Conrad Elsken (1850–1931)
aka: Conrad Ilsken
Conrad Elsken was a prominent figure in Logan County for forty years. In 1883, he moved to Paris (Logan County) after he became land agent for the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad. He started the Citizens Telephone Company in 1900 and served as its general manager until it was sold to Western Electric in 1928. Elsken also helped to establish the Bank of Paris, which became the First National Bank of Paris, and served as Logan County treasurer. He established a series of general stores in several Logan County towns. During World War I, he was the head of the Council of Defense for Logan County. He was on the Arkansas State Charity Board under Governor Jeff Davis and served as mayor of Subiaco (Logan County).
Conrad Ilsken was born on May 6, 1850, at Paderborn, Germany, to Gerhardt and Maria Ilsken. The family came to America in 1859 and settled in Germantown, Illinois. The family name was changed from Ilsken to Elsken during immigration processing. He farmed with his father and clerked in a store in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1877, he married Elizabeth Besselman, and they eventually had seven children, three of whom died in infancy. After Elsken’s mother died, Elsken’s family and Elsken’s father moved to Morrison Bluff (Logan County) in 1878. After Elizabeth Elsken’s death in 1899, Elsken married Gretchen Margaret Kramer, with whom he had an additional seven children.
Elsken farmed for a couple of years and started working in a store in Patterson Bluff (Logan County). He became a partner in the store and opened more stores in Logan County. Elsken moved in 1883 to Paris as land agent for the railroad and established a freight line from Altus (Franklin County) to Paris.
The early 1880s had been poor farm years, and many of the farmers were in dire straits. In 1884, under the western district manager, Elsken was directed either to collect from the farmers in Logan County or take their land. Elsken refused to start proceedings against the farmers and was fired. The new land agent was unable to accomplish the given task, and Elsken received a telegraph from the railroad headquarters in St. Louis asking if he would return to his former job. He accepted under the premise that he would collect as he saw fit, allowing him to protect the farmers from losing their land.
When he ran for county treasurer in 1892, he won by a large margin. He served four two-year terms. He was a strong advocate for good roads and was the driving force behind the paving of Highway 22 between Fort Smith (Sebastian County) and Dardanelle (Yell County). He also built the Elsken Hotel, a boarding house in Paris.
In 1909, at the request of the abbot of Subiaco Abbey, Elsken agreed to move his family to Subiaco, five miles east of Paris. He built his family home, a general store, a livery stable, and a post office to help establish the town of Subiaco. By the time he sold the Citizens Telephone Company to Western Electric in 1928, it had some 2,200 subscribers in Logan County and the southern half of Franklin County. Elsken remained as a director of Western Electric until his death.
Elsken died at home on May 4, 1931, from pneumonia he had contracted while walking a proposed railroad spur to one of the towns in the county. He is buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Paris. The city of Paris ceased business operations during his funeral.
For additional information:
Dillard, Tom. Statesmen, Scoundrels, and Eccentrics: A Gallery of Amazing Arkansans. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2010.
Logan County, Arkansas: Its History and Its People. Paris, AR: Logan County Historical Society, 1987.
Joseph C. Beck
Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated: 10/22/2013