11 July 2011

Olinda Oil Field History: Origins of Olinda, Part 2

Actually, this post represents a mild, but notable, diversion from Part One.  When William Hervey Bailey bought the land that he named Olinda Ranch during the great land boom of the late 1880s, he hired a real estate and mining speculator to work with him.  This was George Whitwell Parsons, who remained an agent and secretary of the Olinda Ranch Company through the 1890s.

Parsons was born in Washington, D. C. in August 1850.  He was the only son among four children of Virginia Whitwell, a native of Richmond, Virginia, and Samuel Miller Parsons, who hailed from Wiscasset, Maine.  His mother came from a well-to-do family and she went to Mrs. English's Boarding School at Washington, where she was a classmate of Jessie Benton, daughter of powerful Missouri senator, Thomas Hart Benton, and wife of the famed and controversial explorer and politician, John C. Frémont.  Samuel Parsons, an graduate of the first class at Yale University's law school in 1843, began his practice in Brooklyn, New York (which was an independent city until the 1890s) but met his wife at Washington, where the couple started their family before relocating back to Brooklyn. 

George was educated in public schools in Brooklyn and then attended a seminary at Blairsville, Pennsylvania before going back home to study accounting and bookkeeping at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute.  He was working as a clerk at brokerage and import companies while studying law at his father's practice (an apprenticeship known as "reading" with a law firm) on Wall Street, the financial center of New York and the United States.  George, however, soon tired of the law and migrated in 1874 to Miami, Florida, where he sold salvage lumber.

He then headed westward, landing in Los Angeles in August 1876, just after the town of about 15,000 was shaken by financial disaster and heading into a long period of population decline and business depression.  Almost exactly a month after his arrival, the Southern Pacific Railroad line from San Francisco to Los Angeles was completed and, in 1885, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad (which had a huge stake in Olinda later on) built its line directly to the nascent city from the east.

Parsons, though, came at a bad time to Los Angeles and quickly headed north to San Francisco where he spent three years working as a bank clerk for the National Gold Bank and Trust Company. Always on the lookout for new opportunities, Parsons found one in a new mining town in the Territory of Arizona called Tombstone, where he migrated with the gloriously-named Milton Clapp.  Readers of the Chronicle may recall that Richard Gird, owner of Rancho Santa Ana del Chino and founder of the town of Chino, was one of the prime movers in the development of Tombstone.  As it turned out, it was 1880 when Gird sold out of his mining interests at Tombstone and bought the Chino ranch and Parsons was heading the other direction, arriving in the boom town in mid-February.

The tract map of the town of Carlton, identified at the upper left as being in "Olinda Ranch."  This 1888 map is provided courtesy of the Orange County Archives.

Parsons was a notable resident of that famous community for about seven years.  For example, as the rough-and-tumble Tombstone grappled with disorder and violence, Parsons was a member of the Committee of Vigilance's administrative wing, the "Council of Ten", seeking to root out lawbreakers in town.  He was a close friend of the famed Wyatt Earp and other major characters in the community.  In 1885, he helped form the library, one of the "civilizing" influences in the town and served as librarian.  More importantly, Parsons kept a diary, which he had started upon his mother's death in 1869, and continued it all through his years in Tombstone, up until mid-January 1887, when, news of the Los Angeles real estate boom reaching his ears, he packed up and headed back to the coast.  As to his diary, it has been one of the most important sources of information about Tombstone, including the Earp brothers, the O.K. Corral incident, and other historic events.

When Parsons reestablished himself at Los Angeles, he moved into the Argyle Hotel and hung his shingle at 41 South Fort Street in a real estate business with partner Maurice Clark.  Soon afterward, the two were hired by William H. Bailey to work on the Olinda Ranch subdivision, including the town of Carlton, which began its operations in early 1888.  Within a year, however, the great "Boom of the Eighties" had gone bust, though Parsons continued in real estate, as well as mining, and also retained his involvement with Olinda Ranch.  In fact, in 1894, when Bailey announced the shuttering of the Los Angeles sales office and the relocation of all company operations to the San Francisco main office, Parsons was company secretary.

Parsons was also an Arizona commissioner of deeds and notary public, but became well-known in Los Angeles as a charter member of the city's Chamber of Commerce, which re-formed in 1888, and was Chairman of the Mines and Mining Committee.  Due largely to his efforts, the Chamber was successful in 1894 in securing a State of California survey of Los Angeles-area oil lands, two years after Edward Doheny and Charles Canfield brought in the first successful oil well within the city.  Doheny went on, in 1896-97, to drill the first oil well at Olinda.

Parsons, whose active involvement at Olinda seems to have ended by 1900, continued to live and work in Los Angeles, dealing in real estate and mining.  He was reunited with Wyatt Earp, when the Tombstone marshal migrated to Los Angeles and when the lawman died in 1929, Parsons was one of the pallbearers.  Unmarried, Parsons died in January 1933, leaving a modest $25,000 estate, and was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.  A set of scrapbooks covering the years 1893-1920 kept by Parsons was donated to the special collections section of the library at U.C.L.A.


Cliff Hall said...

Great article on the some of the people behind the land booms that populated Southern California.

prs said...

Hi Cliff, thanks for the comment and I'll be adding some more on the origins of Olinda soon.