Transcribed from History of Wyandotte County Kansas and its people ed. and comp. by Perl W. Morgan. Chicago, The Lewis publishing company, 1911. 2 v. front., illus., plates, ports., fold. map. 28 cm. [Vol. 2 contains biographical data. Paged continuously.] p. 857-861 transcribed by David Myers, student from USD 508, Baxter Springs Middle School, Baxter Springs, Kansas, on May 7, 2001.

Dudley Emerson Cornell

Samuel N. Simpson DUDLEY EMERSON CORNELL. - "A truly great life," says Webster, "when Heaven vouchsafes so rare a gift, is not a temporary flame, burning bright for awhile and then expiring, giving place to returning darkness. It is rather a spark of fervent heat as well as radiant light, with power to enkindle the common mass of human mind; so that when it glimmers in its own decay and finally goes out in death, no night follows, but it leaves the world all light, all on fire, from the potent contact of its own spirit." Dudley Emerson Cornell, one of the most prominent and influential citizens who ever resided in Kansas City, Kansas, and one who served with all of efficiency in a number of public offices of trust and responsibility, among them councilman, mayor of the city and treasurer of the county, was summoned to the life eternal on the 27th of February, 1911, at which time he had attained to the venerable age of seventy-four years. He had been associated with early railroad history. He was distinguished in military and patriotic circles, at the time of the Civil war having been captain of the One Hundred and Twenty-fifth New York Volunteers, captain and commissary on the staff of General Rufus Saxton, and mustered out at the close of the war with the rank of brevet major.

A native of the Empire state of the Union, Mr. Cornell was born in Wilton, Saratoga county, New York, on the 15th of January, 1837, a son of Merritt I. and Mercy W. (Howard) Cornell, both of whom passed to eternal rest in Kansas City, the former in 1883 and the latter in November, 1881. The father was born in Washington county, New York, in 1809, and the mother claimed Shaftsbury, Vermont, as the place of her nativity. Mr. and Mrs. Merritt I. Cornell were the parents of five children, one of whom is living, in 1911, namely: Rev. Howard Cornell, who maintains his home at Breakabeen, New York. The father was a farmer and school teacher while a resident of New York, where he served as county superintendent of schools and as county commissioner for several terms. He passed the closing years of his life in the home of the subject of this review. In politics he was originally a Whig and later a Republican.

Mr. Cornell came of an old New York family, some of whose members fought in every war in which America was concerned. The original progenitor of the Cornell family in America was one Thomas Cornell, who immigrated to this country from England in the early Colonial days and who removed from Boston, Massachusetts, to Rhode Island, in 1640. He had a son Thomas, who also had a son of that name and the latter's son George, born on the 11th of October, 1707, had a son named Matthew, whose birth occurred in Rhode Island on the 30th of October, 1743. Matthew's son, who likewise bore the cognomen Matthew, was born in Washington county, New York, on the 22nd of March, 1787, and he was the grandfather of him to whom this sketch is dedicated, Dudley E. Cornell having been a member of the eighth generation of the family in America. Ezra Cornell, founder of Cornell University, was his kinsman.

Mr. Cornell received his preliminary educational training in the public schools of his native place and subsequently he was matriculated as a student in the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, at Troy, New York, in which excellent college he was graduated as a civil engineer. After leaving school he was engaged in teaching for one term and during the years of 1856 and 1857 he was engaged in the work of his profession in the state of Wisconsin, where he did engineering work on the Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad between Madison and the Mississippi river, that road being now a part of the great Chicago & Milwaukee system. In 1858 Mr. Cornell returned to New York, but in the same year he joined a party of gold seekers and made the arduous trip to California, via the Isthmus of Panama. He remained in the Golden state until 1860 and was there engaged in civil and mining engineering. He returned to his home state, however, in time to enlist as a soldier in the Union army. He served for a short time in the Seventh New York Cavalry, which during the war was known as the Northern Black Horse Cavalry, and then at Hoosic, New York, raised Company A, one of the One Hundred and Twenty-fifth New York, and was commissioned captain of the same company. He was left a sword which was presented to him by the citizens of Hoosic in August, 1862. At the close of the war he was on the staff of General Rufus Saxton. Under the administration of John P. St. John, as governor, Mr. Cornell was appointed major general of the Kansas militia.

