Biography of Charles R. Rockwood
Imperial County, CA Biographies





CHARLES ROBINSON ROCKWOOD. - It has been the portion of this honored and representative citizen of Imperial County, California, to gain more than a usual quota of experience as a pioneer of the West and especially Southern California, and he has marked the passing years with worthy accomplishment. He has had many experiences, which give him a wonderful store of interesting reminiscences. Genial, kindly, generous and broad minded, he is held by the closest of ties to a veritable army of friends, and as the first man and permanent settler in the beautiful Imperial Valley, as well as one who has contributed in splendid measure to the development and upbuilding of this favored section, he is specially entitled to be called the "Father of Imperial County." Charles Robinson Rockwood was born on a farm near Flint, Michigan, May 14, 1860. His parents were of old Puritan stock. His mother was a descendant of John Robinson, who was the organizer of the Mayflower expedition in 1620. As a boy Mr. Robinson became inured to the arduous duties of the farm, and in the meanwhile he attended the primitive schools of his home neighborhood. He thus laid the solid foundation for the broad fund of knowledge which he has gained through self discipline. Bent upon having a better education, he entered the high school of Flint, Michigan, at the age of fifteen and graduated at the head of his class in 1878. His father being unable to furnish him with sufficient money to continue his education, Mr. Rockwood borrowed funds and entered the University of Michigan in the fall of 1878, and took a course in engineering. He studied too hard and his eyes failed him before he finished. For three months he was obliged to wear a bandage while at study. Finally he was obliged to quit the university and get out into the open. On May 13, 1881, he left home and went to Denver, Colorado. This was the day before his twenty first birthday. Upon reaching Denver he became identified with the engineering department of the Denver and Rio Grande Railway as assistant engineer. The first engineering work done by Mr. Rockwood was on the Blue and Grand rivers in Colorado. The following winter he made a survey in Utah, down the Green River, the other great tributary of the Colorado. In 1882 he came to California and entered the services of the Southern Pacific Railway. His first work in their service was in July, 1882, when he went to Yuma and from there up the Colorado to the Needles, and from there on surveyed (under William Hood, chief engineer) to Mojave and across the Mojave Desert. Mr. Rockwood remained in the employ of the Southern Pacific until 1889. During 1889-1890 he served as assistant engineer in the U. S. Geological Survey on the first irrigations investigations undertaken by the Government. 1890-1892 he was chief engineer for the Northern Pacific Railroad in a project to irrigate the Yakima Valley, Washington. He left the Yakima Valley in October, 1892, and came to the Colorado Desert for the Arizona and Sonora Land and Irrigation Company to investigate the Sonora project of that concern. He reported unfavorably on that project and turned his attention to the canals in Lower California and California, since known as the Imperial Valley. Rockwood's reports on this project being favorable, the Denver company decided to go ahead with it, and organized the Colorado River Land and Irrigation Company for this purpose. This company failed in the panic of 1893, and in 1895 Mr. Rockwood decided to undertake the promotion of the project, organizing for this purpose the California Development Company. He found the work of financing an irrigation project in the Colorado Desert more difficult than he anticipated, but after numerous failures, succeeded in starting construction in August, 1900. He remained with the work as chief engineer until 1906, when due to the breaking into the Valley of the entire river, the project was thrown under the control of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, and Mr. Rockwood resigned. From 1906 to 1909 he lived in Los Angeles, developing land interests in the Valley and fighting the Southern Pacific Company to get something for himself and associates out of the stock of the California Development Company, which failed, the stockholders never receiving a cent. Mr. Rockwood was identified with the oil and railroad development work in the Santa Maria Valley. As chief engineer, he located and built the Santa Maria Valley Railroad. In November, 1914, he returned to the Imperial Valley as chief engineer and general manager of the Imperial Irrigation District, remaining in this capacity until January I, 1917. The work now being projected is practically all in the plans outlined by Mr. Rockwood. He is now engaged for himself in developing a nine thousand acre cotton ranch under the canal system in Lower California. Mr. Rockwood was twice married, the first union being to Katherine Davenport of Vacaville, California. To this union one daughter was born, Estelle, born in 1888. The second marriage occurred in 1906 to Mrs. Mildred Cassin, a native of St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. In his political views Mr. Rockwood is a Republican, but has never aspired to office.

From:
The History of Imperial County, California
Edited by: F. C. Farr
Elms and Franks, Publishers
Berkley, California 1918


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