Biography of Elmer W. Holmes
Riverside County, CA Biographies





ELMER WALLACE HOLMES
Riverside has reason for pride in the many citizens who have given long years of gratuitous public service in her behalf. To the faith and enthusiastic devotion of her pioneers is due the transformation of an unattractive colony into one of the most beautiful and progressive of California cities. There are few among these whose record is more creditable than is that of E. W. Holmes. He was born at Brockton, Mass., December 8, 1841, of Pilgrim ancestry. His father, who attained a creditable standing as a professional musician and band master, died suddenly in 1851, leaving his mother with small means and five children dependent upon her, Elmer being the oldest. The mother's struggles to maintain the family finally resulted in her loss of health and compelled her oldest son to leave school at thirteen and apprentice himself to a printer. While yet a boy the entire support of the family came upon him. Graduating as a journeyman printer at eighteen, he was given a foreman's position. The outbreak of the Civil war at this time tempted him to join the first volunteers who went forward, but the increased wages he was earning enabled him to save enough to purchase the time of his younger brother, who had been "bound out" to the shoemakers' trade, and when he had turned over the support of his mother to this younger brother he promptly enlisted in the Thirty fifth Massachusetts Infantry. He shared the hardships and dangers of its campaigns with Reno's brigade of the Ninth Corps until after Fredericksburg. The organization was ordered west, when he was sent to the hospital near Fortress Monroe and in the fall of 1863 given his discharge. A year at home so restored his health that he again entered the army as a recruit for the Second Massachusetts Battery, from which, after a few weeks he was transferred to the Sixth Battery, located at New Orleans. Upon its reorganization he was appointed first sergeant, and just before the close of the war received a lieutenant's commission.

Returning to civil life he obtained a foreman's position on the Randolph Register, which paper he subsequently purchased, and successfully managed. Being offered a partnership in the larger establishment where he had learned his trade - the Brockton Gazette - he returned in 1869 to his native city, where the business proved both profitable and agreeable. But the death of all the rest of his mother's family from consumption during these few years and the declaration of the physicians that only an out of door life could save him from the dread disease, compelled him to sell out in 1874 and move to Southern California.

For a few months he held a foreman's position in the Los Angeles Herald office, but a severe illness compelled him to surrender this and seek a less humid climate. Coming to Riverside in April, 1875, he purchased a considerable tract of land on Brockton avenue, near which so many of his fellow townsmen settled that the street was later given its name out of compliment to them.

Everything was experimental in those days, and, like others, Mr. Holmes planted many varieties of trees and vines for himself and non resident owners. Many of these proved unprofitable, and were in after years dug up to give place to those which promised better. Raisins were among the first to prove successful, and were for years the main source of income. But when the young orange trees began to fruit, it was Mr. Holmes' privilege to be one of the little committee of horticultural students who gathered to pass upon the qualities of the first Riverside oranges in comparison with specimens from Europe and Florida. The result of these tests proved to all that the Riverside grown navel orange was the best in the world, and that the soil and climate were unequalled anywhere for producing citrus fruits. Out of this grew the citrus fair associations which did so much to aid in the horticultural development of the state.

In 1886 he was selected with Messrs. Garcelon and Waite to represent Riverside at the great citrus fair held in Chicago, which more than any other influence started the great immigration movement into Southern California. Two years later he was sent to take charge of a similar exhibit held in New York as a means of introducing our fruit into that great distributing market.

Elected a school official when the city had but a single school building, he was successively chosen by an almost unanimous vote, and held the position of executive officer of the school board for some fifteen years. He organized the Riverside high school, and was the author of the Union District High School law by which a single district or a combination of small country districts may pro vide preparatory schools, and thus enable the children to be educated at home.

He was chosen to fill a vacancy on the board of city trustees in 1884, and unanimously reelected in 1886, serving altogether over six years, during the last two of which he was chairman Subsequently he was chairman of the city's "street ornamentation committee" for seven years. He was the principal organizer of the Riverside Library Association in 1879, and it was through his efforts while acting mayor that the library was presented to the city and made a free public library. He was later one of the library board which selected the plans for and located our beautiful Carnegie library building.

In 1887 Mr. Holmes became managing editor of the San Bernardino Index, a morning daily owned by a syndicate of county Republicans, but after a year's experience he found the work upon a morning daily too severe and resigned. The following year he associated himself with R. J. Pierson and James H. Roe and purchased the two daily and two weekly papers of the city. These were consolidated and published as the Daily Press and Horticulturist, Mr. Holmes being in editorial charge. Seven years later he sold out to the Press Publishing Company, of which E. P. Clark is president.

In 1888 San Bernardino county elected Mr. Holmes as assemblyman, and his services in that position won him high commendation. The present horticultural law and the Union District High School law, both of his writing, have proved of great practical value to the state. In 1893 a vacancy occurred on the board of county supervisors, and Governor Pardee appointed him to the position His fellow citizens of the Second district have three times reelected him to that office, which he still holds.

At the age of twenty two Mr. Holmes was married to Miss Ruth C. Nickerson of Harwich, Mass. She died in giving birth to a son, Elmer Elwood, who grew up in Riverside, and was for years head mailing clerk in the Los Angeles postoffice, and died in 1903 leaving four children. In 1871 occurred the marriage of E. W. Holmes and Miss Alice E. Odell of Randolph, Mass., who came with him to share the pioneer work in Riverside. Two daughters were the result of this union, both of whom graduated from the Riverside high school and the State University. Anne Lucia married Loye Holmes Miller of Riverside and is the mother of two sons; and Alice Bertha became the wife of Otis D. Baldwin of Riverside and has given her parents a granddaughter.

From:
History of Riverside County, California
With a Biographical Review
History by Elmer Wallace Holmes
And other well known writers
Historic Record Company
Los Angeles, California 1912


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