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The Deer Park Community

West presentations kick off city's 125th celebration

Written by Bobby Vasquez. Posted in Community

By the time Simeon H. West founded Deer Park in 1892, the Illinois business man had already blazed a trail of success that eventually reached the United States West Coast. Recently, Deer Park City Councilwoman Sherry Garrison presented programs detailing the life of the Founder of Deer Park as the city celebrates its 125th birthday.

To kick off the city’s 125th birthday celebration, Councilwoman Sherry Garrison started at the literal beginning of Deer Park’s timeline. Garrison, who heads the Historical Committee, presented a program detailing the life and times of founder Simeon H. West to the community and to the Deer Park Rotary Club.

“Simeon H. West was a complicated, adventurous and a bit eccentric,” she said.

Born in Bourbon County, Kentucky Jan. 30, 1827 to Henry and Mary Liter West. By the time his schooling ended at age 16, he was already working on his father’s farm but continued to read and self educate,” Garrison said.

In 1851, West’s father sold the family farm and sent him to McLean County Illinois to purchase a 280-acre farm. This purchase proved to lead to a very lucrative life for the West family, said Garrison. The township became known as the West Township, located in the central part of the state.

During their time in Illinois, the West family had its own brush with greatness when Abraham Lincoln spent the evening and had dinner with the West family at their Illinois home, she said.

In 1863, West married Martha O’Neal, a woman 20 years his junior.

“She was about 15 years old, but this was not really uncommon then,” Garrison said. “He loved Martha.”

In West’s autobiography he wrote,” No one dreamed I would marry that poor girl. But I discovered she was a jewel of rare qualities and I wasted no time marrying her. It was the best, wisest happiest act of my life. I am indebted to her for much that I am.”

The couple had nine children, two of which died at a young age. The Wests and their children are buried in a large family plot at Oak Grove Cemetery in Le Roy. The youngest child, Luella, the namesake of one of Deer Park’s main streets, died in 1973.

West also had a profound interest in gold mining, making 18 trips to the West Coast and Montana. He also purchased mines, cattle ranches and land to develop parks around the country. He also delved into politics, serving as supervisor of the West Township (similar to a mayor position) and two terms in the Illinois state legislature.

He also was nominated to run for the Illinois state senate, but was not successful.

“The man he was running against was a friend of his. He thought it was unethical to run against a friend,” Garrison said. West later became a newspaper columnist and wrote two books.

“He had an opinion and was never afraid of expressing it,” Garrison said.

Simeon West was also a devout spiritualist, Garrison said.

“In the late 1850s did not have the stigma that it has today. He believed in the communication between a person and the spirit world by means of a séance,” she said. “He had a spirit guide named Pansy.”

Garrison found and visited many of the Illinois sites important to the West family in and around Le Roy, Ill., including farms, museums and even West’s séance room. While visiting these locations, Garrison was able to speak with many of West’s descendants.

“Some of them didn’t even know he founded a city. They wanted to know a lot about Deer Park and what our city is like today,” she said. “They knew he traveled across the United States and built homes in Le Roy for his children. Some of them are still standing and his descendants still live in them.”

Garrison said some of West’s descendants will attend the city’s celebratory events later this year.

“Building a town was a time-consuming and difficult task, but Simeon West was up to the challenge,” she said. West also reserved rights for utility lines and roads in Deer Park.

While in Deer Park, West also named three streets which retain their present-day names: P Street, X Street and Luella. West Avenue was the original name of Center Street. Garrison said there are no official records that show when the name was changed to Center Street.

He built a road that led near to the present-day Shell complex and built a wharf on either side of Buffalo Bayou with permission from the secretary of war. The wharf was destroyed during the Great Galveston Hurricane.

West also granted land for the first railroad to go through Deer Park for $1.

He was always impressed with the waterfront in Deer Park and knew it would be important to manufacturing and shipping in Deer Park. In 1902, he granted the deed right-of-way to the ship channel to the United States of America, said Garrison.

Before leaving, he established the first Deer Park Post Office by contacting then-Vice President Adlai Stevenson, a personal friend in 1893.

Stevenson personally saw that the documents were issued to establish the post office.

West also built a large hotel in Deer Park where he had his own large suite where he was know to continue practicing his spirituality.

Garrison said the historical committee discovered documents that stated West was also a cotton farmer as well as having land interests in a neighboring town. However, his business partner did not pay their agree-upon share, putting West more than $10,000 in debt.

“They were the most utterly depraved scoundrels I had ever come into contact with. Their names are not worth being mentioned,” West wrote. That land became La Porte, Garrison said.

Despite all of West’s efforts, his vision for Deer Park did not come to fruition and he sold the city.

“The town that Simeon dreamed of did not materialize as he had hoped. There was 22-inch snowstorm in 1895, an 8 degree day in 1899 and then the Galveston Hurricane in 1900.

“He couldn’t wait for the manufacturing and shipping to come about, so he sold Deer Park in 1905,” Garrison said.

West had stated he did not want to live so long that he was no longer a help to those around him. He died April 2, 1920 at the age of 93.

“Simeon H. West was a special person,” Garrison said. “He was more than just the founder of Deer Park. He was a very, very special man.”

She said the city has plans throughout 2017 honoring West and the 125th birthday of the city of Deer Park.