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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


William Elder

A period of about twenty years marks the span of Mr. Elder's life in California, dating from early pioneer days, and as one of the typical pioneer settlers, sturdy, resourceful and energetic, he aided materially in the upbuilding and improvement of the section in which he settled, Sonoma county. He was born in Scotland in the year 1812, the son of parents who instilled into his young mind high ideals of life, with a right understanding of his duties toward God and his fellowman. It was with this wholesome training and a fair education that he set out from his native land at the age of sixteen years, making the trip across the Atlantic ocean to New York. He remained in that city from 1828 until 1849, during these years being engaged in teaching and also working at his trade of wheelwright. In the last-mentioned year he came to California by way of Panama, making the trip by steamer to Aspinwall, and by the sailing vessel Harriet Rockwell to San Francisco, which city he reached in January, 1850.

Northern California was Mr. Elder's first place of settlement, in Grass Valley, Nevada county, which he found to be an excellent location for a general merchandise store, this being a supply station for those interested in the mines of the locality. With John Parker as a partner he established a business of this character under the firm name of Parker and Elder, an association which continued as long as he remained in that locality. From Grass Valley he subsequently went to San Francisco, engaging in business there for a short time, when, in 18554, he came to Sonoma county and made settlement at Petaluma. Though the settlers located here wer few and scattered, he was not slow in recognizing the possibilities of a thriving town growing out of the small beginning and with this though in mind he established a general merchandise store under the name of Harris & Elder, his partner being George Harris. This association continued for a considerable period, when Mr. Harris retired from the firm, and thereafter business was conducted under the name of Elder & Hinman, M. M. Hinman becoming the junior partner. The business was begun on a modest scale, but was increased from time to time as demand made necessary, and during the years that Mr. Elder maintained the store, he not only had the satisfaction of noting his own growth and prosperity, but he noted with increasing pride the substantial growth and upbuilding of his home town, which he prophesied would be the case when he came to the little settlement years before.

A man of energy and action, Mr. Elder was one who was not content to sit idly by and watch developments, but he was willing and anxious to take a part in bringing about better conditions, and the work which he accomplished in this respect has not been forgotten, though more than three decades have come and gone since his death. He was the first mayor of Petaluma, also the first chairman of the board of trustees, was secretary of the board of education, and later became president of the board. He was also one of the founders of the Congregational Church of Petaluma, in which both himself and wife were among the most active workers. In 1864 Mr. Elder went to Rochester, Minn., and engaged in the mercantile business for about four years, at the end of that time, however, returning to Petaluma and resuming his former business. He survived about eight years after his return to the west, his death occurring in Petaluma in 1876.

In New York state, in 1838, Mr. Elder married Miss Sarah Clayton, their marriage resulting in the birth of four children, as follows: Alexander, who died in Oakland in 1891; James W., of Petaluma; Mrs. Emma E. Cady, also of Petaluma; and Mrs. A. K. Munson, of Oakland.

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