In the fall of 2015, Special Collections and Archives was thrilled to receive a new acquisition, the George Washington Cook Correspondence. These letters were written between 1857 and 1860 by George W. Cook and his first wife, Electa, from Grinnell to their family in Meriden, Connecticut. The letters are addressed to George’s siblings, Sarah, Collins, and Henry.

A large part of what makes the Cook correspondence of particular interest is that they were written in the early years of the town of Grinnell’s existence. The town was founded in 1854, so the Cook letters provide a great deal of insight into land sales and everyday life. Also of great significance to the Grinnell community is the fact that George Cook briefly writes about the decision of Iowa College to move from Davenport to Grinnell. This can be found in the April 28, 1857, letter.

The first letter in the collection, dated April 27, 1857, suggests that George and Electa likely traveled west from Connecticut to Iowa in the early spring of 1857. They took the train at least as far as Chicago, and most likely traveled by train to Iowa as well. The letter does specify that they traveled from Iowa City to Grinnell by hiring a team of horses, which cost them $72.80. One particularly interesting aspect of the first letter is George’s description of a railway accident that happened to a train on its way to Chicago that was traveling ahead of the train the Cooks were on.  

Although she doesn’t express unhappiness, Electa writes mostly about how she misses everyone back East and reminisces on times spent with family. She also asks for dress patterns. Frequent topics in George’s letters include land sales, how land is used, crop prices, and the building of the railway across Iowa. Unfortunately, none of the letters written from the Connecticut family members to George and Electa have survived.

Digitized scans of the Cook Correspondence, as well as transcriptions of each letter, has recently been added to Digital Grinnell.

We encourage anyone with an interest to drop by Special Collections and look at these fascinating letters in person.  Special Collections and Archives is open to the public 1:30–5 p.m. Monday through Friday and mornings by appointment.

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