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California Genealogy and History Archives

Biographies
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San Bernardino County and Riverside County

 

JOHN W. DAVIS Not only the City of Colton, which was their home, but the entire district of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, is indebted to the financial genius and the fine progressive leadership of the father and son who bore the name John W. Davis. They were properly distinguished as Senior and Junior, since in their activities in Southern California they were contemporaries, and the son survived the father only about five years. While perhaps best known through their work as bankers and constructive financiers, they were staunch friends and supporters of education and their aid was not withheld from any undertaking that appealed to their judgment and generous spirit of community helpfulness.

John W. Davis, Sr., was born in Wales in 1815. He came to America at the age of nineteen, having his own fortune to make. He possessed a sound intellectual talent, developed largely outside of school, and his faculty of hard work promoted him to the larger and more important spheres of business success. For some years he lived at Utica, New York, and was engaged in the cotton mills there. While at Utica, he married Margaret MacConnell, who was of Scotch parentage and who died in about 1864. From New York state John W. Davis, Sr., removed to Fox Lake, Wisconsin, for many years being active in business and to some extent in politics, laying the foundation of his prosperity there.

It was in an effort to gain relief from asthma that he came to California in 1876 and after an exhaustive search for the right climate made his home at Colton. He was then past ^ixty years of age, in .what has been called the ''Indian Summer" of life, was possessed of generous means, and for a time was satisfied to lend the money on real estate as his only business activity. However, his unusual attainments including both the habit of logical thinking and the power of action did not permit him long to remain a passive factor in the community. He bought out the first bank in Colton from James Lee & Company and in 1886 he organized and as president opened the First National Bank of Colton. He had lived in the community for ten years, and all classes of citizens have come to regard his financial judgment as safe and conservative. It is recalled that one of the local citizens of Colton, who had been accustomed to keep his money buried in his garden, dug it up and placed it on deposit in the bank soon after it was opened. John W. Davis was also one of the organizers in the Colton Marble Lime Company, which owned Slover Mountain. That mountain has yielded material for untold thousands of tons of Portland cement, and the business has been in operation steadily since the company was organized.

With his practical qualities John W. Davis combined a fine sense of humor. In politics he was a democrat. He never tired of telling his one prominent experience in politics. It occurred while he was in Wisconsin. The party organization nominated him candidate for state treasurer. His business partner William E. Smith was nominated republican candidate for the same office, and of course in the republican stronghold of Wisconsin was the successful candidate. Smith later became Governor of Wisconsin. For thirty years during his residence in Wisconsin, John W. Davis, Sr., was treasurer and one of the founders of Downer College, one of the earliest Woman's college in the United States, now known as the Milwaukee-Downer College, a foremost institution for the higher education of women in the middle west. The Milwaukee College was founded by Catherine Beecher four years prior to Downer College.

In 1882 John W, Davis, Sr., married the president of Downer College, Sarah O. Sheppard, who died two years later.

John W. Davis, Sr., died at Colton in 1888 at the age of seventy-three. He was the father of five children, Mrs. Charles Robinson, wife of the president of the First National Bank of Bloomington; Mrs. Chester Dawes, who died at Crete, Nebraska; Mrs. John R. Gamble of Los Angeles; and Mrs. Doctor G. L. Hutchison, who died in Los Angeles in June, 1921.

John W. Davis, Jr., only son and namesake of his father, was born in December, 1860, and died in 1893 at the age of thirty-three. In a brief life his achievements have put him in the first rank as a man of affairs. He was educated in the University of Wisconsin, and when he first came to Colton, became associated with Byron Waters and others in the Farmers Exchange Bank. After a brief time he returned to the University, and he studied law with Gamble Brothers in South Dakota. John Gamble was the first representative in Congress when South Dakota was admitted to the Union. In 1881, Mr. Davis opened a bank in Scotland, South Dakota, in partnership with a Russian, but later sold out and came to Colton to join his father in the banking business. His standing in banking circles can perhaps best be understood by recalling some of the history of local banking institutions in San Bernardino County. In the fall of 1888 when Ted Morse of the San Bernardino National Bank was shot, John W. Davis, Jr., was offered the presidency of that institution with the privilege of taking such stock as he wished at his own figure. Before accepting he had made a trip to Europe and upon his return, in the fall of 1889, he bought in "and took the presidency of the bank.

