Chester Adgate Congdon 1853-1916
Chester Adgate Congdon, lawyer and capitalist, who first visited the Yakima valley in 1887 and made investment here in 1889, was born in Rochester, New York, on the 12th of June, 1853, his parents being Sylvester Laurentius and Laura Jane (Adgate) Congdon, He was descended in the paternal line from James Congdon, a Quaker, who came from England about 1640 and settled in Rhode Island, becoming the founder of the family in the new world. The line of descent comes on down through his son John, John (II), John (111), and his second wife, Dorcas Huntley, and through Hannibal and Mary (Satchwell) Congdon, who were the grandparents of Chester A. Congdon. The latter's father was a minister of the Methodist church.
In the public schools of Elmira and Corning, New York, Chester A. Congdon acquired his preliminary education, which was supplemented by study in the East Genesee Conference Seminary at Ovid, New York. His collegiate work was done at Syracuse University, from which he was graduated in 1875 with the degree of Bachelor of Arts. He studied law under the preceptership of Hiscock, Gifford & Doheny at Syracuse, New York, and in 1877 was admitted to the bar of that state. After admission to the bar in New York state, Mr. Congdon taught school for about a year in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, before he went to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1879, where he was admitted to the bar of that state and and there established himself in the practice of law. In 1892 he removed from St. Paul to Duluth, becoming a member of the law firin of Billson & Congdon as the partner of William W. Billson. In 1893 they were joined by judge Daniel A. Dickinson and the firm style of Billson, Congdon & Dickinson was adopted. On the death of the judge in 1902 the surviving partners resumed their original firin title and thus continued until 1904, when both retired from active practice.
In the meantime Mr. Congdon had extended his efforts to various lines of commercial, industrial and financial enterprise in his adopted city. He became a prominent figure in connection with the development of the iron and copper mining resources of the Lake Superior country and at the same time his advice and assistance were sought by many business and financial institutions on the directorate of which his name never appeared. He was general counsel of the Oliver Mining Company before its consolidation with other companies, now forming the United States Steel Corporation. He was also the president of the Chemung Iron Company and the Canisteo Mining Company, the vice-president of the American Exchange National Bank of Duluth and a director in the Calumet & Arizona Mining Company, the Hedley Gold Mining Company, the Greene Cananea Copper Company, the Marshall-Wells Hardware Company, the Gowan-Lenning-Brown Company and various other banking, mining and jobbing enterprises which claimed his attention and profited by his cooperation and direction. He also became interested in agricultural pursuits, makin g extensive investments in farm lands in the northwest. He first came to the Yakima valley on a tour of inspection in 1887 and in 1889, in association with several old friends, formed a syndicate which in connection with the Ontario Land Company rnade investment in land adjoining North Yakima, afterward platting the Capitol addition and also lands to the south of it. This syndicate, of which Mr. Congdon was a member, and the Ontario Land Company also furnished the money for the construction of the Yakima Valley canal. The first investment amounted to thirty-five thousand dollars, which was used in the acquirement of the aforementioned property, while seventy-five thousand dollars were invested in dry lands at Wide Hollow and Nob Hill. The Yakima Valley canal aforementioned was built in 1894 for irrigating all of Nob Hill, and in 1898 or 1899 Albert S. Congdon, a brother of our subject, took charge of this undertaking, which was the second large irrigation project of the valley. The Sunnyside Canal project had been launched before Mr. Congdon's first visit to Yakima but had encountered difficulties and was idle at the time he became interested in Yakima Valley projects. After carefully investigating its affairs Mr. Congdon decided not to take hold of this enterprise because in his opinion there were better lands available for development than those under the Sunnyside and also for the reason that he was not entirely satisfied with the sufficiency and validity of the Sunnyside water right. It is a fact anyhow that the Sunnyside Canal project has gone through reorganization since 1889 and that the Yakima Valley Canal Company is, if not the only one, one of the very few that has never had to be reorganized. The Northern Pacific Railroad urged him to undertake the Sunnyside project, but he gave his attention to the irrigation of the upper valley on Nob Hill. This system irrigated three thousand acres at first and later was extended to irrigate thirteen hundred acres additional. It was built to irrigate the land owned by the syndicate and the Ontario Land Company, most of which land, in which he had an interest, had been sold by 1905, in which year Mr. Congdon began to buy the land which became his ranch. A large part of the present ranch consists of property which he and his associates sold some years before, after the completion of the canal, and which he later bought back. Mr. Congdon was so fond of the Yakima Valley that he wanted to have some interest here which would require his attention once or twice a year, and with the sale of the last of the land which he and his associates had originally acquired, his excuse for visits here was more or less worn out. Therefore he personally acquired properties which now constitute one of the fine ranches of the valley.
