HON. GEORGE PARSONS. A modest, unassuming man, possessing undoubted business ability and judgment, Hon. George Parsons, now serving his fourth term as mayor of Cairo, is numbered among the representative citizens of Southern Illinois. The seventh child in succession of birth of the nine children of Joseph and Mary (Cram) Parsons, he was born in April, 1854, on a farm in Kennebunk, Maine, the old homestead on which he was reared still belonging to the family.
His early life, like that of many New England boys of his day, was one of hardships and struggles, ready money being scarce and wage-earning opportunities rare. Hard-working people, with limited means, his parents trained their sons and daughters to habits of industry, honesty, and thrift, and lived to see all of them well settled in life. At the age of sixteen years, through the generosity and kindness of a kinsman, George Parsons was enabled to prepare for college, and was graduated from Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine, with the class of 1876. The ensuing fall he entered Comer's Commercial College, in Boston, Massachusetts, and having completed a course of six months in that institution accepted a position in the office of Edwin Parsons, of New York city, where he remained four and one half years, gaining valuable business knowledge and experience.
Leaving that mart of human activity and commercial strenuosity in October, 1881, Mr. Parsons made his way westward to Alexander county, Illinois, and soon afterward entered the service of the Cairo Trust Property as bookkeeper, and has since been closely associated with this organization, for many years having served most ably and efficiently as its managing head.
A stanch supporter of the principles of the Republican party since casting, in 1876, his vote for President Hayes, Mr. Parsons contributes liberally of his time, influence and services towards the advancement of his party and the welfare of city, town and state, being ever mindful of the interests of the people. In the spring of 1905 he was elected mayor of Cairo, and the following November was the choice of the people for county commissioner of Alexander county, polling the largest vote ever cast for a Republican candidate at a similar election, and in the spring of 1907 was honored with a reelection to the mayorship of the city. The work of Mr. Parson both as mayor and as commissioner was such as to reflect credit upon his administrative abilities. Upwards of a million dollars-worth of improvements were inaugurated, including a good sewerage system, the paving of many streets, the building of cement sidewalks, and the improvement of the public highways throughout the city and county. For many years Mr. Parsons has been an active member of the National Good Roads Association, which has been influential in materially improving the highways, more especially the country roads. In the work of improving the roads leading to the National Cemetery in Pulaski county, near Mound City, Mr. Parsons was an active and interested worker, having donated to the United States Government the right of way from Cache bridge to the cemetery. He also surveyed the road, was instrumental in securing an appropriation from the National Congress for its building, and in May, 1907, brought the matter before the war -department, at Washington, D. C., in such an effective manner that during the following summer repairs amounting to five thousand dollars were made upon the road.
In 1908 Mr. Parsons acceded to the wishes of his many friends and became a candidate for Congress from the Twenty-fifth congressional district of Illinois. The improvement of the internal waterways has long been of supreme moment, to the people of Southern Illinois, which has a vast frontage on two of the largest rivers of the country, the Ohio and the Mississippi, and this improvement has been intelligently developed through the indefatigable labors of the various River Improvement Associations, in each of which Mr. Parsons is an active member. Largely through his personal influence, in October, 1907, President Roosevelt and the Inland Waterways Commission made a trip on the Mississippi from Keokuk to Memphis, arriving in Cairo, Illinois, in company with a large delegation of governors and other public officials on October 3, it being the first visit of a president of the United States to the Twenty-fifth congressional district of Illinois. The President and his companions were most hospitably entertained by Mr. Parsons, who likewise had the distinction, in October, 1909, of entertaining President Taft and his party on their river journey from Saint Louis to New Orleans, an honor which rarely comes to men so far removed from the seat of government.
In November, 1911, the guests aboard the replica of the boat "New Orleans," making its centennial trip from Pittsburg to New Orleans, were entertained at the home of Mayor Parsons, who extended a public invitation to the citizens of Cairo to gather at his house, express their interest in the great event being commemorated, and extend a neighborly greeting to the distinguished party from the head waters of the Ohio. On November 30, 1911, another honor fell to the lot of Mayor Parsons, when he had the pleasure of extending his hospitality to Alfred Tennyson Dickens, son of Charles Dickens, whose descriptions of Cairo after his own visit to this city connects this part of Southern Illinois with the writings of the famous English author and novelist.
Mr. Parsons has been thrice married. He married, first, in Cairo, in 1882. Ada V. Scarritt, a daughter of Rev. J. A. Scarritt. She passed to the life beyond in 1897, leaving one child, Blanche Parsons. Two years later Mr. Parsons was united in marriage with Isabel Hartley, of New York, who passed away in February, 1911. On February 27, 1912, at Little Rock, Arkansas, he married Miss Mary Pearl Shields, a native of Kentucky. Her father, Charles P. Shields, was at one time professor of languages in Bethel College, Russellville, Kentucky.
Extracted from A History of Southern Illinois, 1912, Volume 3, pages 1188-1190