Prescott F. Cogswell

A pioneer of unusual ability, as well as a statesman and public benefactor, is P.F. Cogswell, who came to El Monte in the eighties and contributed much to the growth and upbuilding of the district. His name will ever be remembered in connection with the early development of the English walnut industry here, as he was one of the pioneers in setting out walnut groves in this district, as well as in the organization of the first (The Mountain View) Walnut Growers Association. His services as a statesman were six years a member of the State Legislature and four years in the Senate.

Born October 23, 1859, in Ontario, Canada, he was the son of Asa H. and Mary L. (Allen) Cogswell, natives of the state of Vermont and Canada, respectively. His father was a farmer, and part-time Methodist minister, moving to the United States and settling for a few years in Iowa. The family returned to Canada in 1872, where the parents remained the rest of their lives.

Prescott F. received his education in the public schools of his home community in Canada, and later attended Albert University, in Bellville, Ontario. In 1883, he came to California, and at Tustin Purchased a twenty-acre tract of land, which he improved and set to deciduous fruits. Here, save for a short trip back to Canada in 1885 when he married, he remained until 1888, when he removed to El Monte.

Soon after his arrival in El Monte he entered a partnership with B.F. Maxson, R.H. Gilman and O.H. Ferris, and purchased the old McLain estate comprised of 480 acres just east of El Monte. Two hundred acres they set to walnuts and sub-divided into ten-acre tracts, which they sold during the first two years. In 1890 the partnership was dissolved, Mr. Cogswell retaining about one hundred acres of the partnership tract. This he improved and continued to develop for a time, later acquiring an adjoining one hundred acres, all of which, except for thirty acres, he set to walnuts and sold in small tracts. Mr. Cogswell was among the first farmers of the district to develop farming by irrigation, drilling a well, which furnished enough water for his two hundred acres.

In 1885, Mr. Cogswell was married to Miss Jane Belcher, born in Calcutta, India, her parents being Reverend S. and Jane Belcher, natives of England and at the time, missionaries in India.

To them were born three children, namely: Frederick A., of Rosemead; Harold G. of Torrance; and Irene (Mrs. C.H. Ward) of Strathmore, California. The mother died in 1898. In recent years, Mr. Cogswell, while not so active in his work as in former years, prefers not to be termed as “retired”, as he still is active in managing his properties. He continues to reside in his home at 751 Cogswell Road, which he build in 1882 on his original tract. In 1925 he was married to Isabel Adams, who was born in Toronto, Canada, her parents being Edward and Isabel Adams, who also were Canadians. Mrs. Cogswell is a graduate of the Manitoba University and also Columbia University, of New York, a woman of culture and refinement, an prominent in the social life of El Monte.

To this union have been born two children, Prescott E. and Horatio A., both of whom are members of the present Cogswell household. Fraternally Mr. Cogswell is a Mason, and in religion a Presbyterian. Politically he has always been a Republican. He has been influential and spent much time and energy in matters of local public improvement. In addition to the public services rendered as outlined at the beginning of this sketch, Mr. Cogswell served for eight years as County Supervisor. He was a member of the first Board of Trustees of the El Monte Union High School and served on same for fifteen years. He also served for sixteen years on the Board of Trustees of the University of Southern California. For eight years he acted as a member of the State Land Settlement Board (a Federal Colonization organization). He was one of the organizers of the First National Bank of El Monte, and is at present, Vice-President of the Board of Directors of that institution.

Mr. Cogswell relates an interesting incident, which occurred while he was assisting in interesting financial men in the organization in 1903 of the first National Bank. The incident describes the lack of banking facilities of El Monte in the early days – and incidently proves how mistaken they were in their views in the matter.

I.W. Hellman, well known California financier, and at the time President of the Wells Fargo—Nevada Bank of San Francisco was interviewed by Mr. Cogswell with the view of getting him to take some stock and lend his support to the new organization. Mr. Hellman had lived for a time in the vicinity of El Monte, and presumed to know its resources and probable future. When the matter was suggested by Mr. Cogswell, he (Mr. Hellman), threw up his hands and declared that if he joined the organization, he would have to pay out of his own pocket the running expenses of the bank for the first twenty years. However, Mr. Cogswell must have given him a very convincing talk, for the interview ended with an agreement, and Mr. Hellman reluctantly acquiesced to take some stock in the organization. The reader can imagine Mr. Hellman’s surprise to receive at the end of the first year a statement to the effect that the bank has earned and eight per cent dividend in addition to a reserve fund. The first year’s record of the First National Bank is also worthy of note in that it was the first bank in Los Angles County to declare a dividend at the end of the first year following its organization.

© 2001 by Ray Ensing