As the Friends of the Cossitt continue the process of restoring the venerable old building, an introduction to the generous benefactor after whom the building is named seems appropriate.
On Dec. 18, 1811, Frederick Henry Cossitt was born in Granby. He was the great-great grandson of French ancestors, Rene and Ruth Cossitt who had settled in this area in the 1720s. Cossitt was educated mainly in the old New England free schools but attended for a short time the Westfield Academy in Westfield Massachusetts and the school of S.E. Woodbridge in West Hartford. For the most part, he remained in Granby until 1826 when his father died. At the request of his uncle, George Germain Cossitt, at the age of 15, he bid Granby a final farewell and moved Tennessee.
After being engaged in business ventures in Arkansas, Mississippi and Clarksville, Tenn., he moved to Memphis in 1842 where he carried on a successful wholesale dry goods business. In 1859, like the majority of businessmen, he found it necessary to be represented in New York and remained there for the purpose of facilitating his business in Memphis. He soon became interested in real estate, making large purchases and profits. His knowledge of the value of railroads and their securities was remarkable. Cossitt also held many positions of honor and trust in addition to being Trustee of the Mutual Life Insurance Company and Vice President of the Central Bank and Trust.
In 1846 he married Catherine Andrus of Hartford and they had three daughters and one son. The eldest daughter, Helen, married Augustus D. Juilliard of New York City. They had no children and upon their deaths, (Helen 1916, Augustus 1919) they left over 12 million dollars to create the Juilliard Musical Foundation.
Prior to Cossitt’s death on Sept. 23, 1887, he had orally expressed a desire to build libraries in his birth town of Granby as well as in Memphis, Tenn. Although this desire was never put in writing, his heirs honored his wish and gave $10,000 to the town of Granby and $75,000 to start a library in Memphis.
The Granby library, an architectural “masterpiece,” was opened in 1891 with 1,300 books on the shelves. It was located across the street from the house where Frederick H. Cossitt was born 80 years earlier and on property that was once owned by Rene Cossitt.
When traveling from Granby center to the library, look for an old cemetery on the same side of the street with a sign that says Baptist Cemetery. This is where Rene and Ruth are buried.