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California Genealogy and History Archives

San Bernardino County and Riverside County


GEORGE MILLS COOLEY In the San Bernardino Valley the prestige accorded George Mills Cooley is due to his veteran service in the mercantile field, to a success that has mounted steadily through the years, to the character and reputation for pushing affairs with exceptional vigor. At the bottom of all has been the integrity that has brought him the esteem of all his associates during his almost lifelong residence in this part of California. The history of his personal career and that of his family possess more than ordinary interest. George Cooley and Ellen Tolputt were natives of Kent, England. They were probably converts to Mormonism while in England, and they left that country to join a Mormon settlement in the Far West. While on shipboard crossing the Atlantic and in mid-ocean they were married, and while they were in Utah their child, George Mills Cooley, was born December 23, 1855. George Cooley remained in Salt Lake about four years, until he with ten other English families became dissatisfied with Brigham Young's policies. It is reported that Young got up in church one Sunday and said that Franklin K. Pierce might be President of the United States, but he would be damned if he was President of this territory. Mr. Cooley is said to have retorted in church, that polygamy was the curse of the community. The bishop of the church answered Yes and your blood shall atone for those remarks before the setting of the sun tonight." George Cooley lost no time in moving to Nephi, ninety miles south of Salt Lake City, and when he applied to the bishop of the church at that point, the latter who was very much of a gentleman, gave him papers with permission for the entire party to leave the territory. When they had gone seventy-five miles and were west of the line of Utah a posse of officers stopped them, accusing them of attempting to leave the territory on forged papers. The party was compelled to wait while some of the officers took Mr. Cooley back to Nephi. The bishop declared the papers to be genuine and ordered the officers to escort him back to his party. With these incidents and delays the Cooley family arrived in San Bernardino, May 11, 1857.

It was in the beautiful ranch home of his parents south of San Bernardino that George Mills Cooley grew to manhood. He mastered the art of education, studied at home, his elementary education being due largely to his father's teaching. As a young man he and Alfred Hunt rented a thousand acres between San Bernardino and Redlands and from the proceeds of this venture he acquired sufficient money to go through Heald's Business College in San Francisco. After leaving business college he entered the service of the Ruffen & Brays Hardware Store in San Bernardino. He worked in that store from 1875 until 1885, having the responsibility of the business on his shoulders. He bought out the firm in 1885, and since then for over thirty-five years has been sole proprietor, the business being conducted under his own name for many years and recently under the name of the George M. Cooley Company.

Historically this is the oldest store in San Bernardino County. It was established about 1854, and has a consecutive history of nearly seventy years. Mr. Cooley has greatly expanded the business under his proprietorship. He has a thorough knowledge of hardware in all its related lines, and his energy and personal supervision have enabled him to look after the business of every department. His stock represents a capital investment of many thousands of dollars and comprises everything in shelf and general hardware. With his ample credit resources he has been able to buy direct from the manufacturers in large quantities and this advantage he transmits to the benefit of his customers.

Mr. Cooley started jn the hardware business with practically nothing but his credit, and this he has kept untarnished, and today he enjoys the highest rating given by commercial agencies. He owns the property where his business is conducted, and his trade has increased so steadily as to necessitate many additions in floor space. The store is one of the largest, most thoroughly stocked and complete in the state. For more than half a century the business has been conducted at the same place, and it has been under the ownership of Mr. Cooley over thirty-seven years. Of the incorporated company, George M. Cooley is president and general manager; Frank L. Cooley, his brother, is vice president and manager of the Plumbing department; Allan Grover Cooley is secretary-treasurer and in the absence of George M. Cooley, acts as general manager; and Marshall B. Cooley is manager of the Sheet Metal department.

One of the most important features of the business is plumbing. A staff of expert mechanics is maintained and until recently George M. Cooley made his own estimates and supervised the work in the plumbing department, but this is now being handled by his brother Frank. In 1890, Mr. Cooley competed with twenty-nine pipe dealers to sell the city of San Bernardino the pipe necessary for the new waterworks. He secured the entire contract since all other bids were from four thousand to fourteen thousand dollars higher than his. Mr. Cooley has also done much real estate development and has erected six dwellings on the two acres owned by him at the corner of Sixth and D Streets, four of which had been sold.

Mr. Cooley is a student and an authority on soil and derives his greatest pleasure in growing plants. His particular hobby is potatoes. Like Luther Burbank he has been attracted into the fascinating subject of propagating new species, and has some singular results to his credit. His trial grounds, and also the scene of his practical efforts as a grower, is a sixty-four acre farm at Little Mountain between San Bernardino and Highland. The east side of the mountain is terraced and set out to Rostrata Gum trees, some of which are over 100 feet high. On the southern side he has built a reservoir to store several million gallons of storm water. On this ranch is an extensive Valencia orange grove, also groves of apricots, peach and olives, all under a high state of cultivation and with a wonderful irrigating system of pipes and flumes so that the use of water is easily handled and controlled. In the management and direction of this farm Mr. Cooley is absolute manager.

Mr. Cooley married Miss Sarah Bessant, a native of California. Her parents, Isaac and Mary Ann Bessant, were also California pioneers who crossed the plains in the same train with the Cooley family, arriving May 11, 1857. Mr. and Mrs. Cooley have a daughter and three sons. The daughter Dora is the wife of Postmaster Ernest Martin, of whom more is said elsewhere in this work. The oldest son, Allan Grover Cooley, secretary-treasurer of the George M. Cooley Company, married Hilda Graves, a native of San Bernardino and a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Graves, and their two children are named Marian and Allan. The second son, George Damon Cooley, associated with his father in the store and owner of the garage at Big Bear Valley, married Florence Hemler of Riverside, a native of Canada. The youngest son, Marshall Brookes Cooley, manager of the Sheet Metal department, married Alice Rucker, a native of Missouri, and their two children are Virginia and Marshall, Jr.


History of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties 
By: John Brown, Jr., Editor for San Bernardino County 
And James Boyd, Editor for Riverside County 
With selected biography of actors and witnesses of the period 
of growth and achievement.
Volume III, the Western Historical Association, 1922, 
The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, ILL

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011