California Genealogy and History Archives
San Bernardino County and Riverside County
HON. SAMUEL MERRILL — Though he reached the peak of his political fame in Iowa, where he served as governor four years, Samuel Merrill turned an enormous amount of capital and enterprise into Southern California, where he was associated with other prominent Iowa men in some of the projects of development that have brought San Bernardino County several of its most prosperous communities. Samuel Merrill spent his last years in Los Angeles, but his only son is a prominent citizen of the Rialto district of San Bernardino County.
Samuel Merrill was born at Turner, Maine, August 7, 1822, of old New England and English ancestry. He represented the eighth generation of this New England family. He was a descendant of Nathaniel Merrill, who came from England and settled at Newburg, Massachusetts, in 1636. Governor Merrill's parents were Abel and Abigail (Hill) Merrill. Through his mother he was a descendant of Doctor Hill, who came from England to Saco, Maine, in 1653. Samuel Merrill was one of the youngest children of his parents, and at the age of sixteen he removed with them to Buxton, Maine, where he taught and attended school. His first choice of a .profession was teaching. For a brief time he taught in the South, but being an abolitionist he did not prove congenial to the people of that section. In 1847, with a brother, he engaged in merchandising at Tamworth, New Hampshire, and he gained his first political honors in that state. He was elected on the abolitionist ticket in 1854 to the New Hampshire Legislature and was re-elected in 18SS. In 1856 Samuel Merrill moved to Iowa, and for a number of years was the leading merchant of McGregor, that state. He was elected a member of the Iowa Legislature that met early in 1861 to provide for the exigencies of the Civil War. In the summer of 1862 he was commissioned colonel ol the 21st Iowa Infantry, and commanded a force that distinguished itself in an encounter with the Confederate troops in Southern Missouri during the early part of 1863. Subsequently with his regiment he took part in the Vicksburg campaign, and while leading an impetuous charge at Black River Bridge in Mississippi he was shot through both thighs, a wound that closed his military career. Resigning his commission, he resumed his place at McGregor. In 1867 he was elected governor of Iowa, and by re-election in 1869 he served from January, 1868, to January, 1872. Soon after leaving the governor's office he closed up his business interests at McGregor and removed to Des Moines, and for a number of years was one of Iowa's foremost bankers and business men. He was president of a number of railroad, banking and insurance companies, and was associated with Russell Sage and others in building the III Railroad, the Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. He was founder and president of the Citizens National Bank of Des Moines, and continued as a director and the principal stockholder of that institution until his death.
Governor Merrill early became impressed with the great possibilities of Southern California, and fie began acquiring interests in this section of the state about 1886. He invested heavily at the beginning of the great real estate boom, and realized handsomely on some of his investments, though on the whole his plans did not materialize. No less than three towns owe their inception to developments instituted by him and his associates. These towns are Riverside, South Riverside, now known as Corona, and Rialto. At East Riverside he and his associates paid in a lump sum $75,000.00 to Matthew Gage for water rights, and this was the first real development in that section. The South Riverside purchase included 16,000 acres. The Rialto, or, as it was known, Semi Tropic tract, originally contained 29,000 acres. Before he left Rialto Governor Merrill and associates had invested fully $670,000.00 in water development and other improvements. They paid Henry Pierce and other men of San Francisco $470,000.00 for the lands in the Rialto tract. Governor Merrill was president of the California Loan & Trust Company until it went out of business in 1894. He organized and built the Southern California Motor Road, connecting San Bernardino with Riverside, but later his controlling interests were sold to the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. Following the death of his first wife Governor Merrill made his permanent home in Southern California, although still retaining business interests in Iowa. He closed out most of his interests in his various colonies in 1893, and spent the remaining years of his life in Los Angeles, where he died November 30, 1899, when in his seventy-eighth year.
In early manhood Governor Merrill married Miss Elizabeth D. Hill of Buxton, Maine. She died in March, 1888. In 1894 he married Mary S. Greenwood, of Massachusetts, who survives him.
In 1887 Governor Merrill was granted a pension of over eight hundred dollars a year on account of wounds received in the Civil war.
This money he donated to support three beds for disabled soldiers in a hospital at Des Moines. He was always a liberal patron of religious, charitable and educational institutions. For many years prior to his death he was a trustee of Iowa College at Grinnell. While he was governor the cornerstone of the present capitol at Des Moines was laid. Almost the last act of his life, consistent with his liberal and public spirited record at all times, was to vote for water bonds at a special election in Los Angeles for the purpose of giving that city a perpetual water supply. Soon after voting he was stricken with paralysis and never recovered. His enfeebled condition was augmented by an accident that befell him on the Traction Street Railway a year or two previously. At the time of his second marriage Governor Merrill divided the bulk of his estate among his children, reserving enough to provide himself and wife for the rest of their days. At the time of his death it was estimated that his wealth approximated five hundred thousand dollars. He was a life-long member of the Congregational Church, and his remains were laid to rest in the old Iowa family vault in Des Moines. His surviving children are a daughter and son. The daughter, Hattie G., is a graduate of Wellesley College of Massachusetts, the wife of Dr. John W. Craig, of Los Angeles. Dr. and Mrs. Craig have three children, Charles, Allan and Elizabeth. Charles, while with the colors at Camp Kearney, died of pneumonia.
The surviving son, Jere Hill Merrill, was born at Des Moines November 25, 1873. For a number of years he was in the mercantile business at Los Angeles, and in 1906 he purchased a bare tract of land, comprising his present magnificent home property, located a half mile from Foothill Boulevard, near Rialto. This he has developed to citrus fruit, and by other improvements has added greatly to the beauties of the country along Riverside Avenue. Like his father, he is a stanch republican, and is a ready worker for public betterment of all kinds. He is a member of a number of fraternal societies, belongs to the Congregational Church, and Mrs. Merrill is a Methodist.
On October 14, 1897, he married Miss Sena Jones. She was born in Marshalltown, Iowa, December 4, 1878, daughter of W. H. H. and Harriet (Laybourn) Jones, the former a native of Grayson, Virginia. Her father was a contractor, and early in the Civil War enlisted in Company G of the 13th Illinois Infantry. He was first made a corporal and later, in recognition of his service and ability, was promoted to second lieutenant and then to first lieutenant. He received his honorable discharge February 18, 1865. For many years he was one of the leading contractors and builders of Pasadena, and died September 21, 19fl, at the age of eighty-one. His wife, who was born in Manchester, Indiana, lives with her daughter, Mrs. Merrill, at Rialto. Mrs. Merrill finished her education at Pasadena, where his parents lived after moving from Marshalltown, Iowa.
Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011