Otto Fowler

by Seth Leitner (MC, ’08)

 “It would be difficult to find a more popular man than Mr. Fowler, both in business and political way, and lay the city under a debt to him for circles for he has proven his worth in every public service.” [1] This is the way Monmouthians viewed Otto Fowler. Otto Fowler was an important member to the Monmouth community during his life. Otto Fowler was able to accomplish a great deal in his life. He was a representative businessman of Monmouth; He took a prominent part in civic matters. He served as mayor and was owner of one of the first modern meat markets, situated in the Kobler building.[2]

Otto Fowler was born in Monmouth, Illinois, on 9 November 1868.[3] Otto was the son of Frank and Pauline Fowler, who were farmers in Warren County. In a span of twenty years, Frank and Pauline had ten children: six daughters (Frances, Therese, Amelia, Matilda, Julia, and Elise) and four sons (Charles, Rudolph, Otto, and William).[4] Otto grew up on the farm learning all of the hard work and leadership properties a good mayor and a respectable man should have. Even though Monmouth College was close to his home, Otto Fowler did not need to attend college. He acquired his education on the farm help prepare him for his meat market that he would run. At the age of twenty-two, on 23 April 1890 Otto married the twenty-one year old Jessie Lusk.[5] After many years of living on the outskirts of Monmouth, Otto moved into town at 402 South A. Street.[6]

The Fowler and Shaw meat market located on 104 South Main St.[7] The meat market was a state of the art meat market at the time.[8] According to the Historical Biography of Monmouth, “he carried a full line of first class fresh and slat meats, and takes pride in having everything modern and sanitary.[9]” Otto Fowler took great pride in his great service. Fowler also was one of the few meat market owners to constantly keep modernizing; the ideal of progress and modernization was one of his key campaign plans.[10]

When Jessie Fowler was not working in the meat market, Mrs. Fowler was a seamstress in addition to taking care of their four children: three daughters (Theo, Lois Dorothy) and one son (Fred).[11]

Running a successful business, being in contact with prominent people in Monmouth, and making many donations to the city, Otto Fowler was finally convinced into throwing his name into the ring to become the mayor of Monmouth.[12] After many months of campaigning against rival John Brown, it was announced that Fowler would be endorsed by the Women’s Leader Foundation.[13] Otto Fowler’s campaign issues were ones that would thrust Monmouth into a new direction. Fowler felt that there wasn’t enough effort by the previous administration to raise money to build the new city hall.[14] Fowler was always thinking towards the future, an issue that the previous mayor did not address.

Fowler felt that Monmouth had lots of potential and it needed to modernization to improve the grandeur of the city. One issue that Fowler campaigned for was improvement to the city’s poor water works systems.[15] Another issue Fowler favored was improvements to streets and sidewalks; cracks and mud paths and horse hitching posts were not favorable for a modernized Monmouth.[16] Another issue that Fowler had personal ties to was improving the city’s street lights; Fowler donated his own money to buy 86 new electric ones.[17]

The election was a hard-fought one. The incumbent Brown was notorious for slander and boomerang ads in the paper to swing votes his way.[18] Brown also had put out so many ads that false rumors were floating around.[19] People were getting sick of the slander ads, and finally took a stand. A Pro-Fowler supporter took out a page long ad trying to promote Fowler’s image.[20]

On Election Day, the votes were close in the race. Brown had 1092 male votes, while Fowler had 1099 male votes.[21] However, the women’s votes ended the hopes of incumbent Brown. Fowler managed to get 1366 female votes while Brown managed a mere 745.[22] The people spoke, they wanted change, and Otto Fowler was a man who had the future in his mind.

On April 26, 1915, Otto Fowler was officially sworn into the mayoral office. On his first day, Mr. Fowler helped pass a resolution to help thank the people that helped him get into office; Fowler helped pass a resolution to thank the ladies of the Civic Federation for the support and flowers they provided during the campaign.[23] While in office, one of Mr. Fowler’s main goals was to raise enough money to purchase land and erect a new city hall. On May 17, Mr. Fowler suggested that city council should meet and informally to discuss a new city hall and a basic plan to go about building one.[24] On June 7, Mayor Fowler helped start a movement to raise funds for a new city hall on the corner of what is N. Main and E. Archer Ave.[25] During that same meeting Fowler asked the city council to prepare an ordinance to authorize the erection of a new city hall; city council agreed to this proposal by a vote of seven to three.[26]

