Biography of Hon. Edwin N. Cooke

HON. EDWIN N. COOKE. – The subject of this sketch is a lineal descendant of the Puritans, who came to America in the ship Mayflower, and landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts, December 21, 1620. Among the passengers of that historical band were Francisco Cook and his son, John Cooke, who settled and the families of whom for many generations lived in that and other colonies, up to the time of the Revolutionary war.

At the commencement of the Revolutionary war, Mr. Cooke’s great-grandfather, Asaph Cooke lived near Boston, Massachusetts, and had four sons who espoused the American cause and enlisted in the patriotic army, and remained there until the termination of the war, seven years afterward, serving with distinction, and afterwards marrying and rearing large families. The subject of our sketch has seen three of them when very old men, and heard them recount the story of the struggle over and over again.

The grandfather of Mr. Cooke, after the Revolution, married Thankful Parker, and settled in Granville, Washington county, New York. He reared a family of four sons and one daughter. The eldest son, Asaph, was the father of E.N. Cooke, who married Mary Stewart in 1805, and had one son and one daughter born to them, when he moved in 1808 to Jefferson county of the same state, where Edwin N. Cooke was born, February 26, 1810, near where the town of Adams now stands. That portion of New York state was, at that time, almost a wilderness. In 1814 the family removed to their old home, where two more sons were born. In 1816 the family removed to Warsaw, Genesee county, where they remained one year, and in 1816 emigrated to the State of Ohio, the then far West, settling, with many relatives of the family name in what is yet known as “Cooke Corners,” in Huron county, of that state. Here the family endured many of the trials incident to the pioneer life of those days, suffering greatly for the want of provisions, and clothing, so much so for the latter that his mother used up the sheets from the beds for shirts, spun flax, and a neighbor woman wove it to make clothing. The men mostly wore buckskin pants.

The incidents of his life for several years were not varied from that of young men brought up to pioneer life. In 1826 Mr. Cooke’s mother died, he thus meeting with a great bereavement in early life.

He married on September 5, 1835, at Oxford, Ohio, Miss Eliza Vandercock, with whom he lived a happy domestic life, up to the time of his death, of over forty-three years. Mr. Cooke was engaged in the merchandise business with one of his uncles in Sandusky City, and continued the same for several years, until his business house was burned in the winter of 1849, when he removed to Clyde and thence to Fremont.

In 1848, while living in Sandusky City, the Asiatic cholera made its appearance, and carried off more of its inhabitants according to the number of its population than any city in the state. The people became panic-stricken and fled. stores were closed, and all business suspended. Mr. Cooke alone remaining at his post. so rapidly did the people die that it was impossible to bury them singly in graves; and a long trench was dug in which the dead were hurriedly placed, and so lightly covered with earth that a brick and cement vault was afterwards built over the trench to secure the inhabitants from the effluvium of the corpses. Mr. Cooke’s uncle and partner died during the epidemic.

In 1851 he started across the plains to Oregon, and stopped a short time at Salt Lake and traded for stock. He was an invalid when he started but the journey proved very beneficial to him, in fact gave him a new lease of life for many years of usefulness. On his arrival in Salem, he built the old Headquarters Building, that stood on the corner of Commercial and State streets, where the bank now stands, and began the business of merchandising with George H. Jones of Salem, under the firm name of Jones, Cooke & Co.

Mr. Cooke also purchased a house of the late John L. Starkey, on the corner of Liberty and Division streets, and for several months kept a hotel, which for years afterwards was known as Cooke’s Hotel, but is now known as the Mansion House. He traded that property to the late John Hunt for a farm, which he owned for about three years, a portion of the time residing on the same. In 1854 his only daughter, Miss Fannie, was married to Honorable T. McF. Patton. They moved to Southern Oregon. In 1856 the company dissolved, selling the store to John L. Starkey; and Mr. Cooke returned to the Eastern States, accompanied by his wife, where he remained nearly a year, settling up the business of the late firm. On his return he added to the town by laying out into town lots the land north of Division street, which is known as Cooke’s addition, on a portion of which he built a fine residence, and beautified the same by cultivating rare flowers, shrubbery and fruits, residing there some years. In 1862 he was nominated by the Republican state convention for state treasurer, an office to which he was elected, and which he held for the ensuing eight years, being re-elected in1866, and passing through the two terms with honor to himself and the party that elected him. Although a close and searching examination was made by a special committee appointed by the legislature to examine the books of the different state departments, Mr. Cooke came out without a spot or blemish on his record as an officer, or character as a man.

In 1862, in connection with A.A., and D. McCully, S.T. Church and others, he organized and successfully conducted for several years the corporation known as the People’s Transportation Company of steamboats to navigate the Willamette river from Portland to the head of navigation. Although a monopoly, it was not oppressive, and transacted an immense amount of business. This company constructed the canal and basin at Oregon City, at a cost of $133,000, including the land for right-of-way. This work reflects great credit on the projectors. They also offered to construct the locks and canal for the state as a much more reasonable price, so that boats could pass the falls as they did in that constructed on the west side and that the state would own them. The company ran an opposition line upon the Columbia river in 1863, but was not successful. In 1871 the company sold out to Ben Holladay. Mr. Cooke was one of the directors of the company from its organization to its dissolution.

In 1866 he formed a copartnership with Messrs. McCully and Church, and established a large store in Salem, and continued the business for some time. In 1868, in company with his wife and Hon. J.S. Smith and family, he visited Europe, where he remained several months. For several years he had been an active and useful member of the board of trustees of the Willamette University.

On December 6, 1852, in company with E.M. Barnum, Judge G.F. Harding, general Joel Palmer and C.S. Woodworth, he organized Chemeketa Lodge, No. 1, the first lodge of Odd Fellows organized on the Northwest pacific coast. He retained his membership in the lodge to the day of his death, a period of over twenty-six years.

For a number of years he had been a consistent member of the Methodist-Episcopal Church, and assisted in various ways by his counsels, and by the most liberal contributions from his purse, to aid in the work of this church.

In about 1866 Mr. Cooke became interested in an iron foundry at or near Oswego, which was kept in operation for some time. It will thus be seen that Mr. Cooke was a progressive and energetic man, and one well calculated to benefit any country in which his lot might be cast.

On his return from Europe he constructed a beautiful residence near the state capitol building, in which he resided up to the time of his death.

In 1875 and 1876, he was elected vice-president of the Oregon Pioneer Association, and acquitted himself with credit and benefit to the association.

There was scarcely a branch of society that did not keenly feel his loss. we sum up the sentiment of all who knew him when we say that a truly good man had fallen; one who helped to lay the foundation of our social and political fabric; one who for years was foremost in every good work; one who in storm or sunshine was always the same kind, cheerful, firm, upright and unflinching soul, swerving neither to the right nor to the left, and obeying only the behests of duty; one whose every act, whose whole life, was such as to give the world assurance of a man. His career will stand as an enduring lesson, – a lasting commentary upon the exceeding beauty of a well-ordered life.

“With malice towards none, with charity for all,” with firmness in the right, as god gave it to him to see the right, a deep sympathizer with the widow and orphan, he was not one to coin silver from man’s misfortunes, gold from the widow’s tears, or gather diamonds from the orphan’s moans. His hand was ever open to just charity, his counsel was true and tender; his character was a model for the youth, a guide for the adult. We had none who excelled, and few to equal, our departed friend, Edwin N. Cooke, who died in Salem May 6, 1879, to enjoy the inheritance that is the reward of the blameless life and a devoted Christian after this life of toil.



History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. 2 v. Portland, Oregon: North Pacific History Company. 1889.

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