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Below is a family biography included in Portrait and Biographical Record of Seneca and Schuyler Counties, New York published by Chapman Publishing Co., in 1895.  These biographies are valuable for genealogy research in discovering missing ancestors or filling in the details of a family tree. Family biographies often include far more information than can be found in a census record or obituary.  Details will vary with each biography but will often include the date and place of birth, parent names including mothers' maiden name, name of wife including maiden name, her parents' names, name of children (including spouses if married), former places of residence, occupation details, military service, church and social organization affiliations, and more.  There are often ancestry details included that cannot be found in any other type of genealogical record.

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HON. CHARLES COOK, for many years the most prominent citizen of Schuyler County, was born in what is now the town of Springfield, Otsego County, N. Y., November 20, 1800, being the son of Paul and Jerusha (Hatch) Cook, natives, respectively, of Washington County, N. Y., and Tolland County, Conn. The family originated in England, but was represented in New England in the early part of the seventeenth century. The father, after the Revolution, removed to Otsego County, where he started a blacksmith’s shop, working diligently for the support of the family. During the War of 1812 he enlisted in the service, and while stationed at Black Rock he was suddenly stricken with apoplexy and died.

Thus sadly orphaned, the sons were thrown upon their own resources, and our subject, when twelve years old, secured work with a neighboring farmer for a shilling a day. Leaving the farm after a short time, he went to live with an uncle, Warren Caswell, a merchant at Little Lake, Otsego County, Soon he secured a clerkship in a store at Herkimer, from which place he went to Utica, and at the age of twenty-three became a contractor on the public works. For six years he was thus employed, having contracts in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

From Williamsport, Pa., Mr. Cook came to Havana in 1829, and afterward engaged in the construction of the Chemung Canal through this village, then only a straggling settlement of a few houses scattered along the stream, called the Inlet, and known by that name at the present time, and also as Catherine’s Creek. Though not impressed with the place, the beauty of the surrounding scenery caused him to establish his home here. He attempted to make purchase at what is now Watkins, but finding the ground mostly taken by wealthy capitalists from New York City, he returned here and purchased what was known as the David Lee Farm. Subsequently he laid out and largely built up the western part of the place, as it now stands, and which, on the completion of the canal in 1836, was incorporated as a village and called Havana. For many years he resided on the old Lee Farm, in a house occupying the present site of Langley Hall. On the erection of that building as a court-house in 1854 and 1855, the farm building was removed to the north, and still stands there, unchanged in appearance.

In addition to his real-estate transactions, Mr. Cook engaged in the mercantile business, and built stores, warehouses and mills on the banks of the canal. He rapidly accumulated property, and for years was actively engaged in building operations. Much that he did in this direction is still standing, and the fruits of his labors the present generation enjoys. He became President of the Chemung Canal Bank at Elmira. Afterward he was interested in the building of the railroad through this valley, which was opened in December, 1849. In 1850 and 1851 he formed one of the company that contracted to build the Erie Railroad from Binghamton to Elmira. In 1850 he began the erection of the Montour House and St. Paul’s Church. The hotel was opened in 1854, and he afterward made it his home. The last building put up by him was the bank building, begun in 1863. In 1849 he established the Havana Journal, and for it he wrote constantly until his death, though it was only during the latter part of his life that it was conducted under his name. In 1851 the Bank of Havana was organized by him under state supervision. In 1864 it was merged into the First National Bank of Havana.

The county of Chemung was organized in 1836, and at once Mr. Cook began to agitate the organization of another county out of the territory lying about the head of Seneca Lake. After about fifteen years he was successful in his efforts, and the proposed county was organized as Schuyler in April, 1854. Afterward a struggle for the county seat arose between Havana and Watkins, and through his influence Havana gained the victory. But after his death the matter was at once revived, and in 1867 the county seat was transferred to Watkins. Through his instrumentality the People’s College was located in Havana in 1857, and the following year the corner-stone was laid. Rev. Amos Brown was called to the Presidency, and through his efforts at Washington, under Mr. Cook’s direction, a grant was obtained.

In 1847 Mr. Cook was elected Canal Commissioner, and re-elected for three years in 1848. In 1861 he was elected State Senator for this district, and during the last session of that body he succeeded in having passed an appropriation granting to the People’s College $10,000 for two years. In 1863 he introduced an act appropriating the income and revenue of the proceeds of the sale of the lands granted to the state to the People’s College. Thus he made available for the use of the college a magnificent grant, the income of which amounts to $20,000 per year, while the fund accruing from the college land strip in the keeping of the state is nearly $475,000, and the resulting fund and its income, though unknown, probably much more.

After a most useful life, Mr. Cook died at Auburn, N. Y., October 16, 1866, at the home of his relative. Gen. John H. Chedell. The immediate cause of his death was a second stroke of paralysis. At his request, left in writing, the rites of the Protestant Episcopal Church were said over his remains, and he was interred in Queen Catharine’s Mound, south of the village. His request that his funeral should be without parade and that his kindred should be buried beside him was observed. November 20, 1886, twenty years after his death, a bronze bust was unveiled in Cook Academy at Havana. This was presented to the academy by H. C. Ives, of St. Louis, and is the work of the sculptor, Robert Bringhurst.

The facts that are contained in this review have been gleaned from the biographical address of Hull Fanton, on the occasion of the unveiling of the bust in bronze, and it is fitting to close with a quotation from his scholarly address: “From his grounds a beautiful and striking view of the valley and highlands is had. To the north Seneca Lake is in full view, while the village he idolized and loved so fondly is close in the foreground. The prediction made at the time of his death is being in part fulfilled. It was that as ‘time rolled by the memory of Charles Cook would grow dearer and his life would appear brighter to the residents of the village he did so much to make, as well as to the inhabitants of Schuyler County, which owed its existence as one of the civil divisions of the state to his unflagging energy, perseverance and indomitable will.’”

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This family biography is one of the numerous biographies included in Portrait and Biographical Record of Seneca and Schuyler Counties, New York published in 1895. 

View additional Schuyler County, New York family biographies here: Schuyler County, New York Biographies

View a map of 1897 Schuyler County, New York here: Schuyler County, New York Map

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