The tiny village of Danville still stood at the edge of a vast prairie when Eleanor Berry married Gurdon Hubbard on a May day in 1831. Eleanor’s sister Orleatha (also spelled Orlethy) had introduced her to the fur trader the previous winter and her matchmaking proved successful.
Orleatha was married to Doctor William H. Fithian, and she and the doctor had arrived in Danville the previous year.
The two men who became brothers-in-law that May 17 were older than the Berry sisters they married. Hubbard was 28 and Doctor Fithian was 32. Orleatha was 21 years old, and Eleanor celebrated her 18th birthday that year. She had been teaching school before coming to Danville.
The sisters were described as being attractive, tall, blue-eyed and blonde.
Following the wedding, the newlyweds traveled to Perrysville, Ind. There they boarded the steamboat Prairie Queen for a trip down the scenic Wabash River to the Ohio River and on to Louisville, Ky. They were accompanied on the excursion by Dr. Fithian and Orleatha
The Illinois frontier was quite a change in lifestyle for Judge Berry’s daughters of Urbana, Ohio. The frontier had moved west from the Buckeye state where they grew up, but Danville was at the edge of the western expansion.
Native Americans still brought their furs to Gurdon Hubbard’s trading post in the village, but their numbers were dwindling and they would eventually be pushed west of the Mississippi River. Hubbard would sell his store, the first frame building built in Danville, to Dr. Fithian.
It was a heady time for the young couples. Hubbard was a successful trader and a member of the state legislature and Dr. Fithian was developing a medical practice and was a leading businessman in the growing village of Danville. He would become a member of the state legislature in 1834.
The Hubbards moved to Chicago after Gurdon sold his Danville business to Fithian. He would become a successful merchant and entrepreneur. Historians would credit him as being one of the prime developers of the city on Lake Michigan.
In 1937, Danville would be filled with people to pay tribute to the accomplishments of Hubbard. There would be speeches, a plaque honoring him dedicated in the courthouse and a parade depicting Vermilion County life in pioneer times.
Fithian also was an accomplished man, successful in business and as a doctor and legislator. Both men lived full lives and witnessed the frontier fade away to be replaced by agriculture and industry.
Judge Berry’s daughters were not as fortunate as their husbands. Their lives were cut short following child birth. Orleathy died Dec. 15, 1837, following the birth of her son Elisha and Eleanora died Feb. 27, 1838, a few days after the birth of her son Gurdon Hubbard Jr.
The women became a footnote to history before either reached her 30th birthday, but each of them contributed to the foundation the success of their husbands was based upon. Elisha and Gurdon Jr. both survived and lived into the next century.
Donald Richter’s column appears every other week in the Commercial-News. He is a member of the Vermilion County Museum Board.