07 August 2010

Carbon Canyon and Rancho Santa Ana del Chino: Richard Gird

When Francisca Williams decided to sell Rancho del Chino, the new owner was Richard Gird, whose remarkable life spanned from 29 March 1836 to 30 May 1910.  Gird was born in Litchfield, New York, the son of John Gird and Laura King.  His paternal grandfather, Henry Gird, was from Wexford, at the southeastern coastline of Ireland and migrated to New York.  In addition to running a newspaper there, Henry Gird was also a colonel in the British army.  Richard's father, John, was born in Trenton, New Jersey and migrated from New York City to Herkimer County with his mother, Mary Smith, in 1812.  They took over a property of Mary Smith's family called "Cedar Lake Farm."  Richard's mother was the daugher of Sylvanus King of Massachusetts, who claimed lineage from the Mayflower and whose line also included the first governor of the state of Maine.

John Gird, a farmer who self-reported an estate of an impressive $11,000 in 1850, and Laura King had at least nine children, most of whom came to California in the Gold Rush years.  The eldest, Henry S. Gird, seems to have been the first to migrate and was, by early 1851, residing at Greenwood Valley in El Dorado County, just a few miles north of where gold was first discovered by James Marshall at Sutter's Mill in Coloma.  The following year, seventeen-year old Richard, took a steamer from New York to California (and suffered the seemingly-obligatory bout of malaria during his overland crossing at the isthmus of Panama) and joined his elder brother in El Dorado County.  Not long afterwards, however, the two men realized that there was more certainty in making a living by their traditional family vocation of farming.  Consequently, they moved west to Sonoma County along the Russian River.

By 1860, the Gird Ranch was established by Henry in the Alexander Valley, northwest of Healdsburg.  Richard, meantime, was farming with his younger brother, Levi in Geyserville, south of where Henry resided.  Two sisters, Mary and Ellen, had also moved to the Geyserville area.  For a brief time, Richard made the long trek to Chile, where in 1858 he was engaged in mining and railroad work, supervising construction of projects led by the colorful Henry (Harry) Meiggs. 

Meiggs, a shipbuilder and lumber man from New York, had made a small fortune selling lumber in Gold Rush San Francisco, but investments in North Beach real estate put him in debt.  As a city alderman, whose brother was elected comptroller, Meiggs had access to signed but unissued city warrants and forged some to use as collateral for loans.  When the charade was unmasked, Meiggs, who had lumber interests in Mendocino not far from where the Girds lived, fled for Chile, where he reinvented himself as a railroad baron in that country and in Peru.  Meiggs built hundreds of miles of track in difficult terrain, encouraged massive government borrowing to pay for the expensive lines, paid off most of his personal debts in San Francisco (even getting the California legislature to pass in 1874 a bill, vetoed by the governor, prohibiting prosecution of his indictment for embezzlement), and died in Peru in 1877.

In any case, Richard Gird's stay in south America was brief and he returned for a short time to New York, before migrating back to California and, specifically, Geyserville by the end of the decade.  Soon, however, he was off again to find his fortune and moved to the Arizona Territory in 1862 or 1863, where mining speculation was heavy.  The first territorial census, taken in 1864, showed a 28 year old Gird living in Olive City, which had all of 19 residents in the La Paz Mining District and is now a ghost town along the Colorado River across from Blythe, California.  Working as a surveyor, Gird self-reported his estate at a mere $40, although he achieved some renown by being hired by the territorial government to make the first professional map of Arizona, which he completed in 1864.  Gird then moved to San Francisco and established himself as a manufacturer of mining equipment, such as machinery and engines, working with his brohter-in-law, Horace Martin, a former schoolteacher.  He remained there until 1872 when he returned again to Arizona.

For the next several years, Gird seems to have done well, working in assaying (weighing gold), superintending mining mills and furnaces, and surveying, principally at the Signal Mining and Milling Company.  Finally, in 1878, he found himself prospecting in an unproven mining area and made the acquaintenance of two brothers, Al and Ed Schieffelin.  Together, the three discovered a fabulous lode of silver ore and ushered in the creation of the famed Tombstone mining district.  Running the Tombstone Mining and Milling Company with East Coast funds obtained by former Arizona governor Anson Safford, Gird became fabulously wealthy in short order, designing and building the first mill and turning out the first bullion.  In the new boom town of Tombstone, Gird was the first postmaster and mayor, though he had nothing to do with the more infamous violence associated with the town and its notorious "Boot Hill" cemetery.  In 1880, Gird ran as a Republican for the territorial Assembly but lost.  Early that year, he married Maine native Nellie McCarthy.  While the two were together thirty years, there were no children. 

