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The Ansel 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 Wauconda.

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.

The Honorable 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 Avenue.

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 bethrowed 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 1910.  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.

In 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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