whitaker married Elizabeth Deaton, and they became the parents of the following children, Mrs. McElroy; Dr. Hall Whitaker, a resident of Mound City, Illinois and a member, of the state legislature; Dr. W. J. Whitaker, of Pulaski, Illinois; Mrs. A. I. Brown, of Vienna, Illinois; Mrs. O. E. Burris, of Simpson, Illinois; Mrs. A. L. Compton, of Mound City; and Mrs. J. P. Mathis, of Johnson county, Illinois. Mr. and Mrs. McElroy 's children are: William and Josephine, twins, the former of whom has charge of the McElroy farm near Vienna during his father's absence, and the latter of whom is the wife of C. A. Compton, of Mound City, Illinois; and Mark, Miles and Isaac N., Jr., who remain at the parental home.
Extracted from A History of Southern Illinois, 1912, Volume 2, page 983-984