Indeed, by 1881, Gird had sold out his Tombstone mining interests for $800,000 and, as he later explained it, went to southern California to emulate the success of his landholding cousin, Henry H. Gird.  The latter, born in New York, but raised in Louisiana and Illinois, came to California in the Gold Rush period and then owned the Rancho La Cienega, west of Los Angeles, where he lived from about 1860 to the mid-1870s.  Henry H. Gird, in 1876, bought a ranch near Fallbrook and Bonsall in northern San Diego County and became well-known there.

After Richard Gird bought the 37,000-acre Chino rancho, to which he later added 9,000 acres, he and his wife moved into the Joseph Bridger residence (an adobe that later formed part of the clubhouse of Los Serranos Country Club, founded in 1925 in present Chino Hills and, for a time, known as the Pomona Valley Country Club.)  Initially, Gird focused on ranching and farming, fencing a large portion of the rancho, and raising eight hundred horses and eight thousand head of cattle.  He also became known for his farming acumen, serving on the state Board of Agriculture, writing articles and essays about his farming interests, and experimented with many crops.

Richard Gird's purchase of the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino came at an opportune time, much like his relocation to Arizona in 1872.  That is, within five years of buying the ranch, Gird found himself with tens of thousands of acres of prime land rising obscenely in value during the renowned "Boom the Eighties."  The completion of a direct transcontinental railroad line to Los Angeles in 1885 led to a spectacular speculation in real estate during the following few years.  In the midst of this boom, in 1887, Gird subdivided 640 acres of the ranch land and created the townsite of Chino.  He was assisted in this work by his sister Ellen's husband, Horace Martin, his former San Francisco mining equipment company partner who later practiced civil engineering in Chicago for many years.

He also developed the Chino Valley Railroad (a narrow gauge line connected at Ontario to the Southern Pacific's transcontinental line), established a sugar beet farm and plant (initially working on 2,500 acres with the Oxnard brothers, Henry, Robert and Benjamin, who also worked at Rancho Los Alamitos in Long Beach and later founded the Ventura County town of that name), founded the Chino Valley Champion newspaper (which has been continously published since 1887), lobbied successfully for a 30-acre branch of the agricultural experiment station operated from 1891 by the University of California (this was later moved to Riverside and formed the basis for today's UC Riverside), and engaged in many other endeavors on the ranch.  He also was a banker, county leader in the Republican Party, and authored articles on Tombstone for Out West magazine in 1907 and on sugar beet raising in the Land of Sunshine magazine in 1894 and the pamphlet Resources of California, produced for the Chicago World's Fair the previous year.

The Boom of the Eighties flamed out by 1889 and, in the early 1890s, the national economy declined, leading to the Depression of 1893, while southern California was also hit by severe drought.  Gird, overextended financially by his ambitious portfolio of projects as well as enormous sums of money spent on prize horses, took out a $525,000 loan with the San Francisco Savings Union, which received a trust deed to the Chino Rancho.  In October 1894, Gird launched an ambitious sales drive to sell ranch land to raise capital to redeem the mortgage, but the depressed economy was such that only $75,000 was raised. 

The following month, Gird reached an agreement to sell 41,000 acres of the ranch for $1.5 million, payable over a period of time.  There'll be more on this the next post, but a venture launched by the new buyer, which was called the Chino Rancho Company, failed by the end of 1895 and the Chino property reverted back to Gird (and the savings union) as called for in the terms of sale.
Then, a new buyer for the ranch was found in April 1896, a British syndicate, which formed the Chino Beet Sugar Estate and Land Company and which agreed to buy that land for $1.6 million.  More on this later, as well, but the English venture also collapsed and, once again, the Chino Rancho reverted back to Gird (and the savings union.)

By this time, Chino residents were so resentful of Gird that they went to the school he founded and had his name effaced from the cornerstone!

Finally, a better solution came, in the form of the Chino Land and Water Company and its majority stockholder who paid off Gird's mortgage.   Once more, a later post will delve into the details, but this was a more substantial and long-lasting arrangement and involved some very prominent persons from San Francisco and Los Angeles and a few whose names remain connected to Chino today.  As part of this process, Gird's remaining physical assets on the ranch were liquidated by the Chino Estate Company, which ended business as soon as this work was completed. 

