The Club of Loop Dynasties


Byron Laflin Smith




By Megan McKinney


One historic Chicago dynasty we have more or less neglected was established by banker Byron Laflin Smith in 1889. Forbes magazine, which keeps close watch on America’s affluent families, would consider a this neglect a serious error on our part.  And it is.  In 2020, Forbes announced that our current Smith family is Chicago’s second most substantial dynasty and the twenty-ninth such in the nation. 

Which dynasty is it then that leads this clan in Chicago and stands at #9 in the United States? Look no further than Springfield and the governor’s mansion.

Governor J. B. Pritzker

John V. Farwell

Furthermore, the Smiths were members of a “club” of families living in the midst of our current business district. Lake Forest readers will surely believe that John V. Farwell and his brother, Senator Charles B. Farwell, were born in Lake Forest, because they were among the beautiful exurb’s earliest residents.

United States Senator Charles B. Farwell

We bring up the Farwells because we first learn of Byron Laflin Smith while John V. and his family are residents of what is now Chicago’s Loop. After a short stint working for the city government, John V. had found a job in the dry goods business and soon joined the firm that would become Cooley, Wadsworth & Co. and later, John V.  Farwell & Co.


Abigail Gates Taylor Farwell.

 Following a painfully brief marriage to Abigail Gates Taylor, who died after giving birth to a daughter, John V. followed a variation on the classic tradition by marrying the boss’ sister, Emeret Cooley.farwell-emeret

Emeret Cooley Farwell.

After their Hartford, Connecticut marriage, John brought Emeret back to Chicago to live in the Tremont House for a short time before moving to a two-story red brick house on the south side of Madison Street between Clark and LaSalle Streets. The newlyweds were joined there by little Abby Farwell, John’s toddler daughter who had been living with relatives.

farwell-madison-houseJohn V. and Emeret Farwell’s house in the midst of today’s Loop.

 In later years, Abby would remember an idyllic childhood in what was then a lovely residential neighborhood. Her father’s importance was growing; everyone knew him or who he was, and they invariably referred to him as John V.  


Little Abby Farwell, loose in the Loop at age four.

 In those innocent times, Abby was able to explore the area without adult supervision while playing with neighborhood children. The closest among these was a little red-haired boy whose parents lived on LaSalle Street, between Washington and Randolph, a fashionable block opposite the courthouse. Abby and the little boy played on the courthouse grounds “by the hour” and sometimes ventured for mischief inside the great building.

The child’s father was banker Solomon A. Smith, a founder of Merchants Savings, Loan & Trust Co., later Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust, and the little red-haired boy was Byron L. Smith, a banker-to-be, who in 1889, with $1 million entrusted by such giants as Philip D. Armour, Marshall Field and Martin Ryerson, would found The Northern Trust Company.

This feat was followed in 1912, by Byron’s founding of another iconic Chicago entity, Illinois Tool Works. Meanwhile, he was becoming patriarch of a lineage, which, in the 2020s, would be granted serious ranking by Forbes magazine. 

Author Photo: Robert F. Carl