John Cook, born about 1794 in
Massachusetts, son of Stephen Cook,
located in the Town of Ellisburgh, Jefferson Co., New York, with his
parents when he was 12 years old. John married Abigail
Massachusetts, and they had ten
children, eight of whom attained adult age, viz.: Ashbel,
Mrs. Cook died in 1870, and her husband, in 1877.
One of their
children was Willard Littlefield Cook, born 30
July 1823 in Ellisburgh. Willard attended local commons schools
until he was 17 and graduated from Syracuse Commercial College.
In the fall
of 1861, he enlisted in the Union Army, 94th NY Vols., Co. B. (During
his service, he was tentmates on the battlefield with future Rock
Island lighthouse keeper, Foster M. Drake). On 30 August
1862, Willard lost his right arm in the second battle of Bull Run.
L. Cook was keeper of the Rock Island lighthouse from 3 February 1870
to 5 February 1879 when he was removed from office. He served at
no other locations on the Great Lakes.
According to a descendant, Twig
Mills, "family lore is
that he was given the keeper job as compensation for the loss of
limb. Even with the lost limb, he continued to do carpentry,
including furniture making and boat building."
Willard married Charlotte
Fox, of Clayton, and they had seven children—three sons
and four daughters—four of whom were living in 1890, viz.: Oren
M., Byron C.,
Willard's logs indicate
that he and his family used to spend winter's in Clayton. During the
winter of 1875-1876, the Cooks stayed at the Walton House hotel in
that village, whose proprietor was the son of infamous Rock Island
keeper, Bill Johnston. In April, Mrs.
Cook fell ill and returned to Walton House for recuperation. Sadly, on
Sunday, May 7th, she expired, and Willard was at her side.
On May 10th, Willard
resumed his duties, but was faced with the prospect of caring for his
young children on a secluded island. That week, he writes: "Keeper's two daughters left the
station for their home each taking with them a child of the keeper to
live with them, thus leaving the keeper alone at the station to perform
his duties as best he can."
It didn't take long for
Cook to find happiness again, for less than six months later he married
Connant. (Jane's sister Elizabeth
Connant was daughter-in-law of Willard's predecessor at
Rock Island, Joseph Collins).
She was the widow of Benjamin
B. Taylor, who served in
the Civil War and was shot by a sharpshooter just before the close of
the last battle before Petersburg, Virginia. On 26
September 1876, Willard wrote in his log: "Keeper married today
to Mrs. Jane Taylor by Rev. George
Rockwell of Alexandria Bay on board the Steam Yacht Hermie while
running below Fredrick Island towards Fishers Landing at 12 1/2 o'clock
pm. Took dinner at Grand Central and returned to light house after
dinner to be ready for duty as light keeper."
earliest-known photographic image of Rock Island Lighthouse comes from a collection of plate-glass negatives from the
Johnson photo studio that was active at Clayton from the mid-1860's to
mid-1870's; the collection is now in the possession of the Lyme
Historic Association. The gentleman in the photo bears strong
resemblance to Willard Cook, who was Keeper of Rock Island Lighthouse
while the Johnson studio was active. His facial features and beard
style are similar to Willard's in other photographs, and his right side
is turned away from the camera, which is the same side on which
Willard's arm was amputated following a Civil War injury. The
geographic perspective places the site of the photo around current-day
Willard was finally relieved of
duty on 5 February 1879, and he and Jane took up residence at Fisher's
1890 biographical directory of the county indicates that Willard was at
some point assistant door-keeper in the New York State Assembly at
Albany. A business directory in the same publication indicates
Willard's residence at Fisher's Landing, and occupation as "boat
builder" and proprietor of a boat livery, owning a house and lot, and
three building lots.
of Willard Cook at Fisher's Landing as it appeared in 2005,
with its view of Rock Island.
Courtesy of descendant Charlotte (Cook) Lee.
to a later keeper's logs, on 24 February 1901, "Mrs.
Willard Cook, wife of X L.H. Keeper Willard Cook of this station died
at 10 am 'heart failure'," and on February 26th was
held the, "Funeral of Mrs. Willard
Cook 12:m Fisher's Landing chapel, which is also the first funeral held
in new chapel."
After his wife's
death, Willard continued to live at Fisher's Landing, Town of Orleans.
About 1902, he took for his third wife Dorcas
Caswell, daughter of Chauncey
Caswell, and widow of Albert Connant.
Willard died 14 February 1916 and was buried at Omar Cemetery, Omar,
Town of Orleans, Jefferson County, New York. Dorcas died in May 1917.
marking the resting places of Willard and wives Charlotte and Jane.
Read excerpts from Willard's official station logs, 1872-1879 <<<
Seated portrait of Willard L.
Cook and photo of his home courtesy of Chris & Charlotte (Cook) Lee
Standing portrait of Willard L. Cook at home courtesy of Iris
Waterson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Outdoor scenic photograph courtesy of Kevin Kieff, rec'd
headstones, courtesy of Sid & Boni Shafer at NNYGenealogy.com,
rec'd May 2009.
Child, Hamilton. "Town of Orleans Business Directory."
from "Gazetteer of Jefferson County, N.Y.," (1890).
[http://www.rootsweb.com/~nyjeffer/chbusor.htm]. Visited 23 October
Child, Hamilton. "Family Sketches: Town of Orleans." from
"Gazetteer of Jefferson County, N.Y.," (1890).
[http://www.rootsweb.com/~nyjeffer/childorl.htm]. Visited 23 October
"Cook Pioneer Family." Jefferson County, New York
GenWeb [http://www.rootsweb.com/~nyjeffer/cookp.htm]. Visited 2 June
Correspondence on 31 May 2000 with descendant Twig Mills
Correspondence on 31 May 2000 with Tom Tag
<email@example.com>, Great Lakes Lighthouse Research
"Pages from the Past: Rock Island Light Station" The Keeper's
Log, Vol. 5, No. 3 (Spring 1989), pp. 26-28
2000-20011, Rock Island
Lighthouse Historical & Memorial Association.
Online at: http://rockislandlighthouse.org/cook.html