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Madison Cooper; Calcium’s Anniversary


There were no big parades, no speeches, no field days, not even a barn dance to mark last year’s special occasion. In fact, the day went by unnoticed.

What occasion?

May Day 2011 marked the centennial of a hamlet tucked off Route 11 in the town of LeRay, five miles north of Watertown. A hundred years ago, or 101 now, the post office at Harlan Dunn’s grocery store in Sanford’s Corners — named in 1810 for settler John Sanford — took on a new postmark, according to the U.S. Postal Service archives. The community became Calcium, thanks, apparently, to the efforts of one of its new residents, Madison Cooper.

And who was he?

Mr. Cooper, descended from French nobility, was the community’s industrialist. Yes, an industry right in bustling little Calcium. And in a few short years after Calcium took its name, Mr. Cooper was to become fairly well known nationwide to anybody who enjoyed growing flowers, if they were reading his magazine, the Modern Gladiolus Grower, later called the Flower Grower.

But that touches only the surface of this man’s resume. He was, at different times, a store clerk, bank clerk, hotel clerk, printer, cheesemaker, shipper of dairy products, bookkeeper, pipefitter, machine installer, carpenter, painter, architect, engineer, breeder of cattle and swine, founder of an amateur baseball league and builder of a baseball park for his community. The list encapsulates his jobs, his sidelines and his interests.

An entrepreneur in refrigeration, he built a business in Minneapolis that became Cooper Cold Storage Systems. With his business booming along the East Coast, he took advantage by returning to the region where he was born, relocating the company to Watertown, and ultimately to Sanford’s Corners, the home of his relatively recent ancestry.

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Two families, Bacon and Cooper, are cited in “History of Jefferson County New York, 1797-1878,” published by L.H. Everts & Co., Philadelphia, Pa., to have been the earliest settlers in what would become the southeast portion of the town of Pamelia. The Cooper settlement began with Guillaume Coupert, born in 1773 in Normandy, France.

According to a story told in John A. Haddock’s Jefferson County history, Guillaume (French for William) was a teenager in a fishing crew that set out for Newfoundland in the early 1790s. Captured by the British, the crewmen were imprisoned in Nova Scotia. Guillaume escaped to Connecticut. After about three years, he heard about unsettled land to the north, where a wealthy Frenchman named LeRay was selling good farmland at low prices. He joined a company that brought him into the Black River valley, where he was attracted to land featuring a natural flow of water spouting from a hillside. There he acquired 150 acres on the north side of the river, which he cleared for his Cooper homestead.

Now that he was settled, the adventurer found a settlement of Frenchmen near present-day Great Bend. He met a priest and the cleric’s widowed sister, Marguerite Charton, an educated woman who could trace her family back to the nobles of France. On March 21, 1801, Guillaume, 28, and Marguerite, 27, married.

They had seven children, including a son, William, whose next generation would include a son, Madison Cooper. A generation later, another Madison Cooper came into the world on March 19, 1868 — the youngest of three children of Madison and Diana Benoit Cooper.

The ancestral farm served as home for the second-generation Madison Cooper for the first eight years of his life, until his parents moved to Evans Mills. That would be where he attended school and where he would live until age 19. Being a villager did not take the farmboy out of him, however.

“Moving to the village was only a step from the farm,” he wrote in an autobiographical sketch, “and the farm was in mind at all times, and frequent contacts made with what was happening there. At 14, I worked seven months of the year on the farm.”

The teen found time to develop another interest, however: baseball. He was captain of a junior team and was centerfielder on a men’s team. At 18, he experienced the satisfaction of being a winner when his team captured a Northern New York championship.

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As the 1880s dawned, the Cooper family was looking in new directions. The 19-year-old Madison headed to Utica to explore a future in journalism. At 15, he had bought a small hand card press with which he printed and published the Evans Mills Graphic, selling at 3 cents a copy. Printed one page at a time, the paper was eventually expanded to four pages.

When he wasn’t printing community news, he was working as a cheesemaker in one of his father’s dairy factories.

In Utica, he took on a temporary job as proof-puller and copy-holder for a morning newspaper office, but after four months, he enrolled in Utica Business College. His parents, meanwhile, were heading out to Ottumwa, Iowa, where they would launch a butter- and egg-shipping business.

Back at Utica Business College, Madison became acquainted with fellow student Clara May Matteson. Their relationship blossomed, and on Dec. 3, 1889, they began a marriage that would last the rest of their lives. Having completed their studies in Utica, the couple moved to Iowa, where the young man worked in a crockery store and later in a bank. They then journeyed to Arrowhead Springs, Calif., where his brother-in-law had a job for him — in hotel management.

He and Clara followed when Madison’s father made another move, this time to Minneapolis. Madison went to work for his father as bookkeeper.

