Warner Samuel Anderson was born in Geneva, Illinois June 18, 1866 to parents Swan and Frederika. Later records would state that his parents had both been born in Sweden. According to records in Ancestry, Swan and Frederika Anderson came over from Sweden on the ship Lucia in May of 1852.
Varney was the fourth of seven children born to the Anderson family. Swan worked as merchant tailor and Frederika took care of the children. By 1880, the family had moved to Elgin where Swan worked at the watch factory. Frederika passed away in November of 1879 and the oldest daughter Emily was still living at home helping to care for her younger brothers and sisters.
Varney would follow his father’s footsteps and work in the Watch factory. But Varney had bigger plans. He knew that Rockford also had a Watch Factory that had gained quite a reputation for their quality watches since their opening in 1875. Some might argue that this is what lured the young man to move here. But they would only be half right. There was another reason why Varney chose to make Rockford his home.
Besides having a Watch Factory, Rockford also had a Minor League Baseball League. Varney came because Rockford had been making a name for itself on the baseball field. He loved the game and hoped that Rockford would help him make his dream of playing in the Major Leagues a reality. The newspapers from the day are filled with headlines and articles about Varney’s success here in Rockford and eventually beyond.
In 1887, when he was only 21 years old, Varney was playing for the Milwaukee Brewers in the Minor Leagues. He played for two different teams during the 1888 season; the Minneapolis Millers and the St. Paul Apostles.
In 1889, Varney’s dream finally came true when he was chosen to be a player for the Major Leagues. Rockford hailed Varney as a hometown hero when it was announced that he had secured the position of pitcher and outfielder for the Indiana Hoosiers. He only played in 2 games that year. In 1890, he became a player and the manager of the Burlington Hawkeyes in Iowa.
Varney wasn’t only noticed by the men who attended his games. The women in the area would gather on Ladies Day to watch the handsome young man pitch against team after team. Varney would eventually fall for one of his fans and he married Florence Doughty in 1891.
Florence would always claim to be his biggest fan. The happy couple would have three daughters over the years. Varney would travel during the season and Florence and the rest of Rockford always made a big deal of welcoming him home again when the season ended.
Varney was hailed as a great team manager and continued to climb the ladder of success.
In 1895, Varney was invited to join the Washington Senators. He must have felt like all of his hard work paid off during his time with the Washington team.
The local newspapers were not the only ones talking about Varney’s skills on the baseball field. He was mentioned in the 1894 issue of Sporting Life. “Varney Anderson, surprised by his wonderful work in the box against them. His main strength appeared to be in his deceptive drop, which he has completely under his control.”
Varney continued to play for the Washington Senators and 1895 was his best year. Varney had achieved his lifelong goal of playing in the Major Leagues but he also knew that he was getting older. He returned to Rockford to help manage the team and to play for the town that helped him achieve his dream.
Headlines in 1897 told of Varney’s successes. One from August 23, 1897 claimed, “(Varney Anderson) Contributed to the Most Sensational Finish Ever Seen in Rockford!”
Varney and his wife Florence raised their three girls in their little house on South Main Street here in Rockford. Varney wanted to give back to the community that had given him so much. He became a Freemason and joined the E.F. Ellis Masonic Lodge. Varney was as successful as a Freemason as he was on the field. He became Master of the Lodge in 1902.
Varney and Florence purchased a house on South Main Street where they would finish their days. Varney lost Florence to illness on January 24, 1931. He laid her to rest in Willwood Burial Park. He would join her there after his death on November 5, 1941.
Copyright © 2021 by Kathi Kresol. Originally published on: