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Below is a family biography included in History of Shawnee County, Kansas and Representative Citizens by James L. King, published by Richmond & Arnold, 1905.  These biographies are valuable for genealogy research in discovering missing ancestors or filling in the details of a family tree. Family biographies often include far more information than can be found in a census record or obituary.  Details will vary with each biography but will often include the date and place of birth, parent names including mothers' maiden name, name of wife including maiden name, her parents' names, name of children (including spouses if married), former places of residence, occupation details, military service, church and social organization affiliations, and more.  There are often ancestry details included that cannot be found in any other type of genealogical record.

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Robert Brown Gemmell, deceased, whose portrait is herewith shown, served for many years as superintendent of telegraph for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company and was one of the most prominent and public-spirited men of Topeka.

Mr. Gemmell was born in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, April 27, 1839, and was a son of James and Nancy (Brown) Gemmell. His father was a native of Scotland and there learned the trade of a marble cutter, becoming an expert in that line. To James and Nancy (Brown) Gemmell were born seven children, of whom four grew to maturity, namely: Robert Brown, our subject; Mrs. John D. Gill, of Greensburg, Pennsylvania; Mrs. Mary Aiken, of New Castle, Pennsylvania; and Anna, of Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

Robert B. Gemmell was reared and educated in his native town, and at the age of 15 years began his railroad career as an operator on the Pennsylvania Railroad. For five years he worked in this service, then in 1859 was appointed division operator of the road, in which capacity he served two years. He was next appointed chief clerk to the superintendent of the middle division of the Pennsylvania road. An example of the confidence imposed in him by his employers was shown when he held this position. He was given entire charge of the wire of the special train which conveyed President Abraham Lincoln from Harrisburg to Philadelphia on the night of February 22, 1861, while on his journey to Washington to take his seat as President. In 1863 he was appointed trainmaster of the middle division of the road with headquarters at Altoona, Pennsylvania. He resigned this position in October, 1866, to come to Kansas, where he accepted the position of chief clerk and general superintendent of telegraph of the Kansas Pacific road, now the Union Pacific. He afterwards became general freight and ticket agent of the road. For one year he was superintendent of the Lawrence & Southwestern road. In 1875 he became connected with the general freight department of the Santa Fe road as chief clerk, a position he filled for three years. On July 1, 1878, he was appointed superintendent of telegraph, serving as such, thereafter, until his death. While acting in this capacity his jurisdiction extended over 6,230 miles, including the telegraph lines along the Santa Fe; Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe; Wichita & Western; New Mexico & Arizona; L. T. & S. W., and M. A. & B. roads. He was also joint superintendent of the railroad and Western Union telegraph lines, which were owned jointly by the two companies. He had charge of the commercial telegraph business and all agents on the railway lines reported to his office, from which the proportion of the Western Union business was forwarded to the proper officers and managers.

Aside from his laborious railroad duties, Mr. Gemmell took a great interest in local matters, his work being principally in the affairs of the church. He was one of the oldest members of the Presbyterian Church, in which he held numerous offices, being an elder at the time of death. From 1881 to 1891, he was president of the Topeka Y. M. C. A., having been one of the most active in its organization. From 1882 to 1887, he was chairman of the State committee of the Y. M. C. A., and in January, 1896, was elected chairman of the executive committee of the Railroad Y. M. C. A.

Robert Brown Gemmell died September 14, 1896, after an illness of three weeks. He first fell a victim to the ills of malarial fever, which developed into typhoid, then into hypostatic pneumonia, dying from a complication of these diseases. The following quotation from the Topeka Daily Capital is an estimate of his worth in the community and the high regard in which he was held:
“Only those who knew Mr. Gemmell well can fully appreciate the full beauty of his character and the worth of his life. Few there are who care to work as he did; few there are who are fitted for such work. Unselfishness is always the keystone of such a character and it is upon these characters that Christianity has always relied for support. It seems unfortunate that such a man as Mr. Gemmell should not be permitted to live out the full measure of years. The many he has befriended will now miss him; those have made a practice of seeking him for religious comfort will mourn their loss; and his own loved family and dear friends in their grief can only be consoled by the inspiring memory of the man and his work, memories that must live. During Mr. Gemmell’s residence in Topeka he exerted a wonderful influence in the work of Christianity. In him the church had a vigorous and conscientious worker, a man who never tired in the task of bringing sunshine into the lives of those who are walking in the shadow. And the young men of Topeka, among whom he always delighted to work, owe him a debt of gratitude they can only pay by emulating his beautiful example. This was the only compensation he ever asked while living.”

Robert B. Gemmell left a wife and three children, the latter being as follows: Mary, wife of Arthur Adams, of Alameda, California; Robert, of Salt Lake City, Utah; and Lillian, wife of Herbert S. Boal, of Citronelle, Alabama. Mr. Gemmell was the owner of considerable real estate in Topeka.

In addition to the home on East Eighth avenue, he possessed lots on Topeka avenue and in other sections in the city. His was a well-rounded life. He was a successful business man, a public-spirited citizen and a most devoted and loving husband and father.

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This family biography is one of 206 biographies included in History of Shawnee County, Kansas and Representative Citizens by James L. King, published by Richmond & Arnold, 1905.  For the complete description, click here: Shawnee County, Kansas History, Genealogy, and Maps

View additional Shawnee County, Kansas family biographies here: Shawnee County, Kansas

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