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Judge George Greene

Judge George Greene: A Good Episcopalian Helps Create A Presbyterian College

A much beloved man during the early development of Coe College, as well as Cedar Rapids, was George Greene. Born in 1817 in England, the young boy was brought to New York at the age of two. Following his father's death in 1830, Greene had to support his family, so he taught, worked in a doctor's office, and then studied law. In 1838, he married Harriet Menitt, the daughter of a physician, and moved to the Territory of Iowa. Greene worked as a surveyor and then as a teacher in the first school in Linn County. In 1840, Greene moved his family to Marion, where he began to practice law; seven years later, Greene was appointed a judge to the State Supreme Court.

Prior to his death in 1880, Judge Greene became a leader in virtually every significant social, religious, economic, and educational organization in Cedar Rapids, as evident in the following list:

  • Fraternal organizations:  Greene helped organize the first masonic and the first Odd Fellows' lodges in Cedar Rapids.
  • Religion:  He helped organize Grace Episcopal Church and was the first Superintendent of the Sunday School; listed first among donors for construction of a new building in 1872.
  • Newspapers:  He had published a newspaper in Dubuque, prior to moving to Marion, and in Cedar Rapids he owned The Progressive Era, the city's first newspaper.  He later became president of the Republican Printing Company.
  • Hotels:  During the 1850s, Judge Greene owned Greene's Hotel, the largest such establishment in the city; he also built the Northwestern Hotel.
  • Banking:  Greene helped start the city's first bank in 1851; in 1870 he was the first president of the newly created Union Bank.
  • Experimental agriculture.  After Greene moved to Mound Farm (where Mount Mercy College is now located), he developed the area's first nursury with thousands of fruit and ornamental trees, including more than 100 varieties of apple trees.
  • Manufacturing:  In 1857 Greene and Calvin Graves established the Cedar Rapids Variety Steam Works, employing 30 men.  The plant included a sawing department, a foundry room, a plow shop, and separate machine, iron, and blacksmith departments.
  • Railroads.  The history of the first railroads in Cedar Rapids is inextricably intertwined with Greene's efforts to bring railroad service to the city.  After several failed attempts to build a railroad that reached Cedar Rapids, Greene finally succeeded with the Chicago, Iowa & Nebraska Railroad, opening service in June of 1859.  Greene was later president of two railroad companies committed to establishing a Cedar Rapids connection with the Rock Island line.  He was also president of five other railroad companies:  the Rockford, Rock Island & St. Louis Railway; the St. Louis, Hannibal & Keokuk Railway; the Continental Railroad Company; the New York Western Railway Company; and the Memphis, Kansas & Colorado Railroad.
  • Businesses and Municipal Services:  Greene was financially involved in helping establish these enterprises:  Star Wagon Works, Cedar Rapids Oil & Lint Works, Cedar Rapids Water Power Company, Republic Life Insurance Company, Cedar Rapids Mill Company, Oak Hill Cemetery Association, Cedar Rapids Water Works, Cedar Rapids Building and Loan Association, Farmers' Manufacturing Company, Greene's Opera House, Cedar Rapids Hospital (later renamed St. Luke's), and a steamboat company.

For almost thirty years, Judge Greene, an Episcopalian, was involved in virtually every significant move to create a Presbyterian college in Cedar Rapids.  His leadership was evident as early as 1853 when he was chosen president of the Board of Directors of Cedar Rapids Collegiate Institute. 

In 1855, at the same time the CRCI was suspended, Greene's judgeship ended, but he became involved in a multitude of Cedar Rapids activities: banks, St. Luke's Hospital, Greene’s Opera House and Hotel, The Progressive Era, the Water Power Company (which made possible most of the mills in the city), the Cedar Rapids Building and Loan Association. By 1856, he was on the board of directors for the corporation that built the first bridge from Cedar Rapids across the Cedar River to Kingston, a small village on the west side. His deepest love, however, was railroads, and he was associated with at least a dozen different railroads in eastern Iowa.

In 1861, Greene left Cedar Rapids to practice law in Chicago, and after the Civil War, returned as an attorney for the Northwestern Railroad Company. He soon regained his pre-eminent status in the city, becoming the president of many of the businesses he had been involved with before the War. Greene's greatest gift to the city, however, may have been his tenacious determination to establish a liberal arts college in Cedar Rapids. His financial resources and leadership abilities were often on the line, as the Coe property and assets floundered throughout these years. He led the Board of Parsons Seminary in 1866, as well as the Trustees of Coe Collegiate Institute a few years later.  Unfortunately, George Greene died on June 23, 1880, just months before the permanent establishment of the institution Coe College.             

In his Founder's Day address of 1914, John S. Ely spoke about Greene and all this man had done for the city and college. As recorded in the Cosmos, Ely closed with the words of Judge Hubbard, "who in 1876, upon the presentation of a silver set to Judge Greene by the citizens of Cedar Rapids, paid that gentleman the following splendid tribute: `Cedar Rapids shall pay thanks and blessing to the name of Judge Greene and honor to his memory as long as the city stands.' " 

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