It has sometimes been said that great families in America begin to fade from prominence by the third generation.

It has sometimes been said that great families in America begin to fade from prominence by the third generation.

The first generation is made up of people who make money, gain fame or notoriety, and generally, by their energy make something of themselves. The second generation consolidates the gains of the first, is prominent but a little less ostentatious, and brings the successful family into accepted "society," whatever that might be.

And then the third generation - steeped in wealth, power and influence - simply sits back and spends the family fortune.

Like most mythologies, this rather simplistic view of family succession in America is probably more notable for its exceptions than its enduring truth. And certainly, one of the best examples of that sort of exception is James Kilbourne of Columbus.

He was part of the third generation of one of the more important families in the story of Columbus and central Ohio. His grandfather, James Kilbourn, was one of the founders of frontier Worthington. That village was settled by several dozen hardy souls from Granby, Conn., and points nearby with the confident anticipation that it would be as close as Ohio would ever get to a Puritan "City on a Hill." It is fair to say that in at least some ways they got their wish.

James Kilbourne's grandmother was Cynthia Goodale. She had a unique distinction of her own: As a young child, she was aboard the first boat of settlers to arrive at Marietta, the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory, in 1788. With several young people clamoring to be the first person ashore, the captain of the boat resolved the problem. Having taken a liking to young Cynthia, he lifted her out of the boat and she became the first European American woman to set foot in Ohio - at least that was the claim that was later made, if we forget about a few white women who had been captured by Native Americans in earlier years.

James and Cynthia Kilbourn had one son, Lincoln, who was named for Cynthia's brother, Lincoln Goodale. After Cynthia's early death, James Kilbourn remarried and had six more children with his second wife. The record of accomplishment of the first generation of the Kilbourn family is quite lengthy.

In addition to helping found Worthington, James Kilbourn also hoped to attract the occasionally mobile state capital of Ohio to his town. With the selection of Columbus, Kilbourn decided that if the capital would not come to him, he would go to the capital. The first newspaper in the area moved to Columbus from Worthington, as did the store of the Worthington Manufacturing Co.

Columbus had been founded directly across the Scioto from frontier Franklinton, a community of settlers from Kentucky and Virginia. Because of James Kilbourn and his friends, Columbus was at least partly a Yankee town as well.

Lincoln Kilbourn grew up in Worthington and attended the Worthington Academy until he was 15. Then he came to Columbus and went to work for his uncle. Lincoln Goodale had been trained to be a physician. Arriving in Franklinton, he found that few people had either the money or the inclination to see a doctor. So Goodale opened a store. Eventually, the store moved across the river to Columbus and Goodale, a lifelong bachelor, made a not insignificant amount of money in the capital city.

To repay the town for being so good to him, he gave Columbus its first park - Goodale Park - in 1851. One of the people who helped Goodale make his money was Lincoln Kilbourn. Apparently, Dr. Goodale was a good teacher. When Goodale retired, Kilbourn continued in business with his brother-in-law, Cyrus Fay, under the name of Fay & Kilbourn as a general store. Eventually, Cyrus Fay took the clothing part of the business and opened a store of his own.

Kilbourn kept the hardware business in a store that by the 1890s claimed to have the oldest bricks of any standing building in Columbus. He operated with various partners under the name of Kilborn, Kuhns & Co. and Kilbourn, Jones and Co. for more than 66 years. In all of those years, Mr. Kilbourn was very proud of the fact he "had never failed to pay an obligation when presented." Lincoln Kilbourn married Jane Evans in 1837 and the couple had five children. One of them was named James, as his grandfather had been. And for all of the differences two generations can make, the two men had a great deal in common.

James Kilbourne (an "e" was added to the name along the way) grew up in a world somewhat removed from frontier Worthington. Born in Columbus in 1842, he grew up in a bustling city of several thousand people and graduated from Columbus High School in 1857. He then attended Kenyon College and received both a bachelor's and a master's degree in 1862.

By that time, the Civil War had been under way for a year. Immediately after his last examination, he enlisted as a private soldier in the 84th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and began to move up through the ranks. Serving later with the 95th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and as a staff officer, he was present at many of the major battles of the western campaigns of the Civil War. Promoted to captain, he ended the war as a brevet colonel of volunteers. For the rest of his life, he would be known as "Col. Kilbourne."

At the end of the war, James Kilbourne entered Harvard Law School and graduated in 1868. Returning to Columbus, he decided to enter the family business rather than practice law. With the help of his father, he helped found the Kilbourne and Jacobs Manufacturing Co., which began by making many of the kinds of tools sold in his father's store. With Kilbourne as its president, the company built a national and eventually an international trade.

Located just to the north of the Jeffrey Manufacturing Co. on the near North Side, Kilbourne & Jacobs became a major Columbus manufacturing success story.

James Kilbourne married Anna Wright in 1869 and the couple had four children. Like his parents and grandparents, James Kilbourne felt an obligation to serve his community beyond a simple devotion to business. He served as the board president of the Columbus Public Library and of Children's Hospital and was active in the local Democratic Party, as well as the Grand Army of the Republic and other veterans' organizations.

A man of decidedly literary tastes, he hosted in his home for many years the Magazine Club, "which is composed of thirty gentlemen who have met there for the discussion of literary and economic questions."

Decidedly showing that a third generation of at least one family was well worth remembering, James Kilbourne died in Columbus on July 7, 1919.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.