Search billions of records on


 Biographies Index  



California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


William Hill

It was always interesting to chronicle the life of the pioneer, the man who was not afraid to enter the wilds of a new country, ready to endure whatever privation or hardship he might encounter and always persevere in whatever occupation he undertook until, by his indomitable energy, tact and ability, he rose as a peer among the men of his calling. Such a man was William Hill, agriculturist, horticulturist and banker of Petaluma.

A native of New York state, William Hill was born in the town of Scott, Cortland county, September 8, 1829. His parents, Alexander and Ann (Kenyon) Hill, were natives of Washington county, that state, and died when William was thirteen or fourteen years old, consequently he remembered very little about them. He attended the common schools of his neighborhood up to the age of twelve years, after which he had very little opportunity for schooling, but he had a good home and worked on his fatherís farm until he was fifteen years of age. He then left New York and went to Wisconsin, where he worked by the day and month during the summer, herding and driving cattle on the plains of northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, after which he turned his attention to the copperís trade and worked at it most of the time up to 1853. Having saved his earnings in the meantime he was able to procure an outfit of horses, mules and other equipment and started across the plains for California. He left Racine, Wis., March 25, and arrived at Hangtown (now Placerville) on the 10th of the following August and, like the majority of early pioneers, he had an uncontrolled desire to visit the mines. Accordingly he went to Mission Flat and Coloma, where he prospected for awhile, until his money was about gone, when he hired out by the day. After he had been there about three months and had earned enough money to come to Sonoma county, he took up a piece of government land which had two Spanish claims against it, although the title was afterward proven to be all right. Here he put up a cabin and went to work chopping wood, which he sold to the San Francisco market. In the fall of the following year he was taken sick and was unable to do anything for over two months, at which time he came to Petaluma and went into the mercantile business, continuing this until 1860. During this time he had bought a farm near Stony Point and after going out of business, moved on it and remained for five years, following agricultural pursuits, at the end of that time returning to Petaluma.

In 1866 the Bank of Sonoma County was organized and Mr. Hill was elected its first president, which position he held for twenty years. It was started with a capital of $90,000, and during the years that Mr. Hill was at the head of it, there was something like $375,000 paid in dividends to the stockholders and $210,000 of its earnings capitalized, which shows an able management of the affairs of the institution. In August of 1886 he severed his connection with the bank and on July 1, 1887, the banking house of William Hill & Son was organized, by which later incorporated, with Mr. Hill as president and Alexander B. Hill as cashier. This position William Held until the day of his death. This bank was started with a capital stock of $100,000, and afterwards increased to $150,000. Mr. Hillís business career had generally been attended with marked success. He was one of the largest real-estate owners in the county, at one time possessing about six thousand acres in Sonoma and Marin counties besides vast holdings in Old Mexico. That in Sonoma and Marin counties was improved land, having a vineyard of two hundred acres situated near Forestville, and he was also largely engaged in fruit-growing, having over one hundred acres in orchard. He was a stock-holder and director in the Sonoma County Water Company, having been identified with the corporation since its organization. He was also identified with the railroad interests of the county, and was president of the subsidy started in building the Donohue Railroad, before the company sold its interests. He was instrumental in starting the woolen mills in this city, was president of the company that managed it at this time, and was more or less connected with the history and growth of Petaluma from its earliest existence, and always willing to assist and encourage any public enterprise that would result in good for the city and county.

Mr. Hill was married in San Francisco, August 12, 1862, to Miss Josephine Pilkington, who was born in Troy, N. Y., the daughter of James and Margaret (Lonnon) Pilkington. The former was born in Clitheroe, Lancashire, England, the latter in the north of Ireland, of an old Scotch family, whose mother was a Wallace, traced back to the Jacobites. The father dame to the United States when a young man, taking up his residence in New England and later moved to Providence, Bureau county, Ill., where he owned a farm, but his time was principally taken up as a travelling salesman. His demise occurred in Portland in 1864, shortly after coming west. The motherís death occurred at the home of Mrs. Hill. A brother, Dr. John B. Pilkington, was a prominent physician in Portland at the time of his death. Another brother, Thomas J., is a successful horticulturist in Sonoma county.

Mr. and Mrs. Hill were the parents of four children: Alexander B., who after his fatherís death became the head of William Hill & Co., until its disincorporation, and is one of the able financiers of Petaluma; Raymond P.; William K.; and James V., who died after they had reached young manhood.

Since her husbandís death, Mrs. Hill has resided at the family home on Seventh street, where she delights to welcome her friends, who love her for her generosity and many acts of helpfulness and charity bestowed on those who have been less fortunate. She is carrying out the wishes of her husband in being active in all movements that will better the conditions of the citizens and is conscientious in all things and all her acts of kindness are done in an unostentatious manner. She has traveled extensively throughout the United States, as well as in Old Mexico and in 1910 and 1911 a much-desired visit to England was fulfilled, which gave her the opportunity of visiting her fatherís old home in Clitheroe.

Mr. Hillís death occurred suddenly at his home on Seventh street at nine oíclock in the evening of July 30, 1902, having been attending to his business at the bank all day. The news of his death was received with the deepest regret. For years he was a familiar figure on the streets of the city and in business Mr. Hill possessed an abnormal capacity. His interests, though widely diversified, were handled with consummate skill and with due attention to all its smallest duties. In his business dealings with the public he was known as an honest, square-dealing man, and as president of the Hill Bank, Petaluma Power and Water Company and president of Novato Land Company, esteem for him was unbounded. Fraternally he was much devoted to Masonry, being an active member, and rose to the Knight Templar degree.

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