History & Tourism

Richland Roots: The Would-Be Billionaire, Verner Zevola Reed

11 Jan , 2022  


By 1812Blockhouse

In our Richland Roots series, we briefly present the lives of men and women from Richland County — either by birth, or residence — that have made important contributions to American history but who may not be household names.

Other posts in our series can be viewed and read here.

Today’s subject may be one of the the wealthiest people that Richland County has ever produced. While that is a difficult concept to measure, in terms of accmuluated wealth for the time in which he or she lived, it would be difficult to beat the financial success of Verner Zevola Reed.

Reed’s grandparents came to Monroe Township in southern Richland County in stages between 1816 and 1829. At the time of Verner’s birth in 1863, the first of 13 children, his father and grandfather were farming 90 acres of land. Shortly thereafter the Reed family moved to Keokuk County, Iowa.

After spending two terms at Eastern Iowa Normal School, Verner moved to Chicago to work as a correspondent with the venerable Chicago Tribune newspaper for a short time. Soon he moved to Colorado to spend time with his brother, who was suffering from tuberculosis, a relocation which would prove highly significant in his life.

Reed’s arrival in Colorado corresponded with the rise of gold mining across the state, and his talent for purchasing and selling houses was soon parlayed into a real estate career. Reed would buy as much property as he could get his hands on, and eventually amassed a sizable fortune — so large, in fact, that he and his wife soon departed to spend over a decade living in Europe.

The Reeds had the money to spend on lavish residences and remarkable pieces of art. They alternate between houses in Paris, Rome, Baden-Baden, Weisbaden, and Nice, as well as a chateau in the Loire Valley. On his infrequent visits home, Reed became known as a lecturer on topics such as peace and politics.

A planned homecoming trip to help celebrate Mansfield’s Centennial in 1808 was foiled at the last minute by transportation issues.

Once the Reeds returned to America, Reed became involved in civic and labor affairs, and was keenly intersted in America’s involvement in World War I. He was appointed to a national commission dealing with labor issues by President Woodrow Wilson.

He also wrote. His best known work, The Soul of Paris and Other Essays, was published in 1913 and can actually be read here.

The Reeds’ magnificent house in Denver, Colorado still stands and can be seen here.

At the time of his death on April 20, 1919, Verner Reed left his wife an estate worth $20 million, which in today’s dollars would be approximately $300 million. She spent the rest of her life making charitable gifts with that largess.

Reed’s mother and grandparents are buried in Perrysville, not far from their Richland County farm.

Sources: Ancestry.com, Wikipedia, Find-a-Grave, Mansfield News

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