Matthew Gage was a man to whom all California may well pay a lasting tribute of honor, for he it was whose initiative and enterprise made possible the cultivation and development of the navel orange in the Riverside district, and incidentally led to the upbuilding of one of the most important productive industries of the state. A man of sterling character, of marked civic loyalty and public spirit, his influence was ever one of helpfulness, and he commanded unqualified popular esteem. His work and service widened in beneficent angle, and made possible the winning of substantial fortunes by many other citizens of California. His supreme material interest in life was in the development and progress of Riverside, and the canal which he constructed and while still bears his name is the main artery of the irrigation systems that gives life to the magnificent orange groves of this favored section of California.
Mr. Gage was born in Coleraine, Ireland, January 11, 1844, and was a son of James and Margaret Jane (Orr) Gage. His father was a man of large business interests in his native land. He died shortly after his return to Ireland with his family after a year’s visit to Canada. His mother died at Riverside, California, in January, 1892, at the age of eighty-two.
Matthew Gage was reared and educated in Kingston, Canada, and was there actively engaged in business until 1881. In that year he came to Riverside, which became his permanent residence. Prior to settling here he had purchased twenty acres of orange and deciduous groves on the corner of California Avenue and Jackson Street. Despite his earnest efforts this venture proved unprofitable. Regardless of that fact, his faith in the possibilities of Riverside was not weakened, and he immediately directed his energies to other fields of development. On March 6, 1882 he filed a desert land entry in the United States land office, covering section 30, lying east of the city of Riverside, and on the 20th of March, 1882, purchased one hundred and sixty acres of land from W. F. Green in Section 32 with the hope of developing water thereon by means of wells for the reclamation of Section 30. On the same date he also purchased Lot 1 of the Southern California Colony Association Lands from Hettie A. Green, where he established his residence, and where he thereafter continuously resided until his death in 1916.
Failing to find water in sufficient amount on Section 32, he began negotiations of J. Alphonso Carit for the purchase of the Carit tract (now known as Victoria) in 1885, and consummated the purchase of one thousand acres of the same on March 1, 1886, for the sum of one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars. Upon this tract he caused to be bored many artesian wells, some of which now constitute a part of the water supply of the Gage Canal. On July 27, 1885, Mr. Gage purchased six-sevenths of the Hunt and Cooley ditch from George Cooley, Ambrose Hunt, James Stewart and Peter Filaux, which carried with it the right to take all the water flowing in the Santa Ana River at the point of the intake. It was with his water that Mr. Gage intended to reclaim Section 30. To convey this water to his lands it was necessary to construct a canal twelve miles in length. This required the boring of more than a mile of tunnels through the bluffs to the south of the Santa Ana River and the acquisition of rights of way over the lands of others. These rights of way were largely acquired by conveying to the owners water rights in the canal to be built and necessitated the development of water in amounts not only sufficient to reclaim Section 30, but also to irrigate what was then known as East Riverside, but now called Highgrove. The Gage Canal was thereafter constructed and water therefrom supplied to the three thousand acres of land on the Highgrove mesa, and conveyed to and upon Section 30. Unfortunately the time within the law provides that desert land should be reclaimed expired before water was actually placed upon Section 30. The day after the expiration of this period four persons filed homestead and timber culture entries upon each quarter section of Section 30, and thereby precipitated litigation in the United States Land Office and in the courts, which ultimately was determined in Mr. Gage’s favor by the issuance of a patent to him on April 1, 1896,
In his efforts to obtain water for the reclamation of Section 30 the vision of Mr. Gage grew until in his mind’s eye he could see not only Highgrove flourishing with groves, but also the six thousand acres lying south of the Terquisquito Arroyo, now known as Arlington Heights. On June 13, 1887, he secured an option from S. C. Evans, Sr., for the purchase of this tract, and enlarged the plans of the Gage Canal so as to permit the carrying of sufficient water not only for the irrigation of Highgrove and Section 30, but also for the thousands of acres of Arlington Heights. Unable to secure financial assistance to carry out this project, he proceeded to England in 1889, and there enlisted the aid of British capital. As a result of his efforts there the Riverside Trust Company, Limited, was incorporated December 13, 1889, which company purchased from Mr. Gage, Arlington Heights and all of the stock of the Gage Canal Company, the latter company being organized in California for the purpose of managing and operating the Gage Canal and its water sources. Mr. Gage reserved a large block of stock in the Riverside Trust Company for his interests, and became its managing director. The Gage Canal, which had been in 1888 extended to cover Arlington Heights, was thereupon put into commission, and the lands planted under Mr. Gage’s management; streets opened and graded; and this development continued under his supervision until 1894, at which time he resigned as an officer of the company, being succeeded as manager by William Irving, his brother-in-law, who theretofore had been the engineer for the company. For a considerable period after 1894 much of Mr. Gage’s time was taken up with litigation connected with his varied interests and in the development of Section 30, three hundred acres of which were still owned by him at the time of his death.
Mr. Gage was an earnest member of the Calvary Presbyterian Church, which he was instrumental in organizing and which in its early years was largely supported by him. In 1892 his wife presented to the church the beautiful organ which is at the present time in use, and which was given in memory of the children of Mr. and Mrs. Gage who had passed away at that time.
He was interested in all things that touched the civic and material welfare and progress of his home city and county. In subdividing the lands of Arlington Heights, which prior to the construction of the Gage Canal were covered with sage-brush and cactus, and having in mind the future development and beautification of the community, he caused to be laid out Victoria Avenue, a double road leading from Victoria Hill on the north to the lands of the San Jacinto Land Company, eight miles below. As managing director of the Riverside Trust Company he caused to be constructed the Victoria Bridge, which spans the Terquisquito Arroyo, and presented it to the city. He spared neither time nor effort to beautify the properties under his control. Widely traveled and deeply read in all forms of literature, with a deep appreciation and love of music, and with a keen and sparkling wit, Mr. Gage was both a delightful companion and a constant inspiration to all those who enjoyed his friendship.
Mr. Gage married on June 30, 1869, Jane Gibson, of Kingston, Canada, a daughter of James and Jane Gibson, both of whom were born in Belfast, Ireland. Mr. Gibson was the owner of many acres of farming lands in Ontario, Canada. Mr. Gage left surviving him three children and one grandson, Gage, so name after his grandfather, the son of his second daughter, Maude Louise, who is Mrs. W. G. Irving. The eldest daughter, Margaret Jane Gage, resides with her mother. His third daughter, Anna Stewart, is the wife of H. S. Montgomery, mining engineer residing at Lompoc, California. Five children were lost to Mr. and Mrs. Gage: Katherine MacKenzie, Horace James, Robert Condit, Edith Anna and Francis Gibson.
Mr. Gage died January 22, 1916, and was interred in the family burial ground in Olivewood Cemetery.
(From “History of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties,” 1922.)
Transcribed by V. Gerald Iaquinta.
Source: California of the South Vol. III, by John Steven McGroarty, Pages 151-155, Clarke Publ., Chicago, Los Angeles, Indianapolis. 1933.
© 2012 V. Gerald Iaquinta.