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Cook, Ebenezer
(February 14, 1810–October 8, 1871)

–lawyer, banker, entrepreneur, and town and railroad developer—was born in New Hartford, New York, one of the four sons of Captain Ira Cook. At the age of 17, Ebenezer moved to Ithaca to work for Hiram Powers in a wholesale house. He prospered over the next six years and married Clarissa C. Bryant in 1833, at which time he went into the mercantile business in Vienna, New York.

    In 1835 Cook and Hiram Powers traveled to Galena, Illinois, in part to scout for new business opportunities. While there, they ob served the region's prosperity; Cook was especially taken with the Iowa side of the Mississippi River. By 1836 Ebenezer and his brothers and father had set up households in Scott County, Iowa. Wasting no time, Ebenezer joined a company of other like-minded men to plot the town of Rockingham, Iowa (now part of Davenport).

    Cook began the study of law in 1838, and that same year was appointed the county commissioner's clerk and also a probate judge; the latter appointment was confirmed in the next election. He was admitted to the bar in 1840, and in 1844 was selected to attend the Iowa constitutional convention. His law practice was primarily concerned with locating land warrants issued by Congress in 1845, which led him, in 1847, to begin dealing directly in real estate, to his profit.

    Cook served as alderman in 1851 and 1854, at which time he spoke at the cornerstone ceremony of the railroad bridge, and was elected mayor in 1858. That same year he was chosen as chairman of the Pioneer Settlers Association, assisted in the arrangements for the first annual festival at Burtis House, and, with his brothers, donated, in their father's memory, money to purchase the beautiful cane that was the symbol of the association's presidency. During that time, he also helped establish Davenport's first banking house, Cook & Sargent's, which was a strong institution until the bank panic of 1857 exerted pressures that forced it to close its doors in 1859. Ebenezer and his wife had helped to found Trinity Episcopal Church, and in 1864 he was appointed to the board of trustees of Griswold College, which was run by the Episcopal diocese.

    Active in the development of area railroads, Cook at various times held the positions of director of the Chicago Pacific line, secretary and vice president of the Minnesota & Missouri, and treasurer and vice president of the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific (the Rock Island Line). He was secretary of the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific when the Government Bridge was built to Arsenal Island in 1867.

    Cook died on October 8, 1871, but his good works continued. He had been one of the founders of the short-lived Carey Public Library some 32 years earlier, and had often mentioned that a public library would be a great asset to Davenport. After his death his wife, Clarissa, herself a philanthropist of great generosity, donated funds in his memory to the city to use to establish a public library. The Cook Memorial Library opened in 1877 with more than 7,500 books. Patrons had to pay a fee to check out materials but could use the reading room for free. That facility paved the way for the present-day Davenport Public Library.
Sources include Harry E. Downer, History of Davenport and Scott County Iowa (1910); History of Scott County, Iowa (1882); Marlys A. Svendsen, Davenport: A Pictorial History, 1836–1986 (1985); Franc B. Wilkie, Davenport Past and Present (1858); and Timothy R. Mahoney, "Down in Davenport: The Social Response of Antebellum Elites to Regional Urbanization," Annals of Iowa 50 (1990), 593–622.
Contributor: Sarah J. Wesson