Biography of Edward B. Mahon
Marin County, CA Biographies





Edward Barry Mahon. The subject of this sketch was born in the valley of the Ottawa, on Grand river, in the Dominion of Canada, some sixty miles north of Ogdensburg, New York, in the year 1833. He was the youngest son of one of the pioneers of that settlement, which fact, perhaps, as much as his natural love of books, tended to give his mind the literary turn and thirst for knowledge which influenced him in the choice of a professian. He was fortunate in having the advantage of excellent teachers, from whom he received a very thorough English education, and afterwards from private tutors, there being no college in the vicinity, some knowledge of Latin and French. At an early age, however, he was thrown on his own resources, and at the age of sixteen or seventeen commenced teaching school, in which he developed an aptitude and proficiency far in advance of his years. His time, while out of the school room, was devoted to study. During the years he was teaching he learned quite as much, if not more, than while himself a scholar. Among other things, he exhibited an early love for the free institutions and laws of the United States, and was an advocate of annexation of the Canadas to that government, a proposition which at that time was often mooted. Meanwhile, a brother of his, Timothy J. Mahon, who for some years had been a resident of the State of New York, on the first intelligence of the gold discoveries in California, in company with several others from New York, sailed from that city in 1849 and sought this western land of promise by way of Cape Horn. These Argonauts, who, not less than the other adventurous spirits who plodded their way across the plains, were really making history, reached San Francisco, or Yerba Buena, after a comparatively uneventful voyage of six months. A voyage to California at that time was considered by some as indicating something of the same daring and resolution that animated Columbus when he steered his bark out on the limitless ocean without a chart or port of destination, and by others as Quixotic as a trip in search of the North pole. Months lengthened into years before anything was heard of the adventurers, but at last letters were received announcing their safe arrival in California, and speaking in glowing terms of its climate and resources. Novelty has peculiar charms for the young, and the younger brother lost no time in laying aside his books and studies, excepting only so much of the study of geography as indicated the relative situations of New York and San Francisco. He left New York in the beginning of 1857, and his recollection of the very unlevel condition of the sea off Cape Hatteras and of the solemn protest which his inner man made against such actings and doings on the part of wind and waves, are still very vivid, if not inspiring. The change from the snows of New York to the tropical green of Jamaica was, if not a surptise, at least some recompense for all the wrongs inflicted on him by old Neptune. The passage thence by way of the Panama Railroad and the Pacific mail steamer to San Francisco was uneventful. One of the small sloops then plying on the Bay of San Francisco served to convey him to San Rafael, where he arrived in April, 1857. San Rafael then consisted of some half dozen houses, the principal of which was the former ranch house of Don Timoteo Murphy, afterwards owned by Timothy J. Mahon, brother of E B Mahon, who was then. one of the solid men among the pioneers of Marin county, a position which, through its mutations of over thirty years, he has always maintained. At the season in which he arrived, the valley of San Rafael was spread before him in all its native loveliness, the hills surrounding it, as well as the valley itself, clad in a deep green, the Bay of San Francisco on the one side, ranges of low hills with the lordly heights of Mount Tamalpais on the other, altogether presented, as it still does, a very beautiful landscape. It was a place for which nature had done much and art nothing. No fences met the eye in any direction, and nothing but the steepness of some points in the hills prevented the traveler from riding his horse to any point of the compass. The only road leading to or from the village was the one towards Petaluma, and the sight of any vehicle on that road was a rare occurrence. Horseback was the universal means of travel and trails led in every direction, and, indeed, in proportion to the population there was at least as much traveling done then as now. Every man was a caballero, and the proprietor of from one to a dozen mustangs and sometimes half breed American horses. The native Spanish California population predominated and the Spanish language was spoken by nearly everybody. And he was not a little surprised as well as chagrined to hear his brother Timothy holding an animated conversation with an acquaintance, which sounded to him like a mixture of Hebrew, Greek and Choctaw languages. Within six or eight months, however, with the aid of a stray volume of Ollendorf and a constant inquiry of the names of things, he acquired a sufficient stock of Spanish nouns and adjectives, with an occasional verb, to make himself understood. The Murphy adobe ranch house was used as a Court House, and even at that early day cases involving the title to thousands of acres and hundreds of thousands of dollars, and embracing a wide range of civil and criminal jurisprudence, were argued and tried within the walls of that old adobe: Some of the most eminent lawyers in this State took part in these controversies. Judge E. W. McKinstry, now of the Supreme Court, was District Judge for the territory embracing Margin county, and James A. McDougal, afterwards United States Senator from California, James McM. Shafter, Treanor W. Park, Oscar L Shafter, Judge Solomon Heydenfeldt, C. M. Bronson, afterwards Judge of the Supreme Court of Nevada, Solomon A. Sharp, W. H. Patterson and many others occupied a great portion of their time and took a leading part in the litigation there conducted. The first few years of E. B. Mahon's time were spent in keeping store, for which he did not exhibit much aptitude, and having resolved to