With the advent of Mr. Congdon in the business circles of the northwest he became a very active supporter of all those interests which he believed of value and benefit to the state. He was very active in the state capital light in 1889 and gave land for the capitol site. When it was decided that Olympia should be the capital of Washington, he, with others, gave the park site to the city of Yakinia, but upon the refusal of the city to improve the park, the land reverted to the Ontario Land Company, which had made the donation at the beginning. The large landed interests of Mr. Congdon were developed and much of the property sold, but he kept or bought back enough so that he was owner of more than nine hundred acres. He had more than three hundred and seventy-five acres in fruit, while the balance was farm land. He developed one of the largest Aberdeen-Angus cattle herds in America, his stock being shown all over the United States at the various cattle exhibits, winning prizes everywhere.
In 1914 Mr. Congdon erected a beautiful home, built all of native stone. It is the largest private residence in the valley and regarded one of the show places in Washington. While it is not consciously patterned after any special style of building, its design largely resembles that of the large Mexican houses. It is a story and a half, built around a court, and is erected on the edge of a bluff, requiring a good deal of retaining wall and thus to some extent having the appearance of an old war castle. Mr. Congdon was a great traveler and considered the Yakima Valley the best agricultural district of the world. He spent much of his time here and did as much as any other man for the development and upbuilding of this section of the state. He contributed quietly and unostentatiously but most generously to all public projects for good, including churches, nor did he confine his efforts alone to the Yakima Valley. He became a heavy investor at Tacoma, Grays Harbor, South Bend, Raymond and other points in Washington. He was a personal friend of the officials of the Northern Pacific Railway, including President Hannaford, and he cooperated with the railroad company in the improvement of many localities. In 1913 he built a seventy-thousand-dollar storage and packing plant in order to house the fruit raised in the district and he developed one of the largest orchards under individual ownership in the northwest.
On the 29th of September, 1881, at Syracuse, New York, Mr. Congdon was married to Miss Clara Hesperia, a daughter of the Rev. Edward Bannister, a clergyman of San Francisco, California, and to them were born seven children: Walter Bannister, Edward Chester, Marjorie, Helen Clara, John, Elisabeth Mannering and Robert Congdon. The family circle was broken in the death of Mr. Congdon in St. Paul, Minnesota, on the 21st of November, 1916. His life had been one of great activity and usefulness. He had been called to various offices of trust and responsibility, serving from 1881 until 1886 as assistant United States attorney for the district of Minnesota, as a member of the Minnesota house of representatives from 1909 until 1913, and from 1903 until his death he was a member of the Duluth charter commission. Minnesota in 1916 made him a member of the republican national central committee and his opinions carried weight in the councils of the party. He was a member of various professional, historical, scientific, social and fraternal societies and associations. He had membership with the Kitchi Gammi, Northland Country, Commercial and Duluth Boat Clubs, all of Duluth; the Minnesota Club of St. Paul; the Minneapolis Club of Minneapolis; the University Club of Chicago; the Duquesne Club of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; the Bankers Club of New York; the Commercial Club of North Yakima; and with various college fraternities, including the Upsilon Kappa, Psi Upsilon, Theta Nu Epsilon and Phi Beta Kappa. A contemporary biographer has said of him: "Those who really knew Mr. Congdon found in him a man of tender heart and warm, human sympathies. His philanthropy was general and quite well known, although he sought to keep it under cover and shrank from publicity in this regard. He was a close student of government and state policies, a foe of waste and inefficiency, a friend of political progress as he saw it, a champion of clean public life and sound government. He was always the good citizen, eager to have his part in every forward movement in directions that he judged to be wise." The northwest has reason to be grateful to him for what he accomplished in connection with her upbuilding. He was acquainted with most of the old-time men of prominence in this section of the country. The Yakima Valley--its growth, its development and its beautification--it is said was his hobby; yet it was more than that because he always expected to derive profit as well as pleasure from his activities here. Unfortunately, he did not see his ranch return a profit to him, but this was largely for the reason that at the time of his demise many of the trees were yet too young. Though an idealist, there was yet sufficient business man in him to expect interest on his investments here and undoubtedly the fine ranch, in spite of the large investment in improvements, will turn out to be a successful enterprise even from a monetary standpoint. Mr. Congdon was known nationally in financial circles, being recognized as a man of wonderful business judgment, but there were also qualities which endeared him to those who came within the circle of his companionship, knowing and loving him not for what he accomplished but for what he was.
History of the Yakima Valley, Washington : comprising Yakima, Kittitas and Benton counties / by W.D. Lyman: S.J. Clarke, 1919
Transcribed by Mike Sweeney - no relation to subject.