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California Genealogy and History Archives

San Bernardino County and Riverside County


JOHN RANKIN MERRILL. The Merrill home is on Turner Avenue half a mile south of Riverside Boulevard, at Ontario. This is one of the very prosperous families in this locality, and one of the chief purposes of this brief sketch is to tell how that prosperity was achieved, through struggle and self denial and great exertion, incidentally paying a deserved tribute to the Merrills, especially Mrs. Merrill, undoubtedly one of the most resourceful of women in San Bernardino County.

John Rankin Merrill was born in Ohio in 1850, son of David and Martha (Rankin) Merrill, the latter a native of Pittsburgh. John R. was the oldest of six children, and when he was six months old his parents moved to Illinois. He acquired a good education in that state, graduating from the State University. About 1870 the family moved to Texas, buying lands around Fort Davis, in the extreme western part of the state. David and Martha Merrill lived there and were buried at Fort Davis.

In Texas John R. Merrill married Miss Nancy Baker, a native of Kentucky. She died in Texas, leaving two sons, William Kern Merrill, now a rancher near Lindsay, California, and Charles Thomas Merrill, who is a ranch owner at Chino, California. Both sons are married.

In 1889 Mr. Merrill came to California and bought a ranch near Buena Park. In 1894 he married Miss Mabel Margaret Ayars. Mrs. Merrill was at that time twenty years of age. She was born August 30, 1874, in Texas, daughter of John Quincy and Elizabeth (McClain) Ayars, natives of Illinois. The McClain and Ayars families moved to Texas in early days with ox teams and settled near Moody in McLennan County, now one of the popular counties of the state, then on the frontier and sparsely settled. The McClain and Ayars families took with them their cook stoves and rocking chairs, and these were such novelties as few of the people of that region had ever seen. They took up Government land, living in log cabins, far from neighbors, and both the grandparents of Mrs. Merrill died in Texas in 1900. Her own parents were married in that state, and her mother died when Mrs. Merrill was seven years of age. There were two younger children, Nathan Sylvester Ayars and Eva Mozzelle Ayars. John Quincy Ayars, father of Mrs. Merrill, was three times married. By his first wife he had two children, John Irving and Lulu Daisy Ayars. By his third wife there were three children, Van Ness Rexford, Charles Frederick and Dorothea Delight Ayars. Mrs. Merrill's grandfather added to his homestead in Texas by purchase from time to time, and at his death left an estate of over a thousand acres of the finest cotton and corn lands in what is known as the black land belt of Texas. Mrs. Merrill was one of the heirs to this estate, inheriting a hundred acres of land and other property besides. Mrs. Merrill was nine years of age when her father moved to California.

About 1892 John R. Merrill bought a squatter's claim to hundred sixty-five acres in the Cucamonga Desert, and subsequently secured the regular Government patent to this land. After two years he moved out to this tract of sage brush and cactus, put up a small house, and for four years, being without even the facilities of a team, he carried water for drinking and domestic purposes from a distant school house. When he was able to buy a team he hauled water for five years more before he could sink a well. During the seven years while awaiting patent to his land he spent much of his time in Los Angeles, working to provide the necessities for his family, while Mrs. Merrill and her step-children held down the homestead, cleared the land, and set it to vines and deciduous fruits. Mrs. Merrill after selling her Texas property purchased other adjoining lands, and in 1910 they built their present modern and luxurious home, which with its landscape environment, its gardens and other improvements is one of the fine estates of the Ontario District. Altogether the family now have three hundred and twenty acres, practically all in bearing fruit, and the 1921 crop amounted to over a thousand tons of choice fruit. This valuable property has come as the result of almost superhuman endurance, labor and patience, and the orchards and vineyards represent a complete transformation from a waterless desert. Their first planting was on twenty acres, and the young trees had hardly been set out before great hordes of rabbits invaded the premises and destroyed every tree. They then replanted and protected the trees from these pests by wrapping them.

Mr. and Mrs. Merrill had six children. Lawrence W., born February 28, 1895, at Los Angeles, was, like the other children who grew up, educated in the Chaffee High School at Ontario, and he is now active manager of the home ranch. The other children were all born on the ranch at Ontario. Gertrude Catherine was born October 30, 1898, and died February 11, 1904. Ida Belle was born October 20, 1900, graduates from Chaffee High School and from Pomona College in June, 1922, and has specialized in physical technic. Jesse Lowell, born September 24, 1904, graduates from the Chaffee High School in 192^2. John Ralph was born March 9, 1908, and Ernest Millne was born November 2, 1911, and died at the age of eight weeks.


History of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties 
By: John Brown, Jr., Editor for San Bernardino County 
And James Boyd, Editor for Riverside County 
With selected biography of actors and witnesses of the period 
of growth and achievement.
Volume III, the Western Historical Association, 1922, 
The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, ILL

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011