Watch Now: ‘The Seed’ Podcast Promoting AE Staley Documentary Releases Episode Highlighting Herald & Review | Local

DECATUR — Augustus Eugene Staley may have been born to Southern farmers financially ruined by the Civil War, but he dreamed of becoming a businessman.

Willing to travel and good at selling, he saw that cornstarch was in greater demand than tobacco or baking powder, so he got into selling packaged starch at age 30.

The desire to make his own product led Staley to Decatur over a dozen years, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Here are some of the historic highlights that will be on display when a new Staley museum opens Saturday at the longtime family home in College Hill (361 N. College St.):

1867: AE Staley was born on a farm near Julian, North Carolina, on February 25 to William and Mary Jane Ledbetter Staley.

1885: After losing his father at 18, Staley began working as a traveling salesman for more than a dozen years. Among the products he sold was corn starch.

1890s: Admires the Victorian home of William H. Ennis on College Hill whenever he is in Decatur, which was part of his sales territory.

1898: Settling in Baltimore and founding his own business the year before, he made his first sale of locally packaged starch on March 3 and married Emma Louise Tressler on December 14 in Bryan, Ohio.

1900: Ione Staley, the first of their five children, is born on January 23. She outlived all her siblings and died in 1981 at age 81.

1909: Staley purchases the former Wellington Starch Co. in Decatur and reopens the factory in 1912. He and his family initially live at 524 W. Prairie Ave.

1913: He buys the College Hill house completed in 1884 for William J. Quinlan, secretary-treasurer of the rowing machine and check ringer manufacturers Chambers, Bering and Quinlan, but owned by the Ennis family since 1889. Staley spends almost as much as the $20,000 purchase price by remodeling it along Elizabethan lines.

1920: AE Staley and his company initiate the city’s decision to build Decatur Lake.

1921: He sends his Decatur Staleys football team and two-year-old coach George Halas to Chicago. Halas renamed the team Chicago Bears the following year.

1922: A. E. Staley Mfg. Co. begins processing soybeans, contributing to Decatur’s nickname as the “Soybean Capital of the World”.

1926: AE Staley Jr., third child and eldest son of AE Staley Sr., married Lenore Mueller on September 15. On June 25, 1924, his older sister Ruth married Ebert Mueller in the Staley family home in the first marriage to connect the two prominent Decatur families.

1928: Staley Sr. is instrumental in plans to build an overpass on 22nd Street (then Seventh Street), which is named Staley Viaduct when completed.

1930: Staley Sr. opens the Staley Administration Building, one of Decatur’s most iconic structures.

1932: He steps down as president of AE Staley Mfg. Co. after leading the company since its founding in 1897. He was succeeded by Staley Jr.

1940: Staley Sr. dies on December 26 at his winter home in Miami, Florida, at the age of 73.

1953: His widow makes the Florida estate her permanent home and donates the family home in Decatur, which is used for apartments for many years.

1967: Emma Staley, 91, dies in Miami on February 25, the 100th anniversary of her husband’s birth.

1975: Staley Jr. dies on March 19 at age 71. Donald Nordlund replaces him at the head of the company.

1988: The British company Tate & Lyle acquires the majority of the shares of AE Staley Mfg. Co.

2001: The former Staley Mansion is featured on the Near Westside Restoration & Preservation Society‘s Heritage & Holly Historic Home Tour on November 23-24.

2013: Staley Museum purchases the largely restored house at 361 N. College St. from Dennis and Jana Drew.

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