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John Guiteau Walch Cowles
ONE of the widely known and influential men of affairs of the city of Cleveland, during the generation that has just passed, was the late John Guiteau Welch Cowles, whose extensive business interests were the legitimate fruitage of consecutive effort, directed and controlled
by good judgment and correct moral principles. He forged his way to the front over obstacles that would have discouraged men of less heroic mettle, gradually extending the limits of his intellectual horizon until he became not only one of the leading captains of industry of northern Ohio, but also one of the best developed men mentally, having always been a student and kept fully abreast of the times. He was also influential in religious, civic, and social circles. Taken as a whole his career presents a series of continued successes rarely equaled in the Forest City. In the most liberal acceptation of the phrase, he was the architect of his own fortune, and worthy of the high esteem in which he was universally held.
Mr. Cowles was born in Oberlin Ohio, March 14, 1836, and was a son of Rev. Henry and Alice (Welch) Cowles. He attended the public schools of his native town and when sixteen years old entered Oberlin College, from which institution he was graduated four years later, then took a theological course in the same college. He made a brilliant record as a student in both departments, and after graduation he had charge of classes in the academic or preparatory department of Oberlin College, and gave eminent satisfaction as an instructor, his special line being elocution for which he had a remarkable natural gift. Later he preached as a licentiate in the Congregational church at Bellevue, Ohio. This was in the autumn of 1858. Afterwards he was ordained and became a regular pastor of the same church where he continued until the breaking out of the Civil War. He did an excellent work in building up the church and was known as a most entertaining, logical, earnest, and learned pulpit orator. In 1861 he became chaplain of the Fifty-fifth Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry, under Col. John C. Lee. As chaplain he served with the army in the West Virginia campaign, under Gen. Robert C. Schenck, General Milroy, and Gen. John C. Fremont, during the first two years of the war. He was with General Fremont in pursuit of Gen. Stonewall Jackson, and was present at the battle of Cross Keys in June, 1862. The following autumn he resigned and accepted a call as pastor of a Congregational church in Mansfield, Ohio. Three years later he resigned to take up the same work at Saginaw, Michigan; part of the results of his six-years' work there was the building of a sixty-five thousand dollar church edifice. His work in these two churches was marked with the same brilliant success as was his first pastorate, and he preached to large congregations, adding hundreds of new members to the three churches. About 1871, although making a splendid record as a preacher, he abandoned the pulpit on account of ill health, and went to Cleveland to become associate editor of the Cleveland Leader. He was well
qualified for his new field of endeavor, not only having a fine sense of news and its value, but his literary style was graceful, strong, convincing and polished. His connection with the Leader led to making Cleveland his permanent home, where he became interested in real estate in the suburbs. This took so much of his time and attention that he gave up his editorship in 1873. His rise in the world of business was rapid, all his investments being very successful, but the panic of 1873, resulting in the shrinkage of values, caused him serious embarrassment, and it took him eighteen years to liquidate his indebtedness, eventually paying everything in full. He had now reached the age of fifty-seven years, but with the courage of youth began rebuilding his shattered fortune, which he accomplished with great success in due course of time. His exceptional knowledge of real estate and his keen foresight placed him in the ranks of the expert, and he was consulted by many who had money to invest. For a number of years he acted as agent and buyer for corporations, manufacturing concerns, and railroads, and also as agent for owners who had property they desired to sell. His operations mounted up to millions and he contributed greatly to the prosperity of Cleveland. All reposed the utmost confidence in both his integrity and ability. For many years he was the personal agent for John D. Rockefeller, and it was he who purchased the land for the oil magnate which Mr. Rockefeller later presented to the city of Cleveland, Mr. Cowles making the first announcement of this munificent gift in July, 1896, at a mass meeting held to celebrate the anniversary of the arrival of Moses Cleveland on the present site of the great metropolis. This presentation to the park system of the city amounted in land and money to the huge sum of six hundred thousand dollars.
Mr. Cowles was president of the Cleveland Board of Park Commissioners in 1900 and 1901, and was always interested in the moral and religious advancement of the city. He made the public address at the time of the Centennial celebration and was appointed chairman of the religious section. He made a speech on Woman's Day, also made an address as president of the Chamber of Commerce. For many years he was widely recognized as one of the best after-dinner speakers in the country. When the Cleveland Trust Company was organized in 1894, with a capital of six hundred thousand dollars, he was elected its first president, a position he held for many years to the satisfaction of all concerned. He was also one of the leading spirits in building up the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, one of the chief promoters of the Belt Line, and was president of the Society for Crippled Children. He became trustee of Oberlin College in 1874, and held that position until his death. He was president of the Cleveland Real Estate Exchange. He was president of the Western Reserve Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. He was a member of the Euclid, Union, and University Clubs of Cleveland, the Country Club of San Diego, California, the Ohio Commandery of the Loyal Legion, and the Army and Navy Post of the Grand Army of the Republic. He was associated with the Plymouth Congregational
Church and was very active in both church and Sunday-school work.
Mr. Cowles was twice married, first, in 1859, to Lois M. Church, of Vermontville, Michigan. She was a daughter of S. S. Church, and a graduate of Oberlin College. She was born January 4, 1839, and died in 1903. To this first union four children were born, named as follows: Alice Welch Cowles married Rev. John Doane, who died in 1914; Mary Flagler Cowles is unmarried and resides in Cleveland; Edward Church Cowles died in infancy in 1872; Leroy Henry Cowles died in 1887, when fourteen years of age. Our subject's second marriage was August 24, 1904, to Beatrice Walker, of Brantford, Ontario. One child resulted from this marriage — Beatrice Jeannette Cowles, born July 29, 1905.
The death of Mr. Cowles occurred in San Diego, California, June 17, 1914.
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