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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sacramento County



A love of plant life that found no opportunity for development amid the rugged hills and barren farms of his native Scotland came strikingly into evidence with the settlement of Mr. McWilliams in America. Although deprived of the privilege of a thorough education and untrained in botanical lore as well as unfamiliar by experience with plants and flowers, be bad an opportunity after coming across the ocean to learn the business of a florist and with eager expectancy he entered into the work in Massachusetts, where he remained for about two years. After he came to the Pacific Coast be found employment as a landscape gardener and subsequent experience broadened his knowledge of the florist's art, so that he was fully qualified to win success when eventually he embarked in the business of a nurseryman in Sacramento. His knowledge of the industry is not only broad but also thorough and he has come to be regarded as a western authority in matters relative to floriculture.

An isolated farm near Stranraer, Wigtownshire, Scotland, formed the early environment of Hugh McWilliams, who was born January 15, 1863, and whose limited educational opportunities came solely through his own determined efforts. From an early age he worked for farmers in the home community and during that period he acquired a knowledge of cheese-making, but did not afterward follow the occupation. His father, Alexander, a man of high principles of honor, but of limited means, lived to be eighty-three and always fol- lowed farm pursuits ; the mother, who bore the maiden name of Agnes McClumpha, died shortly after the demise of her husband. Their son, Hugh, came to the United States at the age of twenty years, and learned the florist's trade in the vicinity of Boston, whence in 1885 he came to San Francisco. From January until October be had charge of the gardens at the summer home of D. 0. Mills near San Mateo, this state, and later be held a similar position with Mrs. E. B. Crocker for five years. A sojourn of two years in Sonoma county was followed in 1892 by his removal to Sacramento.

Shortly after his arrival in this city Mr. McWilliams bought a very small business known as the Elm nursery, located on Twelfth and U streets. From that humble beginning he has built up a business known throughout this part of the state. The equipment is thoroughly modern and the assortment of stock extensive and indeed exhaustive. Not long after he purchased the nursery he bought five acres adjacent to Sacramento and this new nursery he named Sutterville Heights, utilizing the grounds there as a farm for his growing business. Of recent years he has not only bad a trade throughout Northern California, but extending even to Nevada and Oregon. Shipments of flowers as well as plants are made in every direction and it is noticeable that those who once send in an order afterward be- come permanent customers, finding that they may place the utmost confidence in the reliability of the nurseryman and in the care with which he fills all orders. The Ramie Fibre Company secured his services in experimenting in the growing of the ramie plant. He was successful in its propagation, using tbe same methods he had em- ployed in raising his other plants. The results of his efforts have been embodied each year in a report to the government as well as to the county.

A visit to the home land in 1888 gave Mr. McWilliams a desired opportunity to renew the associations of youth. When he returned to California he brought with him from Scotland a brother, Peter, who is now a valued assistant in the nursery business. September 26, 1894, Mr. McWilliams was united iu marriage with Miss Georgia P. Shaw, of Santa Rosa, daughter of George P. Shaw, owner of a general mercantile store at Duncan Mills, Sonoma county. The young couple established a home in Sacramento and since then have become well known to a large circle of congenial acquaintances. For two years Mr. McWilliams officiated as chief of the Caledonian Association, whose activities have enjoyed his interested co-operation and intelligent support. In addition he has been a leading local worker in the Glide Gun Club and with the Woodmen of the World and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Often his name has been mentioned for various offices within the gift of the Republican party in his city, but invariably he has declined to become a candidate, preferring to devote his time and attention to the advancement of his business interests. 

History of Sacramento 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: William L. Willis
Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California (1913)

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011