Biography of Joseph E. Merriam
Humboldt County, CA Biographies





JOSEPH EDWARD MERRIAM. - Although for many years he followed the fortunes of the sea, and though he came to the Pacific coast with the expressed intention of continuing his sea faring life, Joseph Edward Merriam has never been aboard a vessel since he sailed into the harbor at Eureka on June 19, 1884. With him were his wife and one child, and soon after coming to Eureka he determined to give up his former calling and locate on shore, choosing Humboldt county for his future home. During the succeeding years he has been variously occupied, but has always met with much success, and is today one of the leading insurance men in the county and is also largely interested in real estate. Besides his home in Blue Lake he owns a valuable fruit garden and also a valuable timber claim of one hundred and seventy acres about six miles southeast of town. Judge Merriam does not believe in any vigorous man being idle, and seeing the many small pieces of valuable land around homes neglected, he desires to show the people of the community as well as outsiders the wonderful production of the soil and the value of raising vegetables and fruits on small tracts. Having a love for horticulture and gardening and believing that every foot of the soil should produce, he purchased two and one half acres in Blue Lake which had been neglected and to which he devoted his spare moments. It is now in orchard, small fruits, berries and vegetables, and the whole space to the fence line is producing under intensified culture. Its success has been demonstrated, hence it is a plan that others would do well to emulate. Judge Merriam has also been interested in the buying and selling of real estate for a period of years. He has never regretted his decision, and feels that it was a wise choice that brought him to California.

Mr. Merriam was born in Port Greville, Cumberland county, Nova Scotia, December 3, 1856. His boyhood days were spent there and during his youth he attended the public schools. His disposition was a roving one, however, and when he was a lad of only fourteen years he went to sea, sailing on coasting vessels running to New York City. This was a hard and a dangerous life, for the ice floes drifted along the coast for many months of the year, and the vessels of the coast fleet were in much danger for this reason, as well as on account of storms and fog. Afterwards he was in West Indies, South American and Western Island trade, sailing out of New York and Boston, but always in Canadian ships. He was mate of the brig Zebenia for three years and for two years master. These voyages necessitated his absence from home for protracted periods, and wishing to avoid them he resolved to seek the Pacific coast, intending to run river steamers in California. For two years previous to this time his wife had been constantly with him on the water, but after the birth of their first child, Adeline, she had to remain ashore. He brought his wife and child across the continent to San Francisco, arriving in June, 1884. After four days they came on to Eureka and have remained in Humboldt county ever since. Mr. Merriam claims to be a Humboldter because he never crossed the bar after the day of his arrival.

The conditions on the coast were quite different from what he had been led to expect, and Mr. Merriam soon decided to try his fortunes on land. He secured employment with S. S. Loveren on his ranch near Mad river where the chief occupation was dairying. Mr. Merriam had never worked on a farm and was not familiar with any of the farm work, never having even harnessed or hitched a horse before this time. He was, however, strong and willing to work and to learn, and remained with Mr. Loveren for two years.

For the next three years he worked on various ranches in the neighborhood, learning much of the ways of the new country and the new occupation, and becoming an efficient farmer. In 1889 he determined to engage in farming for himself, and going into the mountains, he leased a stock range from Thomas Baird and started in the stock raising business. This enterprise was undertaken on a small scale in the beginning, as stock at that time was high. The following year he took up a homestead on Boulder creek, near the old Rock ranch, his tract comprising one hundred and sixty acres. Here he removed with his family, remaining until their home was proved up on, which was in 1898.

It was this same year that Mr. Merriam decided to leave the homestead and go with his family into Blue Lake to reside. They moved into the thriving little city July 25, 1898, and here they have built a permanent home, where they now reside. Mr. Merriam was already well known in the community and his popularity was attested when in the following November he was elected justice of the peace, on the Populist ticket, and has been repeatedly reelected since, holding office continuously from that time until the present.

Soon after locating in Blue Lake Mr. Merriam took up the insurance and realty business on a small scale, increasing his interests and the scope of his operations as his business developed. Now he is one of the leading insurance men of the county, and his real estate transactions are also important. He deals in both life and fire insurance, representing some twenty companies, and has written many policies in both Trinity and Humboldt counties.

The marriage of Mr. Merriam and Miss Clara Russell Webster took place at Parrsborough, Nova Scotia, June 15, 1881. Mrs. Merriam is a native of Nova Scotia, born in Cumberland county May 6, 1860, and her mother was born in that county April 15, 1835. Mrs. Merriam bore her husband five children, one of whom died in infancy. Of the others we mention the following: Adeline M., born in Nova Scotia, and now residing in Blue Lake, is the wife of Eugene B. Tamboury and the mother of one child, Clara Anetta; Harold Mathew, born in Alliance, Humboldt county, married Minnie Griffith; Mary Henrietta, also born in Alliance, May 4, 1887, died in Blue Lake in 1901; Elsie Marion, born at Thief camp, on Maple creek, became the wife of Chester Moore, of Blue Lake. Mrs. Webster, the mother of Mrs. Merriam, at present makes her home with her daughter in Blue Lake.

Mr. Merriam is very much interested in all matters of public interest in Blue Lake and indeed throughout Humboldt county. He is an enthusiastic advocate of suffrage for women and his efforts are largely responsible for the fact that Blue Lake is the banner suffrage town in the county. He has taken an active part in all suffrage movements and worked earnestly for the passage of the amendment which enfranchised the women of California. He is also well known in fraternal circles, and is a prominent member of the Woodmen of the World and of the Red Men, being connected with the local lodges of each organization. He is the father of what is known as the "Blue Nose Picnic" in Humboldt county, which was started as the result of his effort to bring together and renew acquaintances of the people who came to the county from the New England states and the provinces of Canada, embracing an Atlantic coast line from Cape Cod, Mass., to Cape Race, Newfoundland. Obtaining the available addresses he sent each person a postal written by himself, and the first picnic at Blue Lake, held in August, 1911, was well attended, being one of the largest picnics held in the county, and it has since become an interesting annual event.

The varied experiences of both Mr. and Mrs. Merriam give them a wide outlook on life, and there is a fund of interesting tales that they may tell when their fancy so inclines. Mrs. Merriam was the first woman ever known to land on the Isle of Mona, an uninhabited island seven miles long, located in the Mona channel midway between San Domingo and Porto Rico.

An interesting possession of Mr. Merriam, and one on which he has spent much time and effort, is a book in which he has recorded the name of every family in Blue Lake, the date on which they took up their residence there, where they came from, who they are, and such other valuable and available information as he deems of interest.

Throughout the county Mr. Merriam is regarded as one of the most reliable and trustworthy men in the community, and his prosperity is due entirely to his own efforts and to the confidence that has been reposed in him by his fellow citizens and the resulting patronage that this has brought into his office. He has also been especially successful in all his dealings with the Indians, by whom he is regarded as a true friend and is referred to by them by the familiar name of Joe, which carries with it great respect.

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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