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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


Melvin Cyrus Meeker

Varied experiences of adversity and of success have fallen to the lot of Melvin C. Meeker since first he came to California in 1861, when as a young man of twenty years he came as an escort to his sister, whose fiancé was awaiting her coming. Pleased with the outlook before him he determined to remain and make it his permanent home, and a residence here covering half a century has proven to him beyond doubt that his decision was a wise one. During this time he has made a name and place for himself in business circles in Sonoma county as an extensive lumber manufacturer and dealer, was one of the founders of the township of Occidental, and is the proprietor of two fine hotels at Camp Meeker, the Rusticano and New England hotels.

A native of New Jersey, born is Essex county in 1841, Melvin C. Meeker was not burdened with advantages in his boyhood, but he was largely endowed with determination and perseverance and the lack of advantages did not prove so disastrous to him as it might to those less courageous and determined. Not only is he a practically self-educated man, but when a boy of only eleven years he started out to make his own way in the world and from that time onward he started out to make his own way in the world and from that time onward has been independent of any help from others. At the age mentioned he began work in a grist-mill in Milltown, N. J., as an errand boy, continuing there for one year, this being followed for a similar period by a position in a hat factory in Millburn, in the same state. Subsequently, in the same city, he secured a position in a paper-mill, during the three years he remained there becoming proficient in every department of the paper-making business, and it was with considerable pride that he finally became manager of the Fandango Paper Mills. Although he had made a success of whatever he had undertaken thus far, he had a natural inclination for mechanics and in order to enable him to follow more congenial lines of employment he began to fit himself for the carpenter’s trade, entering as an apprentice in Millburn when he was sixteen years old. Not only did he make rapid strides in the mechanical part of his work during his three years apprenticeship, but he also did commendable work as a designer and architect. Later he received instruction under a building contractor and architect in Elizabeth City, N. J., where he learned scroll-sawing, moulding, ornamental trimming work, in addition to artistic architecture and the trade of sash, door and blind maker.

As has been stated, Mr. Meeker came to California in 1861 with his sister, whose future husband was located here. Going to Valleyford, Mr. Meeker contracted to work as a carpenter for six months in order to defray the expenses of his passage, for which he had borrowed $200. After the contract was completed and the debt cancelled he was fortunate in securing a position that would give him $60 a month and board, but two months later he gave it up to enter upon a business of his own in Tomales, Marin county. The undertaking proved more successful than he had anticipated, and it became necessary to hire journeymen carpenters to enable him to fill his contracts. Finally, in the winter of 1863-64, his brother, A. P. Meeker, became a half-owner in the business, and in December of the year last named he withdrew from the business entirely by selling his share to his father.

With cash in hand to the amount of $3,400, Mr. Meeker returned east to secure machinery with which to start a sash, door, blind and planning mill in Petaluma, and after his purchases had been made he set out in May, 1865, in the ill-fated Golden Rule, which was a total wreck. However, a large part of his machinery had been shipped by way of Cape Horn, and this finally arrived at its destination in safety. Instead of being dismayed by the disaster with which he had met, Mr. Meeker returned to Sonoma county, and after borrowing the necessary tools, began work at the carpenter’s trade in order to earn money with which to defray the ship freight on his machinery, which arrived at San Francisco in the fall of 1864; the long delay was accounted for in that the ship was detained at Rio Janeiro for repairs. In order to enlarge his scope of knowledge he secured a position in a saw mill, where he learned the business of lumber manufacturing, and in February, 1866, purchased a timber claim on government lands. The following month he secured another tract, and after he had cut enough timber erected a saw-mill in Bodega township, set up his machinery, and just twenty-six days after he had cut down the first tree to be used in its construction, the mill was in running order. All was clear sailing for a time, when a second misfortune came to him in the bursting of a new boiler. This was finally replaced, only to find that it was too light for the work required of it, and little by little, piece by [piece, this too was replaced. The end of the season showed that five hundred thousand feet of lumber had been sawed, and also that the owner was in debt $3,000. During the winter the mill was overhauled and in the spring of 1867 was in good running condition, and readily made up for previous losses. Besides installing a new engine, Mr. Meeker built a half mile of railroad track to be used for logging. From this time on business prospered steadily, and Mr. Meeker sold a one-third interest in it to his brother.

