Biography of Alexander Brizard
Humboldt County, CA Biographies





ALEXANDER BRIZARD. - The history of the growth of the great establishment of A. Brizard, Inc., from the small store opened during 1863 in Arcata (originally known as Union Town) to the institution now receiving patronage from every community in the northern portion of Humboldt county, is the history of the man whose name it bears and who as its founder laid the basis of the business wisely and well, while as its proprietor for more than forty years he developed its trade with courage and efficiency. Descended from an old French family and himself a native of France, born in Bordeaux March 17, 1839, he knew practically nothing of his native land by actual experience or childhood recollections, for in 1843 he was taken to Peru, South America, by his parents and there he lived for six years, meanwhile learning Spanish in school and French at home. His father, Capt. Paul Theodore Brizard, a sea captain fond of adventure, engaged in the transportation business between Lima and Callao until news came concerning the discovery of gold in California, at which time he immediately left South America for San Francisco and embarked in the transportation business between that city and Sacramento. September 25, 1849, he was joined by his wife with their ten year old son and infant daughter. The family established a home in the midst of the turbulent conditions then existing in San Francisco and the son was at once sent as a pupil to the first Protestant school in the state, a small institution established by Rev. James S. Ver Mehr.

As early as June of 1850 Capt. Brizard came to Humboldt county and decided to locate at what is now Arcata, where the family joined him in August, occupying a portable house which he had brought from Peru and which in later years was regarded as one of the landmarks of Arcata. Being of an adventurous spirit the Captain was not satisfied to locate permanently in an isolated region while there existed in his mind any hope of success in the finding of gold. Leaving his wife and small daughter in Humboldt county he took his son, Alexander, to the mines on Trinity river, where for three years they endured the privations and hardships incident to such an experience. Many comforts to which they had been accustomed could not be bought at any price, while flour sold as high as seventy five cents a pound and other necessities were equally expensive. In the midst of such conditions the younger member of the family learned to do the humblest tasks and do them well. As they found no fortune in the mines, he turned his hand to any work that offered an honest livelihood. If riding the bell animal of a pack train was the best thing that offered, he took the job and did it to the very best of his strength and ability. In that way he learned lessons far more valuable to him than the chance finding of gold would have been. On returning to Arcata he took up school studies, which were interspersed with occuptive duties contributing to his support. During the summer of 1858 a young Hollander named Van Rossum introduced him to his employer, the head of the firm of Roskill & Co., and the result of the interview was an offer of a clerkship in the Arcata store.

As a clerk Alexander Drizard at once proved his value. It proved to be the thing for which he was best qualified by natural endowments. Business capacity quickly developed. Working conscientiously in the interests of his employer, giving his entire time and thought to the upbuilding of the business, he rose in the estimation of all, and with the recognition of his value came increase in salary. With the passing of time there came new opportunities to him. The firm of Roskill & Co. retired from business. Their principal competitors, the firm of Spencer, Manheim & Stern, secured the services of Mr. Brizard and his friend and co-worker. Within a few years, owing to the death of one of the partners, the firm was dissolved, which gave an opportunity for the two clerks to embark in business. The Humboldt Times of June 20, 1863, contained the following item: "New firm : In our advertising columns today will be found the business bow of our young friends, Alexander Brizard and J. A. C. Van Rossum, of Arcata. They have opened business at the old stand of Spencer; Manheim & Stern, and if experience, ability, close attention to business and honesty are any guarantee, we predict for them success." An old account book kept by Mr. Brizard shows that the partnership was formed June 8, 1863, for the purpose of conducting a general grocery and dry goods business, with an investment of $693.70 cash by Mr. Brizard and of $1447 by Mr. Van Rossum, who notwithstanding his heavier investment offered to share alike in gains and losses. As the business showed gains instead of losses, this offer was most helpful to the younger member of the firm. During 1863 they purchased the business of William Codington, successor to the pioneer firm of Bowles & Codington. The retirement of Mr. Van Rossum in 1870 threw the burden of the business exclusively on the younger partner, who became sole owner. With characteristic enterprise he established branch stores at Hoopa, Weitchpec, Orleans and Somes Bar. Soon after this, in January, 1871, he was united in marriage with Miss Margaret Henry, the ceremony being performed in Arcata by Rev. J. S. Todd. Mrs. Brizard is the daughter of William and Mary (Nixon) Henry, natives of New York and Pennsylvania, respectively, and the granddaughter of Isaac Nixon, who was a California pioneer. Mrs. Brizatd was born near Winchester, Iowa, and in 1863 accompanied her parents across the plains to Arcata, Humboldt county.

Just when the outlook was most favorable and the future had every promise of gratifying growth, a fire destroyed a large part of the village of Arcata and the Brizard store with its contents became only a memory. There being no insurance, Mr. Brizard found himself worse than penniless, for his assets had gone in the fire and only his liabilities remained. At this dark period of his life his creditors proved his best friends. They promised him further credit and urged him to return to business, believing that by this step he could reimburse them fully in the course of some years. This he did, although it required many years to regain his financial footing. Customers of the old store stood by him in his new undertaking and the business grew so rapidly that four years after the fire he had to seek larger quarters. The store was then moved to its present site, where a building constructed of stone from the Jacoby creek quarry offered ample facilities for the expanding trade. During 1879 Mr. Brizard purchased the building and the ground upon which it stood. As the years went by the business grew beyond the most sanguine hopes of its proprietor in the early period of his connection therewith. Eventually he decided to incorporate. Papers were taken out in April, 1904, and in May of the same year Mr. Brizard passed away, leaving to his widow and three sons, Paul A., M. Brousse and Henry F., the legacy of one of the largest and most substantial organizations in northern California, but leaving to them a heritage even more to be desired, the memory of a life devoted to the principles of truth and honor.

From:
History of Humboldt County, California
With a Biographical Sketches
History by Leigh H. Irving
Historic Record Company
Los Angeles, California 1915


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