B. Cook House was built in 1878 by its namesake on the site of the first
permanent dwelling in Libertyville. In 1835, early settlers found the
George Vardin family occupying a one-room log cabin on the site. The
Vardins moved out of the area the following year, and, in 1837, the log
cabin became Libertyville’s first post office. A replica of the
building can be seen at the Lake County Discovery Museum near
In 1870, Ansel Brainerd Cook purchased the
property from his father-in-law for a country residence, and work
began on the home, outbuildings, and formal gardens. The present
building was construced in 1878, and William W. Boyington was thought to
have been the architect.
Ansel Brainerd Cook was born August 18, 1823 in Haddam, Connecticut, a
son of Willard C. and Abigal (Brainerd) Cook. He moved to Illinois on
May 2, 1845, settling in Lake County where he farmed 448 acres near
Libertyville. Four years later, he moved to Waukegan where he taught and
was in charge of Central School.
On December 2, 1849, Cook
married Helen Maria Foster. She was born March 3, 1828 in Orange
County, Vermont, daughter of Dr. Jesse H. Foster. Dr. Foster’s family
moved to Libertyville about 1847, and he became the town’s first
physician. The Cook’s two children died in infancy, but they raised an
adopted daughter, Ida F. Cook, who graduated with first honors from
Lake Geneva Seminary.
In 1853, Cook moved to
Chicago and entered the building contractor field. He laid the first
large flagstones in the city, including all of the flagstones around
the old Cook County Court House. He also had the masonry contract for
the historic Water Tower designed by William W. Boyington. This
structure survived the Chicago fire and is located on north Michigan
By 1863, Cook
was elected to the Illinois State Legislature and was re-elected in
1865. In 1869, having returned to Lake County, he was elected to the
Legislature from that area.
By 1871—the time of the
Chicago Fire—Cook had laid nearly all of the flagstone walks in the
city. Following the fire, he returned to Chicago and became one of the
area’s most successful contractors and builders. His work includes
the America Express Company’s office, along with the structures on
Tuttle Block, Bryant Block, and other areas which became the pride of
the city. His brother and he operated a stone yard on what is now the
site of the Sears Tower. Cook also continued his interest in public
service and served as Alderman of Chicago’s 11 th ward and President
of the Chicago City Council.
In 1881, as Ansel and Helen
traveled from Chicago to their Libertyville home, Mrs. Cook was killed
in a railroad accident. The following year, Cook married Annie
Barrows, a native of Connecticut. The second Mrs. Cook died in 1891, and
he then married her sister, Emily Barrows, to whom he was bethrothed
until his death.
In 1894, Cook was
chairman of the Building Committee and worked again with Boyington to
plan the new Libertyville Town Hall, which is now the Libertyville
American Legion Hall. Four years later, in 1898 Ansel B. Cook died. Graceland Cemetery in Chicago is the final resting place of the Cook family.
In his will, Cook
deeded his home to be used as a library. After her husband’s
death, Mrs. Emily Barrows Cook paid off the large mortgage against the
property with her own money. Upon her death, thirty real estate
lots were also bequeathed to the library to be held to meet some of the
future contingencies which would arise.
The Alpha Club had
established a library in 1909. They donated their materials to
the Cook Memorial Library following the death of Emily Barrows Cook.
After the mansion’s front porch was removed, the exterior stuccoed, the
pillars added, and the upper floor converted into living quarters for
the librarian, Cook Memorial Library opened in 1921.
For more information about the history of Cook Memorial Library, click here.
1968, following construction of the present Cook Memorial Library, the
Cook mansion became the headquarters of the Libertyville-Mundelein
Historical Society. Since then, the interior has been restored, but
most of the original furnishings were dispersed after Emily Cook’s
death. As suitable items become available, they are acquired to
upgrade the museum.
Some of the
rooms are reserved for museum-type displays while others depict
Victorian period rooms. Other space is used to store records of the
Society and records of early events, organizations, businesses,
churches, and schools. The home is open to the public at designated
times throughout the summer months and by appointment at other times.
In 2001, the Ansel B. Cook Home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Due to the 1921 facade reconstruction, it is listed as Cook Memorial Library.
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