The memory of the Royal D. Cone is still fresh in the hearts of many citizens of Winona, Minnesota. Royal D. Cone was born November 8, 1821, in the village of New Berlin, Chenango County, New York. His parents were Benjamin and Elizabeth (Root) Cone; he was their second son. They belonged to a fanning community, and the subject of this memoir grew up amid rural scenes, helping with the tilling of the soil between the terms of the district school, at which he acquired his early education. While still underage, he accepted a clerical position in one of the stores in New Berlin.
After gaining some business experience and a little capital in this subordinate capacity, he determined to venture into an independent enterprise, and, going to Rochester, New York, he engaged in a mercantile business, which he continued to conduct in that city until 1855.
In the year just mentioned, he came west and was located in Winona, which was the city of his home for the remainder of his life—forty-three years. He established himself in the hardware industry soon after moving to Winona, at the same location that later housed the business he founded, the R. D. Cone Company. Winona was scarcely more than a straggling pioneer settlement at the time Royal Day Cone took his place among her citizens, and he was prominently associated with her evolution from that early crudity to the developed and thriving status she presents today.
Royal D. Cone was a man of the strictest integrity of principle, which was applied even to the minute details of business, and while he took care to do justice to every man with whom he had dealings, justice prospered his interest.
His business grew steadily until it reached, in the natural course of events, the dignity of a corporate institution, with Mr. Cone as president. The R. D. Cone Company, which was still flourishing when its chief became deceased, was for many years one of the leading wholesale firms of the state. During the period of his citizenship in Winona, Mr. Cone served in high municipal offices and was identified with many and varied lesser public functions, even though he was of a nature that shrank at all times from publicity, which shows how strongly his abilities and virtues were appreciated in his community.
In the early days of his residence in the city, Royal D. Cone was persuaded to become a member of the board of school directors, and, as alderman from the Second Ward, he served in the city council. In 1866, he was elected mayor of the city of Winona, and upon the expiration of his first term, he was re-elected for a second term. His administration during both terms was markedly efficient and satisfactory. He joined the Old Settlers’ Association of Winona County and was one of the most active members of that organization.
He was appointed a director of the Winona & Western Railway for his highly active and successful role in advancing the objectives of the railroad. He was also, at the time of his death, one of the directors of the First National Rank and the Winona Wagon Company. In 1849, Royal Day Cone tied the knot with Miss Ruena Merchant in his hometown of New Berlin, New York.
Four children were born to them, namely: Ida E., Etta M., Frank R., and Hattie R. The first-named—the late Mrs. W. J. Landon—was the only one of the four to survive him. Mr. and Mrs. Cone were members and regular attendants of the Central Methodist Episcopal Church of Winona, of which Mr. Cone served as treasurer for nearly a quarter of a century. Apart from the duties of this office, his interest and influence in the general activities of the church were very constant, and his contributions to its financial resources were bountiful.
Royal D. Cone was for twenty-eight years a widower, with the death of his wife occurring on February 8, 1870. During the last few years of his life, his health was in a delicate state, and this, together with his advancing age, compelled him gradually to loosen his hold on the business and social affairs with which he had for so long kept closely in touch. Early in the spring of 1898, he became an inmate of the Kanitorium at Hudson, Wisconsin, where he had formerly spent some time as a patient.
At the age of 76, he succumbed to an acute illness a few weeks later and passed away in the Sanitorium on April 29. Royal D. Cone was a man of a deeply religious temperament, and although he was never one to obtrude his views upon others, his convictions were firmly rooted, and the spirit of true Christianity made his character and the deeds and influence emanating from it beautiful.
Absolute rectitude in all aspects of life appeared to him modestly and unselfishly to be the norm and nothing for which he merited special praise, but his many friends in Winona, southern Minnesota, and Hudson, Wisconsin, who continue to lament his passing, believed otherwise.