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                                       SILAS B. COBB
                                         Biography
                                    Cook County, Illinois

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Information contributed for use in Cook County ILGenWeb by
        Sherri Hessick, added May 2001.



Source: Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois with
Portraits 3rd ed. revised and extended (Chicago: Calumet Book & Engraving
Co., 1895), pp. 143-146



SILAS BOWMAN COBB.  In the entire history of the world it has been
vouchsafed to but few men to witness the growth of a municipality from a few
dozen in population to a million and a quarter souls.  No story of Chicago's
development can be written without cognizance of Silas B. Cobb as one of its
initial forces.  It was such sturdy, self-reliant and hopeful young men as
he that began the development of her greatness, and carried forward her
growth in middle and later life.  Ever since the little band of Pilgrims
established a home on the rocky and frost-locked shores of Massachusetts,
New England has been peopled by a race of enterprising and adventurous men,
whose habits of industry and high moral character have shaped the destinies
of the Nation.  It is not strange, then, that the hamlet planted by their
descendants on the swampy shore of Lake Michigan in the 30s' should become
the commercial, industrial and philanthropical metropolis of America.
Silas W. Cobb, father of the subject of this sketch, gained a livelihood by
various occupations, being in turn a farmer, a tanner and a tavern-keeper,
and the son was early engaged in giving such assistance to his father as he
was able.  When other boys were applying themselves to their books, he was
obliged to employ his strength in support of the family.  His mother, whose
maiden name was Hawkes, died when he was an infant, and he knew little of
maternal love or care, growing up in the habit of self-reliance which
carried him through many difficult enterprises and made him a successful
man.  He was born in Montpelier, Vermont, January 23, 1812, and is now
entering upon the eighty-fourth year of his age.  He is keenly active in
mind and sound in body, taking a participating interest in all the affairs
of life.

At the age of seventeen, young Cobb was regularly "bound out," according to
the custom of those days, for a term of years, as apprentice to a
harness-maker, having previously made a beginning as a shoemaker, which did
not suit his taste. Within a twelvemonth after he was "articled" to the
harness-maker, his employer sold out, and the new proprietor endeavored to
keep the lad as an appurtenance to his purchase.  Against this the manly
independence of the youth rebelled, and the new proprietor was obliged to
give him more advantageous terms than he had before enjoyed.  Having become
a journeyman, he found employment in his native State, but he was not
satisfied with the conditions surrounding him.  After nine months of
continuous toil and frugal living, he was enabled to save only $60, and he
resolved to try his fortune in the new country to the then far West.

Joining a company then being formed at Montpelier to take up land previously
located by Oliver Goss, the young man - having but just attained his
majority - in spite of his father's remonstrance, set out.  From Albany, the
trip to Buffalo was made by canal packet, and in the journey from home to
this point all his little savings, except $7, were exhausted.  The schooner
"Atlanta" was about to leave Buffalo for Chicago, and Mr. Cobb at once
explained to the captain his predicament.  The fare to Chicago was just $7,
but this did not include board, and Mr. Cobb was delighted, as well as
surprised, when the captain told him to secure provisions for the journey
and he would carry him to Chicago for the balance.  After a boisterous
voyage of five weeks, anchor was dropped opposite the little settlement
called Chicago.  Its hundred white and half-breed inhabitants were sheltered
by log huts, while the seventy soldiers forming the garrison occupied Fort
Dearborn.  And now a new hardship assailed the young pioneer.  Disregarding
the bargain made in Buffalo, the tricky commander of the schooner refused to
let him leave its deck until his passage money had been paid in full.  For
three days he was detained in sight of the promised land, until he was
delivered by a generous stranger, who came on board to secure passage to
Buffalo.  His first earnings onshore were applied by Mr. Cobb in repaying
the sum advanced by his kind deliverer.  Before the boat sailed he found
employment on a building which James Kinzie was erecting for a hotel.  He
knew nothing of the builder's trade, but had pluck and shrewdness, and took
hold with such will that he was placed in charge of the work, at a salary of
$2.75 per day - a very liberal remuneration in his estimation.  The building
was constructed of logs and unplaned boards, and did not require a very high
order of architectural skill, but within a few days a man, seeking the
position, called attention to the lack of experience on the part of the
youthful superintendent, and clinched the matter by offering to do the work
for fifty cents less per day.

Mr. Cobb now invested his earnings in a stock of trinkets and began to trade
with the Indians, by which he secured a little capital, and resolved to
erect a building of his own and go into business.  The nearest sawmill was
at Plainfield, forty miles southwest of Chicago, across unbroken prairies.
Getting his directions from an Indian, Mr. Cobb set out on foot to purchase
the lumber for his building.  There being no trail, he was guided solely by
the groves which grew at long intervals, and found only one human habitation
on the way.  From one of the settlers at Plainfield he secured the use of
three yoke of oxen and a wagon, with which to bring home his purchase of
lumber.  He was but fairly started when a three-days rain set in, and the
surface of the prairies became so soft that the wagon sank deep in the mud,
making progress almost impossible and compelling an occasional lightening of
the load by throwing off a part.  After sleeping three nights on the wagon
with such shelter as could be made with boards from the load, with the rain
beating down pitilessly and the wolves' howling the only accompaniment, he
arrived at the Des Plaines River, still twelve miles from his destination.
The stream was so swollen by the rains that it was impossible to cross with
the wagon, and the balance of the load was thrown off and the oxen turned
loose to find their way back to their owner, which they did without
accident.  After the rains were over and the ground became settled, the trip
was repeated, the lumber recovered and brought safely to Chicago.  these are
some of the experiences of the pioneer, and can never be forgotten by those
who pass through them.

