For the thirty year period between 1875 and 1905 there was probably no actress in America more famous than Somerville, New Jersey's Kate Eliza Cone - known to the world as Kate Claxton. She was born in the nascent boro in the summer of 1848 in the Greek Revival style house still standing at the corner of Altamont Place and Middaugh Street.
|Birthplace of Kate Elizabeth Cone, from the 1857 map of Somerville, NJ|
Her grandfather, Spencer Houghton Cone, also dabbled in the theater, but is best known as New York City's preeminent Baptist preacher of the early 1800s. He presided at the 1843 wedding of his son Spencer Wallace Cone to Josephine Martinez - a union which produced Kate and her four sisters and one brother.
Spencer Wallace Cone was a journalist and a writer of prose and poetry. Although ten years his junior, it is said that Cone's work was an influence on Edgar Allan Poe. In 1861, at the outset of the Civil War, he was put in charge of the 61st NY Militia with the rank of Colonel. The regiment saw action in many of the major battles of the war.
|Detail form 1882 map of Somerville - Kate Claxton birthplace at west end of Cliff St.|
Despite his artistic leanings, Cone was not eager for his daughter to become an actress. The one positive outcome of her disastrous 1865 marriage to New York businessman Isadore Lyon was that it emancipated her from her parents' control, and allowed her to pursue her dreams of the stage - first in Chicago in 1869, and then in New York.
|The circa 1837 Greek Revival House at the corner of Altamoint and Middaugh Sts.|
After that - she found a role, survived a fire (or two), got divorced, got married, got divorced, and used a keen business sense to secure one of the longest and most productive careers in the history of theater.