Once again the council met under the advice of Mayor Fowler to discuss the possibility of purchasing more land to erect a lager city hall building; the city council supported this by a vote of seven to three.[27] On July 6, Otto Fowler had a busy day, and he had a lot to discuss. On this day, Fowler got the council to approve a mere three thousand dollars to pay for the ground that the city hall would be built on.[28] The next order of business for Fowler was to approve a contract for a drawing of the plans of the new city hall building. With a vote of eight to two, Fowler was able to approve the Temple and Burrows group to create plans for a new building.[29] The final order of business for Fowler was to ascertain a few minimum requirements for the new city hall building. His first question was to include a new fire department station into the plans for the new city hall building; also, Fowler wanted to know it should be fire proof.[30] Both resolutions were passed. On 19 July, the committee once again met to start a committee of three people to generate ideas for the new city hall building.[31] On 2 August, Mayor Fowler had the city council reconvene to officially approve the plans for the new city hall, and then proceed to give the plans to the Building and Grounds committee so they could make all the final changes; Mayor Fowler had to break a five – five tie to approve the plans.[32]

Mayor Fowler cared a lot for his plan to improve the city and move it towards the future. On September 20th, Mayor Fowler set a date of October 20th to have the drawings of the new city hall done.[33] Finally, on October 20th, Council reconvened to look at the bids that had been submitted, and choose contractors.[34] After much debate as to what bid to accept, it once again took Mayor Fowler’s vote to decide on the English Brother General Contractors.[35] Mayor Fowler and the council also decided that the heating and electricity should be awarded to George McGrath.[36] Mayor Fowler was locked on moving Monmouth towards the future, and he knew that in order to get the new city hall built it needed financial backing. At Mayor Fowler’s suggestion, city council approved the New City Hall Fund in order to help fund the building.[37]

Mayor Fowler had the city headed in the right direction: modernization. Along with his hard work to improve and build a new city hall, Fowler also worked hard on improving the basic needs of Monmouth’s populace. Fowler was very active in improving the waterworks in the city. According to a political in the Monmouth Daily Review, the previous Mayor failed to find a whole in one of the water lines that was big enough for a rat to enter, instead the mayor bought a bigger pump which did nothing but cost the tax payers money.[38] Mayor Fowler was dedicated to improving the waterworks in Monmouth. Every time the council met, Fowler would always push for several improvements. On 8 May, Mayor Fowler was able to pass a resolution to build more wells.[39] When the council adjourned on 7 July 1915 twenty-one hundred feet of water main was to be laid.[40]  Another one of the ideas that Fowler originated was having all of the plumbing be regulated for quality and control; once again Mayor Fowler had to break a deadlock within the council members.[41]

Another area that Mayor Fowler was committed to improving for the people of Monmouth was basic civil services: Improving modes of transportation, the cemeteries, improving the fire department, and the electric lights.[42] In 1915, Monmouth’s fire department was not modernized.

The fire department still relied heavily on a horse and carriage to bring the important water to help extinguish the fire. Mayor Fowler brought the city council together to improve the fire department. After hearing many complaints by the people of Monmouth due to poor responsiveness by the fire department, on 6 November, Mayor Fowler finally was able to push for a modern fire department with a couple fire trucks.[43] Another improvement by Mayor Fowler was to replace all of the old fire hoses with brand new hose. The fire hose debate was a strong campaign issue after the previous mayor was unable to find money for the fire department.[44]

     Like many other citizens of Monmouth, Fowler has relatives that were buried in on of the many cemeteries. Fowler was disgusted at the current state of the cemeteries and need to be fixed, and that the previous mayor had promised to repair and maintain them but failed.[45] Mayor Fowler wanted to improve the many cemeteries in Monmouth. During his tenure as Mayor, Fowler approved numerous plans to improve the many cemeteries of Monmouth; improving the roads, the grounds, and the graves were a priority.

One major way the city of Monmouth could expand, and had done a very poor job at, was improving the modes of transportation. In a time when progress revolved around the recently invented gas engine and electricity; Monmouth still had awful dirt roads and horse posts. As Mayor, Fowler passed several acts to add gas stations and improve the roads; a motion was also passed to remove all of the hitching posts in town to keep pace with the modernization.[46] Mayor Fowler worked hard on improving and adding many miles of sidewalks to the city.

     Mayor Fowler also worked hard to utilize electricity to power the city. The city had many gas powered and candle powered lights that were not efficient as electricity. Before his tenure as mayor, Fowler had donated money to buy eighty-four electric lights for the city.[47] During his reign, many new lamp poles were erected to illuminate the city.

