Though Omaha's growth from the 1850s to the 1880s are beyond the scope of this entry, one can point to the gold rushes, American dietary habits (beef consumption), engineering, westward trail movements, the arrival of the railroad and ties to Chicago (and New York) as significant factors. By the time Cornish arrived,in Omaha, those factors helped the town (and overall region) enjoy a significant construction and population boom, which provided him with bountiful economic success.
Prior to arriving to Omaha he attended college in Albany and eventually graduate with a law degree. He moved to Iowa City and began practicing law there in 1855, followed by a successful law practice in Sidney, Iowa from 1859-62. During the Civil War, in 1862, he was appointed
draft commissioner for his congressional district and carried the rank of lieutenant colonel in the cavalry. Later he was commissioned by Abraham
Lincoln as colonel of Iowa cavalry. By the war's end, he enjoyed the rank of Colonel, provided to him by President Abraham Lincoln.
After the war, he turned that early law and war success into banking prosperity. First, in 1877, he started the First
National Bank of Hamburg, Iowa. Nine years later, in 1886, Joel (Colonel) Cornish moved to Omaha and served as president of the
National Bank of Commerce while concurrently purchasing the land where the mansion now stands. While in Omaha, Joel Cornish also became involved with the Midland State Bank, the Carter White Lead Company, and the Omaha Real Estate Owners’ Association. Given Omaha's rapid maturation from frontier town to bustling major city, working in banking and real estate served the Cornish family well, from an economic viewpoint.
Joel, his wife, and four children moved into the house in 1888; it was the only house they owned in the city. Joel N. Cornish died June 7, 1908 and his family remained in the house until 1911 when the mansion was converted into apartments. Despite its conversion, the house retains much of its interior and exterior features.