Louise V. Stillman
Charles Cook was the contractor for the Chemung Canal that connected the Chemung River at Elmira and at Gibson below Corning with Seneca Lake. The canal opened in 1833 and brought trade and attracted immigrants to the towns along it. Cook saw the commercial opportunities from the transport on the canal and from the waterpower from the falls at Havana. He built sawmills, flour mills, plaster mills, and pottery and iron works. Foundation stones still remain that supported some of these mills where they were perched on the steep hillside by the falls.
Cook became the great promoter and developer of the area and became the father of Schuyler County.
To accommodate the arriving workers, and artisans, and the wayfarers he had a large hostelry building started in 1850. His building took four years to complete, longer than the time it took to build the canal, and it cost him $30,000—a considerable expenditure in those times for a single building. The foundation alone cost $10,000.
The building was built L-shaped with one entrance facing the main street of the village that runs up from the east toward Chequaga Falls, and another entrance on the building's east side that faced the canal and the railroad.
John and Thomas Fitzpatrick were the masons who built the three-story brick building that had an attic above and a basement underneath. All of the Greek-form ornament of the entablature was executed with bricks. Cut stone was used for sills and lintels of the windows and the doors.
The two inset entrances have Doric-order fluted wood columns on either side of their doors. Rectangular sidelights flank the ninepaneled front door.
The Main Street doorway enters a hallway that goes to an open stairway, set into an oval stairwell. Originally the stair was open all the way to the top floor. On the left of the main hall from the front entrance is a reception room with with a metal ceiling and a marble fireplace. Much of the interior woodwork remains in its original form with wainscoting and paneled doors.
The building was opened to the public on June 8, 1854. Cook established his bank in the west corner of the main floor and made the building his own residence.
Charles Cook never married. Tragically, the woman he expected to marry died on the eve of the day they were to be wed. Cook built St. Paul's Episcopal Church as a memorial to her. It was finished in August of 1853, the year before Montour House was opened.
Cook named his new building for Catharine Montour who had died 25 years before he arrived in Havana. He was a great admirer of her life and fame. On the east side COOK'S MONTOUR HOUSE is still faintly discernible.
Some of the old balconies and grill work originally on the building have disappeared. A wide porch has been added to the front and east sides.
Today the building is again a hotel using the old name Montour House.
© 1991, Louise V. Stillman
Charles Cook, the Father of Schuyler County by Barbara Bell