Slumbering Souls: Lisle Cottrell

Slumbering Souls:  The Lives That Built Homer

By Tabitha Scoville, Cortland County Historical Society Director

This column seeks to honor the lives of those residents who came before us and built the Homer we know today.

There is a collection of well-worn binders in the vault at Cortland County Historical Society that is part of the life’s work of Lisle Cottrell. The binders mostly cover the town of Scott, but there is also information about Cincinnatus, Homer, Cottrell genealogy, and more. These handwritten documents provide great insight into the settlement of Cortland County and are just one piece of Lisle Cottrell’s legacy.

Lisle Cottrell was born in Scott on July 13, 1899 to William J. Cottrell and Lizzie J. Lee. William was educated at the Homer Academy and taught at the East River School for two years before collaborating with his father in Cortland in the linseed oil business. William met Lizzie in Cortland and the couple married in 1881 and moved to the farm in Scott that would be their home for the rest of their lives. In Lisle’s genealogy, written in 1955, Lizzie is remembered as being a “lady of great energy and personality” who played organ at the Scott Methodist Church and was dedicated to her large family.

The family farm was the location of the births of all eleven of the Cottrell children, including Ruth and Burr, who both died before their first birthdays. Lisle was the youngest, and his mother sadly died when he was five months old. It does not appear as if his father remarried. At 16, his eldest sister, Grace, was probably a substitute mother to Lisle and the other young Cottrell siblings, and she did not marry until 1928, so it is likely she took care of their father and the homestead as well.

Lisle grew up in Scott and attended school in both Cortland and Scott. He graduated in 1917 and attended Syracuse University, but he then enlisted in the armed forces. In 1924, he married Helen Howell. From 1924-1930, Lisle and his brother John operated a general store in Scott. Later Lisle and Helen would move to his brother Bruce’s farm where the brothers had remarkable success with potato farming. The Cottrell Potato Farm was recognized nationally for their model farm. When his brother Bruce died in 1958, Lisle opted to sell the farm and move to Homer, where he would settle into the cadence of village life in his modest home on Center Street.

Community involvement was at the heart of Lisle’s life. While living in Scott, he spent some time as the tax collector, and he served as chairman of the election board and as a justice of the peace. He was a member of the Burns McCauliffe American Legion Post in Homer and the Homer Grange and Farm Bureau, as well as a Mason and an Oddfellow. He was active in church life and attended the Congregational Church when he lived in Homer. In 1960, he was recognized as one of the oldest Boy Scouts in Cortland County, having devoted 42 years of service to Scouting.

Both Lisle and Helen were keenly interested in history, and they would devote a lot of time to preserving local history. Lisle served as a historian in Cortland County, but based on resources at CCHS, it is not clear if he served as the historian of Scott or of Homer. Both he and Helen were members of CCHS, and Helen served as the secretary of the society at some point. The couple had no children, so their historical work occupied time that otherwise may have been spent raising a family. The enormous collection of work left behind at CCHS by Lisle and Helen shows a marked dedication to documenting the past.

While living in Homer, Lisle was the superintendent of Glenwood Cemetery, and like everything else in his life, he was dedicated to his work there. He devoted himself to making the cemetery a beautiful place for the dead, and he compiled an inventory of each lot. He also assembled a booklet of known veterans at that time (1960). His plans included improvements to the entrances and roads within the cemetery. In addition to Glenwood, Cottrell was also involved with the Scott Union Cemetery as the president.  One of his many other projects was to compile data from this cemetery for the historical society’s records.

Ultimately, Lisle and Helen lived very briefly in Homer. Unfortunately, in February of 1960, Helen passed away at home, leaving Lisle alone in their new home. By the end of the year, he had remarried and moved away from Homer with his new wife, Rachel Wilkins Baker. When Lisle’s death occurred in June of 1975, his obituary listed his home as Buskirk, New York. There were no calling hours, and a graveside service was held at Scott Union Cemetery. He is at rest with his parents, some siblings, and both his first wife, Helen and his second wife, Rachel.

Lisle’s story shows that even a small portion of one’s life spent in one location can have a lasting impact on the community.

Resources include the Cottrell family file, photo files, and scrapbooks at Cortland County Historical Society and Find-A-Grave.

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