James Mason was born in Grafton, Massachusetts, in July 1783. He was engaged in trade in the West Indies and worked in New York City as a partner in the wholesale grocery business. He came west, settling in Edwardsville, Illinois, where he invested in real estate.
In August 1818, he married Sarah Von Phul, the sister of a prominent St. Louis businessman. James Mason was licensed to operate a ferry across the Mississippi River at Grafton in 1833. He and his friend, Dr. Silas Hamilton and leading St. Louis businessmen envisioned a town where Grafton is now. In 1833, Mason and his partners were incorporated as the "Grafton Manufacturing Company" to establish grist, woolen, and cotton mills and to do general manufacturing, trading and shipping. Mason and Hamilton died in 1834 before their plans became a reality.
On April 15, 1836, James Mason's Brother Paris, and James Mason's widow, Mrs. Sarah Mason, assumed responsibility for surveying, platting and selling lots and incorporating the town. Mrs. Mason named the settlement Grafton in honor of her husband's birthplace. Paris Mason took charge of the Mason enterprises in Grafton until 1840, James and Sarah Mason's daughter married William H. Allen, and he eventually took over and expanded Mason's interests. His activities included mercantile, produce, flour mills and banking. Allen participated in the Illinois Constitutional Convention in 1860 and served as 6th district State Senator in 1871.
According to the Jersey County Democrat, on February 1, 1867, Grafton's business community was comprised of 5 general stores, 2 blacksmith shops, 1 drugstore, 1 wagon shop, 1 butcher shop, 2 shoe shops, 1 harness maker, 1 tin shop, 2 flour/grist mills, 1 watchmaker and silversmith, 1 mill for sawing rock, 3 cooper shops, 2 physicians, but no Hotels.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.