CHARLES B. COLE
is vice-president of the H. C. Cole Milling Company and president of the Wabash, Chester & Western Railroad Company. He was born at Chester, Illinois, May 6, 1845, and is a representative of one of the old families which has been conspicuous for three-quarters of a century in commercial and industrial affairs at this point. Mr. Cole, of this notice, has passed his life in the development of one of the leading flour mills of Illinois and as a promoter of a line of transportation which has availed much for this community in the interchange of commodities.
Mr. Cole's father, Hermon C. Cole, was born in Seneca county,. New York, in 1813, and was brought into the Mississippi valley when he was eight years of age. His father, Nathan Cole, the founder of the family in this section of the country, passed his milling interests to his son, Hermon C., when the latter was about twenty-five years of age. The original progenitor of the Cole family in America was of English origin and he came to this country during the early colonial epoch of our national history.
Hermon C. Cole was reared on the banks of the Mississippi and, while he acquired but little education within the walls of a genuine school, he developed power with experience and demonstrated a large amount of latent capacity in the building up of his mill business. His citizenship was marked for its lack of activity in political matters and for abstention from fraternal societies. He was originally a Whig but later became a Republican, casting a vote for Fremont in 1856. He manifested a general interest in current views and discussed public questions of moment intelligently whenever drawn into conversation. He was an easy talker but never essayed to speech-making, preferring to be a layman rather than a leader. He was about five feet, eight inches in height and weighed one hundred and fifty pounds; his movements and expression were indicative of a man of achievement.
In 1844 Hermon C. Cole married Miss Emily Cocks, the ceremony having been performed at Stamford, Connecticut. Mrs. Cole was a daughter of Richard Cocks, an Englishman by birth and a mill-wright by occupation. It is interesting to note that from the pond of the old Cocks mill property the city of Stamford gets its water supply today. Mrs. Cole died in 1859, and her honored husband passed away October 20, 1874. Their children are here mentioned in respective order of birth,—Charles B. is the immediate subject of this review; Zachary T. is a resident of Los Angeles, California; Mrs. Alice Smith resides at Alton, Illinois; Henry C. is connected with the H. C. Cole Milling Company, as will be noted in following paragraphs; Eunice is the wife of George J. Kendall, of St. Louis; and Edward E. is engaged in business at Fargo, North Dakota. Hermon C. Cole married for his second wife in February, 1862, Mrs. Sarah J. Flanigan, and of this union there were born Cora V., who died February 19, 1892; Hermon and Grace, who live in Upper Alton, Illinois; Nathan, who lives in Springfield, Illinois; and Newell, who died January 24, 1896.
After completing the curriculum of the public schools of Chester, Charles B. Cole was matriculated as a student in the engineering department of Harvard University, in which excellent institution he was graduated as a civil engineer in 1867. When ready to assume the active responsibilities of life he came to the aid of his father in the mill, with the business of which he has been identified during the long intervening years to the present time, in 1912.
Following is an article devoted to the H. C. Milling Company, which will here be reproduced in its entirety. The same appeared in the Modern Miller under date of March 3, 1906.
“The Cole family of Chester, Illinois, have operated a flour mill continuously for sixty-seven years and probably conduct the oldest milling company in the Mississippi valley. The Coles were pioneers in the milling trade of the west and the milling industry established by the first generation has thrived and continues one of the most successful in Illinois. C. B. Cole and H. C. Cole have large interests, aside from milling, in railroads and corporations, but their milling industry they look upon as their inheritance, in which they take special pride. The history of the Cole family and the Chester mill is an interesting one.
“In 1820 Nathan Cole came from western New York to St. Louis, Missouri. In 1821 his wife followed him with six boys, floating on a raft with twelve other families, from Olean Point, New York, to Shawneetown, Illinois, and from there across Illinois to St. Louis in an ox-cart. Mr. Cole engaged for several years in packing beef and pork at East St. Louis, near where the Southern Railway freight station now stands. In 1837 he moved to Chester, Illinois, bought a large body of land and started a saw mill with a corn stone attachment. In 1839 he built a flour mill with two run of four-foot stones and a small pair for corn. At this time there was not enough wheat raised in this section to feed the people and considerable flour was brought from Cincinnati and other points East.
“Nathan Cole died in 1840. He was succeeded by his third son, Hermon C. Cole, who operated the mill with varying success until 1847, the year of the Irish famine, when for the first time he made a fair profit out of the business. This, with the active markets caused by the Mexican and Crimean wars, gave him sufficient means to build, in 1855, a then up-to-date mill, with four run of four-foot stones and one three and one-half pair for middlings.
