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Los Angeles County






Captain Lyman C. Waite, nonagenarian, may without invidious distinction be termed Riverside’s most celebrated pioneer, for he has been prominently connected with the growth and development of the municipality from the beginning of its history and is one of its oldest residents. He wrote the first article of incorporation for a church and was the first lawyer, judge, and school teacher of Riverside. A contemporary writer said: “As he reviews the past from the days when he first located here, even then being imbued with the unwavering confidence in its future, the present marvelous development appears like a miracle, although no other man is better acquainted through personal experience with the actual progress, step by step.”

Captain Waite was born in Walworth county, Wisconsin, September 12, 1842, his parents being Sydney and Permelia (Barker) Waite, natives of western New York. The father followed farming in the Empire state until 1836, when he moved to the territory of Wisconsin, arriving there during its pioneer period. He was located in different sections of the state, residing in the vicinity of Sheboygan Falls, Fond du Lac and Appleton, where Lyman C. Waite grew to manhood and attended the common schools. His more advanced educational training was acquired as a student in Lawrence University of Appleton, which he entered in 1860. Like so many of the youths of that day his studies were interrupted by the call of patriotism, and he enlisted in 1862 and was assigned to Company D, Twenty-first Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. Those were the days which proved a man’s mettle, and this young private, through his bravery and capability, rose very rapidly through all the stages to be captain of Company D of his regiment. Later his regiment was attached to the First Brigade, First Division, Fourteenth Army Corps, and had the honor of serving at different periods under Generals Grant, Buell, Rosecrans, and Sherman. During his service he participated in forty-two battles and skirmishes, and was with General Sherman on his historic March to the sea and in the Grand Review at Washington. Among the notable engagements in which he took part were those of Chaplin Hills (Perryville), Nashville, Jefferson Pike, Stone River, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, Resaca, Dallas, Kenesaw, Peach Tree Creek, Averysboro and Bentonville. The history of his regiment is most unusual: one year and eight days after its organization there were but forty-two men able to report for duty, and it was commanded by a captain. Captain Waite’s own company could muster only five enlisted men and two officers, and it is likely that the latter were numbered among the living only because they had been serving on detached duty.

After receiving his honorable discharge Captain Waite resumed his studies at Lawrence University, from which institution he was graduated in 1868. He at once began teaching school and at the end of a year became principal of the graded school of Belle Plaine, Iowa. While teaching school he read Blackstone three times. It was not his intention to remain in the educational field, and in 1869 he began the study of law in the office of Clark & Tewksberry, while in October, 1870, he was admitted to the bar at Toledo, Iowa. In January, 1871, he was admitted to the bar of California in San Bernardino county, and at once opened an office at Riverside. He was the first justice of the peace and the first notary public, acting in both capacities for four years. Had he cared to devote all of his energies to the law there is no doubt but that he would have become one of the leading lights of his profession, but fate ordered his life otherwise and bestowed upon him still greater honors.

We quote from a review of his career published in a local history in 1922: “Upon very small circumstances oftentimes hinge a man’s career, and this is the case with Captain Waite. Being on a visit to Chicago, he happened to attend the old Woods Museum, and saw a picture of Inspiration Point in the Yosemite which so attracted him that he resolved to push further westward, although it was not until 1877 that he was able to gratify his desire to gaze upon that marvel of natural beauty, Inspiration Point. In that year he visited the Point and other places in the Yosemite valley, staging from Merced City via Coulterville, making a stage trip of two hundred miles. It was in 1907 that he visited Yellowstone Park and Salt Lake city, the headquarters of the Mormon Church.

“It was in 1870 that Captain Waite came to California arriving on December 8, his sole capital at the time being one hundred dollars in money and the unlimited enthusiasm of youth and a well balanced, highly trained mind. During 1872 and 1873 he returned to his first calling and taught the children of the first settlers at Riverside, and at the same time began his experiments in horticulture, which although then productive of but little profit, laid the foundation for his future wealth and opened up a new vista for the people of his country. His first purchase was of ten acres of land, to which he later added fifteen acres, and he has lived in the same and adjoining block for forty-six years. When he first came to California, Los Angeles had a population of but five thousand, seven hundred and twenty-five, San Bernardino, fifteen hundred and San Diego, three thousand. He was with Judson Brown when Redlands was first surveyed and there started two nurseries. He also established two nurseries at Highland, and with Stephen H. Herrick owned the first packing house of that community.

“His small holdings in realty were expanded until at one time he was one of the heaviest landowners in this vicinity. His early nursery operations in Riverside were carried on under the firm name of Waite & Simms, J. A. Simms being the junior member. As early as February, 1871, Captain Waite volunteered to go to Los Angeles for supplies for the community at Riverside. Accompanied by T. J. Wood, he made the four-day trip, arriving on the return trip March 1, 1871, bringing with him not only the required supplies, but also a number of lemon, orange and walnut seedlings, the latter two supposed to bear in eight years and yield a profit in twelve years. The lemons proved worthless, and the walnuts were the hard-shell English nuts. In all of the earlier planting Captain Waite and his associates were ignorant of the amount of water to use, and the best varieties for the soil and climate. Some of the trees proved to be utterly worthless, and the ground had to be replanted several times. Out of these first experiments, disheartening as many of them were, has sprung the most important industry of the Golden state. By 1886 such favorable results had been obtained that Captain Waite with two associates took to the fair, held at Chicago during that year, such an exhibit of orange-bearing trees and many other California products, including calla lilies, as to make a profound impression and to awaken enthusiasm for this then not widely exploited southwest. As an orange grower Captain Waite met with remarkable success, producing some of the finest trees in the world, and became the owner of a model orange grove. In connection with his orange growing Captain Waite has the distinction of having received the highest price paid up to that time for a forty-acre tract of oranges in Highland, from Alexander Fry, who paid him one hundred thousand dollars for it, and it was then conceded to be the finest grove in the state. For many years Captain Waite maintained an interest at Highland, where he had owned the first fifteen acres of land laid out for a townsite. He contributed the land for the freight and passenger stations of the Santa Fe Railroad, and was connected with many of Highland’s leading concerns.