     After two successful years as the mayor or Monmouth, Otto Fowler decided to step down from his position and retire back to his business. On his final day: the city council had this to say:


…the members of the present city council extend to Hon. Otto Fowler, retiring from the office of mayor, our sincere thanks for his services as chief executive of the city during the past two years. We appreciate the impartial spirit which he has manifested as presiding officer, his uniform courtesy towards all with whom his official duties have brought him into contact and for his unfailing diligence and enterprise for advocacy the welfare of the municipality.[48]


In the election immediately following his resignation in 1917, Otto still managed to get 783 votes for mayor even though he was not running.[49] This just shows how good of a leader and person Otto Fowler was.

After many years, Otto Fowler was tired of the problems the city was having and the lackluster job the city council was doing. Otto decided to head the new Peoples Party. On March 30, 1935, Otto Fowler official filed his petition to run for mayor; “[m]y petition is now on file. I am in the race to finish and win.”[50] This late entry probably cost him many votes, and most likely the election, but Mr. Fowler still managed to only lose by 422 votes to Earl McKinnon.[51]

Whether as a successful businessmen or a pioneering mayor, Otto Fowler did what was best for his friends and his city. His unrivaled leadership skills helped shape the present day Monmouth, Illinois. Tragically on 11 September 1952, Otto Frank Fowler died of a Heart attack at his home on 402 South A Street; leaving behind his wife Jessie and four children and the many people who supported him in his wonderful life.[52]

This biography was written in the fall of 2006 in William Urban's historiography class at Monmouth College.

[1] L.E. Robinson , ed., Historical and Biographical Record of Monmouth and Warren Country Illinois, vol. 2 (Chicago: Munsell Publishing Company Publishers, 1927), 387.

[2] Robinson, 387

[3] Robinson, 387

[4] United States Federal Census, 1880

[5] Marriage Records

[6] Monmouth City Directory, Monmouth Directory Company (July, 1924)

[7] Monmouth City Directory, Monmouth Directory Company (July, 1924)

[8] Robinson, 387

[9] Robinson, 387

[10] Robinson, 387

[11] Robinson, 387

[12] Monmouth Daily Review, 17 April 1915.

[13] Monmouth Daily Review, 6 March 1915. 

[14] Monmouth Daily Review, 19 April 1915. 

[15] Monmouth Daily Review, 19 April 1915. 

[16] Monmouth Daily Review, 19 April 1915, 1.

[17] Monmouth Daily Review , 19 April 1915. 

[18] Monmouth Daily Review, 19 April 1915, 1.

[19] Monmouth Daily Review, 15 April 1915, 1.

[20] Monmouth Daily Review, 17 April 1915. 

[21] Council Minutes, 26 April 1915, 305.

[22] Minutes, 305.

[23] Council Minutes, 3 May 1915, 311.

[24] Council Minutes, 17 May 1915, 337.

[25] Council Minutes, 7 June 1915, 340.

[26] Minutes, 340.

[27] Council Minutes, 21 June 1915, 343.

[28] Council Minutes, 6 July 1915, 346.

[29] Minutes, 346.

[30] Minutes, 346.

[31] Council Minutes, 19 July 1915, 347.

[32] Council Minutes, 2 August 1915, 351.

[33] Council Minutes, 20 September 1915, 358.

[34] Council Minutes, 20 October 1915, 362.

[35] Council Minutes, 20 October 1915, 363.

[36] Council Minutes, 20 October 1915, 363.

[37] Council Minutes, 20 December 1915, 371.

[38] Monmouth Daily Review, 17 April 1915.

[39] Council Minutes, 8 May 1915, 1.

[40] Council Minutes, 19 July 1915, 347.

[41] Council Minutes,  8 August 1915, 350.

[42] Monmouth Daily Review, 17 April 1915.

[43] Council Minutes, 6 November 1916, 34.

[44] Monmouth Daily Review, 19 April 1915.

[45] Monmouth Daily Review, 17 April 1915.

[46] Council Minutes, 17 July 1916, 23.

[47] Monmouth Daily Review, 19 April 1915.

[48] Council Minutes, 7 May 1917, 54

[49] Monmouth Daily Review, 18 April 1917

[50] Monmouth Daily Review,  30 March 1935

[51] Monmouth Daily Review,  17 April 1935

[52] Medical Certificate of Death.