Ward Risley biography

WARD RISLEY. Modern Jacksboro is the creation of the practical and skillful working of a mechanical mind. The splendid structures around its public square with enduring walls and architectural finish are the products of hands schooled in the building art and mark the era of enterprise and progress in Jack county’s metropolis. With all this progress was Ward Risley of this review connected and in all its permanent building enterprises he was a prime factor, a leading and active spirit. While credit for the achievement belongs to the firm of Risley Brothers, as contractors, as president of the firm great labor and much of the responsibility for the result devolved upon Ward Risley.

For nearly a score of years Risley Brothers were identified with various lines of contract work, prominent in its character and embracing in their operations every important locality in the Lone Star state. From getting out ties and timbers for railroad construction, to the construction of business houses, public buildings, bank vaults and the patenting and construction of garbage crematories, Ward Risley has ever demonstrated the cunning of the craft and given to his state some of the most enduring structures and examples of the best workmanship known to the builder’s trade. By inclination and early training a mechanical engineer, with a strong penchant for extending his research into other branches of the engineering science, he ultimately chose the building trade as a field in which to display his prowess and to win success.

In childhood he gave evidence of striking precocity and he handled school books under his mother’s instruction as toys, attaining to a first-grade teacher’s certificate at fifteen years of age. About sixteen he began the preparation which led him into mechanical lines, serving an apprenticeship in stone cutting and in wood working also, and later studied civil engineering under the superintendent of the C. M. & L. S. Railway, becoming acting assistant chief engineer of the road while still an apprentice. For two years he was in the employ of the railroad and then took up the business of general contracting, on buildings and ship timbers, at twenty-four years of age. He was actively identified with this work in the states of Michigan, Indiana and Illinois until 1876, when he brought his work to a close pending his search for a location in the south.

Texas attracted him and he spent a year at Dallas, found the state to his liking and chose a location near Henrietta in Clay county and moved to it in 1878. By buying a farm he in-tended to abandon contracting, but the unreliability of agriculture and the still absorbing interest in his trade called him again into action and, with his brother, he took a contract for furnishing the T. & P. Railway with ties and timbers for a portion of their road under construction in 1880. He had a contract also with the Mexican Central road and in 1884 he re-turned actively to building work as a partner in the firm of Strain, Risley & Swinburn. They built the Henrietta and Vernon court houses, the Vernon jail, the Jacksboro court house and jail, the first-class masonry on the construction of the Santa Fe road between Fort Worth and Gainesville and since then Risley Brothers have taken up and maintained themselves actively in the contracting field.

Early in the nineties Mr. Risley was employed as engineer on the construction of garbage crematories at Corsicana, Gainesville and Cleburne, and, in 1894, a familiarity with the principle of successful garbage cremation led him to experiment on a new plan and, finding it to meet his hopes, he patented it and built plants under his patent at Waco, Taylor and Greenville, Texas, and in 1901 his patent was adopted by the City of Mexico and the plant put in on a royalty. The study of the garbage question led him to invent a plan for closet cremation and for hot air and hot water heating, also for garbage consumption, but, having established himself permanently in the rock crusher business, he has not pushed his later patents.

The Jacksboro crusher industry was inaugurated by Risley Brothers in 1897 and a small machine with toy capacity formed the nucleus of their present plant. A stock company succeeded the original venture, capitalized at $30,000 with $15,000 paid in. Risley Brothers & Company, the style of the present firm, is composed of Ward and Noah Risley and D. C. Horton, the first president and manager and the last the secretary of the concern. The plant has a capacity of one hundred thousand yards of crushed stone a year, with additional quarry capacity for getting out large quantities of building stone, sending all of their product to points in Texas, Oklahoma or the Indian Territory. The Rock Island, Fort Worth and Denver and the I. and G. N. railroads use immense quantities of ballast and bridge stone from their plant and sawed stone trimmings for buildings in Dallas, Fort Worth and Waco have been shipped out of their yard.

While Mr. Risley is a native of the north he has felt a strong interest in the affairs of his adopted state and has permitted himself to be drawn into its political frays. He is without a positive political party, believing more in men than in a proclamation of principles. During the period of political reform, and while yet a resident of Clay county, the adherents of reform named him for representative to the legislature for Clay and Jack counties, and he came within less than a hundred votes, of being elected, on his second trial, without making a single speech or taking any hand in the canvass.

Ward Risley was born in Du Page county, Illinois, March 1, 1846, and was a son of Alanson Risley, mentioned in the sketch of Noah Risley on another page of this work. His father was a carpenter and farmer and from his worthy sire our subject took his primary lessons in both. He was married first March 1, 1867, his wife being Sarah Spry, who died in 1885, in Clay county, Texas, leaving children: Charles, of Jacksboro, married Mrs. Barbara Bynum and has issue, Claude and Ruby; Zeph L., of Jacksboro, and Ward H., who was last heard of at El Reno, Oklahoma, in 1900. January 1, 1887, Mr. Risley married Rose F. Haroughty, a daughter of Patrick Haroughty, born near Dubuque, Iowa, where Mrs. Risley was born in 1867. The children of this union are: Grace, Katie, Alanson, Wait, Rose, George and Porter. Mrs. Risley’s mother, who was Rose McAlay, is still living, while Mrs. Risley’s father died in Clay county in 1889.

Mr. Risley is a Knight Templar Mason and a Unitarian in religious belief. As a business man he is practical at every turn and accomplishes things without bluster and in the right way. Jacksboro is deeply indebted to his enterprise for one of her important institutions and for her material permanence and substantiality, and when the record is made up in the last day his achievements will mark Ward Risley as having passed an honorable, busy and useful life.

Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. II, pp. 259-261.