Lorenzo P. Sanger (1809-1875)

Lorenzo Palmer Sanger was born on 2 March 1809 in Littleton, New Hampshire, the son of David Sanger, Jr. (1782-1851) and Mary (Polly) Palmer (1783-1854).

Lorenzo P. Sanger was a canal builder, working his way westward from New York to Illinois assisting his father until the Illnois and Michigan Canal was completed in 1842. Lorenzo then engaged in railroad construction and stage lines, as well as mercantile business. In 1846-48 he served as state senator from the 15th district of Illinois (Galena). In 1851 he moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he was involved in rail construction until 1857. He then moved to Joliet, Illinois, where he built the Illinois State Penitentiary using local limestone. After completing the Penitentiary in 1860, he opened a limestone quarry in Joliet.

Sanger married Rachel Mary Denniston (25 October 1809-9 February 1870) of Denniston's Town (New Alexandria), Pennsylvania on 3 February 1830. She was the daughter of William Denniston (1783-1850) and Sarah Cooper (1782-1870), and was great-granddaughter of Arthur Denniston (1730-1798), a New Jersey native and pioneer settler of Denniston's Town.

The Sangers had three children:

The 1860 Census, taken when the Joliet penitentiary was nearing completion, shows five family members [all but W.D.] living in a house on the prison grounds! Two years later, his daughter Louise married his business partner William Alexander Steel (1836-1879). Sanger served as a colonel in the U.S. Army during the Civil War, and returned to the canal business after the war, when he and his brother James enlarged the Illinois and Michigan canal between Joliet and Chicago. He began traveling to California for his health as early as 1869; after his wife's death in 1870, he moved to Chicago, where he was cared for by his cousin Marcia C. Palmer. He died 23 March 1875 in Oakland, California. He and Rachel were both buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Joliet.

History of Will County, Illinois, pp. 711-13

COL. LORENZO P. SANGER (deceased), Joliet; was born in Littleton, N.H., March 2, 1809. When but a small boy he accompanied his father's family to Livingston Co., N.Y., at that time a vast wilderness in the then Far West, and, like other pioneers, could only obtain the common log schoolhouse education in the winter, and in summer worked on a farm or in a saw-mill. When the Erie Canal (termed at that time, in derision, "Clinton's Ditch") was begun, his father, David Sanger, took a contract on the Canal, at Rochester, and afterward at Black Rock, about 1824, where he remained until the Erie Canal was completed. At this time but three steamboats were running on Lake Erie, and Lorenzo P. Sanger went on the Pioneer as steward. In the fall of 1826, his father removed to Pittsburgh, Penn., and engaged in heavy contracts on the Pennsylvania Canal, and continued until completed, finishing near Johnstown, Lorenzo having charge of a part of the work. When about 20, he took a contract to build a lock near Livermore, Penn., and was known as the "boy contractor." When this was finished, he went into the mercantile business at Blairsville, Penn. He married Rachel Denniston, of Denniston's Town, Westmoreland Co., Penn., Feb. 3, 1830, and, the same year, removed his store to that place. About 1831, he joined J. Noble Nesbit at Freeport, Penn., in sinking a salt well. After drilling several hundred feet, they struck a large flow of salt water, and with it what the salt men termed "that infernal American or Seneca oil," since known as petroleum; and as the value of the oil was not then known, the well was abandoned and he lost all. From Freeport he went on to the Beaver Canal and built a lock and dam twelve miles above Beaver, at the mouth of the Kanakanesing Creek. When this was completed, he removed to Miamisport, Ind., and engaged in heavy contracts on the Indiana Canal. His work was on the Indian Reservation, and was completed amid many discouragements, the country being almost a wilderness and very unhealthy. In 1835, he started in the then fashionable way of traveling, viz., on horseback, to St. Joseph, Mich., and joined Gen. Hart L. Stewart, now of Chicago, in merchandising and warehouse business, and steamboating on the St. Joseph River. At the letting of the Illinois & Michigan Canal, in June 1836, Stewart, Sanger & Wallace contracted to dig Sections 156 and 157, on the heavy rock excavation above Lockport, Ill. The next season, he removed permanently to Illinois, and followed the Canal to La Salle, where he built Lock No. 15. He next formed a company and took the contract to improve the rapids of Rock River at Sterling, Ill. In March, 1843, he joined Smith Galbraith in a line of stages from Chicago to Galena, via Dixon, and the next year purchased Galbraith's interest. While at Galena, he was elected State Senator. In 1847, Frink & Walker, Sanger & Co., Davis & Moore, and Neil, Moore & Co. united and formed the Northwestern Stage Co., embracing Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri, Mr. Sanger removing to St. Louis and taking charge of the western division until 1851, at which time the firm of Sanger, Camp & Co. contracted to build the western division of the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad, after completing which, Sanger, Stewart & Truesdail took the contract for building the North Missouri Railroad from St. Louis to Macon, Mo. Both of these roads were heavy enterprises, through comparatively new countries, and involved the engaging of hundreds of subcontractors. Both have become important trunk lines. In 1857, the State of Illinois let to Lorenzo P. Sanger and Samuel K. Casey, under the firm name of Sanger & Casey, the contract to build the State Penitentiary at Joliet, and in June, 1858, leased to them the convict labor of the State, the convicts then being confined in the Penitentiary at Alton, the commerce and discipline of the latter being in charge of W.A. Steel until July 1860, when the last of the convicts were removed by him to the new Penitentiary at Joliet. During the last named year, he removed to Joliet, and, in 1862, to a farm one mile northwest of the city. Having, during his busy life, been the employer of tens of thousands of men, and the nation at this time being in the midst of the war of the rebellion, President Lincoln wrote to Gov. Yates to send Mr. Sanger a commission as Colonel and request him to join the army in Tennessee and Kentucky for staff duty or whatever his health would enable him to do. This was done, and Col. Sanger immediately threw up his business and joined the army in Kentucky, where he remained until his health was almost completely gone, when he was compelled to return home in a prostrated condition, from which he never fully recovered. In 1865, Col. Sanger and W.A. Steel, under the firm name of Sanger & Steel, opened quarries north of and adjacent to Joliet, which proved to be the best limestone yet found in America, and which they developed into a very large business, employing from three to four hundred men and a hundred horses, the canal and railroad also passing through their works. Though Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois patronized their works largely, the United States Government was their heaviest customer for material to build the Rock Island Arsenal, Marine Hospital in Chicago, Custom Houses at Des Moines, Iowa, and Madison, Wis., etc. The same year, 1865, Sanger, Steel & Co. took the contract to deepen the twenty-one rock sections of the Illinois & Michigan Canal. This was to remove solid limestone sixty feet wide and ten feet deep, the object being to remove permanently the lift-lock in Chicago and Jack's lock near Lockport. Col. Sanger died in Oakland, Cal., where he had gone for the benefit of his health, on March 23, 1875, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Joliet. He had three children – Maj. W. D. Sanger, who served as an aid on Gen. Sherman's staff in the late war, and died in St. Louis in November, 1873; Frances Louise, wife of Hon. W.A. Steel, of Joliet, and Henry A. Sanger, now of Florence, Ala. Col. Sanger, although a man of unyielding purpose and rugged character, was kind-hearted in his public dealings, and exceedingly tender in the private and domestic relations of life.

Pages 307-8

Another valuable citizen (now deceased) must be credited to the Canal, Lorenzo P. Sanger, who was one of the old 1836 contractors, and also subsequently one of the firm of Sanger & Casey, who built the Penitentiary, and of the firm of Sanger & Steele, who so largely developed our stone industry. He was one of the most driving, energetic, enterprising men we have ever had. During the war, he threw all the weight of his political influence, which was not small, on the side of the Union, and would himself have participated actively in it had not the weight of years been too much to allow it. He died in Oakland, Cal., whither he had gone for his health, in March, 1875. His body was brought home for burial, and rests in Oakwood, beside his wife, who died some years before him.


Lorenzo P. Sanger, a well-known railroad contractor of Illinois, who left that State a short time ago for his health, and took up his residence in Oakland, died at Tubbs' Hotel yesterday morning. His last moments were soothed by the ministrations of his only son. Mr. Sanger was 66 years old at the time of his death. His remains will be embalmed, and sent to Jolliet [sic], Ill., his late home.

[Oakland Tribune, 24 March 1875]


A Dispatch in the Chicago Tribune of Tuesday announces the death, on th 22d inst., at Oakland, California, of Lorenzo P. Sanger, a former resident of Ottawa, and old and well known citizen of Illinois.

Mr. Sanger had come with his father's family to Illinois in 1836, and having taken a contract on the Illinois & Michigan canal, settled at Ottawa. Finishing his canal contract, in about 1838, Mr. Sanger became a partner with Geo. E. Walker in the mercantile business in Ottawa, and for several years the firm did a heavy and profitable business. Work on the canal, however, being suspended in 1841, business in Ottawa became dull, and the store in Ottawa was closed out. Mr. Sanger for several years afterwards was engaged in various enterprises as contractor, builder, &c., and then turned his attention to farming and cattle raising, in which he amassed a comfortable fortune. For some years past he had been a resident of Joliet, from where, about two years ago, on account of failing health, he went to Salt Lake City, spending a year or more with his brother, Lucien P. Sanger, and from there, six months ago he went to Oakland, California, still in the pursuit of health, but in which, like thousands of other invalids, he was finally baffled.

Mr. Sanger, in his day, cut a prominent figure in Illinois politics, being several times returned to the Illinois legislature, in which he was noted as one of the most active and influential members. He was always noted as a leader among the democracy, and as a party manager had few equals. Few men could make more rapid combinations or "run" a convention more successfully and satisfactorily. He was a warm and intimate friend of Judge [Senator Stephen A.] Douglas, for whom he fought many a hard battle. When the war of the rebellion broke out, although 60 years of age, such was his patriotic ardor that he joined the federal army and remained in the field until failing health drove him home.

"He was," as a writer in the Tribune fitly remarks, "a man of good address, of genial social qualities, a warm friend and a bitter enemy; always ready to make great personal sacrifices for the one, and to put himself out of the way to settle accounts with the other.

"Few ment have led a more active life or have been more widely known and respected. Those who remember him when in his prime will recall a man of fine personal appearance, of indomitable will, of easy address, and of marked social qualities. Those who have only known him in the later years of his lide will remember his many good qualities, his generous and kindly nature, his lively interest in all that concerned his family and friends, and the unbounded hospitality of his nature."

[The Ottawa Free Trader, 27 March 1875]


Special Dispatch to The Chicago Tribune.

JOLIET, Ill., April 4,--The funeral services of the late Col. Lorenzo P. Sanger were held in Christ Episcopal Church at 4 p. m. to-day. The remains were recieved yesterday afternoon from California, and were taken in charge by the Joliet Commandery of Knights Templar, and conveyed to the residence of the Hon. W. A. Steel, his son-in-law. The procession was one of the largest ever seen in Joliet. The ceremonies were conducted by the Knights Templar, of which he was an honored member. The Masonic fraternity of the city were in attendance in a body.

[Chicago Tribune, 5 April 1875]

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