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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


Hon. Jasper O’Farrell

Mention of the name of Jasper O’Farrell takes one back in the history of California to the time when it was still under Mexican control, and between the date of his arrival in this territory, October 20, 1843, and the date of his death, November 16, 1875, his accomplishments seem incredible. His earth life came to a close in the city which he had loved as one of his children, San Francisco, and of which it may be truly said he was the founder. His name is perpetuated in O’Farrell street in that city.

A native of Ireland, Jasper O’Farrell was born in County Wexford in the year 1817. His education was acquired in Dublin, where he received special instruction in civil engineering, and it was upon the completion of his studies he set out from his native land, going to London, where to took a vessel bound for Chili, South America. For a time he was engaged in surveying there, but finally embarked on a vessel that brought him to California, reaching San Francisco October 20, 1843. Coming to Sonoma county a few years afterward, he located on a grant of land which he called Analy, thus perpetuating the name of the hereditary seat of the O’Farrells in County Longford, Ireland. The ability of the young man as an expert surveyor and engineer was not allowed to lie idle long, and in the maps and measurements which he made for the Mexican authorities the most implicit confidence was placed. As early as 1839 a survey of the city of San Francisco was begun by Juan Voiget, and nine years later, in 1848, Jasper O’Farrell, W. M. Eddy and J. J. Hoff continued the work of this pioneer by extending the survey of the city. Before the work was begun it was arranged that as payment Mr. O’Farrell and his co-laborers were to receive one ounce of gold, equal to $16, for every fifty varas surveyed. However, Mr. O’Farrell and his colleagues never received pay for their work, for when it was completed it was discovered that there was not money enough in the treasury to pay for it, and enough town lots could not be sold to cancel the debt. Not only did Mr. O’Farrell gain renown in the line of his profession, being made first surveyor and engineer of San Francisco, but he also took an active part in politics. In 1858 he was elected to the state senate to represent Sonoma county, making a splendid record as a legislator, and in 1862 he received the Democratic nomination for lieutenant-governor of California, but was defeated by a small majority. At the hands of Gov. Henry H. Haight he received the appointment as a member of the state board of harbor commissioners, an office in which he gave commendable service.

In surveying and laying out the business streets of San Francisco Mr. O’Farrell met with considerable opposition on the part of some of the citizens in regard to the width of the streets, thus being especially true of Market street, and but for his persistency this would not be known as it is today, as the ideal business street of America. Besides his accomplishments as a surveyor in San Francisco, he also laid out the towns of Vallejo, Benicia and Martinez, and also surveyed around Petaluma and San Rafael, and laid out many of the large ranches in Sonoma county. The mining excitement of the year 1849 was not to pass Mr. O’Farrell without leaving its impression, and his experiences in Oroville are recorded with such early pioneers as the Floods, O’Briens and Rolsons.

Generous and kindly to a fault, had Mr. O’Farrell been cast in a different mold he might have been one of the wealthiest men in the state of California. The ground on which the famous Palace Hotel in San Francisco now stands was at one time owned by him in company with John Sullivan and D. T. Murphy, and donated by them to the Sisters of Charity to be used as a site for an orphan asylum. The property was finally sold by the sisters to the Palace Hotel Company. Mr. O’Farrell was a close friend of the Catholic priests throughout the surrounding country, and in the early days his home in Freestone, Sonoma county, was the gathering place for the church fathers. The Catholic Church at Bodega stands as a gift from Mr. O’Farrell, he donating the land and also the lumber for its construction. Having a quick, receptive mind, Mr. O’Farrell readily acquired a knowledge of the Spanish language, and he was frequently called upon to translate important documents into English. One of the prized mementoes of the family is a letter from Gen. M. G. Vallejo, in which he asks Mr. O’Farrell to translate some important documents for him, thus showing the high opinion in which his work of this character was held.

In Sonoma county, Cal., in 1849, Jasper O’Farrell was united in marriage with Miss Mary McChristian, and of the eight children born to them, five are now living, Cathal, Louis, Minnie L. (now Mrs. D. L. Leahy, of Sebastopol), Gerald and Eleanor. The eldest of the family, Cathal, is now in charge of the property at Freestone upon which his father settled in the latter ‘40s, at which time he obtained two grants of land containing about sixteen thousand acres, reaching from Valley Ford and Bodega to Freestone, on which wild animals roamed and Indians built their camp fires. He named it Analy. Changes have since taken place with this valuable piece of land, the ranch now including only six hundred and forty acres, and it is used for general agriculture and dairying. Thirty-five years have come and gone since Jasper O’Farrell was taken from the scenes of earth, and few if any of those associated with him in his pioneer efforts are now living, but the good that he accomplished lives after him and will continue to endure until time is no more.

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