Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.


Morning Star, May 10, 1998, pg. 2

Many of us know about Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, named for Ezra Cornell (1807-1874). But did you know that Ezra’s parents, and his three sisters lived here in Albion? Ezra worked with Samuel Morse in the invention of the telegraph, and founded the Western Union Telegraph Company in 1856. Cornell University was founded in 1865. His son Alonzo (1832-1904) served as governor of New York 1879-1883.

Ezra’s sisters Mary and Phoebe lived here in Albion following their marriages, so in 1855 Ezra’s parents Elijah and Eunice moved to Albion with their youngest daughter Jane. One reference states, “and with Ezra spending far more time in Albion than at Ithaca, the aged parents were drawn Westward. At 84 Elijah and his 67 year old wife Eunice undertook one more migration, this time to Albion.”

Ezra purchased a lot for his parents in 1856 on N. Clinton Street (near Vine Street) and built a home for them. Eunice died there in 1857, and Elijah died later that same year at the home of his daughter Mary (Cornell) Robertson west of Albion on Division Drive. Both are buried in Riverside Cemetery.

Much of Ezra’s Albion interest was also due to his brother-in-law, Martin B. Wood (1807-1881) and his wife, Ezra’s sister Phoebe (Cornell) Wood (1816-1891). Ezra offered Martin a position in the construction of the new telegraph line across Michigan, and asked his sister Phoebe to operate the Albion telegraph office, which became a full-fledged operation. Mrs. Wood is said to have been the first woman telegraph operator in the United States. She operated it out of her home on N. Superior Street just north of Vine Street.

Ezra’s sister Jane (Cornell) (1831-1892) married James Finch here in Albion in 1859. Mary (1818-1897) was married to Hiram Robertson. Both those sisters and their families lived west of Albion on Division Drive. The Robertsons lived at Spectacle Lake and erected a large brick home in 1860. There are numerous Cornell family descendants still in the area today. The other sister, Phoebe (Cornell) and her husband Martin Wood eventually erected an elegant home at 204 W. Mulberry Street, which was demolished in 1937 by Homestead Loan and Building Association after it had been partitioned into apartments known as “Timberlake Flats.”

From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of Ezra Cornell, and his sister Phoebe (Cornell) wood, the first woman telegrapher in the United States.

Ezra Cornell

Phoebe (Cornell) Wood


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