In 1866 Mr. Cornell again decided to try his fortunes in the West, and in that year he came to Kansas, locating in Wyandotte county, where he entered the employ of the Union Pacific Railroad, Eastern Division, first in the capacity of clerk in the general passenger and ticket office, later as chief clerk, when the road became an independent line known as the Kansas Pacific, and finally, in 1876, he was made general passengen[sic] agent of the road, a position of which he remained incumbent until the consolidation of the Kansas Pacific road with the Union Pacific system. He retired from active participation in business affairs in 1889 and in 1894 went to live at his country home "Highland Farm," near Bonner Springs, in Wyandotte county, thereafter devoting his entire time and attention to the duties connected with the various public offices to which he was elected. In 1902 he was solicited and urged to become a candidate for county treasurer, and was elected by a big majority that fall. The next year he moved back to Kansas City, Kansas, where he afterward resided.

Mr. Cornell was ever aligned as a stalwart in the ranks of the Republican party, in the local councils of which he was a most active factor. In the spring of 1883 he was elected mayor of Kansas City and in that early day there was no salary attached to the office. It is interesting to note that at that time Mr. Cornell, although forty-six years of age, was considered almost too young to head the municipal affairs of a city, the custom having been in old Wyandotte to present the office to a man of more venerable years. It was during Mayor Cornell's administration that the Metropolitan Water Company built a plant and sought a franchise, which was granted, and it was during the first year of his regime that the elevated road, the first large enterprise intended primarily to benefit the city, sought a franchise. In 1883 Kansas City had a population of but six thousand souls; it is now a city of one hundred thousand inhabitants. In 1902 Mr. Cornell was elected treasurer of Wyandotte county and he served in that capacity until 1906. In 1907 he was again honored with election to the office of mayor of the city, this time to succeed W. W. Rose, and concerning that event the following extract is here inserted, the same being taken from an article which appeared in a local paper at the time of Mr. Cornell's death:

Dr. Joseph Simpson and Dr. Frederick Speck "Following the stormy political administration of W. W. Rose, when ouster suits and resignations resulted in five men occupying the office of mayor in one year, Mr. Cornell was elected mayor in 1907 by fifteen hundred over Mr. Rose. The administration that followed, 1907 to 1909, has been called the 'peace administration,' because Mayor Cornell succeeded in restoring peace among the warring factions and political quiet followed for two years." He was a man whose honesty and integrity in public and private life had always been above reproach. No taint of graft ever sullied his fair name. On the 13th of October, 1868, was celebrated the marriage of Mr. Cornell to Miss Annie M. Speck, who was born in the state of Pennsylvania and who is a daughter of Dr. Frederick and Adelaide (Dennis) Speck, both of whom are deceased. Mrs. Speck was the daughter of Colonel Richard Dennis, of the Eighteenth Regiment, U. S. Infantry, in the war of 1812, and previously served for a time in the Sixteenth Regiment. Dr. Speck came to Wyandotte, Kansas, in June, 1857, and he became a man of prominence and influence in this section of Kansas, serving for four terms as mayor of the city. Mr. and Mrs. Speck were the parents of two daughters and two sons. To Mr. and Mrs. Cornell were born six children, concerning whom the following brief data is here incorporated: Frederick D., who maintains his home at Lincoln, Nebraska, is in the passenger and ticket department of the Missouri Pacific Railroad; Howard M. is a noted physician and surgeon at Las Cruces, New Mexico; Adelaide is the wife of Ernest Blaker, a professor at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; Grace is the wife of Captain Fred William Bugbee, U. S. A. now stationed at Huntington, West Virginia; and George resides at Kansas City, Kansas. One son, Dudley Emerson, Jr., died in 1877. Mrs. Cornell survives her honored husband and is a woman of most gracious personality, one who is deeply beloved by all who have come within the radius of her gentle influence.

Mr. Cornell ever retained a deep interest in his old comrades in arms and he signified the same by membership in Burnside Post, No. 28, Grand Army of the Republic. In a fraternal way he was affiliated with Wyandotte Lodge, No. 3, Ancient Free & Accepted Masons; and Wyandotte Lodge, No. 440, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. He was also a member of the Knights of Pythias and the Ancient Order of United Workmen. In religion he was an attendant of the Episcopal church, with which his widow and children are likewise connected. As a business man, Mr. Cornell bore a reputation for straightforward and honorable methods and as a citizen no one held a higher place in popular confidence and esteem than did he. His death was uniformly mourned and his loss was far more than a local bereavement, his many good deeds having penetrated throughout an extended region.

