Biography of Dudley Emerson Cornell, General

Gen. Dudley Emerson Cornell. The career of the late Gen. Dudley Emerson Cornell was one characterized by participation in various lines of endeavor and experiences of an interesting and extraordinary character; by faithful devotion to the duties and responsibilities of both peace and war; by success in business; and by a high type of citizenship that won to him the friendship and esteem of men in all walks of life. From 1866 until his death, in 1911, he was a resident of Kansas, and during this time was not only widely known in business circles as a man of sound ability and broad knowledge, but as a public official whose labors were always directed [p.2044] in behalf of the welfare of his community and its people.

General Cornell was born on a farm near Wilton, Saratoga County, New York, January 15, 1837, being one of the four children of Merritt L. and Mercy W. (Howard) Cornell, natives respectively of New York and Vermont. He belonged to one of America’s oldest and most highly honored families, having been a descendant from Thomas Cornell, a native of England who, in 1638, to escape religious persecution, left that country and emigrated to the new land across the waters, here joining the colony of Roger Williams, which had been established two years before at Providence. He continued to worship as a Quaker during the rest of his life. Thomas Cornell became one of the large landholders of his day and locality, and in 1640 founded the homestead on Narragansett Bay, which is still held in the family possession. In 1642 he migrated to New Amsterdam, and in 1646 was granted a tract of land by Governor Kieft which is now known as Cornell’s Neck. Thomas Cornell was the father of five sons and five daughters, one of the descendants of whom, a distant relative of General Cornell, was the late Ezra Cornell, whose great donations made possible the founding of Cornell College, one of the greatest in the country today.

Merritt I. Cornell, the father of General Cornell, was born in Washington County, New York, and married Mercy W. Howard, a native of Shaftsbury, Vermont, and a sister of United States Senator Howard, who served in that body for a number of years as a representative from Michigan. Mr. Cornell died in 1883, and his widdow in 1881, and all their four children are also deceased. In the Empire State, Merritt I. Cornell was a farmer and school teacher and a man of some importance in public affairs, serving as county superintendent of schools and county commissioner for several terms. During the closing years of his life he made his home with his son, Dudley E., and was residing with him at the time of his death. He was originally a whig and later a republican in politics.

Dudley Emerson Cornell, of the eighth generation of the family in America, received his early educational training in the public schools of his native place, subsequently matriculating at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York, from which institution he was graduated as a civil engineer. In 1856 and 1857 he fellowed his profession in Wisconsin, where he was identified with the Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad, between Madison and the Mississippi River, this line now being a part of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul system. The year 1858 saw Mr. Cornell one of a party of gold-seekers journeying to California by way of the Isthmus of Panama, and after his arrival in the Golden State he continued to be engaged as a civil and mining engineer until 1860. Returning in that year to New York, at the outbreak of the Civil war he enlisted for a short time in the Seventh New York Cavalry, better known as the “Northern Black Horse Cavalry,” but at the expiration of his term, at Hoosic, New York, raised Company A, of the One Hundred Twenty-fifth Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry, of which he was commissioned captain. He was presented a handsome sword by the citizens of Hoosic, in August, 1862. He had a brilliant military record, and at the close of the war was serving on the staff of Gen. Rufus Saxton and later held the rank of major-general in the Kansas State Militia to which he had been appointed by Governor John P. St. John.

In 1866 General Cornell again decided to try his fortunes in the West, and in that year came to Kansas and located in Wyandotte County. His former railroad experience and his knowledge of civil engineering gained him a position with the Eastern Division of the Union Pacific Railway, his first title being that of clerk in the general passenger and ticket office. He was promoted to chief clerk in that office, and in 1876, after the road had become an independent line, known as the Kansas Pacific, he was made general passenger agent, a position which he maintained until the consolidation of the Kansas Pacific and the Union Pacific. In 1889 he retired from active business affairs and in 1894 went to live at his country home, “Highland Farm,” near Bonner Springs, Wyandotte. One of the leading republicans of his day, he served as mayor of Wyandotte, now Kansas City, in 1883, and was again elected mayor of Kansas City in 1907 and 1908. In 1902 he accepted the nomination of his party for the office of county treasurer and was elected by a large majority and re-elected in 1904, serving until 1906. His public service was an excellent one. General Cornell was a man of business who took advantage of every fair opportunity, but his dealings were always above board, and he was always ready to help the less fortunate and to contribute to every laudable enterprise.

