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California Genealogy and History Archives

San Bernardino County and Riverside County


FREDERICK THOMAS PERRIS. As a builder and developer of town and country it is but exact justice that the name of Frederick Thomas Perris be honored for all time in San Bernardino. He was an engineer by profession, accustomed to handling large constructive projects, and his broad vision and exalted purpose enabled him to estimate the possibilities of the future and identify himself most unselfishly with those causes and undertakings that are regarded as the source of the wonderful present prosperity for this valley.

While for so many years his interests were identified with San Bernardino and vicinity, Frederick Thomas Perris was in another sense a man of the world. He was born at Gloucester, England, January 21, 1837, son of Thomas and Hannah Rebecca (Spiller) Perris. When he was about twelve years of age he and his mother went to Melbourne, Australia, and he completed his education there, receiving his training as a civil engineer at Melbourne. On his way to Australia he stopped at San Francisco, seeing America for the first time in 1849. In 1853 the family returned to America, and Mr. Perris was employed in doing a large amount of professional work on the Pacific Coast for the United States Government and the State of California in the capacity of deputy United States mineral surveyor and surveyor. He was naturalized at Salt Lake, Utah, August 30, 1858, by W. J. Appleby, clerk, and Curtis E. Bolton, deputy. November 29, 1858, he departed from New York for Liverpool on the steamship Thornton, Captain Collins, going abroad for the purpose of marriage. He was married at Cheltenham, England, May 5, 1859.

After his return to America with his wife he did his first railroad work in the early '60s on the Union Pacific during its construction, under Samuel B. Reed. October 12, 1863, he was appointed territorial surveyor for the northeastern portions of Utah Territory by Jesse W. Fox, territorial surveyor general.

Later he returned to England to settle his father's estate, and while there he was for a time a photographer. Leaving his native country, he returned to Salt Lake, where he was in business for a number of years, chiefly as a dry goods merchant and as a printer.

From Salt Lake he journeyed by ox teams to San Bernardino in 1874, and from that time remained a resident of the city until his death on May 12, 1916. For many years he was identified with this section of California both in a professional and official capacity. He served as county surveyor and deputy United States mineral surveyor from 1874 to 1879. He was editor of the first newspaper published in San Bernardino. He helped survey the Rancho San Bernardino and its subdivisions, and acted as assistant engineer for James D. Schuyler of the State Engineering Department in measuring water in the valley of San Bernardino and locating the reservoir sites of both Big and Little Bear Valley. He also laid out the City of San Bernardino.

December 1, 1880, Mr. Perris entered the service of the California Southern Railway, now the Santa Fe, at San Diego, as assistant engineer to Joseph O. Osgood. The previous year, in 1879, when it became known that G. B. Wilber and L. G. Pratt of Boston were to visit Southern California as representatives of eastern capitalists in railroad matters, San Bernardino citizens called a mass meeting and appointed Mr. Perris and John Isaacs for the purpose of visiting San Diego and interesting visitors in the advantages afforded by the San Bernardino Valley. As a result of this conference, Wilber and Pratt visited San Bernardino, carefully inspected the country, and decided on the Cajon route from San Diego to San Bernardino. Then, as noted, Mr. Perris was engaged as assistant engineer and supervised the construction of the Southern California road to San Bernardino and also from San Bernardino to Barstow, and as a result of this early effort on his part and local citizens San Bernardino has for many years had the asset of the railroad shops and extensive railroad facilities. While in the employ of the railroad company he built practically all the lines comprising the Los Angeles Division. During the latter part of 1882 he was appointed chief engineer of the California Southern, now the Los Angeles Division. September 13, 1883, he drove the first passenger train into San Bernardino from Los Angeles and sounded the first locomotive whistle to be heard in San Bernardino. In 1900 he was made manager of the Santa Fe's oil properties, and during his work as chief engineer the change in fuel for locomotives was made, the working plans and designs necessary to accomplish this almost revolutionary method of fueling locomotives being prepared in his office about 1894. Mr. Perris was retired from the active service of the Santa Fe on a pension October 1, 1914, less than two years before his death.

In the forty years he lived here his public spirit was a constant source of good to the community, which he loved and which he was ready to serve to the utmost. In 1889 he was a member of the Board of Trustees and in the early '90s was connected with the Arrowhead Reservoir and Power Company as consulting engineer. He was a member of the first Board of Water Commissioners, and all his earnings in that capacity were donated to the various churches of the city in an absolutely non-sectarian manner, not a dollar being used for personal use. Through his efforts the city is largely indebted for the present Carnegie Library. He took up the matter with Mr. Carnegie through prominent Santa Fe officials in the East and succeeded in securing a larger appropriation than was originally intended.

Mr. Perris was a director and stockholder in the Farmers and Merchants Bank of San Bernardino and a stockholder and director in the San Bernardino Valley Bank. Considering all his activities and the influences that emanated from him no individual name could be more justly chosen for designation of local geography. He is honored by the Town of Perris, Perris Hill and Perris Avenue. . . May 5. 1859, at Cheltenham, England, he married Mary Annette Edwards, daughter of George and Anne Vizor (Millwater) Edwards. The children of this marriage were : Oscar W., who married Gertrude Heap; Walter F., unmarried; Arthur E., who married Maude Tinklepaugh; Cora A., who became the wife of Samuel Leffen; Florence M., wife of B. F. Levet; and Maude I., who was married to Harvey Carpenter.

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