Meanwhile, a family was growing. Madison and Clara had three sons, all born in Minneapolis. The first, Daniel, arrived Nov. 10, 1890, and William followed nearly two years later, on Oct. 29, 1892. A third-generation Madison Cooper, the one to be called Junior, was delivered May 9, 1901.

Not long after William’s birth, Madison began studies in chemistry and freehand drawing at the University of Minnesota, and completed algebra and geometry studies in a Minneapolis high school. To gain mechanical experience, he worked for the Minneapolis Street Railway Co.

Putting his new skills to work, Madison set out on a project that was to shape his future. In shipping dairy products, the Coopers needed to improve their methods of keeping the goods cold and fresh. Madison invented and patented the Cooper System of Cold Storage. His success prompted him to go into business for himself, running a cold storage engineering and construction business. For about two decades he planned, designed and installed refrigeration systems in more than 100 plants in the United States and Canada.

With his product selling well in the East, Madison Cooper resolved it would be “desirable to move the business from Minneapolis,” he wrote. In 1903 and 1904, his business was moved to Watertown, with the family living at 108 State St. (later changed to 1042 State St.). At about the same time, he bought the old Cooper homestead, near Sanford’s Corners, which he would use for the next seven to eight years as a summer home.

He continued to purchase more land at Sanford’s Corners and relocated his business there in 1909, and then settled in a new house there two years later.

In later years he described what brought him back to Jefferson County:

“One great advantage of the north temperate zone is what I call its Verdure ... wherever the eye carries may be seen a beautiful green ... yet with the coming of mid-summer and early fall the browns and yellows which result are attractive in themselves, and never do we have the bareness of appearance which prevails in sections where the rainfall is less uniform. So it may readily be seen why this old editor, after sojourning for 20 years in the west, was satisfied to come back to his place of birth.”

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As Mr. Cooper settled into his new surroundings in 1911, the community’s new industrialist is said to have led the charge for a name change. No official documentation substantiates the account, nor did he claim the honor when he penned his personal sketch. The only known source is the late Lowell Jewett, who wrote a community history.

“Madison Cooper, a prominant businessman of Sanford’s Corners, changed the name to Calcium. He was disturbed that his mail was being miss-sent to Sanford,” in Broome County, Mr. Jewett wrote.

Mr. Cooper’s refrigeration business used a chloride of calcium process, so he stocked calcium chlorate at Sanford’s Corners. Hence, the name Calcium.

The industry that gave Calcium its name was not to last long, but it was still going strong as World War I approached, with one customer being a future Cold War adversary of the United States.

“We contracted with the Russian Government for equipment for 20 cold storage plants,” Mr. Cooper wrote. “These were shipped on termination of the war.”

The development of mechanical and electric refrigeration in the early 1920s made Madison Cooper’s cold storage systems obsolete, although in 1935, he provided his plans to Poland. Time had come for the versatile gentleman to nurture other interests: publishing and flower-growing. For 29 years, beginning in 1914, he edited and published magazines devoted to flowers, gardens, horticulture and nature.

The magazine, he said in his personal sketch, “was established as a hobby, and for the reason that I had taken a great interest in growing the Gladiolus, which was at that time quite new. I have probably done more to popularize the growing of Gladiolus, in the early days, than any other man.”

A Watertown Daily Times editorial on July 8, 1946, following his death, endorsed Mr. Cooper’s boast. “The village of Calcium became known throughout the country as the home of the man who knew everything about gladioli and also the home of the magazine which he established for the public which admired that regal flower.”

The Times account reported that he interested his friend, Charles E. Holbrook of Hungerford-Holbrook Co., in a magazine for flower growers. The magazine became Mr. Cooper’s major interest, and he went to Albany to have it published. After it passed out of his hands, he established another publication, Gardening, and a baseball magazine, but they did not succeed as did his original.

“He wrote of commonplace things and with unusual skill. He was a homespun sort of an individual; wrote of the soil and the wholesome philosophy of the farm. He knew what appealed to his audience. The Flower Grower under his hand became a most interesting and widely read magazine.”

Among his subscribers, according to a 1926 item in the Watertown Times, were Mrs. Henry Ford of Dearborn, Mich.; horticulturalist Luther Burbank, and inventor Thomas Edison.

He is said to have had as many as 13 acres of bulbs planted on his farm.

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The late Jack Case, who was sports editor of the Watertown Daily Times, wrote a story quoting local sports personality Henry “Hank” Hodge about his memories of north country sports. His article included a recollection about baseball in Calcium.

“Hank also recalled that Chappie Johnson used to have a better than average Negro baseball team based here, playing in a Central New York league. The team had old ‘Flower Grower Field,’ owned by the late Madison Cooper at Calcium as its home base.”

Johnson was a standout professional Negro League catcher. Among visiting teams were the House of David and the Detroit Clowns.