''With the new mill and the splendid wheat raised in the vicinity of Chester, he determined to make the best winter-wheat flour that good machinery and skill could, and he sold it under the brand of FFFG.
“This flour soon took the place it was intended that it should have and until the introduction of purifiers it stood at the top and commanded a corresponding price.
“This was accomplished by using only the best of the wheat grown in this section. The lower grades were used to make a flour sold under the brand of Coles Mills Extra, which stood very high in the southern markets; the FFFG being sold principally in eastern markets.
“During a part of the time from 1840 to 1861 H. C. Cole's oldest brother, Abner B. Cole, was associated with him. In 1861 A. B. Cole moved to Turner, Oregon, where he died at a ripe old age. In 1873 purifiers were introduced into the mill but no attempt was made to introduce a purified middlings flour.
“In 1868 Mr. Cole admitted his son, Charles B. and Zachary T. Cole, as partners under the. style of H. C. Cole & Company. He then removed to Upper Alton, Illinois, where he died October 20, 1874, at the age of sixty-one years. The mill was sold in 1875, in settlement of the estate, to his sons, C. B. Cole, Z. T. Cole and Henry C. Cole, who continued the business under the old firm name of H. C. Cole & Company. In 1878 the mill was enlarged to eight run of stones.
“In 1883 the old mill was wrecked and new machinery installed, changing to the full roller process, with a daily capacity of five hundred barrels. At this time the brand of Omega was established for the patent grade and the old brands FFFG and Coles Mills Extra were retained for the clear flour. By the same care in the selection of wheat and skill of manufacture the new brand of Omega was soon established
and has maintained its supremacy as one of the highest grades of winter wheat patent to the present time.
“In 1872 an elevator of 80,000 bushels capacity was built. In 1888 another of 125,000 bushels was built, which, with four country elevators, gives a total storage capacity of 250,000 bushels of wheat, insuring an ample storage capacity for a thoroughly uniform grade. There are warehouses for the storage of 7,000 barrels of flour.
“In 1888 the business was incorporated with a capital of $100,000, as the H. C. Cole Milling Company, with H. C. Cole, president; Z. T. Cole, vice-president; and C. B. Cole, secretary and treasurer. In 1882 C. B., Z. T. and H. C. Cole purchased a half interest in the Star & Crescent Mill in Chicago and Z. T. Cole went there and assumed the active management of the same. He continued in this position until 1890, when his health failed and his interest was sold to Clinton Briggs.
Z. T. Cole removed to Los Angeles, California, where he still resides, but retains his interest in the Chester mill. In 1895 P. H. Ravesies purchased an interest in the H. C. Cole Milling Company and was its manager until 1905, when he sold out. He was succeeded by E. P. Bronson, who purchased his interest and was elected a director and treasurer of the company. The mill has been enlarged and new machinery added until now it has a capacity of 800 barrels per day, with a trade that takes the full output.
“Thus for sixty-seven years the mill has been run continuously by three generations; the present one being well along in years they must soon give way to new faces, none of the fourth generation being disposed to follow the old trail.
“This, in brief, is the history of what, so far as known, is the oldest mill in the Mississippi valley run by the same family.”
In company with several parties Charles B. Cole purchased the Wabash, Chester & Western Railroad at the receiver's sale and upon the reorganization of the company he was chosen vice-president and general manager in 1878. Some years later he was made president of the company, a position he still holds. In politics Mr. Cole is a Democrat and he served his district in the capacity of representative to the state assembly in 1887. He attended Democratic state gatherings and helped make state tickets as a delegate until 1896, when the party became Bryanized and adopted a platform which he could not and did not endorse. He gave encouragement to the “sound money” element of the party and was an alternate delegate to the Indianapolis convention which nominated Palmer for president. He opposed what was said then to be the un-American policies of Mr. Bryan and has opposed their author since in his efforts to reach the presidency upon a more modified declaration of principles.
Mr. Cole was first married at Walchville, Illinois, in 1869, to Miss Laura Layman, who died in 1878. The. children born to this union were: Burt, a mining engineer; Miss Alice, of Chester; Una, wife of P. C. Withers, of Mr. Vernon, Illinois; and Miss Edna, of Chester. In January, 1882, Mr. Cole married Miss Mary Palmer, of Hampton, New Hampshire. This union has been prolific of one child, Marion, who is the wife of Dr. R. G. MacKenzie, of Ann Arbor, Michigan.