John Farrell Allen was born in New Madrid, Missouri on March 29, 1824 of early French settlers in southeast Missouri. He was the only child of Samuel W. and Cecelia (LeSieur) Allen. He received an A. B. degree from St. Mary’s of the Barren Seminary, a small Roman Catholic College in Perry County Missouri. He then studied for two years under Dr. John Kirkwood before going to the University of Pennsylvania to complete his medical education. In 1847 at the age of 23 he graduated from Pennsylvania Medical School, the oldest and best-known scientific-model medical school in the United States.
After graduation Dr. Allen went to Batesville, Arkansas, stayed for a short while, then traveled down river to New Orleans. He returned to Batesville after a few months and remained there until his death. He married Mary E. Agnew from Pennsylvania on April 25, 1849. Mary Agnew was the daughter of Dr. James Agnew and the granddaughter of Richard Howell, Governor of New Jersey and the niece of A.W. Lyons, a well-known educator, who established the Batesville Academy. The couple had 4 daughters and one son. Mary Agnew died in 1881.
Dr. Allen was known to have the largest practice in north Arkansas. He made calls by horseback or with a horse and buggy, charged 12 1/2 cents a visit and never sent a bill. His first practice was with Dr. W.B. Lawrence. Later Dr. Lawrence’s son, Billy Lawrence, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and returned to practice medicine well beyond Dr. Allen’s time. Batesville was fortunate to have two physicians from the prestigious Pennsylvania Medical School.
In addition to Dr. Allen’s medical practice he was a leader in Batesville’s business, religious, educational and civic endeavors. Batesville, at that time was a thriving city and the last port to be reached by steamboats on the White River.
Dr. Allen became a wealthy businessman. He established a successful general mercantile store, had property holding and tenant farms, handled real estate from as far away as New Mexico and was a partner in a drug store with the Lyons family
In 1867 Dr. Allen joined the Presbyterian Church and soon became its leading Elder, serving in that office until his death 34 years later. His obituary states, “he had the confidence and esteem of all who knew him–was positive in all things, but he had no enemies.–His kindly geniality and unfailing liberality will be sadly missed”.
When the Presbyterian College in Cane Hill, Arkansas burned in 1871, it was moved to Batesville. Dr. Allen worked with A.W. Lyons and Dr. I.J. Long, both well known educators, who re-established the burned college as Arkansas College, later named Lyons College. Dr. Allen became a member of the original Board of Trustees. He was elected treasurer and held that office until his death. He is credited with changing the names of the college to Lyons College.
Dr. Allen was known as a generous supporter of civic and private projects. Two noted contributions were to the IOOF Widows and Orphans home and Lyons College.
He died on September 22, 1901 at the age of 77 and is buried in Batesville. At the time of his death he was known as the oldest man in Batesville.