A small-town woman with the heart of gold and the spirit of an angel
By Ashten Wilson
Serving her fellow humans is the lasting legacy of longtime Princeton resident Eliza Jane Warfield (1843-1909).
Whether in service to education, religion, literary pursuits, or the needs of the elderly, Miss Warfield exemplified community-minded leadership throughout her life.
Eliza was born to John and Lydia Warfield on Feb. 5, 1843, in Uniontown, Ohio. Eliza’s mother died in 1851. Her father later married Rebecca Wilson, and they had one daughter together, Lydia Emma.
In 1856, the Warfields moved to Princeton, Illinois, where they purchased land northeast of town. However, the Warfields didn’t stay long and soon moved to Quincy, Illinois.
Eliza was schooled at a private institution in Brighton, Pennsylvania, and later at Jennings Seminary in Aurora, Illinois. Princeton would become Eliza’s permanent home, although she spent time traveling the United States as well as in Europe.
Of Quaker descent, Eliza grew up in a family with six other siblings but she inherited good traits of character from both her father and mother. Kindly and generous, she proved to be a friend of the poor and needy, and those whom she met socially received from her the utmost consideration. Eliza spent her whole life in harmony with her professions.
Described as artistic with an interest in current public and literary affairs, Eliza stepped forward to serve as a member of the Princeton Township High School Board of Education.
She was involved in the formation of “Friends in Council” in 1880 – an organization devoted to literary study and research in Princeton that is still active today.
Eliza became involved in many religious activities. She devoted herself as a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Princeton. Her father had been influential on its council for years. Upon his death, Eliza was elected to the Board of Trustees, a position she proudly held until her death.
Eliza had a particular interest in missions. She organized the local branch of the Woman’s Home Missionary Society and served as its first and only president. She supported foreign work, and in her will she left bequests for such causes.
Eliza had a very special place in her heart for her large Bible class, where she served as a beloved teacher for 40 years.
As a trustee of the Old Ladies Home, Eliza found another opportunity to use her skills and once again found another worthy cause to be remembered upon her death.
Her extensive community involvement did not go unnoticed. In 1895, Eliza’s closest church friends threw her a surprise party for her 52nd birthday. The ladies presented her with a handsome silver dish filled with a lovely fern.
“Please accept this little souvenir and may it be a guide post on the highway of your memory,” Mrs. Cunningham said. “We commission this fern to nod and whisper to you in its own sweet language. That we not only take you by the hand, as a co-worker in the vineyard of our Lord, but that we also cherish you in our hearts, as a friend and sister.”
Eliza lived at Maplecroft, the country homestead that her father built in 1861 on 72 acres of land near Dover Road one mile northeast of Princeton. John Warfield later bequeathed the home to Eliza and her brother, Andrew.
In 1907, Eliza moved to a home on South Street (now known as Park Avenue) that required less maintenance and was closer to her many friends.
In her 60s, Eliza remained in delicate physical condition. In the summer of 1908, she visited northern Wisconsin in hopes of improving her health, but it was not to be.
Eliza Jane Warfield, 65, died the morning of Friday, Jan. 15, 1909. Services were held at her beloved Methodist Episcopal Church, with internment at Oakland Cemetery.
Many of Eliza’s friends described her as a most conscientious Christian woman of beautiful character and rare loveliness of face.
A memoriam in her honor summed up Eliza’s life: “It was her good fortune, for many years, to have the strength and opportunity to find happiness in the serving of others, and when the call of the Master came, she went to her reward as she had lived – with courage and with trust.”
It’s worth noting that Eliza’s brother, Andrew, had a son, Jacob Warfield, who went on to marry Mary A. Clark. Mary was the sister of Samuel Clark, who owned the property where the Bureau County Historical Society Museum is now located.
About the author: Ashten Wilson, a student at Princeton High School, is currently interning at the Bureau County Historical Society. She is exploring a career in history. In addition, she is the niece and granddaughter of two members of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Bureau County Historical Society archives were the source of information for this article.