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William Wallace Marsh was born in Cuttingsville, Rutland County, Vermont on October 14, 1832 where his father was a merchant. He attended the common schools there and was a graduate of Black River Academy in Ludlow, Vermont. For many years he was a member of the academy’s board of trustees. After graduation he clerked in a store in Ludlow then spent two years helping his sister settle his father’s estate. At the age of 23 he headed west, first to Galena, Illinois, and then to Dubuque, Iowa where he passed the fall and winter of 1855-1856. In the spring of 1856 he went by stage to Sioux City and preempted a claim in Dakota County, Nebraska, where he lived until April, 1857 when he returned to Vermont to settle his affairs. In 1858 he returned to Nebraska and farmed.
Mr. Wallace spent a great deal of his life involved in the transportation business. During his time in Dakota County he contracted to carry the United States mails between Dakota City and Niobrara and Sioux City and Fort Randall by stage. In the fall of 1862 he purchased an interest in the Council Bluffs & Nebraska Ferry Company and moved to Omaha where he became manager. In January, 1863, Marsh married Flora M. Atwood, a native of Livermore Falls, Maine, at Ida Grove, Iowa. In 1867 he became overseer of the Missouri River Transfer Company, which was later merged into the Union Pacific Transfer Company, which continued business until the completion of the Union Pacific Bridge in 1872. The bridge ended the ferry business.
In 1873 Mr. Marsh purchased a controlling interest in the Omaha Horse Railway from A. J. Hanscom. In 1878 when it was sold by sheriff to satisfy mortgages against it, he purchased it for about $25,000. In 1883, after improvements, he sold 3/5 of his interest to S. H. H. Clark, Guy C. Barton, and Frank Murphy on a basis of a valuation of $500,000. In 1889 it consolidated with the Omaha Cable Tramway and Omaha Street Railway Company and eventually absorbed all the other street railway companies in Omaha and Council Bluffs. In 1878 Marsh was superintendent of the Wyoming Stage Company which ran between Sidney and Deadwood. He was also involved in Glencoe Mills, Goodman Packing Company and the Gedney Pickle Company. He was one of the principal organizers of the Union National Bank, which was taken over by the United States National Bank.
Mr. Marsh was civic minded. In 1872 he was elected to the Omaha City Council and served on the board of education beginning in 1876 for five years, his last year as president. He donated to the Omaha Public Library his unique “Council Bluffs and Nebraska Ferry Company & Union Pacific Transfer” album which contains the pictures of his ferry company’s fleet of steamers and other images from this venture.
W. W. Marsh died in April, 1901 at Nassau, New Providence, West Indies, where he had gone for his health, accompanied by his wife Flora, and youngest son, Allan. The Marsh’s had three other sons, Charles, Frank, and William. Mrs. Marsh died December 27, 1924. All are buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Omaha, Nebraska.
Text written by Joanne Ferguson Cavanaugh, April 2007
William Wallace Marsh, Biography file, Omaha Public Library.
Sorensen, Alfred. The Story of Omaha from the Pioneer Days to the Present Time. Omaha: National Printing Company, 1923, p. 266-268.
Morton, J. Sterling. Illustrated History of Nebraska, Vol. 1. Lincoln: J. North, 1905, p. 700-701.
City Walks and Talks, Omaha Daily Bee Newspaper, 24 May, 1884, p. 4. (Interview with W. W. Marsh about early Nebraska Ferry Company days.)