Mr. Cornell was a man of refined and cultivated tastes and no matter what the pressure of other affairs, found time for the finer things of life. He was a great lover of art, his critical judgment being unfailing, and he had a large collection of pictures and other rare artistic possessions which afforded pleasure as much to his friends as to himself. Particularly was he interested in books, owning many rare editions, his library being one of the most attractive spots in the city, with its collection of literary and historical curios. His literary joys were also those of the author, for he wielded a facile pen and his writings were highly admired. He had the keenest possible love for good books, good schools, bright men, sound politics, and right things generally. Of his personal appearance a sketch of him in the Kansas City Journal of 1886 says, "Mr. Cornell is a gentleman of fine physique, rather above the medium height, and well proportioned; his face, although pleasant and expressive, shows the imprint of the careful, hard working business man." Another paper once wrote of him, "Personally the General is one of the most striking figures to be met with any where. A man of fine physique, handsome and intelligent features, he would attract attention in any throng, in any place. Having traveled extensively, he is possessed of a fund of information on almost every subject, and is one of the most pleasant and entertaining conversationalists one could meet."

Upon the demise of the honored subject many tributes were paid to his useful and admirable life, and extracts from a few of these will be quoted. Said the Kansas City Star of that date in an editorial:

"In the passing of Mr. Dudley E. Cornell, Kansas City loses one of its oldest and most distinguished citizens. He lived in the city forty-five years, and during that time was twice elected mayor. He was honored, also, by election to a number of other places of public trust, and in every capacity he served the city and county with a faithfulness that made him a potential factor in the municipal life of the Kansas metropolis.

"When Mr. Cornell came to Kansas City, forty-five years ago, there was but little here to inspire the belief that a great city would ever be built at the mouth of the Kaw. Kansas City, Kansas, was then called Wyandotte and it was nothing more than a trading point. It was a wonderful privilege, therefore, that Mr. Cornell enjoyed, to witness the development of the city from the pioneer frontier existence in a wild Western state to the present productive and ambitious city, representing a state like Kansas. Better still, it was a great privilege to be so prominently identified with the building of such a city as Mr. Cornell has been."

Said the Gazette Globe in a review and appreciation of his life, "With the death of Dudley E. Cornell another landmark is gone. He was a railroad man in the early history of the state, twice mayor, county treasurer, and well-known to about everybody in town."

Extracts from an article in the Kansas City Journal are as follows:

"General Dudley E. Cornell, twice mayor of Kansas City, Kansas, died at 8:30 o'clock last night at his home, 618 Oakland avenue, Kansas City, Kansas. He became ill at a voting booth at the special bond election, February 14. He was taken home in ambulance. An operation was performed, but he was unable to survive the shock.

"He was known in Kansas City, Kansas, as a 'young, old man' and was about the streets and at his club two days before the beginning of his final illness. His last administration as mayor of Kansas City, Kansas, was freer of petty quarrels and peanut politics, perhaps, than any other two years of the municipal history. He was familiar with every person working for the city, and on sunny days, when the work in his office was slack, he used to pitch horseshoes with the firemen at headquarters. The firemen about headquarters now count time from his administration, and their regard is shown by the fact that the fine black horse which pulls the chief's buggy to fires is named 'Dudley' in his honor.

"During his last administration the council which served with him was of a different political faith, but on one occasion, when the argument had waxed hot over a certain municipal proposition and the mayor had offered to resign before he would accede to the measure, the opposition readily gave in and the opposition leader was the first to decline to accept the resignation."

In the resolutions adopted by Burnside Post, No. 28, G. A. R., held at Grand Army Hall, March 11, occurs the following paragraph:

"Be it resolved, that by the death of our comrade, General Cornell, the Grand Army of the Republic has lost one of its most distinguished and respected members; this post has been deprived of one who was esteemed and loved by his comrades and friends; Kansas City has parted with one of the most honored of its former mayors; and the surviving widow and children of the deceased have been called to mourn the loss of a kind husband and father, who was loved, not by them alone, but by all his neighbors and acquaintances."

Biographical Index