A year or so later after S. C. Evans had accumulated a fortune of a million dollars in Riverside real estate, he went to San Francisco bankers and asked them whom they would recommend to organize and operate a bank in Riverside. The San Francisco bankers replied that there were only two men in the state whom they would care to recommend, and one of them was John W. Davis, Jr. The latter was approached by Mr. Evans, and he accepted the proposition and successfully organized the Riverside National Bank. This was his culminating achievement in banking circles, since he died soon afterward. He also organized the San Bernardino Abstract Company, was a large stockholder in the Colton Cement Plant and a director in an Insurance Company of Los Angeles. He bought a great deal of land on Colton Terrace, and upon his death the stockholders divided 320 acres, seventy acres going to Mrs. Davis. He played an important part in the Bear Valley Dam project and assisted Frank Brown to finance it.

At Portage, Wisconsin, September 4, 1893, John W. Davis, Jr., married Miss Jennie E. Roberts. She was born in Wisconsin, is a graduate of Downer College, and a daughter of John W. Roberts. A woman of a splendid family, of special position, highly educated, Mrs. Davis in the thirty years since her husband's death has proved herself one of the capable business executives in San Bernardino County. In the ten years of her married life she had been a valued confidant and advisor of Mr. Davis, and after his death she proved her resourcefulness in independent option or in calling to her aid capable executives to handle the responsibilities he laid down. Mr. Davis at his death owned the controlling interests in the San Bernardino National and the First National banks of Colton. Mrs. Davis immediately requested that her father take charge of these banks and he became president of the Bank of San Bernardino and president of the Bank of Colton, while Mrs. Davis* brother, E. D. Roberts, who had been associated with Mr. Davis in Colton, became vice president of the San Bernardino National Bank. At the death of John W. Roberts, his son succeeded him as president of the Bank of San Bernardino. Since the death of her brother, Mrs. Davis has been in practically sole charge of her accumulating interests and has greatly in hand the family fortune by her sound policies and breadth of vision. She acquired forty acres of land on Brookside Avenue in Redlands, and it is there in a beautiful orange' grove and amidst ideal surroundings that she makes her home. Mrs. Davis is the mother of four daughters, all of whom are graduates of Smith's College except Marion, who is a graduate of Milwaukee-Downer College.

The oldest daughter Margaret is the wife of Dr. Charles E. Ide, who has charge of the Muirdale Sanitarium for the city and county of Milwaukee. During the war he was a member of the army medical corps, receiving his appointment from Dr. Franklin Martin. Mr. and Mrs. Ide have two sons, George H. and John Davis.

The second daughter Marion, is the wife of Hugh T. Osborne, associated with the Brown, Ford and Yerxa Packing house at El Centro, California. Mr. Osborne was a sergeant in the American Expeditionary Forces in France, and was seriously wounded at Argonne. Mr. and Mrs. Osborne have a son, William Davis Osborne.

Dorothy, the third daughter, is the wife of Algernon Sidney Jenkins, who with his father, Charles F. Jenkins, publishes the Farm Journal at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Their three children are named David, Gwen and Phyllis.

The youngest daughter is Gwen, wife of Joseph S. Pendergast, an orchardist of Redlands. Their two children are Robert Ensor and Jane Ellen.

 

Source:
History of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties 
By: John Brown, Jr., Editor for San Bernardino County 
And James Boyd, Editor for Riverside County 
With selected biography of actors and witnesses of the period 
of growth and achievement.
Volume III, the Western Historical Association, 1922, 
The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, ILL

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011