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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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COGSWELL, Henry. (Tolland, CN, March 3, 1820 – San Francisco, CA, July 8, 1900). The Cogswell family traced its ancestry to Alfred the Great and Charlemagne and emigrated to America in 1635 from England. Dr. Cogswell cherished his family crest and motto, “Nec Sperno Nec Timeo,” which means, “I neither despise nor fear.” Cogswell, a San Francisco dentist, made millions of dollars from his practice. A pioneer in his field, he designed the vacuum method of securing dental plates and was the first in California to perform a dental operation using chloroform. He invested wisely in real estate. (1)

Cogswell claimed to have been a passenger on the train that Kate Shelley stopped in Iowa in 1881 during a rain storm. Her courage saved the lives of all the passengers. Nearly twenty years after the near accident, Cogswell donated a large metal sculpture of himself atop a large drinking fountain dedicated to Kate Shelley. The statue was dedicated on May 28, 1884 in WASHINGTON PARK. (2)

Henry Cogswell's 1891 Temperance Fountain -- Tompkins Square Park
The bronze statue he gave to Dubuque was one of fifty-one he had erected around the United States beginning in 1878. (3) His belief was that if people had access to cool water they would not drink alcohol. (4) He had a goal of building one drinking fountain for every one hundred saloons in the United States. His fountains could be found in New York City; Buffalo, New York; and Boston, Massachusetts. The one in Washington, D.C. is known as the "Temperance Fountain."

On March 19, 1887, Dr. and Mrs. Cogswell executed a trust deed setting apart real property (valued at approximately one million dollars) to establish and endow Cogswell Polytechnical College. It was, as far as is known, the first school of its kind west of the Mississippi River.

The purpose of the College as a nonprofit charitable trust was expressed in the words of Dr. Cogswell in his presentation address to the first Board of Trustees, which he and Mrs. Cogswell had selected.

         Educated working men and women are necessary 
         to solve the great labor problems that will 
         arise in the future. For the purpose of this 
         education, there is room and need for technical 
         schools in all quarters of our country.
         For the purpose, then, of providing boys and 
         girls of the state a thorough training in 
         mechanical arts and other industries, we have 
         made the grant, as set forth in these papers, 
         providing for the founding and maintaining of 
         Cogswell Polytechnical College. (5)
Destruction of Cogswell's fountain in San Francisco, 1894. San Francisco Call.
The fountains Cogswell donated to Dubuque and other communities did not meet with a lot of local approval. Brewers did not like the inscription that promoted abstinence from alcohol by hailing "pure water for man and beast." The tall statue of the dentist-realtor was thought to be more of a memorial to himself than an honor of the heroic Iowan, Kate Shelley.
Washington Park statue.
In 1900 vandals pulled the statue from its base. Some thought they buried it under excavations for a new sidewalk. The Dubuque Herald reported the statue was "removed and stowed away." (6) The next day concrete was poured over the site entombing the object it was believed.

All visible remains of the statue were removed in 1912.

Excavations in Washington Park led to no clues. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
In 2007 when renovations were made to the park, efforts were made with metal detectors to find the statue. Nothing was located. (7)



1. "The Founding and History of Cogswell Polytechnical College," Online: http://web.archive.org/web/20070609130631/http://www.cogswell.edu/historicalOverview.html

2. Way Back When," Telegraph Herald, Undated article. Courtesy: Diane Harris

3. "Henry Cogswell's 1891 Temperance Fountain -- Tompkins Square Park," Daytonian in Manhattan. Online: http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/2011/05/henry-cogswells-1891-temperance.html

4. Ibid.

5. "The Founding and History..."

6. "Dr. Cogswell is Dead," The Dubuque Herald, July 10, 1900, p. 8

7. Szeszycki, Emily. "The Search for Henry Cogswell," Telegraph Herald, June 17, 2005, p. 1