It was 20 Christmases ago that Jeff Davis County lost Claude Parker Cook Sr., the man that had perhaps more to do with the growth of Jeff Davis County than anyone before or since.
Today, there is an entire generation of local people who never knew the man and have only vague or non-existent knowledge about how much he did for this county.
Mr. Cook passed away on Christmas day 2001.
In the 1950s, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution dubbed Claude Cook a “One Man Chamber of Commerce,” because of the work he had done bringing businesses and industry to this section of Georgia.
That worked continued well into the 60s and 70s and beyond.
Born in 1916 to a poor family, he worked his way up to become a self-made millionaire. And as he prospered, thousands of people in Jeff Davis County also prospered, thanks to his efforts to bring jobs and growth to Hazlehurst and Jeff Davis County.
He and his father, Roland A. Cook, spurred his rise owning and operating a tobacco warehouse and selling fertilizer. The younger Cook branched out quickly, entering the forest products business and securing contracts to build bomb pallets for the government during World War II, boats for Sears and Roebuck and step ladders.
He expanded his business to build steel doors, elevator parts and escalator trusses, the later product, built in Hazlehurst, was widely used in a variety of places, including for the elevator systems in the World Trade Center in New York.
His company, Cook and Co., was located in the large manufacturing facility at the corner of East First Avenue and North Gill Street where he joined forces with Soundlock to make acoustical ceilings for sale in the U.S. and Canada.
That building later housed Alco Controls, owned by Emerson Electric Company which bought out Cook’s business there. Alco ceased operations after Mr. Cook’s death and the building was emptied and lay silent.
His final entrepreneurial effort was Amercord Inc. in Lumber City where workers processed wire strands to be used in the manufacture of steel belted radial tires.
Many of his deals had their beginnings at Mr. Cook’s home off the Lumber City Highway. It became known locally as “Yankee Paradise” as northern businessmen and celebrities made frequent visits to the Cook home, participating in deer, quail and other hunting trips and enjoying Mr. Cook’s hospitality. The road in front of the site of Mr. Cook’s home, which no longer stands, was officially named “Yankee Paradise Road.”
Mr. Cook’s benevolence became the stuff of legends as he cared deeply about his fellow Jeff Davis Countians who would find themselves in need.
Hopefully, the front page of the January 2, 2002, edition of The Ledger, reproduced on the next page, will be readable so those who didn’t know Mr. Cook can get an idea of who he was and what he meant to this county and this region of the state.