J. Edgar Iliff was a descendant of a Quaker family that came from England before the Revolution and settled in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. His father, John K. Iliff, was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and as a boy went to Cincinnati and later to Richmond, Indiana. He was a house painter who was rather fully occupied in helping to run the local Methodist Church. Edgar's mother, whose maiden name was Sarah Miller, came from a Pennsylvania German family. She was born in Oxford, Ohio, in 1820, and when eighteen years of age went into the millinery business and continued in it for seventy-one years. She was very active in civic and church work, and helped to organize the first Good Templars, Daughters of Temperance, and Temple of Honor in Richmond. During the Civil War she was Chairman of the Sanitary Commission of Richmond. She was also a president of the board of managers of the Home for Friendless Women and a member of the Womans' Relief Corps and the Ladies of the G.A.R. On February 23, 1841, she was married to John K. Iliff, and after he died November 9, 1867, she married, in 1870, Benjamin W. Davis, part owner and editor of the Richmond Palladium. She died September 28, 1909.
John Edgar Iliff, the writer, was born in Richmond, Indiana, July 13, 1852. His formal schooling ended before he had finished the grammar grades in Richmond, but he was an omnivorous reader and obtained his remarkable education from his books, of which he had a collection of some five thousand volumes when he died.
At the age of sixteen he published his first book under the pen name "John Edgefield."(1) It was a story of Indian life, and with the proceeds he bought the first book for his library—a Webster's Unabridged Dictionary. He started his business career as a helper in an "Oyster Parlour," at 250 Main Street, Richmond, owned by his older brother Joe (Major Joseph P. Iliff), who had just returned from the Army. In the early 1870's "Ed," as he was called, became a partner in the business, which had now become a first-class dining room. This successively changed into a news depot, tobacco store, china store, games and art store, all under the name of Iliff Brothers, without moving from the original location. After a business failure in 1882, a new partnership was formed with his younger brother Will (Wilbur S. Iliff) and a removal was made to a new location across the street from the original store. In 1904 Wilbur withdrew and the firm, now composed solely of J. Edgar Iliff, was known as the "Iliff Department Store," dealers in china, glass and queensware, books, newspapers and periodicals, stationery, pictures and picture frames, toys and novelties. It so continued until the death of Mr. Iliff, July 21, 1917, at his home, 418 Kinsey Street, West Richmond. (His brother Joe had died just a few months earlier). He was buried in Earlham Cemetery.
Mr. Iliff was married four times: first in 1874 to Flora Hadley, also a descendant of a Quaker family and still living. They were divorced in 1900. His second and third wives died, and the fourth, Blanche Iliff, survived him about a year. He left two sons, Walter E. and Wilbur, both by his first wife.
During his entire life, Mr. Iliff was far more interested in self-education and in writing than he was in his store, and since his brother Joe was more interested in politics, and Will in hunting and fishing—he was game warden—the store was left much to itself and in care of a nephew, Harry Engle. J. Edgar Iliff was deeply interested in art. In addition to some novels and short stories, he edited the Sunday Register, published in Richmond, was a constant contributor to the local papers, and for some years had a column entitled "Under the Red Lamp" in the Indianapolis Sun. He also wrote for the New York Weekly and the Fireside Companion in the late 1860's, and for the Saturday Journal in the 1860's. Beadle published only one of his longer novelettes.
Mr. Iliff was president of the local Humane Society, County Chairman of the Republican party, and for years president of the "Tuesday Club," a local literary society. He numbered among his close friends James Whitcomb Riley, Hamlin Garland, Lew Wallace, William Dudley Foike, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Meredith Nicholson, Robert Ingersoll, and Elbert Hubbard.
REFERENCES: Fourth Estate, August 11, 1917; New York Weekly, XXIX, June 1, 1874; Andrew Roberts, "Ed Iliff Dies," The Richmond Item, July 22, 1917; letters from L. M. Feeger, managing editor of The Palladium Item, and from Mr. Iliff's son Walter, 1943; personal communication from his nephew Harry Engle of Chicago.
Starr's American Novels. No. 45
Pocket Novels. No. 57
Dime Novels. No. 625
|1||The Richmond Item, July 22, 1917, and letter from Walter Iliff, 1943.|