It was in the spring of 1869 that Mr. Meeker purchased the homestead upon which he now lives. Here another disaster overtook him in the burning of his fine residence, which had just been completed and furnished. Though the loss was estimated at $9,000, he was not apparently discouraged, and for three and a half years thereafter he and his family lived in the barn. As soon as he was able, in August, 1875, he built the fine two-story house which was thereafter the home of the family until 1911, when they went into their new home, the “White House,” overlooking Camp Meeker.

The town of Occidental became a reality through the efforts of Mr. Meeker and other interested citizens. He, with Rev. A. M. Wining and A. S. Purvine, in the capacity of committee for the Green Valley Methodist Episcopal Church, established the present site of the Methodist Church at Occidental, the lot being the donation of Mr. Meeker. As the church building was erected on the proposed line of the North Pacific Coast Railroad, the Methodist Conference set off a portion of the surrounding country into a new circuit, Occident being made head of the list of pastorates. A postoffice soon followed, a voting precinct established, and Occidental was thus added to the map of California.

To attempt to tell of Mr. Meeker’s accomplishments and make no mention of Camp Meeker would be an injustice. This well-known summer resort is one of the finest in northern California, and is laid out on a tract from which he has been cutting timber for the past thirty-nine years, and still there is enough left for several years work. Located north of Occidental, the camp contains three thousand acres of land. An attractive section of the camp has been laid out in lots, two thousand of which have been sold and seven hundred cottages built by people in an around San Francisco, who spend their summers in these delightful surroundings. Several mineral springs of great curative value may here be found, including iron, soda and fresh water. It is a conservative estimate that from six to ten thousand people visit Camp Meeker annually.

One of the most attractive features of Camp Meeker is its beautiful forest growth. Among the trees are evergreen redwood, or Sequoias, which have withstood volcanoes, cyclones, earthquakes and the other tremendous forces that have heaved this planet in and out of shape in the past centuries. Notwithstanding their wonderful tenacity and vitality they are among the most beautiful forest trees that grow. Many of them measure over forty feet in diameter and over four hundred feet high. At Camp Meeker, at the apex of Lookout mountain, may be seen four of these forest giants, forming a hollow square of about fourteen feet. They stand like sentinels overlooking and guarding Green valley, Santa Rosa valley, Knights valley, the Rincon, Napa and Russian River valleys, with their orchards of apples, pears, prunes, peaches, cherries, olives, oranges, walnuts and berries of all kinds and innumerable vineyards. On these four trees has been built a tower about fourteen feet square and nearly one hundred feet high, divided into seven stores. The limbs of the trees were cut off as each story was built until the top was reached, and here a battlement was built to protect people from falling off while gazing at the magnificent scenery. Here one may see St. Helena with its five domes, just as the volcano left it ages ago. Mount Diablo, Uncle Sam mountain, Tamalpais, and the Geyser peak, another extinct volcano. Not only is Camp Meeker unexcelled as a forest resort, but is also noted for its pure water and equable climate; being free from cold winds and fogs.

Mr. Meeker was one of the first to engage in the sale of lots in a summer resort. This venture enabled people to become interested and build and make it a permanent home in which to spend the summer. Camp Meeker has grown to such proportions that the winters are now enjoyed by about seventy-five families, and three stores supply their wants. There are two churches and a school, all erected on lots donated for the purpose by Mr. Meeker. He has also built a theatre, large dancing pavilion, bowling alley, besides stores and hotels, and a library, which is a valuable adjunct in the equipment of the camp settlement.

Mr. Meeker’s marriage, February 19, 1868, united him with Miss Flavia Sayre, who was born in Springfield, Essex county, N. J., in 1843, but later became a resident of Rochester, N. Y. Of the seven children born to Mr. and Mrs. Meeker, only four are now living, Melvin C., Jr., Robert F., Alexander H. and Effie M.

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