become a lawyer, under the instruction and advice of Hon. C. M. Bronson, he purchased some books and commenced with a persistent determination that ordinary obstacles could not overcome to study the elements of law. He afterwards entered the law office of Cook, Bronson & Hittell, in San Francisco, as a law student. His studies here were interrupted by a severe attack of small pox, which nearly cost him his life. As soon as he recovered, however, he returned to his studies at San Rafael with undiminished ardor, and in. 1863 passed a very creditable examination before the Supreme Court of the State of California, at Sacramento, and obtained his license. He was afterwards admitted to practice in the United States District and Circuit courts. He has always since his arrival in this State been identified with the county of Margin, and has been a resident of that county all of that time, except while pursuing his studies in San Francisco. He was elected County Treasurer of Margin county for two successive terms of two years each, and afterward was elected District Attorney of that county for one term, which offices he filled with unremitting care and unswerving fidelity. As a lawyer he is laborious, thorough and faithful, and displays a clear head and a logical mind; his practice, both in the District Court and Supreme Court, has been, considering the field open to him, both varied and eminently successful. Some of his briefs in the Supreme Court of this State won him high encomiums from the justices of that court for learning, soundness and ability. To the extent of his means he has been always ready to assist in any public improvement. In 1865 he assisted in the enterprise of building a turnpike road from San Rafael to connect with the steam ferry to San Francisco at San Quentin, and afterwards in the San Rafael and San Quentin Railroad between those points. In 1871 the old adobe Court House was no longer adequate to the requirements of the county. Several ineffectual attempts had at different times been made to remove the county seat from San Rafael, a majority of the people however preferred its present location. To supply this want, and also to put an end to this agitation, it was finally resolved to build a new Court House; accordingly, E. B. Mahon, who was then District Attorney, prepared a bill which he, seconded by the Hon. J. B. Rice, then the representative for Marin county in the Assembly, got passed by the Legislature in January, 1872, providing for the building of a new Court House. He had the pleasure of seeing the present solid and substantial Court House erected in San Rafael within the same year, a structure, which, for beauty of design, durability, and cheapness in the cost of construction, compares favorably with any Court House in the State of equal cost. When the North Pacific Coast Railroad Co. was organized for the purpose of connecting San Francisco with the coast counties lying to the north, the northetn and southern portions of Margin county were so Much disconnected by natural barriers of hills and the almost entire absence of direct communication by public roads, that persons traveling from Tomales, to reach San Rafael, the county seat, had to go by way of Petaluma and traverse a considerable part of Sonoma county. This railroad company proposed to the supervisors of Margin to run their railroad so as to connect San Rafael with Tamales by rail, and asked for a subsidy. The measure was very popular, and Mr. Mahon, as well as the great majority of the Margin county people, favored it, but when the matter was brought before the supervisors for the purpose of ordering an election and designating the route and termini of the railroad in Martin county, and, remembering the fate of the city of Stockton, that she was, as the phrase goes, "left out in the cold" by the Central Pacific Railroad Company, we appeared before the Board and succeeded after very serious opposition in having the order so framed and the subsidy granted on such terms as to compel the company to run its line of railroad to and into the town of San Rafael and thence to Tamales. This point being at length firmly established, he and the citizens of the county generally gave their approval to the granting of the subsidy. The road was accordingly built by the company, and afterwards, having leased the San Rafael and San Quentin Railroad and bought out a steam ferry thence to San Francisco, an uninterrupted line of transit and travel was established from San Francisco to and through the entire county of Margin; and to the establishment of this line much of the growth and prosperity of San Rafael is due. This railroad was also after its organization engaged in a great deal of litigation, in nearly all of which Mr. Mahon has been engaged. As to the town of San Rafael he can hardly be censured for the strong attachment he always manifests for it. It may be said to have "grown with his growth and strengthened with his strength;" he has seen it grow from a little hamlet of half a dozen houses to a handsome town of some three thousand inhabitants; its valley occupied by pretty cottage houses and its hillsides covered with lordly mansions; its churches filled with worshipers and its schools with promising children. The California mustang with his sills and riata has given place to the ponderous locomotive with its long train of passenger cars; the little sloop for passage to San Francisco has given place to the commodious and elegant steamer; and the trail over the mountains has been replaced by the wide and well traveled wagon road. Many of the faces that first met his gaze here twenty three years ago still meet and return his friendly glance; many too have passed away, but the green valley encircled in the living embrace of its parent hills as if to shelter it from the rude touch of the northern blast, still looks out on the placid waters of the bay - the same charming San Rafael. On the 8th of October, 1867, he married his present amiable wife, and it would be difficult to find a couple more devoted to each other.

From:
History of Marin County, California
Alley, Bowen & Co., Publishers
San Francisco, California 1880


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