1893 Riverside, CA Citrus Grove Has Ties to Binghamton, NY

August 24 2015 Citrus Trees

Our Citrus Trees, August 2015

During my continuous search for anything mentioning my great-grandmother, Leoria Wilbur Meeker, I started reading Binghamton, New York newspapers published in 1900. She died at 21 in 1903 which makes it challenging to get results given such a short life when relying on solely internet searches. Scanning old pages is tedious, but yesterday I found an interesting man along the way who at one time worked with her father, S. D. Wilbur, and lived just down the street from where I am now. 

On August 4, 1900, George L. Farnham died in the home of J. W. Brown at 178 Hawley Street in that city. He and his wife Nettie (Mary A.) were visiting Binghamton to remove items that had stored for the past 25 years in their residence on Arthur Street. Their hosts for the stay were Mr. and Mrs. Martin L. Hall, former next door neighbors. 

Professor Farnham was born in Watertown, NY, a city just north of where I grew up. He was a student of Horace Mann at the Albany Normal School, and went on to become the superintendent of Syracuse schools, the city of my graduate work, prior to becoming the superintendent of the Binghamton Schools from 1869-1875 which includes the time period that Stephen D. Wilbur and his then wife, Jennie Kincaid, taught in Maine, New York. His controversial lectures and  subsequent 1881 book, The Sentence Method of Teaching Reading, Writing, and Spelling: A Manual for Teachers  surely had an impact on my own 2nd great-grandfather who taught under him and also was the school commissioner during part of George's tenure in Binghamton.

George went west first to work as superintendent of schools in Council Bluffs, Iowa and secondly at the State Normal School in Nebraska where he was the principal. At that time this position was similar to what we now know as the president of a college. Since it was the only teacher training college in the state, he certainly influenced the Nebraska education system.

In 1893, George and his wife retired to Riverside, CA and purchased land for the purpose of growing citrus. This time period saw great growth of groves following the successful introduction of the Washington Navel orange by Eliza Tibbets in 1875. On the 1900 census, George and Mary are listed as owning a "farm" outright, with his occupation being "farmer". They are 75 and 64, respectively, and have no surviving children out of three. It seems George was married previously, and his first wife died in 1856, in the same year a daughter, Lizzie, was born. Mary and George were married in 1861 which coincides with his time in Syracuse. His daughter's last name is Buxton, and is listed as a resident of Syracuse, New York in George's obituary.

There is more research to be done at the Riverside library to find out exactly where the Farnham orange grove was located since the streets have been renumbered at least once in the 1930s.  Mary returned to California following her husband's death. The 1910 census shows Mary lives with a servant, Laura Walker at 686 Magnolia. Mary dies October 1, 1913 at 78 and no obituary has been found yet. And, then there is the mystery of a "Farnham Street" in the same area the census indicates they live. 

The California Citrus State Historic Park is another source of information on the early orange groves in Riverside. Was there a unique Farnham crate label? Was the grove called "Farnham" or another name?

We can also take a short trip down Magnolia, and look around in the block between Castleman and Van Buren, and drive down Farnham Street. 

Who knows what we will find? While looking for my great-grandmother, I found a man her father, Stephen D. Wilbur,  probably knew, that ultimately lived a couple of miles from my current home.


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