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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


William McElroy

Many changes have been wrought in the material aspect of Sonoma county since Mr. McElroy first came here during the year 1861, at which time he began an association that has continued to the present and has given him a deep affection for the scenes so long familiar to his eyes. Of all his kindred he is the only one residing in California and doubtless he would not have migrated to this part of the country had he not been the possessor of a roving disposition and a love of adventure. When, however, he had arrived in the west he found himself delighted with the region and in all the ensuing epoch never once has he lost faith in California's future as one of the best states in the Union, the peer of any commonwealth in resources and character of population. The impression gained in early days was deepened by a visit to the east about twenty-five years ago, when he renewed the associations of youth, but returned to the Pacific coast with a deepened devotion to its interests and an enlarged conception of its possibilities.

Born in Chapinville, Conn., January 24, 1837, William McElroy is of Scotch ancestry through his father, a shoemaker by trade, who lived to be eighty years of age, and of German ancestry through his mother, who likewise attained the age of four score years. Though not so well educated as the boys of the present generation, he had the advantage of a thorough apprenticeship to the mechanic's trade, at which he worked in the east for nine years. Meanwhile he had heard much concerning California and when a period of enforced idleness came at his trade he decided to join a party bound for the western coast. As a member of this expedition of forty-four he found his way safely to the mines of the west, where he easily found employment. At different times he was engaged in mining in the Columbia river region and the Salmon river locality, making the trip to the latter mines by boat to Portland, Ore., thence to Washington on horseback, and returning to California overland with an Indian pony.

In search of work Mr. McElroy went from San Francisco to Napa, whence after a short interval spent in breaking up sod ground with a plow, he proceeded to Sonoma county for the purpose of visiting the old fort. The country he found to be rough and sparsely settled. In the midst of the crude conditions a successful industry had been established by Dresel & Co., wine-manufacturers, who had planted a vineyard in 1861 and were beginning to erect a winery at the time of Mr. McElroy's arrival. It was easy for him to secure employment in the construction of the building and later he aided in the development of the vineyard, making a scientific study of the treatment of diseases of the vines and becoming familiar with the best modes of cultivation. As foreman of the vineyard he had charge of one hundred and fifty acres and from five to twenty-five men. It is significant of the mild and tactful disposition of the man that, while he held the position for thirty-three consecutive years, he never once had any misunderstanding or dispute with his proprietor and employer, the relations between the two being unusually harmonious and satisfactory. Had the tract been his own he could not have been more faithful to its cultivation than he proved in the interests of his employer. Many a night he stood guard against the deer and wild hogs that frequently attempted to enter the vineyard and always he considered the welfare of the work rather than his own convenience. Upon finally severing his long and honorable identification with the wine manufacturers Mr. McElroy bought a ranch containing considerable meadow, as well as twenty acres in prunes and twenty-five acres in grapes. For nine years he managed the property, but the limitations of advancing age induced him to sell out and retire, since which time he has occupied a cottage erected for him in Sonoma. His wife, formerly Louisa Brill, of San Francisco, has shared with him the good will of the neighborhood and the esteem of acquaintances throughout the valley. They are the parents of two daughters, Mrs. Lucinda Skinner, of Sonoma, and Miss Edna, both of whom were given the educational advantages offered by the Sonoma schools.

Those who have known Mr. McElroy only in his advancing years, quietly pursuing the even tenor of his way, could scarcely realize his early enjoyment of travel and adventure. When he first came to the west he drifted about from place to place, with no home and with his entire possessions packed on his back, vet he was happy and contented, taking all of his hardships with the calmness of a philosopher. On one occasion, when he crossed the Blue mountains with flour worth $1.25 per pound, he became short of rations and for nine days had nothing to eat but a small piece of bacon and two "slap-jacks" a day. When night came he cut brush which he piled above the bottomless drifts of snow and wrapping himself in his blanket he slept soundly until morning. That trip, as well as many others scarcely less exhausting, ended without ill fortune to himself. When the railroad was built he hauled produce to Embarcadero. In pioneer times he was very active in promoting the building of schools and roads and gave liberally of his time and means to aid such movements, but he never identified himself with fraternities nor has he been a politician, his sentiments, indeed, leading him to maintain an independent attitude in party affairs.

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