MONMOUTH — If a town could have a heartbeat, Monmouth’s might well pound inside the walls of Cumston Hall, the Queen Anne-style structure that is home to the town’s library and the Theater at Monmouth.

It was there Saturday that a group of men and women celebrated the birthday of the man who gave life to Cumston itself: architect and builder Harry Cochrane. He died 67 years ago, well shy of his 153rd birthday, but his legacy continued to affect those who wished they’d known him and one who actually did.

“He was very laid-back and quiet,” said Norman Slauenwhite, who was 18 when Cochrane died in 1946. “He was very good to me.”

Cochrane was born April 6, 1860, in Augusta, but he moved to Monmouth shortly after his birth. He spent the rest of his life there.

If it involved the arts, it’s likely Cochrane could do it and do it really well. He was a writer, compiling a massive, two-volume set titled “The History of Monmouth and Wales,” and a musician and composer. His most notable production was “The First Crusade.” Cochrane also ranked among the best-known and most respected mural artists. His paintings continue to adorn churches and halls throughout the Northeast.

Dr. Charles Cumston donated the money and land to build Cumston Hall in 1899. He hired Cochrane to design the building and oversee its construction. It was completed in 1900.

“He was good friends with Mr. Cumston,” Slauenwhite said. “He was very concerned about the town.”

If Cochrane preferred his paintings and buildings grand, his life was lived much more simply. He married Ida Gott in Rowley, Mass., in 1887. They spent their lives together until she died in 1944. Slauenwhite recalled Cochrane sitting and looking at her grave after she died.

“He was very attached to her,” Slauenwhite said. “He missed her very much.”

Slauenwhite’s father and other family members worked in Cochrane’s stand glass business at the site of the current fire station. Cochrane was a frequent dinner guest.

“He was very adamant that we call him Uncle Harry,” Slauenwhite said. He continues to use the term of affection.

Slauenwhite learned later in life that it was not uncommon for customers to call Cochrane and ask for additional time to pay for works they had commissioned. Cochrane always agreed to the extension. The delays took a financial toll, but Cochrane always paid his crew at the glass shop, Slauenwhite said. .

“That’s why he had dinner with us,” Slauenwhite said. “He couldn’t afford to buy his own groceries.”

Harry and Ida’s only child, Lorena, was killed in a swimming accident off Monhegan Island in 1920.

“Her mother never got over that,” Slauenwhite said. The grief never really ended for Harry Cochrane, either.

Days before his death, Cochrane got his finances and papers in order, locked the door to his Main Street home and went to the hospital for an operation. He died there a few days later, apparently of a heart attack.

Audrey Walker, of the Monmouth Museum, which organized the birthday party, said the museum wanted to do something to celebrate Cochrane before his memorabilia are removed from public view for a restoration project that is expected to last a couple of years. Walker and others who attended the party delighted in sharing stories about Cochrane and wondering at his remarkable life.

“I think he’d be mortified we’re sitting here talking about him,” Walker said, grinning.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642
[email protected]

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