Thomas Lowry was one of the most influential and admired men in Minneapolis at the time of his death in 1909. Streetcars, railroads, libraries, and many other endeavors benefited from his involvement.
Thomas Lowry was born on February 27, 1843, on a small farm in Logan County, Illinois. He spent his childhood there, attending country schools. At age seventeen, he left home to study at Lombard University in Galesburg, Illinois, but he had to leave the college at age twenty because of tuberculosis.
Lowry spent a year traveling along the Missouri River before returning to Illinois to finish his education. He read law at the office of Judge John C. Bagby in Rushville, and after passing the bar in 1867, Lowry left Illinois for Minneapolis. He arrived in the city in July with few possessions and little money, but his fortunes quickly improved.
Within two years he entered into a law partnership with Austin H. Young, who became Judge of the Court of Common Pleas for Hennepin County in 1871. Around the same time, Lowry married Beatrice Goodrich and began investing in real estate. He guessed correctly that Minneapolis was a growing community and that land would become valuable.
Gradually Lowry’s business shifted from law to real estate investments. During the 1870s, more than one-third of the property that is now Minneapolis passed through Lowry’s hands. He built his family’s home in the Minneapolis neighborhood still known as Lowry Hill, then at the edge of the city.
Lowry became interested in streetcars as a way to drive the development of his outlying real estate holdings. In 1875, he became part of the revived Minneapolis Street Railway Company along with Colonel William S. King and out-of-state investors. King ran the company at first, but in 1878, Lowry became president. He held the position for the rest of his life and made the streetcar company his primary business.
Lowry led Minneapolis Street Railway Company through the boom years of the 1880s and the rough times following the Panic of 1893. The company, which merged with the Lowry-controlled St. Paul City Railway Company in 1891, finally became profitable in the twentieth century as Twin City Rapid Transit Company. Lowry almost went bankrupt in the process, but he kept the company afloat and growing through personal charm and an international network of contacts and investors.
Lowry was an unfailing booster of Minneapolis. In addition to his streetcar business, he was a founding member and later president of the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad Company, better known as the Soo Line Railway. He worked with William de la Barre and Charles Alfred Pillsbury on the Lower Dam Hydro Plant, just below St. Anthony Falls, and his Twin City Rapid Transit Company used all the power the plant produced as soon as it was finished in 1897.
Lowry helped get the West Hotel built, and he was instrumental in bringing the Republican National Convention of 1892 to Minneapolis. He was a founding member of the Minneapolis Library Board and a sponsor of the city’s 1887 Industrial Exposition. He also donated large tracts of land to the city for public parks. On January 11, 1892, Lowry’s contemporaries honored him with a public banquet at the West Hotel, in recognition of all he had done for the region.
During the last four years of his life, Lowry again battled tuberculosis. He gradually withdrew from public life and spent the winter months in Arizona and Texas for his health. He died at home on February 4, 1909, with his wife and two of his three children in attendance. His passing made front page news in the local papers and many columns were dedicated to remembrances of him.
In 1915, a memorial with a life-size bronze statue of Lowry was created by sculptor Karl Bitter. It was erected at the intersection of Hennepin and Lyndale avenues. With the construction of I-94 in 1966, the memorial was moved a few blocks to 24th Street and Hennepin Avenue.
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