Flower Grower Field in Calcium, a 5-acre fence-enclosed baseball park with bleachers, a grandstand and dugouts, was an outgrowth of the Jefferson County Amateur Baseball League, organized in 1927 by — who else — Madison Cooper, who served four years as president.

“I built the best equipped baseball park in New York State, north of the New York Central Railroad,” Mr. Cooper boasted in his life sketch.

At the time, “the sport was unusually popular and successful in Northern New York,” he wrote.

Games were played on Sundays, and Mr. Cooper rewarded the ladies in attendance with gladioli.

When Pine Camp military reservation, now Fort Drum, was expanded in the early 1940s, Mr. Cooper’s showcase baseball field was struck out for a spur track serving the Army training ground.

Mr. Cooper was also “a prime mover in forming the Amateur Sports Federation, a statewide organization, in 1931, and became its president at inception,” according to his obituary. He was also editor of the federation’s official magazine, Amateur Sports.

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The year 1941 was not so flowery for Madison Cooper. Sept. 8 must have been particularly trying for him, when one of his sons was compelled to testify against him in a federal government civil action.

A portion of the 75,000-acre Pine Camp expansion was a 160-acre site on Mr. Cooper’s North Star Spring Farm. The springs that had attracted his paternal great-grandfather to the region was “an inexhaustible source of water spouting from a natural rock formation,” the Times reported. A year earlier, he had completed development of the spring for commercial use, and by the end of 1940, more than 3,000 people had taken advantage of the spring for drinking water and for its natural beauty.

He balked at the government’s purchase offer, and he subsequently claimed that in doing its expansion work, the government had caused $5,529 in damage to his property. The government, meanwhile, was admitting a $1,500 responsibility.

His son, Daniel C. Cooper, a layout engineer with Deline Construction Co., in his testimony supported the government’s damage assessment. When the case was closed, federal condemnation commissioners awarded Madison Cooper $2,000 to satisfy the property sale and damage claim.

Part of Madison Cooper’s damage claim involved Flower Grower Field, which had fallen into disuse about 1939. The commission ruling considered the baseball park’s building and improvements to be of no value, the Times reported.

Four years later, on Aug. 21, 1945, Mr. Cooper suffered a stroke that left him almost completely paralyzed. At 8:45 a.m. July 8, 1946, he died in his sleep in his home at the age of 78.

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Mr. Cooper was predeceased by his second son, William, who was 52 when he died of heart disease on May 25, 1944. The twice-married draftsman and World War I Navy veteran had no children.

Clara May Matteson Cooper survived her husband by about 17 months, dying at age 77 on Jan. 3, 1948. She had been active with civic and charitable organizations, particularly the American Red Cross.

The couple’s third-born, Madison Jr., a radio technician, died on Christmas Eve 1968, in Livingston County. He was 67, and his only immediate survivor was his brother Daniel.

Daniel Cooper lived to be 82. He died in Florida on Jan. 15, 1973, leaving his wife, Marion, and a daughter, Betty J., who became Mrs. Marvin Boos, and later Mrs. George Schneider. She had a son, Garin C. Boos Schneider, the only great-grandchild of Madison and Clara Cooper.

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The home built in Calcium by Madison Cooper still stands. With 18-inch-thick ground-level concrete walls and tongue-and-groove wood construction, the 10-room structure remains insulated with cedar shavings.

Following the death of Clara Cooper, the Cooper home and associated property were purchased by Russell Ryor, who used the former Cooper refrigeration facilities for the slaughter and cold storage of turkeys. Ryor’s Turkey Farm was in business until 1978.

The succession of owners of the Cooper home continued in 1979 with Army Maj. James and Mary Dickey, and in 1985 with Lt. Col. Paul and Linda Callen. The current owners, James and Karen Powell, purchased the property in 1988. Mr. Powell has done extensive research about Madison Cooper and is a significant contributor to this story.

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A flower that grows wild in Calcium is the Madison Cooper iris, a variegata introduced in 1918 in Mantorville, Minn., by Willis C. Fryer, who was a friend of Mr. Cooper.

Plans for the manner in which U.S. Route 11 bypasses Calcium were devised about 1946, and drew the regrets of Syracuse columnist Roy E. Fairman.

“With the removal of the ‘blind corner’ on Route 11 at Calcium,” his April 20, 1947, column in the Syracuse American Herald read, “motorists will pass by that hamlet without being aware it is there.”

Mr. Fairman noted that “Calcium, like most other rural hamlets, has lost much of the importance which characterized its early years.”

The writer was a native of Chaumont who often wrote in Syracuse about his Northern New York ties. He retired from a 42-year newspaper career in 1954, writing the final lines of a history column that carried a vaguely familiar title, “As Time Goes By.”

He died on May 29, 1961, at the age of 77.

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