After finally extricating himself from Chino and despite only partially satisfactory efforts to rebuild his fortune through mining speculation in Mexico, Gird seems to have lived quietly at a home on West Eighteenth Street in Los Angeles, where he lived with his wife and younger brother, William. 

There is an interesting sidelight to Gird's later years.  His older brother, Henry, with whom Richard lived when he first came to California during the Gold Rush, remained as a farmer in the Alexander Valley for over a half-century, dying there in 1907.  Because there was no will, the estate was put into probate and a judgment was made that the $21,000 estate (hardly a large sum of money, but still of some substance) be left to two siblings, William and Nellie Bennett.  Richard Gird, his brother William and a sister (either Mary or Ellen) then mounted a challenge to the decision.  The reason, as the case went to the California Supreme Court, had to do with the legitimacy of out-of-wedlock children. 

In the mid-1860s, three persons moved to the Gird Ranch at Alexander Valley, a man named Fletcher, his wife Lucinda, and a young girl named Alice (said to be part Indian).  Fletcher worked for Henry Gird for a time and then left, never to be seen again.  Lucinda and Alice stayed on, listed as housekeeper and servant in census listings.  Alice married Owen Bennett by 1880, but Owen soon left, though there was never a divorce.  In the 1900 census, the household consisted of 72-year old Henry Gird, the 56-year old Lucinda Fletcher, "servant" Alice Bennett, 36, and two children William Bennett, 15, and Nellie Bennett, 5.  The problem was, as the court case explained, was that the Bennetts separated at least four years before the birth of the first child.  Moreover, Alice Bennett testified in court that she and Henry Gird (who were at least thirty years apart in age) bore these two children, even though they were given the Bennett surname. 

Richard Gird and his siblings sought to show, through character assassination of Alice Barnett and some testimony and written evidence that indicated inconsistencies in her story, that the Bennett children were not Henry Gird's and that the probate should be reopened.  The state Supreme Court decided otherwise and ruled for the Bennetts (who may have lost a large portion of that $21,000 to lawyer's fees!)

Another note: the Gird's Cedar Lake Farm in New York remained in family hands until 1891, although the family maintained some property in the area until 1933.  Today, Cedar Lake Farm is part of a golf course and country club.  On the grounds of the club is the Gird family cemetery, in which are buried Richard's parents (his mother died in 1862 at age 55, and his father in 1889 at 84), four of his siblings, and grandparents and great-grandparents.

Richard Gird, meantime, died in Spring 1910 at age 74 and was buried at Rosedale Cemetery, not far from his home and with his wife.  The photo of Gird is from Edwin Rhodes' The Break of Day in Chino, published by Rhodes in 1951.


Anonymous said...

hi my name is Caden gird and I was wondering if you had some more history on Richard gird and the place he owned

prs said...

Hello Caden, what has been located so far has mainly been posted, but there must be plenty more info out there. For instance, you may have seen the small book "The Break of Day in Chino" by Edwin Rhodes from 1951? Thanks for visiting.

Anonymous said...

hey is there still any land still owned by the girds or family relics that should belong to a gird family member

prs said...

Hello Caden, I don't know about outside of this area, but I don't think any Girds have owned land around here for about a century or so. There might be Gird items in the possession of the Chino historical society, but I don't know how much might be around this area. Thanks for stopping by again.

bob gill said...

Hello. I too am related to Richard Gird, and have researched his life since the late 1970's. I find your article on Richard to be excellent, and I have learned much from it.
would the author of this article please contact me at: rjgillcorp@yahoo.com. to discuss your research. I would be most grateful. thank you, PRS. july 9, 2017.

Kandra Lorentz said...

Hello I too am related to the Girds. My name is Kandra Avila I am Henry girds Great Grand Daughter. My Grandmother was Alice Bennett and my Grand father is Henry Richards brother. Alice had Steven Bennett and he and Grandmother Hattie Bennett had my grandmother Mary Bennett and Uncle Nathan Bennett. My grandmother Mary married my Grandfather Harry Avila and they had two boys named Ronald and my Dad Gary Avila.So that's my part of the Gird Family! I am looking for a picture of Henry if someone can please send me one and any info on Alices Indian heritage that seems to end at the Gird Ranch in Geyserville? I trying to coonect with her tribe but no idea what tribe or why Fletcher5 and Lucinda had Alice in their custody at 3 yrs old and they were both white folks? going crazy with this please help? Thankyou Kandra Avila in Sonoma Ca.