Thursday, June 28, 2018

George Cotton, Jr.: "The Dandy of Them All"

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

“The dandy of them all. Dude. Wears tight pants, and is a politician. Thinks of running for mayor. Is a ladies’ man and a great hand for society. Is keeping one eye on Albany. Good bank account. Got a good appetite, and likes pie. Never took a drink and don’t know the taste of tobacco. Flies never light on him even in the summer time.”- Elmira Telegram, January 1888

This text and the photograph above were my introduction to George H. Cotton, Jr. Needless, to say, I was intrigued. The evidence I had in hand presented a man brimming with personality. I had to know more. 

George Cotton, Jr. was born in Elmira on March 25, 1860. At age 12, he began working in a mill on Fifth Street. After a few years there, the young man found employment in the trucking industry. By 1884, Cotton’s younger brother Samuel joined in on a trucking partnership, G.H. Cotton, Jr., and Brother.

Cotton, as the quote at the start mentions, also had political ambitions. A Democrat, Cotton served as the chair of the Chemung County Democratic committee, representative of the Fifth Ward, and postmaster. 

Cotton was loved by many in the city and was known for his gregarious personality. In 1891, the Daily Gazette and Free Press decided to run a fun little article in which they paired local figures with well-known literary quotes. This was what they chose for Cotton:
“Joking decides great things
Stronglier and better oft than earnest can”

- John Milton

When friends surprised Cotton with a portrait of himself, “Mr. Cotton smiled at first and then turned aside to hide the tears of joy that coursed down his chubby cheeks.”

George Cotton, Jr. standing in front of one of his company's wagons
A permanent bachelor and ladies' man, Cotton attracted lots of admirers. One such incident was humorously recounted in the Elmira Telegram on September 13, 1891. Cotton’s company regularly moved stage pieces and props to and from theaters for traveling shows. Hired to move the belongings of a female snake charmer performing at the Inter-State Fair, Cotton found himself on the receiving end of the lady’s affections. She requested to share the front seat with him and the pair were reportedly quite the sight on their way to the train station.

On March 7, 1897, Cotton died at 72 Pennsylvania Avenue, the family home where he was born almost 37 years earlier. A few days earlier, he came down with what he thought was a cold. That quickly became pneumonia, however, and coupled with his heart troubles, it proved fatal. He never married, but was survived by his mother, brother, and four sisters.   

In my search to better know George Cotton, one story stuck out as representative of the man I see in the photo. In 1892, George Cotton lost his Irish setter, Jack. He ran an ad for the dog’s return and a local boy found and returned the dog. However, people from around the city saw the ad and “Mr. Cotton was besieged all day by all sorts of people with all sorts of dogs.” Clearly, Cotton was a popular guy who people cared about. On the other hand, maybe it was just the promise of the reward he offered…


  1. Thank you so much for posting this article of George H Cotton, he was my 1st cousin 3x removed. We’ve been researching him and his brother and our connection to how the Cottons came to live in Elmira, it is the first time we’ve found pictures of George. Just made our day. What a character indeed.

    1. I love that you have a personal connection to George Cotton! We don't have too much more in our collection other than what is included here, but there are a couple of copies of newspaper articles and a few more photographs of the company's wagons. If you're interested in getting copies of those, you can feel free to reach out to our archivist Rachel at 607-734-4167 ext. 207 or