On October 13, 1868, General Cornell was united in marriage with Miss Annic M. Speck, a native of Pennsylvania, and a daughter of Dr. Frederick and Adelaide (Dennis) Speck. To this union there were born six children, namely: Frederick Dudley, who is a well known real estate man of Lincoln, Nebraska; Dr. Howard Merritt, a practicing physician of Las Cruces, New Mexico; Adelaide Marion, who is the wife of Prof. Ernest Blaker, of Cornall University; Dudley Emerson, Jr., who died at the age of two years; Grace, who is the wife of Capt. Fred Bugbee, U. S. A., at present stationed in the Canal Zone; and George Stewart, who is engaged in the insurance business.

Dr. Frederick Speck, the father of Mrs. Cornell, was an old and honored physician of Kansas City. He was born at Carliale, Cumberland County, Penusylvania, November 24, 1818, his parents being Dr. Joseph and Mary (Motter) Speck, also natives of that place. His paternal grandparents were Frederick and Barbara (Musselman) Speck, who were born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and the first paternal ancestor to settle in America was a Hollander, the mother’s ancestor being a German. The parents of Doctor Speck had three children, of whom he was the eldest child and only son. The mother died in 1838 and his father subsequently married Elizabeth Hollenback, by whom he reared a family of six children, all of whom are now deceased. The father’s death occurred April 3, 1875, at Kansas City, Kansas, in which city he had located in 1857. He was a graduate of Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and of the Baltimore Medical College, and practiced his profession for over forty years, during two years of which time he was a surgeon in the Union army during the Civil war.

Dr. Frederick Speck spent his early life in his native place and received his literary education at Dickinson College, from which his father had graduated many years before. His first knowledge of medicine was acquired under the preceptorship of the elder man, and when still in early manhood, he completed a course at Franklin Medical College, Philadelphia, being graduated therefrom with the class of 1847. Doctor Speck began the practice of his beloved calling at Fremont, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, but after five years there and a similar length of time spent at Selin’s Grove, Snyder County, that state, he came to the West and took up his home at Kansas City, Kansas, where he continued in active practice right up to the time of his death, September 16, 1893. For forty-six years he has been a devotee of the healing art and during thirty-six years of this time has resided at Kansas City, where he was widely known socially and professionally and was greatly beloved by those who had been attracted to him by his many excellencies of mind and heart. Doctor Speck and his wife had come to the West in June, 1857, on the boat Edinburgh from St. Louis to Wyandotte.

Doctor Speck was married June 8, 1848, to Miss Adelaide M. Dennis, who accompanied him to the West and died here March 8, 1882, leaving four children: Annie M., Mary C., Joseph B. and Richard D. On December 31, 1885, the doctor married Mrs. Frances L. Battles, a daughter of Hon. Marsh Giddings, former governor of New Mexico, and widow of Augustus S. Battles, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Doctor and Mrs. Speck were members of the Episcopal Church, and he was the first vestry-man of the First Episcopal Church of Kansas City. A prominent Odd Fellow, be was honored with the rank of grand master and grand chief patriarch of the state, and grand representative to the grand lodge of the United States at Baltimore, Maryland, in 1873, and at Atlanta, Georgia, in 1874. He was also a member of the Masonic and Knights of Pythias fraternities. Politically a stanch republican, he served four terms as mayor of Kansas City and several terms as a member of the council, and his public services included numerous other helpful activities. For ten years he was pension examiner, and was a member of the board that built the Blind Asylum, served as one of its trustees for several years, and was its physician from the time of its inception until his death. Professionally, as in every other way, his standing was excellent, and he was one of the most honored among the members of the Kansas State Medical Society and the American Medical Association. His friendships included some of the most prominent men of his day. His home life was beautiful. In his death Kansas City lost its most useful and most greatly beloved man.

Mrs. Cornell is a leading figure in social and club circles of Kanusas City. For two years she was regent of James Ross Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, and organized and was president for four years of the United States Daughters of 1812 for the State of Kansas. She is a charter member of the Social Science Club, which was organized in 1881, and a life member of the Kansas State Historical Society. She takes an active part in the various activities of the Episcopal Church, of which she has been a member for fifty years.



Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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