Friday, April 22, 2011

Who Was Henry Cochran?

This article, which I wrote with Scott Ryder, appeared in the Powelton Post in February of this year. 
            Googling “Henry Cochran” and “Philadelphia,” produces links to the architect Wilson Eyre, Jr.  The “Henry Cochran house” at 3511Baring St., built in 1891, is one of Powelton’s most famous, architect-designed houses.  Eyre (1858-1944) taught at the University of Pennsylvania and was very influential.  He was the lead architect for Penn’s Archeology Museum and designed the Swann Memorial fountain in Logan Circle.  He was also one of the founding editors of House and Garden magazine which remained a mainstay in American interior and architectural design through the 20th century.
            The house is in a late Italianate style with deep overhanging eaves and a low-pitched, hip roof that blends in well with Powelton’s older Italianate houses.  It is designed around a large center hall and uses massed arched windows and a decorative balcony on the west façade.  The horizontal banding in the brickwork is a modern take on older European stone buildings.  The banding on the porch and the brick walls surrounding the property contribute to a horizontal profile which was later popularized by architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright.  Its modern, restrained use of ornamentation is in sharp contrast to the Queen Ann style at 3510 Baring built ten years earlier.


            It’s easy to learn about Wilson Eyre, but who was Henry Cochran?
            Cochran was born into a prominent family in 1837.  His father, William G. Cochran, was born in North Carolina and moved to Philadelphia.  He soon became one of the country’s largest wine importers.  Henry’s mother, Elizabeth Travis, was a descendent of General John Cadwalader.  The wine importing business was quite profitable -- about 1860 Cochran owned $50,000 in real estate and $150,000 in other property. About that time, the family moved into a house on Walnut St. opposite Rittenhouse Square.   Henry’s older brothers, Travis and William, began working in their father’s wine business as teenagers and eventually took over the business. 
            In contrast, Henry studied at Lawrenceville and graduated from Princeton.  He studied law in Philadelphia and was admitted to the bar in 1859.  During the Civil War he served in the Navy and was First Deputy Clerk in the U. S. Provisional Court in New Orleans.   This court was set up in 1862 by Lincoln after the Union took control of the city.  Judge Peabody was given complete judicial control including the power to “make and establish such rules and regulations as may be necessary for the exercise of his jurisdiction.”  His powers were almost dictatorial.
            After the War, Henry returned to Philadelphia to practice law.  He moved back in with his parents and stayed with them until his mother’s death in 1889.  He remained single until the age of 43 when he married 19 year-old Pauline Jolly.  Her parents, who were of very modest means, emigrated from England about 1860.
            Henry’s old brother, Travis, built an elegant row house at 131 S. 22nd St., one of the most fashionable residential blocks in the Rittenhouse area.  Henry, however, chose to build a modern, single house out in Powelton.  Legend has it that he was the Russian Consul in Philadelphia and that he and Pauline hosted large, lavish parties.  We can’t verify that he was the consul, but we are willing to bet they had many great parties.

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