“Captain Waite during his active years was a dominant factor in the life of Riverside. He was a director of the Citizens Water Company, which later became the Riverside Water Company, and for years was president of the Pioneer Society. Among other concerns which he served as official or stockholder were; La Mesa Packing Company, of which he was president; was a director of the First National Bank of Riverside, which he assisted in organizing in 1885, and of which he served as vice president from 1885 to 1900, and president from 1900 until 1905; a director of the Artesia Water Company, the Pacific Lumber Company and the Loring Opera House Company; president and largest stockholder of the Highland Domestic Water Company of San Bernardino; a director and stockholder in the Coast Line of the Santa Fe Railroad; and president and a director of the Riverside Savings & Trust Company, which he assisted in organizing. He was one of the organizers and was president of the bank of Banning. Owing to an injury, Captain Waite was forced to retire from all business activities, resigned from all his official positions, and took an extended trip to Honolulu.

“Captain Waite’s activities were not confined solely to business affairs, for he was always foremost in securing advantages of all kinds for his home community and those in which he felt an interest. He organized the first school district at Riverside, in 1872, which was several miles square. When this property was assessed to secure funds for the erection of a schoolhouse it was discovered that the tax to be collected was not sufficient to complete a building sixteen by twenty-four feet with the plaster. With customary energy Captain Waite went among the residents and urged upon them the importance of raising the necessary money among themselves, and the building was completed that year. This building not only housed the first school, taught by the energetic Captain, but was useful for numerous community purposes. In it the first church of Riverside county had its home. Here the people gathered for social intercourse, and many pleasant memories are retained of this pioneer building by the older people. Captain Waite did not relinquish his connection with this first school even after his increasing cares made it impossible for him to continue its teacher, but for many years served as clerk of its school board. The attendance on this first school increased so rapidly that before long a second building of the same size had to be erected to hold the pupils. This original school building was also used as the first courthouse in the county.

“It was Captain Waite who organized the first judicial district, securing the signatures to take before the board of supervisors. This work took full two days on account of the difficulty in securing transportation. During the early history of Riverside there was a good deal of trouble from the Mexicans, who regarded the Americans as trespassers, and on several occasions it took a good deal of diplomacy on the part of Captain Waite and other prominent citizens to avoid serious conflict. The first justice of the peace, Captain Waite, was elected for a term of two years. The following election, the Mexicans, massing their forces, elected their own man. It was then that the new judicial district was created by cutting the old one in two, and Captain Waite was reelected.”

Captain Waite has the distinction of being the first white man to be married at Riverside, the ceremony occurring April 5, 1872, when he and Miss Lillian M. Shugart were united in marriage by Rev. I. W. Atherton. Mrs. Waite was a daughter of Dr. K. D. Shugart, who was born in Randolph county, Indiana, April 13, 1829, and died in Riverside, California, May 10, 1897. Dr. Shugart was one of the original selectors of the site of Riverside. Captain and Mrs. Waite celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary on the 5th of April, 1932. They became the parents of six children, of whom the first-born a son, was accidentally drowned when two years and eight months old. Marion P., a graduate of Stanford University and a broker of Los Angeles, California, married Miss Anna Chapman, a daughter of D. P. Chapman of that city. Charles E., also a graduate of Stanford University, is a broker for the Dubiske holdings at Riverside. Lillian Martha, a graduate of Marlborough Institute, is at home. Lelia M. is the wife of John A. Robertson, of Phoenix, Arizona, and is the mother of two sons and two daughters. Mildred H. is the wife of U. L. Voris, in charge of shipments on the thirty-five thousand acre farm of the Gates estate at Corcoran, California. The wife and mother passed away in Riverside, June 17, 1933, at the age of seventy-seven years.

Captain Waite represented the first ward in the city council of Riverside for five years, retiring from the office in January, 1912, and many of the public improvements which he was instrumental in securing still stand as monuments to his foresight and public spirit. He is a member of Riverside Post, No. 118, G. A. R., and of the Los Angeles Division of the Loyal Legion of the States of California and Nevada, which he served as vice commander. An earlier biographer wrote: “The distinctive character of Captain Waite, his broad and warmly human traits, and the unfailing and sincere attachment which he inspires in all those who have come within his influence are perhaps the secret of his remarkable success, quite as much as his unusual mental endowments and excellant (sic) business capabilities.” There is particular satisfaction in reverting to the life history of the honored and venerable gentleman whose name initiates this review, since his mind bears the impress of the historical annals of southern California from the early pioneer days.


Transcribed 1-26-12 Marilyn R. Pankey.

Source: California of the South Vol. II, by John Steven McGroarty, Pages 25-31, Clarke Publ., Chicago, Los Angeles,  Indianapolis.  1933.

© 2012  Marilyn R. Pankey.