One of the most enterprising and business men of Indianapolis, was born at New Castle (not upon Tyne, where the worthy apothecary practiced the healing art), but upon the banks of the Delaware.
When he first came to Indiana, in 1842, he was engaged for a short time in the foundry business at Lafayette.
He made this city his home in the year 1845, and was soon recognized as one of the true business men of the place, and since which time he has engaged in various enterprises. In 1853 he engaged in the real estate business, more as a bona fide purchaser and seller than as an agent.
Since he first began dealing in real estate he has built about five hundred tenements of different kinds; indeed, near one-half of the houses in the Fifth Ward were built, or caused to be, by him, or with his means.
True, some of those houses were not as large as the Academy of Music, or as elaborate in design; yet they furnished what was demanded by the growth of the city, comfortable and cheap homes for the laborers and mechanics, and within their reach as purchasers or tenants.
During the war he sold many of those houses on credit and at easy payments. After money became scarce, and the laborers were thrown out of employment, those payments could not be made. Mr. McKernan had it in his power to foreclose the mortages and buy the property for much less than as due him on them, instead of which he took the property back, canceled the notes, and gave the purchasers other property corresponding in value to the amount they had paid. Such acts of generosity are so refreshing, we must be permitted to refer to them when they occur.
The most of those houses west of the canal are yet owned by him, many of which are occupied by poor and non-paying tenants.
He pays taxes on one hundred and forty-seven thousand one hundred and seventy-five dollars' worth of property in the city. I was shown his tax list making seventy pages.
He is, at this time, engaged near St. Louis in manufacturing iron, the ore of which is brought from Iron Mountain, Missouri; the coal used is procured at Big Muddy Mines, in Jackson County, Illinois. When this enterprise was first undertaken various were the predictions of its failure; but since it has proved a success two or three millions have been invested in it by other parties.
Although Mr. McKernan is past the meridian of his life, there seems to be no abatement in his energy and industry since I first knew him, over a quarter of a century ago.
When we first made his acquaintance he was a member of the old National Whig party, but, like many others, when that part was disbanded, after the defeat of General Scott in 1852, fell in with and supported the Democratic party, but he still adheres with tenacity to many of the sound and wholesome doctrines of that good old national party.
In benevolence and kindness to the poor he, as well as his amiable wife, allow none to surpass them. They never stop to inquire what caused distress and misery, or to what church or country the applicant for releif belongs, but what can we do to alleviate your suffering or better your condition, is all the inquiry they make.
In their social relations they are equally hospitable, ever glad to meet and entertain at their houses their numerous friends and acquaintances.
Mr. McKernan has several children yet living. His eldest son, David, is married, and a resident of the city. Their only daughter, Belle, who was the idol of their affections, has recently deceased and left a vacancy in their hearts that never can be filled this side of the grave.
Since the above was written, we have been shown a most valuable invention of Mr. McKernan's, and of which I deem it propert to mention in this sketch.
The sudden and untimely death of John L. Ketcham, in April 1869, by falling through a hatchway, and which ast such a gloom over this entire community, made usch an impression and weighed so heavy upon the mind of Mr. McKernan, that for several nights after the sad occurrence he could scarcely sleep.
He then put his inventive genius to work to see if he could not contrive something that would in the future prevent the recurrence of so dire a calamity.
In the wish to accomplish this great object he was not influenced by mercenary or pecuniary considerations, but solely a desire to benefit his fellow man, although the most valuable improvements and inventions of the age have been brought about by such motives, utility being a secondary consideration.
Mr. McKernan has succeeded beyond his most sanguine expectations, and has an invention that will close the hatch and stairways, windows and doors of a five-story building in two minutes, which, in case of fire, would stop the flames arising from the most combustible material within its walls, thereby saving the loss of proeprty, which is secondary onoy to life.
The utility of this invention has been tested and demonstrated to the entire satisfaction of all who witnessed it at the Masonic Hall on the 18th of May, 1870.
Nowland, John H., Early Reminiscences of Indianapolis and Short Biographical Sketches of its early citizens, and a few of the prominent business men of the present day, Indianapolis: Sentinel Bok and Job Printing House., 1870, pp. 263-366 [sic], (page was misnumbered and should be 363-366).