The name Suggett is well known in Cortland. There's the Suggett House and Suggett Park. Less known are the members of the Suggett family. Let's meet this interesting family and discover what makes them important in the history of Cortland and the Cortland County Historical Society.
James and Jane Suggett
James Suggett was born in Guisborough, Yorkshire, England on April 15, 1825. He was apprenticed to a linen weaver at age 10. In 1851, when power looms replaced hand looms, he and his wife Jane (Prentice) joined a flood of immigrants and sailed to America. They arrived in New York City on May 29, 1851 and set out on the five day journey to Cortland. During the first decade in Cortland, James worked as a laborer. He dug wells for .75 a day. In 1861, fearing that their wells would be poisoned by Confederate soldiers, the commander of the 76th Regiment, training at the Cortland Fair Grounds, hired James and several other laborers to dig a safer, closed well. Over the next several years James worked on making a more efficient and less expensive version of this well. On March 29, 1864 he was granted the patent for the driven well. The money earned from this patent made James a wealthy man. During this time their four surviving children were born: Rosana, John, and twins Cora and Flora. Six other children died at birth or at a young age. Over the next twenty years, James and Jane invested the money from the patent rights in land in the western part of Cortland. Their annual income for the years 1865 - 1868 was well over $50,000. They eventually expanded into property development. Beginning in 1868 they divided some of their land into building lots. They also were involved in managing construction of homes on these properties. In 1882 they built their "handsome dwelling" on the corner of Adams and Merrick Streets (now Homer and Maple Avenues). James, Jane, and their three unmarried children, John, Cora and Flora, lived in the home. James died of heart disease in the fall of 1890. Jane was in poor health for a number of years and died in 1891. The story of James and Jane Suggett is indeed a "rags to riches" tale.
Rosanna Suggett (Gertrude Peckham and Chester Birdelbough)
The first surviving child of James and Jane Suggett, was born on June 29, 1851, three weeks after her parents arrived in Cortland. She attended the Cortland Academy in 1865-66 but did not graduate. She married Charles Peckham, a stone worker and marble polisher. They lived in a home built by James Suggett at 51 Homer Avenue. Their daughter Gertrude was born on May 14, 1873. She graduated from Cortland Normal School in 1891 and taught school for seven years. She married C. Frank Birdlebough in April, 1892. Frank died in 1897 and Gertrude died of tuberculosis on July 4, 1904. Her ten year old son, John Chester Birdlebough, was brought up by his grandmother, Rosanna, at her home at 81 Homer Avenue. Chester graduated from Cortland Normal School in 1915, received a BA degree from New York University and a master's degree from Cornell University. He had a long career in the teaching profession. He retired in1963 as Principal at Phoenix Central School. After Cora Suggett's death in 1933, the Suggett family home became the property of Chester Birdlebough. He transferred ownership to the Cortland County Historical Society in 1963, with the request that it be called the "Suggett House." Chester, the last direct descendent of James and Jane Suggett, died in Phoenix, New York on September 3, 1981.
John W. Suggett
John William Suggett, the sole surviving son of James and Jane Suggett, was born on June 19, 1853. He was a member of the last class of Cortlandville Academy and a member of the first class of the Cortland Normal School. He graduated in 1871. He attended Cornell University in 1871-72, studying to be a surveyor and civil engineer. Before he could finish his program he had to return home when his father was ill with typhoid fever. He began work in the family real estate business surveying property in Cortland. His attention turned to a law career after the long battles over his fatherâ€™s patent rights for the driven well. As was the custom, he studied law under the local lawyers Mordarent M. Waters and Hiram Crandall. He was admitted to the practice of law on January 14, 1876. His legal career quickly focused on patent law. He spent over thirty years as a very successful patent attorney in Cortland and New York City. Some of his clients were the Cortland Wagon Company, the Smith Typewriter Company in Syracuse and Elmer A. Sperry, the Cortland electrical engineer known for his many inventions including the "gyroscopic compass". John loved to travel and had a life long interest in science and mathematics. He played an important part in keeping the Normal School in Cortland. He was a trustee of the Franklin Hatch Library and was involved in establishing the Cortland Free Library. He retired in 1908 but continued to help some of his clients. Neighbors reported that chauffeur-driven limousines would drive up to the Suggett house to bring their owners to consult with him. John died on May 30, 1928.
Cora and Flora Suggett
The twins, Cora and Flora Suggett, were born on December 29, 1861. They enrolled in the Normal School in 1873. Cora dropped out the next year but Flora trained to become a teacher. There are no records to indicate that she ever had a teaching career. She was, instead, very active managing the house, farm and the family business after the death of her parents in 1890 and 1891. She had the reputation of being an astute business woman. Cora and Flora never married and lived in the family home their entire lives. There are numerous, sometimes humorous, stories of the eccentric twins! Flora died on June 29, 1931 and Cora died on January 12, 1933.