When Mr. Cobb had completed his building, which was two stories in height,
he rented the upper story, and began business on the ground floor.  The
capital consisted of $30, furnished by Mr. Goss, who was a partner in the
venture, and was invested in stock for a harness shop.  The industry and
business ability of the working partner caused the enterprise to prosper and
grow, and at the end of a year he withdrew and set up business on his
individual account in larger quarters.  His business continued to grow, and
in 1848 he sold out at a good advance.  He then engaged in the general boot
and shoe, hide and leather trade, in partnership with William Osborne, and
found success beyond his fondest anticipations, and in 1852 he retired from
mercantile operations.  About the same time, he was appointed executor of
the estate of Joel Matteson and guardian of the latter's five children.
When this trust closed in 1866, the estate was found to have been vastly
benefited by his shrewd management of the trust.

With characteristic foresight, Mr. Cobb early began to invest in Chicago
realty, and the wisdom of his calculations has been abundantly demonstrated.
He has also been identified with semi-public enterprises, or those which
largely concerned and benefited the city, while yielding a return to the
investors.  In 1855 he was elected a director of the Chicago Gas Light and
Coke Company, and subsequently one of the Board of Managers.  This position
he held until he sold his interest and retired from the company in 1887.  It
was his executive ability which was largely responsible for the
establishment of cable roads in the city, those on State Street and Wabash
Avenue being constructed under his advice and direction, while President of
the Chicago City Railway.  He is still active in the councils of that
company, as well as of the West Division horse railway.  For many years he
was among the controlling members of the Chicago & Galena Union and Beloit &
Madison Railroads, now a part of the Northwestern System (see biography of
John B. Turner).  Mr. Cobb is a Director of the National Bank of Illinois,
and several blocks of fine buildings in the business district contribute to
his income, as the result of his faith in the city and sagacity in
selection.

While being prospered, he has not forgotten to add to his own felicity by
contributing to the happiness of others.  He has been one of the kindest
husbands and fathers, and not only his family but the city of his home have
often shared in his benefactions.  When the effort to raise $1,000,000 for
the buildings of the new University of Chicago was straining every resource
of the Trustees, Mr. Cobb came forward unsolicited and donated $150,000,
assuring the success of the movement.  The "History of Chicago, " by John
Moses, says: "It is believed that up to the time when this subscription was
made, few, if any, greater ones had ever been made to education by a Chicago
citizen at one time.  A noble building, the Cobb Lecture Hall, now stands on
the University campus, a monument of the builder's liberality and public
spirit.  As long as the great university endures, this memorial of Silas B.
Cobb's life will stand, the corporation having pledged to rebuild the hall
if it should be destroyed."  The Presbyterian Hospital and Humane Society of
Chicago are also among the beneficiaries of his generosity, and Mr. Cobb
will be remembered as one of the city's largest benefactors, as well as a
successful business man.

In 1840 Mr. Cobb married Miss Maria, daughter of Daniel Warren, whose
biography appears elsewhere in this work.  He thus describes his first
meeting with his future bride:  "I arrived in Chicago in the spring of 1833.
In October of the same year I was occupying my new shop opposite the Kinzie
Hotel - in the building of which my first dollar was earned in Chicago.
Standing at my shop one afternoon, talking with a neighbor, my attention was
attracted by the arrival at the hotel of a settler's wagon from the East.
With my apron on and sleeves rolled up, I went with my neighbor to greet the
weary travelers and to welcome them to the hospitalities of Fort Dearborn,
in accordance with the free and easy customs of 'high society' in those
days. * * * * There were several young women in the party, two of them twin
sisters, whom I thought particularly attractive, so much so that I remarked
to my friend, after they had departed, that when I was prosperous enough so
that my pantaloons and brogans could be made to meet, I was going to look up
those twin sisters and marry one of them or die in trying."  The same
pertinacity and acumen which characterized his every undertaking carried him
through seven years of toil and privation until he had won the prize, which
indeed she proved to be.  Their wedding took place on the 27th of October.
Her twin sister married Jerome Beecher (for sketch of whom see another
page).

Mrs. Cobb passed away on the 10th of May, 1888. Of her six children, only
two survive.  Two daughters died in infancy, and Walter, the first-born and
only son, and Lenore, wife of Joseph G. Coleman, are also deceased.  The
others are: Maria Louisa, wife of William B. Walker, and Bertha, widow of
the late William Armour.

Being a man of firm principle, Mr. Cobb has always adhered to a few simple
rules of conduct, in the adoption of which any youth may hope to win
moderate success, at least.  He early discovered the disadvantage of being
in debt, and made it a rule as soon as he got out to stay out.  The other
words forming his motto are: Industry, economy, temperate habits and
unswerving integrity.  A few more words from the pen of Mr. Cobb will
fittingly close this brief article.  On the guests' register in the Vermont
State Building at the World's Columbian Exposition, appeared this entry over
his signature:  "A native of Vermont, I left Montpelier in April, 1833, and
arrived at Fort Dearborn, now the city of Chicago, May 29th of the same
year.  I have lived in Chicago from that time to the present day.  Every
building in Chicago has been erected during my residence here."



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