A Virtual Walk Through Jacksonville History

Stop 17: J. W. Cool/Minerva Armstrong House


Cool/Armstrong House. Photo Source: Carolyn Kingsnorth

Let’s cross the street now to the corner of 6th and the little saltbox house at 375 E. California Street.

The saltbox style was popular during the Colonial period and an architectural staple in New England where dead space under the eaves provided insulation during the cold winters and a sloping roof line shed excess snow. Saltbox architecture was seldom seen west of the Mississippi, and, although this 1858 structure does incorporate some Classical Revival features, this was the only “saltbox” built in Jacksonville to our knowledge.

Known as both the G.W. Cool House and the Minerva Armstrong House, its provenance is somewhat murky. Between 1859 and 1863, seven owners claimed legal title to this parcel, with dual owners claiming conflicting “squatter’s rights” until James Clugage was granted the property as part of his patent (land grant) for nearly all of the original Jacksonville townsite.

One of two sets of claimants, James and Lucinda Denby or S.A. and Mary Mowder, may have been early short-term occupants of the house, but George W. Cool is probably the individual who constructed it. He was named in an 1860 mechanics lien on the property for construction costs and an 1861 deed refers to the property as “the lot and premises formerly owned by G.W. Cool.”

George W. Cool had received his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the Baltimore College of Dentistry. He came to the West Coast in 1850, practicing first in British Columbia and then in Washington before arriving in Jacksonville by 1854. The house served as both his residence and dental office in 1860 and 1861. However, his practice appears to have been lackluster based on the mechanic’s lien against the property. Sometime in 1861 Cool moved on to San Francisco where he did experience success and became one of the first members of the California State Dental Association.

Charles Williams, a “trader,” owned the house for a few months before selling it to Cornelius C. Beekman. Beekman probably purchased the property shortly after his marriage to Julia Hoffman. James Clugage officially deeded the house and lot to Beekman in 1863.

Beekman and his growing family lived in the house at least until 1870 when it was sold to Julia Owen. However, Beekman had purchased one or more of the land parcels for his new home at 470 E. California from Owen so there may have been some land swap or “lease back” arrangement for the next year-and-a-half until such time as the growing Beekman family could occupy the house being built for them.

There is no question that the house became crowded during the Beekman family occupancy. Beekman and Julia had married on January 29, 1861. Their first child, Benjamin, was born in August 1863; their daughter Caroline (Carrie) in December 1865; and their daughter Lydia in October 1867. All were born at home. According to census records, Beekman’s bank manager and close friend, U.S. Hayden, also lived with them, and a Chinese cook was in residence no later than 1870. Elbow-to-elbow living probably encouraged an early move into the Beekman’s new home even before it was completely finished or furnished.

At any rate, in the summer of 1871, Julia Owen sold the property to Louis Solomon, a long-time Jacksonville merchant. Little is known of the building’s occupancy over the next 2 decades until Minerva Plymale Armstrong purchased the property in 1890.

Minerva Plymale Armstrong and her husband Robert Armstrong had crossed the Oregon Trail from Illinois in 1852 with their two young children and Minerva’s parents and siblings. They were among the first settlers to arrive in the new Table Rock mining camp.

Anderville and Gabriel Plymale Graves, Jacksonville Cemetery. Photo Credit: Carolyn Kingsnorth

Minerva’s father, Gabriel Plymale, and brother, Anderville Plymale, have the dubious distinction of being among the first to die here, succumbing to “swamp fever” (typhoid) within weeks of their arrival. Their headstones bear the earliest death dates in Jacksonville’s pioneer cemetery since their graves were moved to cemetery hill following its 1859 dedication.

According to an Armstrong granddaughter, Minerva and Robert camped briefly by a spring following their October arrival while Robert built a “pole cabin” on 1st Street across from the Britt Gardens where the Judge Hanna house now stands. On February 24, 1853, Cornelius Jasper Armstrong, the Armstrong’s third child, was born there—possibly the first White child born in Jacksonville.

In the spring of 1853, Armstrong traded the pole cabin and a hack for a donation land claim about 2 miles north of Jacksonville “at the base of the western hills overlooking the beautiful valley to the east of the Old Stage Road.” The family farmed the land for the next 17 years and eight more children were born there, six of whom survived.

Armstrong House in 1890s. Photo Source: SOHS #3490

Following Robert’s death in 1880, Minerva turned the management of the farm over to her sons and moved into Jacksonville. In 1890, she purchased the East California Street property and lived there with an unmarried daughter until her death in 1910 at age 81.

  Minerva Jane Playmale Armstrong. Photo Source: SOHS #3490


Sources Cited:

Jackson County Deeds

Jackson County Census, 1860.

U.S. Census, 1870.

Evans, Gail E.H., Jacksonville Historical Survey, April 1980.

Armstrong family Bible.

Armstrong family letters.






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