News From Terre Haute, Indiana

History

August 11, 2013

Historical perspective: The life and premature death of businessman B.G. Cox

TERRE HAUTE — Few men in the annals of Terre Haute business were more respected than B.G. Cox, who died at the youthful age of 51 on Aug. 30, 1898, 115 years ago this month.

One of the 12 children of Robert Sayre and Laura Elizabeth (More) Cox, he was the first member of the locally prominent family to be christened Benjamin Guille when he was born May 7, 1847 in Cincinnati.

His late grandson and his great-grandson, both highly regarded local attorneys, later carried the name.

In 1855, B.G.’s father and older brother, Robert S. Cox, Jr., opened a wholesale grocery business in Terre Haute under the name of R.S. Cox & Son. The son soon became general manager of the business.

While still a teenager, B.G. went to work for Edward P. Trenchard & Co., a  respected Cincinnati grocery house. It was a positive experience. Trenchard taught Cox accounting, economics, marketing and dozens of business methods.

B.G.’s father died in 1864 but his mother, who resided at 444 N. Seventh St.,  and older brother retained their interests and renamed the firm, Cox & Son. In order to assist the family business, B.G. relocated to Terre Haute in 1867.

When his older brother chose to merge with Herman Hulman in 1869 under the name, “Hulman & Cox,” B.G. purchased Bartlett Book Bindery, a pioneer downtown Terre Haute storefront. He also took time out, on Aug., 26, 1870, to marry Elizabeth “Lizzie” Naylor, daughter of grocer Wilson Naylor.

Meanwhile, Hulman & Cox erected a building on the northeast corner of Fifth and Wabash. B.G. joined the firm as clerk and traveling salesman at its new location.

When his older brother retired from Hulman & Cox in 1879 to become part owner of the Terre Haute Distillery with Crawford Fairbanks, B.G. succeeded him as general manager. Robert S. Cox, Jr. sold his interest in the distillery in late 1881 and, in early 1882, bought a one-third interest in Terre Haute Car & Manufacturing Co.  

On May 2, 1885, Hulman & Cox was reorganized as H. Hulman & Co. and B.G., already general manager, became a partner. He revolutionized many aspects of the business and his new bookkeeping system became an industry model.

Robert S. Cox, Jr., born in Zanesville, Ohio, Feb. 7, 1833, died at his residence at 628 Swan St., at age 53, on Nov. 18, 1886.  He had two children – Lewis and Robert S. Jr. – by his first wife Hannah Schell, who passed away in 1860, and five -- George, Frank, John, Mary and Cedelia – by his second wife, Frances Strain, who died July 29, 1881.

Lewis J. Cox, Robert S. Cox, Jr. and John S. Cox became associated with Terre Haute Car & Manufacturing Co., which was one of 19 railroad car manufacturers that merged to form the American Car & Foundry Co. in 1899.

Lewis, an 1878 graduate of the Polytechnic Institute of Zurich, Switzerland, headed the Terre Haute’s AC&F factory. Among his children was Dorothy Hannah Cox, a graduate of Columbia University Department of Architecture, archaeologist and an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency. Son Frank, an 1887 Rose Poly graduate, was an inventor and manager of the General Electric plant in Lynn, Mass.

John S. Cox founded a very successful local automobile accessories business and was the father of Paul Cox, the World War I aviator for whom the first municipal airport was named.

In the summer of 1887, B.G. and Elizabeth Cox purchased an 128-acre farm, including enticing Lake Fluvanna, on the east side of South Fruitridge Ave., from the Curtis Gilbert family. B.G. named the country estate More Park to honor his mother and her family, all natives of Wales.

Engaging a Cincinnati landscape architect, Cox beautified  the tract, making it one of the most picturesque country estates in western Indiana. He did not plan to establish a business at More Park but, after acquiring Bessie Russ, a prize dairy cow, and a herd of American jerseys, B.G. and his pharmacist brother David P. Cox innovated a unique dairy milk purification system.   

More Park Dairy became the envy of the industry. Sophisticated techniques invented by the brothers lured food scientists to Terre Haute from around the world.

On June 23, 1888, the Coxes hosted more than 100 at a party at More Park. The guests were paraded from William Beauchamp’s livery stable in downtown Terre Haute to the country estate, headed by Maj. Frank C. Crawford, brigade adjutant under Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and the first Union soldier to enter Atlanta, and Jacob Breinig’s popular Ringgold Band.

Feature speakers that night included Maj. Crawford, poet James Whitcomb Riley, Eugene V. Debs, future syndicated cartoonist John Ross “Dok” Hager, mimic Edward C. Sage, future Terre Haute mayor Frank Danaldson and current mayor Jacob Kolsem.   In early December 1892, Wilson Naylor, B.G.’s father-in-law who had purchased  the elegant Terre Haute Opera House at the northeast corner of Fourth and Wabash ten years earlier, died. As co-executor of Naylor’s estate, B.G. managed the Naylor Opera House until it was destroyed by fire on July 21, 1896.

The burden of his many responsibilities exhausted B.G. According to reports, Cox “never slackened his pace” though “signs of overwork showed themselves in an unmistakable manner.” Cox and friend Frank Prox planned a quiet voyage to Europe to rest.

The men left Terre Haute on June 14, 1898 and departed New York by ship to England two days later. The trip was not restful, as expected. After visits to England and Germany, where B.G. sought medical help, the men booked passage back to the U.S. Cox nearly died on the return trip and lived only a few weeks after he reached home.

B.G. was survived by four children: Wilson Naylor, Eleanor, Laura and Newton. He is interred at Woodlawn Cemetery. Newton was 1904 Indiana Amateur Golf champ.

After practicing law for several years, Wilson N. Cox oversaw, as bank president, the merger of several banks to become the Terre Haute First National Bank. He married Lassie Gardenhire and the couple raised W.N., Jr., a Terre Haute attorney; golfer Francis “Fritz” Cox; and twins: lawyer Benjamin G. Cox and artist John Rogers Cox.

 

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