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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


Henry Hammell

Among the leading citizens of Sonoma county no one holds a higher place in agricultural circles than Henry Hammell, who is known as the cherry king in this section of country, and without any exception is the largest grower of this luscious fruit in the state north of San Francisco. Sixty-five acres are devoted to this fruit, principally the Royal Anns, from which he averages a crop of one hundred tons, and realizes a profit of from $7,000 to $10,000 annually. The life of this well-known citizens and successful fruit-grower began in Harrison county, Ohio, where he was born December 23, 1839, a son of Charles and Sarah (Rolen) Hammell, who were also natives of that state. The other children in the parental family besides Henry were William, who also lives in Sonoma county; James, who is engaged in the real-estate business in Los Angeles; Levy, a carpenter and miner in this state; Jennie, a resident of Indiana and the wife of W. H. Carr; Cyrus, also a resident of Indiana; and John, deceased. The children were reared and educated in the locality of their birthplace in Ohio, and all grew up to an appreciation of the dignity of labor.

Henry Hammell remained on the home farm with his parents until he was seventeen years of age, and in the meantime he had made up his mind to come to California, earning the money necessary for this expedition by cutting wood in the lumber camps. In the spring of 1855 he went to New York and secured passage on a vessel bound for Panama, re-embarking there for San Francisco, which he reached twenty-two days later. At that time he was offered $10 a day and could have bought lots on Market street for a trifle, but he ignored the offers to accomplish the desire of his heart, which was to search for the gold which he had heard abounded in the rivers and creeks of the Sierra Nevadas. From San Francisco he went immediately to Sacramento to try his luck as a miner. But his success was far from satisfactory and from there he went to Placer county to continue his efforts. There, on the middle fork of the American river, he strove persistently to realize his dream of sudden wealth, but after a struggle of several years he was forced to abandon his efforts. Although this experience showed no financial results, it nevertheless strengthened the determination of the young man, and made him more persistent than ever to wrest success from his western venture. An evidence of this determination was demonstrated by the fact that he walked the entire distance from Sacramento to Petaluma, Sonoma county, one hundred miles, arriving at his journey’s end with just twenty-five cents in his pocket. He accepted the first work that offered, which happened to be on the ranch of Range Moffett, on Petaluma creek, but after working for a month and a half his employer disappeared without paying his help and thus he had nothing for his hard work, and this at a time too when he was in desperate straits. Other ranchers with whom he found work proved better employers and as a farm hand he was enabled to save sufficient means to purchase land and start an enterprise of his own. First, however, he rented a tract of three hundred acres at Turlock which he conducted as a cattle ranch, also raising sheep and hogs. His first purchase consisted of one hundred acres of this land, for which he paid the owner, Harrison Mecham, $3,000 and this continued to be the scene of his efforts until 1876. Still remaining possession of the ranch he then went to Los Angeles county and bought two thousand acres of the Canojo ranch, which he devoted to the raising of wheat, and in addition carried on a stock and dairy business. The first year’s crop proved a failure, but he continued his efforts in Southern California until he had realized $4,000, and after selling out his interests there, returned to his Sonoma county ranch and has since made his home here. Soon after his return he enlarged his possessions by the purchase of one hundred and eighty acres in Petaluma township for which he paid $9,000, and subsequent purchases have made him the owner of three hundred and seventy-five acres of fine land. Dairying and general farming at first occupied his attention, but this finally gave place to horticulture, a specialty being made of cherries, of which he has sixty-five acres, besides forty acres in apples, peaches, plums, lemons and oranges. The raising of cherries, however, is his specialty, and it is as a grower of this fruit that he has attained such remarkable success as a horticulturist, being known as the largest cherry grower north of San Francisco. All of the trees in his orchard were selected and planted by himself, and his success as a horticulturist is undoubtedly due to his close study of the subject and personal supervision of his ranch.

At Turlock, California in 1866, Mr. Hammell was united in marriage with Lurana Gist, a native of Missouri, and six children have been born of their marriage, as follows: Walter, who is married and the father of five children; Charles, a resident of Petaluma; Fred, who with his wife and three children, makes his home on a ranch near Petaluma; Etta May, the wife of D. R. Muller; Cora, the wife of William Raines and the mother of one child; and Luma B., a resident of Petaluma. Since 1900 Mr. Hammell has made his home in town, occupying a pleasant and commodious residence at No. 505 Main street. Here with his devoted wife he is enjoying the comforts and luxuries which their life of toil and hardship together for many years has made possible.

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