Potter, William O. 1871-1926

William Oscar Potter was born February 17, 1871, in a log cabin in the southern part of Rock Creek precinct, near Crab Orchard in Williamson County. While in his infancy, his father fell ill of a mental disorder and had to be taken to a sanitarium, never being restored to good health again and passing away in 1904. The duties of supporting the mother and a family fell upon this young man.

These burdens did not cloud his ideals or his ambition to obtain an education and prepare for his chosen profession of law. He went from the country schools and became a member of the Charter Graduating Class of the Crab Orchard Academy, where he graduated March 3, 1892 and then entered life as a teacher. He held the position of principal of the Harrisburg and later the Johnston City public schools.

During this time he began to read law at Galatia, Illinois, in the office of A. E. Somers, and was admitted to the bar August 29th, 1894. He first opened an office and began the practice of law in Johnson City on March 13th, 1897, where he remained for five years. He was appointed Master in Chancery for the Williamson County Court in 1891, and reappointed on the 2nd of January 1904.

June 30, 1897, he was united in marriage with Miss Susan Myrtle Spiller, the eighth daughter of William J. and Susan E. Spiller, and was the father of two boys and two girls. Their names were Everett Spiller Potter (1902-1904), Maurice Potter (1900-1961), Lucille Potter (1898-1926) and Eloise Potter (1910-1926).

He was a Republican in politics, and was Chairman of the Central Committee through the three successive presidential campaigns of 1898, 1900 and 1902.

In 1902, he moved to Marion, Illinois and in 1904, W. O. Potter, by a late purchase of the stock of the Marion Steam Marble Works, held by Charles A. Gent, became sole owner and manager of the plant serving as their superintendent and general manager.

In 1906 Judge Potter was sent to the General Assembly as senator for this district by the Republicans and succeeded himself for a term of four years in 1908. He was author of several popular measures and was given important committee appointments. In this same year, Potter also served as Alderman for the City of Marion.

In 1907 he formed a law firm with Judge Rufus Neely, which took in other members later and was styled Neely, Gallimore, Cook & Potter. The firm was dissolved around 1915, and Judge Potter continued in a lucrative law business of his own.

In 1914 he was elected Judge of the City Court of Marion and re-elected to succeed himself in July, 1919. In 1922 he resigned as City judge to take up the work of Federal District Attorney.

During his tenure of office as District Attorney, Judge Potter had offices both in East St. Louis and Marion. Although most of his work was in East St. Louis he maintained his home in Marion.

He attended every Republican National Convention from 1904 to 1920 and was a delegate from this district to the Republican National Convention in 1904 and 1916. In 1898, 1900 and 1902 Judge Potter was chairman of the Republican County Central Committee and in 1920 he received the endorsement of Williamson, Pulaski and Alexander counties for Republican State Central Committeeman for the 25th Congressional District.

At one time he was Corporation Counsel for the City of Marion and was Inheritance Tax Attorney for the State of Illinois for eight years.

Few men of the 59th Senatorial district are better known than Judge W. O. Potter. He was a foremost Republican for a number of years and his council was frequently sought by those who want to know what is going on in politics of Illinois and especially its relations to this section.

Judge Potter was a noted horticulturist and was one of the principle speakers of the 1925 Northern Nut Growers Association. He was probably the most outstanding nut grower in Illinois. Besides the early plantings behind his home at 807 N. Market St., he bought and developed forty acres, four miles west of Marion on the state “hard road” (Route 13) which came to be known as the “Free-nut Garden.” The farm became an experimental tract on which the Judge carried out his ideas on both fruit and nut growing. In addition, he had land for this experimentation in Baldwin County, Alabama and New Albany, Georgia.

For decades, Potter maintained a law office in the second floor of the First National Bank on the square in Marion, Illinois until his death.

He was prominent as an Odd Fellow and was Grand Representative in 1900. He was also a member of the Masonic Fraternity and the nights of Pythias, having received his first degree in each.

W.O. Potter 55, Myrtle (Spiller) Potter 52, daughter Eloise Potter 16, married daughter Lucille (Potter) White, granddaughters Phyllis White 4 and Cynthia White aged 3 weeks all died in a questionable murder suicide in the family home at 807 N. Market Street on October 24, 1926. The circumstances surrounding this event are still questionable in the minds of many today. Burial was in Rose Hill Cemetery.

Sam’s Notes:

Everett Spiller Potter born in 1902 was run over by a Coal Belt electric car that ran in front of the North Market Street Potter Home and killed in 1904. The loss of this first son was a tragedy that continued to weigh on the family.

Mrs. Susan Myrtle Porter was survived by eight brothers and sisters. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Lucille Porter White was a talented singer. She married Dr. Gilbert White in 1919 and besides their daughters, Phyllis and Cynthia, she was the mother of a son, Gilbert Jr., age 6.

At the time of the murders, Dr. White’s practice was in Miami, Florida; Mrs. White had come home for the birth of their second daughter, Cynthia; Gilbert, Jr. was staying with his paternal grandmother, Mrs. John White, in Olney, Illinois, making him and the son, Maurice Potter, the only survivors of the immediate family.

Maurice Potter died January 1, 1962, burial at Rose Hill Cemetery.

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(Data from 1905 Souvenir History, WCHS; Williamson County in the World War, 1918; Marion Daily Republican article reprint; Marion City Cemetery Records; Compiled by Sam Lattuca on 04/05/2013)

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