Biography of Robert Porter
Humboldt County, CA Biographies





ROBERT PORTER - As a typical representative of those brave, courageous pioneers who settled in this county when the country was yet in its original wildness, mention is due Robert Porter, who lived to witness the changes which fifty seven years brought, knowing meanwhile that he had not been an idle looker on in the transformation which had been wrought. His father, David R. Porter, who was born in Londonderry, Ireland, immigrated to the United States in young manhood and settled in Lancaster, Pa. His marriage united him with Catherine McDee, who was born in Scotland and came to the United States with her parents during her childhood. David R. Porter engaged in general merchandising in Pennsylvania and also in Botetourt county, Va., accumulating a competency in the undertaking, for it is known that several years before his death, at the age of seventy two, he had lived retired. His wife passed away when in her seventy fifth year.

It was while the family was living in Old Virginia that Robert Porter was born in Fincastle, February 22, 1828, and in that state he was reared and educated primarily. At the age of sixteen he began to earn his own living, his first work being as clerk in a general store in Virginia for two years. Later he joined an engineering corps on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and during this time diligently pursued his studies in civil engineering, so that he ultimately rose to the position of superintendent of construction for the company, continuing as such until 1852. In the spring of that year he and eleven companions started for California, each of the party being well equipped for the long and tedious overland journey. June 9th was the day on which they crossed the Missouri river at St. Joseph, Mo., from there going to Salt Lake City, where they rested for about two weeks. The possibilities of making a fortune in the mines had not been the least consideration in the minds of the young men when they started on their journey, and while in Salt Lake City they made investigations as to the conditions and prospects at a camp called Seventy six. Evidently opinions differed as to the advisability of investing at the camp, for it is recorded that Mr. Porter bought the animals from those of his companions who wished to remain there, while he and his little train started out for Sacramento, reaching that town the day after the fire that nearly destroyed it. From there he went to Hangtown, now Placerville, and from there to Jay Bird canyon, but his labors did not produce the results he had anticipated, and he went to Mariposa county, where better results rewarded him. In the latter part of the '50s he came to Eureka, then a crude town on the water front claiming a population of less than five hundred inhabitants. Employment awaited him in the sawmill of John Vance, where he familiarized himself with the business and was finally given charge of the office and finances of the concern and remained associated with it until 1866. In the meantime he had recognized a good opportunity to establish a business of his own and forthwith opened the second general merchandise store in the town, a business which he conducted successfully for two years. It was in 1868 that he went to Hydesville and engaged in the same business in partnership with James M. Cox, having bought out the pioneer merchant in the town, R. O. Metcalf, and thereafter business was conducted under the name of Porter & Cox. Associated with H. C. Hansen, in 1878 Mr. Porter bought a one half interest in property which became known as the Hansen & Porter stock ranch, adjoining Fort Baker. The purchase was made at a time when stock land was selling at a low figure. Subsequently the partners consolidated their interests with those of Joseph Russ, thus bringing under the control of the three over twenty four thousand acres of fine land. Meantime Mr. Porter bought out the interest of Mr. Hansen in the enterprise and Mr. Russ and himself were thereafter equal partners. The raising of sheep and cattle formed their chief industry and proved profitable from the first. In partnership with A. W. Torrey he purchased the Iaqua ranch of about seven thousand acres located thirty miles east of Eureka, and of this he ultimately became the sole owner by the purchase of Mr. Torrey's interest, continuing to run it as a stock ranch up to the time of his death. He also owned the Kneeland ranch of sixty five hundred acres near Blocksburg. In the meantime the general merchandise business at Hydesville had been continued in partnership with Mr. Cox, but just prior to the death of the latter Mr. Porter purchased his interest in the business and continued it alone. However, in 1898 he sold out his interests in Hydesville and removed to Eureka, where as early as 1858, with Richard Brett, he had purchased forty acres of land for $1000. This was afterwards laid out as Brett & Porter's Addition and is one of the finest residence portions of Eureka. In 1892 Mr. Porter erected a handsome residence in the city, and it was in this that he resided from 1898 up to the time of his death, April. 13, 1906.

While making his home in Hydesville Mr. Porter assisted in the organization of the Bank of Eureka and continued. to be a stockholder in the same until his death, also for many years having been a director and vice president. He was also interested in the founding of the Savings Bank of Humboldt County, of which he was also president. It was largely through his efforts also that the Humboldt Bay Woolen Mills Company was organized in 1901 with a capital of $100,000 and with himself as vice president. Up to the time of his death he continued actively interested in the various institutions with which he was connected, as well as overseeing his large ranching interests.

On the 8th of March, 1868, Mr. Porter was married at Table Bluff, Humboldt county, Cal., to Miss Eliza Foss, who was born in Saco, York county, Me., the daughter of Tristram and Lydia (Cousins) Foss, both natives of Saco, Me. The grandfather of Mrs. Porter, Zachariah Foss, was also a native of Saco, Me., and a participant in the Revolutionary war. He was the owner of the old Foss farm near Saco, which is still in the possession of the family. Mrs. Lydia (Cousins) Foss was born in Lyman, Me., and died there after rearing to years of maturity a family of five children. She was survived by her husband, who passed his last days at Table Bluff, Cal. The eldest of the five children born to this couple was Tristram Henry, who died at Table Bluff, Cal.; Mary, Mrs. J. K. Dollison, is a resident of Palo Alto, Cal.; Samuel is a resident of Eureka; Calvin resides in Palo Alto; and Eliza, Mrs. Porter, completes the family. She was reared and educated in Saco, Me., and in 1856 accompanied her father to Bureau county, Ill., where she taught school. In 1866 she came with her father to California, making the trip by way of Panama to San Francisco and locating at Table Bluff. Of the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Porter eight children were born, as follows: Catherine, Mrs. H. L. Shattuck, of Denver, Colo.; Elizabeth, Mrs. O. F. Pira, of Alameda, Cal.; Robert Dollison, a director of the Bank of Eureka, and who assists his mother in the care of her extensive ranch and property interests; David, who died at the age of ten years; Theodore, a resident of Eureka; Edith, who makes her home with her mother; Kendall, junior member of the firm of Sarvis & Porter, of Eureka; and Grace, Mrs. Kimball, residing in Denver, Colo. Since the death of her husband Mrs. Porter has continued to make, her home in the old family residence at No. 1710 E street, Eureka, finding her time fully occupied with looking after her varied interests and in fulfilling her social and religious duties. She is stanch in her support of Republican principles, and is a member of the Monday Club. In early life Mr. Porter was a believer in Democratic principles, but after the second administration of President Cleveland he changed his party affiliations and identified himself with the Republicans, owing to the attitude of the Democracy on the financial question. As early as 1850 he affiliated with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Virginia and became a charter member of Humboldt Lodge No. 77, I. O. O. F., Eureka. Mr. Porter was a noble, high minded, useful citizen and friend, who deserves a prominent place in the history of the county and state.

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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