Search billions of records on


 Biographies Index  



California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


James F. Burgess

What the walnut industry has meant to the financial upbuilding of the commonwealth of California it would be impossible to compute, but among the men who have aided in its development in Sonoma county, mention belongs to James F. Burgess, one of the largest walnut growers in this part of the state, and one of the most successful as well. When he purchased his present ranch in 1889 it was all in grain, and he continued this same crop for about nine years, in 1898, however, making an entire change by planting sixty acres of the tract in walnut trees. Dating from the first year of their yield the returns have more than met the expectations of the owner and the recognition which is now accorded him as an authority on the subject of walnut-growing is one well merited.

Records reveal the fact that the Burgess family is of southern origin, identified for many years with Kentucky, where the birth of the parents of James F. Burgess occurred. Later years found them in Missouri, and at the time of the birth of their son, James F., August 28, 1848, were living near St. Joseph, Buchanan county. The first six years of his life were associated with that locality, the family then removing to Kansas and it was in the latter state that James F. was educated, in so far as the district schools of that day may be said to provide educational facilities. When he was fourteen years of age he began to be self-supporting, his first position being as a mule-driver in the employ of the United States government. Subsequently he became interested in farming in Kansas, and it was with several years experience along this line that he came to California in 1872. While his association with Sonoma county dates from the same year also, it was not until 1889 that he purchased the ranch upon which he now lives, near Santa Rosa, on Rural Route No. 5. The previous owner had made a specialty of raising grain, and Mr. Burgess continued the policy of his predecessor for about nine years, when, in 1898, he made an entire change by planting sixty acres, or about two-thirds of the entire acreage, to walnut trees. Dating from the first year of their yield the returns have more than met the expectations of the owner, and the recognition which is now accorded him as an authority on the subject of walnut-growing is one well merited. The trees which he set out were of the Franquette variety, all grafted stock. Some idea of the yield may be gathered from the following figures: In the year 1908 the crops brought $7,500, the following year were increased to $8,640, and it is the belief of the owner that this average may be maintained for the next fifty years with a continuation of the present care of the orchard. One special tree in Mr. Burgess' orchard has yielded him ten per cent returns on $600. This is an old tree, thirty years old, which four years ago was grafted with young stock, with the results above mentioned. Mr. Burgess' success does not end with his efforts as a walnut-grower, for he is equally successful as a hop-grower, although he has only half as much land in this commodity. His thirty-two acres of hops have often yielded an average of fifteen hundred pounds to the acre; his record for the year 1909 (which was not up to the average) was fifteen tons, which he sold for $400 a ton.

In 1872 Mr. Burgess was united in marriage with Miss Sarah A. Forsythe, a native of Missouri. This marriage resulted in the birth of six children, five of whom are still living, two sons and three daughters. One of the daughters is still unmarried and is now attending a business college in Oakland. Mrs. Sarah A. Burgess died in 1890, and ten years later Mr. Burgess married his present wife, formerly Miss Jessarah Peter, a native of Solano county, Cal. No children have been born of this marriage. Fraternally Mr. Burgess is identified with a number of organizations, holding membership in Lodge No. 53, I. O. O. F., and Lodge No. 14, F. & A. M., both of Santa Rosa. Politically he is a Democrat, voting the regular party ticket in national elections, but in local matters giving his vote for the candidate which in his opinion is best adapted for the duties of the office in question.

History of Sonoma County, California
Biographical Sketches of The Leading Men and Women of the County Who Have Been Identified With Its Growth and Development from the Early Days to the Present
History By: Tom Gregory
Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California (1911)

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011